I can’t remember a time when I’ve heard DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeff Katzenberg sound so down on an earnings call — and it’s mostly due to the red ink for Rise Of The Guardians. Even when an analyst congratulated him for the Oscar he just picked up for his charitable work he said that “we have good days and bad days.” This apparently was one of the latter ones. Guardians “was the first movie of ours in 17 in a row that didn’t work,” he told analysts. “And when that happens it makes you rethink everything.….We’ve done a reset and we’ve done it across the board.” It led to the decision to make substantial layoffs – 350 during the year, Deputy CFO Richard Sullivan said — in which “many valuable members of the DreamWorks family will be leaving”, Katzenberg said. But using the trendy corporatespeak, he says this will “right-size the whole enterprise.” DreamWorks Animation will look to new technology to help make movies “faster and cheaper” putting the company on a long-term “successful path going forward….Would these things have happened without the failure of Guardians? I don’t know.”
Investors seem to think so as ratings improve at key networks led by Nickelodeon and MTV. Viacom shares — which closed Friday at $57.78 — are up 7.8% so far in 2013, and about 20% over the last six months. But analysts are divided about when the company might benefit from the upturn, and how significant it could be. Macquarie Equities Research’s Tim Nollen became more optimistic this morning as he raised his price target to $62 from $47 ahead of January 31, when the entertainment company releases its earnings results for the last three months of 2012. Solid performances by shows including iCarly and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles helped Nickelodeon beat Disney Channel in total-day viewers for 16 of the last 17 weeks, he notes — and Nick’s performance will look especially impressive in February when compared to last year when its ratings were down 30%. Although MTV’s ratings are still down by double-digit percentages, if that changes with shows including Snooki & JWOWW and Buckwild then it “would ease concerns that we and others have had about Viacom’s ability to replenish content,” Nollen says. Janney Capital Markets’ Tony Wible also cited the ratings last week when he upped Viacom to “buy” from “neutral” with a $65 target price. In addition, he’s upbeat about “a more promising Paramount slate, and a lean expense structure.”
David Mermelstein is an AwardsLine contributor. It’s not unusual to have big names in popular music perform end-title songs for major movies. Opera singers, though, don’t generally roll that way. But nobody ever said they can’t. Which is why Alexandre Desplat, who composed the music for Rise Of The Guardians, decided to approach soprano Renée Fleming about singing “Still Dream,” which uses the melody he wrote for the picture’s main theme and lyrics by the film’s screenwriter, David Lindsay-Abaire.
“It covers two octaves,” Desplat says of the song. “The music is very orchestral; the melody, very lyrical. So it really made sense to ask Renée Fleming, who is the greatest soprano alive. And she said yes right away. It was a suggestion that could have been rejected, but it was right — though I can’t remember the last time a soprano sang an end-title song.”
David Mermelstein is an AwardsLine contributor.
Alexandre Desplat is nothing if not prolific. This year the quadruple Oscar-nominated composer will have five films in theaters. And, as is typical for him, each score is completely different from the others—much like the movies themselves. “If I only did thrillers, I would kill myself,” he said by phone recently from Majorca. “Seriously, I would want to change jobs.”
What keeps him in the game is the opportunity to play with various styles in different genres and compose music that challenges and delights him. “They’re all my babies and all so different,” he says of his scores. “They have different faces and shapes and costumes. Some are big, some are small—and some are huge. Some are talkative, and some are quiet. But I try to give the best of my energy to all of them.”
The most time consuming of these recent projects was his soaring music to DreamWorks’ Rise Of The Guardians, which marked the first time Desplat wrote for animation on such a vast scale. “It was three months altogether, writing and recording,” the composer says. “When you work on animation, the music has a great task: to create a sound and melodies and mood and atmosphere and energy dedicated to these extraordinary characters. And you see they are very specific, very clearly designed. Each has a personality that is different. It’s fun and moving and very emotional.”
Thomas J. McLean is an AwardsLine contributor.
As a child, William Joyce wanted more answers about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and other mythical figures than his parents were able to give him. “I know where Superman came from — from planet Krypton! — so what about this guy, the Easter Bunny?” says Joyce. The typical parental response to queries about how Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy did what they do was, “They just do,” which Joyce found dissatisfying, even years later when he became a father. “I wanted to come up with something better for my kids,” says Joyce. “And it really galvanized when my daughter asked me one hot August day — after her little brother lost his tooth — ‘Do the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus know each other?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah!’ ”
Joyce, a celebrated illustrator, children’s book author, and filmmaker, began filling in those blanks, creating detailed backstories and a shared universe robust enough to fill a Guardians of Childhood book series. His imaginative work ultimately provided the foundation for DreamWorks Animation’s latest contender in this year’s Oscars race, the 3D animated Rise of the Guardians.
Listen to episode 11 of our audio podcast “Deadline Big Media, with David Lieberman.” This week, Deadline Executive Editor David Lieberman and host David Bloom discuss why Facebook is winning back some friends on Wall Street; why Big Media companies are going batty for baseball broadcast deals; how Black Friday may not be enough to pull Best Buy into the black, and what it may mean for Hollywood; and how the fall of Rise Of The Guardians in its opening weekend box office may be a challenge for DreamWorks Animation.
DreamWorks Animation shares are down 3.1% to $17.49 in jumpy pre-market trading this morning after Rise Of The Guardians‘ $32.6M domestic box office for the five-day Thanksgiving holiday made it, in Janney Capital Markets’ Tony Wible’s words, “one of the most disappointing releases in the company’s history.” If the pre-market stock price holds, then DreamWorks Animation would be down nearly 24% from November 2 when it hit a 52-week high of $22.98 — partly driven by analysts’ optimistic expectations for Guardians. Wible expected to see $55M over Thanksgiving, slightly less than the consensus forecast among analysts for $58M. He now predicts it will generate $134M domestically (down from his earlier forecast for $225M) and $312M internationally (down from $338M). He also cut his earnings-per-share estimates for the company by 71% to 25 cents for 2012, and by 9% to 79 cents for 2013, although he maintained his “buy” recommendation based on DWA’s other initiatives. “Parent review sites noted several dark moments, which may have kept younger viewers away” from Guardians, he says. “However, we still struggle to understand why audiences rejected the film.”
Best-Ever Thanksgiving 5-Day Box Office! Newcomers: ‘Rise Of The Guardians’ Weak, ‘Life Of Pi’ Overperforms, ‘Red Dawn’ Meh; Holdovers Stronger – ‘Breaking Dawn 2′ #1, ‘Skyfall’ #2, ‘Lincoln’ #3
SUNDAY 3:45 AM, 6TH UPDATE: (Saturday/Weekend/Holiday #s below)
What is there to say other than this 5-day Thanksgiving Holiday was a monster at the weekend box office. Best of all, audiences came out in droves for an overwhelming majority of original films as well as popular sequels. Hollywood today is giving thanks this is now the biggest-ever moviegoing T-Day holiday: $288M for the 5 days of domestic box office, smashing 2009′s record of $258.6M. It also beat the previous all-time 5-day moviegoing record set in 2009 of $270.5M. I don’t wanna hear these studios plead poverty to the Hollywood community for at least several months. (“We have no complaints,” agreed one studio bigwig.) In sharp contrast to Wednesday and Thanksgiving Day grosses, domestic box office went into overdrive on Friday by posting double- and triple-digit increases. Saturday stayed relatively flat, with only one film up in the Top 10.
Among holdovers, this will be another great #1 weekend for Summit Entertainment’s Twilight Saga finale Breaking Dawn Part 2. It’s worldwide estimate is now $577.7M after making another $161.4M around the globe this weekend. Domestic, its $43.07M represents the largest 2nd weekend gross for the Twilight Saga franchise. Internationally the film grossed $97.4M this weekend from 73 territories, bringing the film’s overseas cume to date to $350.8M. BD2 remained virtually #1 in all territories with the exception of Australia that debuted Skyfall and had the best-ever franchise opening in Germany ($15.2M) as well as strong debuts in Austria ($1.8M) and German Switzerland ($1.5M). With this weekend’s estimates, parent company’s Lionsgate International has crossed the $1 billion mark at the box office – the first time in the studio’s history. Its worldwide take for 2012 is now over the $2 billion mark, also a first. Actuals so far are domestic $1.18 billion, and international $1.005 billion.
#2 was Eon Productions/MGM/Sony Pictures’ James Bond #23 Skyfall which crossed $200M domestic over the weekend - the first 007 film ever to cross $200 million or more domestically. Skyfall‘s overall international cume is at least $568.4M and worldwide more than $790.1M. Australia and New Zealand came in as the biggest Bond openings ever and ranked among the top openings of the year, both #1 and both commanding 65% of the market this weekend. Australia bowed with $12.5 ($21k per screen). Despite the onslaught of the Twilight Saga finale, Skyfall‘s holdover stayed strong. On IMAX, pic made $7.5 mil domestic gross while its global cume to date on IMAX will be $49M.
#3 was Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln from DreamWorks/Fox/Disney. That biopic continues to find an audience – amazingly – in both red and blue states.
Unfortunately, among newcomers, #4 DreamWorks Animation’s Rise Of The Guardians 3D distributed by Paramount disappointed in its 3,653 locations (including 2,900 3D or IMAX presentations). Based on a series of best-selling books, toon fell -22% from Wednesday to Thursday, then came back very strong Friday – +149% - but dropped -3% Saturday. Overall, this Avengers-like team of fantasy characters from Santa Claus to the Easter Bunny to the Tooth Fairy and Despicable Me minion-like elves really underperformed and shockingly couldn’t even make it to $33M for the 5-day holiday. These days successful toons open to at least $40+M regular weekends and most Christmas-themed movies for kids are in demand this time of year, especially when there’s no pure family fare this holiday season. By contrast How To Train Your Dragon posted one of the slowest openings in DWA history and still eked out $43.7M for its 3-day non-holiday weekend. There’s still the chance Guardians might build momentum the same way Dragon did as its coveted ‘A’ CinemaScore helps word of mouth. It’s hard to pinpoint what went wrong in this quirky pic directed by Peter Ramsey as his feature film debut, scripted by David Lindsay-Abaire, produced by Guillermo del Toro, and featuring the voices of Hugh Jackman, Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, Jude Law, Isla Fisher. Except some felt the pic was unextraordinary, unfunny, and its message about fame powering the world off-putting to parents. Others suggest its unique animation style makes it a tougher sell. It certainly didn’t perform for lack of marketing, which was omnipresent as usual.
DWA/Paramount even boasted that Rise Of The Guardians “is, by far, our most impactful and widest DWA online media campaign to date reaching over 200 million uniques with highly visible social, video, and gaming stunts. YouTube played a vital role”. In addition to, we partnered with Machinima, the largest male 13-34 gaming/entertainment video destination on the web (139MM worldwide uniques), to present an extended first look at the film. The trailer launched in April on Titanic 3D but also with other toons like Madagascar 3, Ice Age 4, Hotel Transylvania, and Wreck it Ralph. There also were a variety of custom ROTG in-theatre spots running on over 11,000 movie screens in the domestic market – all films, all ratings. The adult campaign kicked off October 7th with a blitz on ABC’s Once Upon A Time. There was no election campaigning for 36 hours “to stay out of the noise” but the toon jumped on Halloween, Thanksgiving and early Christmas TV programming. There was exclusive 3D footage presented at CinemaCon in April and Cannes in May. Facebook and Twitter were used as usual to amplify engagement with content launches and to drive purchase intent on release day. There also was the highest ‘Kids & Family’ reach of any DWA film “with the highest level of engagements we’ve seen to date”, I’m told. My last word is that this is going to be a headscratcher for months to come if Guardians can’t get its act together.
Twentieth Century Fox reports that Life Of Pi opened with $47.7M worldwide gross from just 4 international day and date territories - Taiwan, Hong Kong, India, China - and the US/Canada market. Additionally, pic debuted on IMAX in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Total was $3M on 97 IMAX screens for a per screen average of $30+K. Domestic, the studio was thrilled its #5 fantasy adventure pic with Avatar-like 3D climbed a massive +24% from Wednesday to Thursday - up more than any other top film in the marketplace. Then it went up +97% Friday, prompting a studio exec to gush, “The good news keeps coming at you like a hungry Richard Parker!” It dropped -7% on Saturday. This PG pic received an ‘A-’ CinemaScore which is keeping it overperforming. Before it opened, the studio told me it would rejoice if director Ang Lee’s Oscar-buzzed pet project opened over $20M – and it accomplished that. But at a costly $120M because of all that CGI. Exit polling showed it playing to a broad cross-section of moviegoers: 54% male and 46% female, 23% under age 18 and 38% under 25. Subject matter was far and away the primary driver for interest. The first footage debuted at Cinemacon on April 26th after which Life Of Pi was the opening night film at the New York Film Festival. Now the studio has launched its Oscar campaign. I give Fox high marks for a compelling marketing campaign despite a hard-to-describe faith-based storyline. For weeks before the picture opened, Fox tried to tamp down box office expectations, telling me how Life Of Pi was “a truly unique film that studios get criticized for not taking risks to make anymore. And, like any unique original film, it takes time to seep into the broader cultural awareness. And we feel this is a steady, gradual release that will grow as acclaim comes in and word of mouth spreads. This was a bestselling book that no one thought could be made into a feature film. We took the creative risk and backed a top filmmaker’s vision to go on a journey previously thought unfilmable.” As for its faith-based campaign, Fox says it made the film for a worldwide spiritual audience. ”The thing that is different from traditional ‘faith’ campaigns is that we have reached out to all denominations of religious backgrounds - Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, etc - and these leaders and organizations have really taken to the film. They like the storyline that Pi as a teenager has a rabid curiosity about faith and the differences (and similarities) that impact him spiritually and allow him to survive by embracing it.” Of course, Fox is still all about the bucks and its marketing promotions included Life Of Pi ‘inspired by’ merchandise like Christmas ornaments and mango black teas.
Besides spiritualists, the overall marketing focused on book lovers and film lovers. Written by David Magee based upon Yann Martel’s novel which has sold more than 9 million copies, pic was produced by Gil Netter, David Womark, and Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) who spent 4 years trying to get the project to the screen while the book was in development for 10 years. But it probably needed to wait because that’s some CGI Bengal tiger! (Out of more than 165 shots of Richard Parker, only 24 were of real tigers.) Unlike most Hollywood movies these days, Lee worked with only the one screenwriter, Magee, the entire time in development. He shot the films in 3 countries – India, Taiwan and Canada — with the multinational cast Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Tabu, Rafe Spall, and Gérard Depardieu. Suraj became the focus of the media campaign because of his backstory: he beat out 3,000 kids for the part and only attended the Delhi auditions because his brother was trying for the role and promised him a Subway sandwich if he came along. Suraj did not know how to swim when cast and had to learn along with perform all his own stunts.
Finishing only #7, FilmDistrict’s Red Dawn (2,724 theaters) dropped -22% from Wednesday to Thursday but recovered +88% Friday then dropped -10% Saturday. Not helping was that this action remake received only a so-so ‘B’ CinemaScore. But, heck, it’s a minor miracle that this pic is finally releasing since it was trapped for so long in MGM’s bankruptcy. Chris Hemsworth was still an unknown when cast back in 2008 but pic now benefits from his career trajectory into a big action star. Also unknown castmembers better known now are Josh Hutcherson and Adrianne Palicki. Directed by Dan Bradley, produced by Beau Flynn and Tripp Vinson, with credited screenwriters Carl Ellsworth and Jeremy Passmore, the plot is more or less the same as the 1984 Red Dawn: America is invaded (this time, not by Russians but by Koreans – changed from Chinese) and a group of good-looking guerrilla fighters claw back control of their town. FilmDistrict merely obtained distribution rights in September 2011 to this remake which MGM financed and put into production in 2009 (back when then studio head Mary Parent was crossing her fingers and hoping for the best). Once completed, the film was then shelved due to MGM’s financial mess. Pre-release tracking indicated the film could post a 5-day holiday in the very high teens with a 3-day weekend in the low teens. Given that, FilmDistrict’s biggest obstacle was how to market the movie for next to nothing. The trailer launched in August, and Red Dawnwas closed Fantastic Fest in Austin in September to start fanboy hype, followed by a heavy word-of-mouth screening program on over 100 military bases and college campuses. With the media focused on core M12-34 and P12-34 audiences, the campaign was heavy on sports TV channels, Comedy Central, Spike, WWE/UFC, BET, and the like. Digital integrated promotion of the new film with recognition of the original through contests for hometown screenings via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Tumblr. The film wound up playing best across the South, especially in Texas and surrounding states. It also played best in markets with larger military installations. Exit polling showed the audience was 62% male vs. 38% female, and 52% age 25 and older, and 20% under age 18 and older.
The Weinstein Co’s Oscar-buzzed Silver Linings Playbook is still on a slow rollout after Harvey changed the release strategy and didn’t go wide right away. Its gross went up +162% Friday and it eaned the distinction of being the only Top 10 movie to increase grosses (+3%) on Saturday. Still its per screen average needs to strengthen. Clearly the pic’s R rating puts off Jennifer Lawrence’s younger female fans who are still Twilight Saga-obsessed. And Bradley Cooper is by no means a box office sure thing. This adult comedy’s ability to earn big still has a big question mark.
Fox Searchlight’s much anticipated Oscar candidate Hitchcock starring Tony Hopkins and Hellen Mirren opened Friday in 17 theaters, earning $112K with a per screen average of $6,954. Again, I thought this PG13 AFI Fest opener would start stronger. It’s expected to platform this weekend to $312K. Shot entirely in LA this past May, this project from Tom Pollock and Ivan Reitman’s Montecito Picture Company came to Fox Searchlight with Sacha Gervasi already attached as the director. Pic’s classic Hollywood storytelling by screenwriter John J. McLaughlin and Stephen Rebello who wrote the book, as well as the performances, have merited an awards campaign, but it wasn’t helped by Hopkins’ recent attack on the whole campaigning process. With both Hopkins and Mirren working in London, now, the studio has been doing satellite Q&As for voters and media alike in advance of Hitchcock’s Academy premiere. Fox Searchlight will continue with a platform release over a four-week period, and then head into a limited national release into about 500 theaters for December 14th.
Also opening in limited release was Sony Pictures Classics’ Rust And Bone in 2 theaters. The R-rated drama made $9K and is expected to end the weekend with $24K. SPC was eager to work with French producer Pascal Chaucheteux again following Jacques Audiard‘s previous project, A Prophet. Here the company received an early draft of Rust And Bone with one of France’s biggest stars already committed – Marion Cotillard – further sparking interest. Audiard directed and also co-wrote with Thomas Bidegain and Craig Davidson. SPC picked up North American rights in addition to a few other territories. Consistent with the company’s release strategy, it has a platform rollout to put it into the zeitgeist. Pic opened Friday only in New York; Los Angeles follows on December 7th. The Friday before Christmas, it will open in 12 additional cities. At the end of January, it’ll go wider. SPC is hoping Rust And Bone receives awards consideration
And finally, Focus Features’ holdover Anna Karenina playing in 66 theaters grossed $307K Friday for what should be $807K for the 3-day weekend and $1M for the 5-day holiday. Cume for this R-rated adaptation directed by Joe Wright and starring Keira Knightly should be $1.4M.
Here’s the Top 10 based on 3-day weekend estimates. Check back for refined numbers.
1. Breaking Dawn Part 2 (Summit/Lionsgate) Week 2 [Runs 4,070] PG13
Wednesday $12.9M, Thursday $8.0M, Friday $17.4M, Saturday $16.8M (-9%)
3-day Weekend $43.0M (-69%), 5-day Holiday $64.0M, Cume $226.9M
2. Skyfall (Eon/MGM/Sony) Week 3 [Runs 3,526] PG13
Wednesday $7.4M, Thursday $7.7M, Friday $14.7M, Saturday $14.0M (-4%)
3-Day Weekend $36.0M, 5-Day Holiday $51.0M, Cume $221.7M
3. Lincoln (DreamWorks/Fox/Disney) Week 3 [Runs 2,018] PG13
Wednesday $4.2M, Thursday $4.8M, Friday $9.9M, Saturday $9.8M (-2%)
3-Day Weekend $25.0M, 5-Day Holiday $34.0M, Cume $62.1M
4. Rise Of The Guardians 3D (DreamWorks Anim/Par) NEW [Runs 3,653] PG
Wednesday $4.8M, Thursday $3.7M, Friday $9.2M, Saturday $9.1M (-3%)
3-day Weekend $24.0M, 5-Day Holiday $32.6M
5. Life Of Pi 3D (Fox) NEW [Runs 2,927] PG
Wednesday $3.6M, Thursday $4.4M, Friday $8.8M, Saturday $8.4M (-5%)
3-Day Weekend $22.0M, 5-Day Weekend $30.1M
6. Wreck-It Ralph 3D (Disney) Week 4 [Runs 3,259] PG
Wednesday $3.7M, Thursday $2.5M, Friday $6.7M, Saturday $6.5M (-3%)
3-Day Weekend $16.7M, 5-Day Holiday $23.0M, Cume $149.5M
7. Red Dawn (Film District) NEW [Runs 2,724] PG13
Wednesday $4.2M, Thursday $3.2M, Friday $6.0M, Saturday $5.4M (-10%)
3-Day Weekend $14.6M, 5-Day Holiday $22.0M
Not much to crow about for the quarter that ended in September, although net profits benefited from foreign exchange rates and lower taxes. Viacom reported net earnings of $650M, +12.8% vs the period last year, on revenues of $3.36B, …
Ever imagine riding in Santa’s sleigh instead of just waiting for a delivery? DreamWorks Animation’s Rise Of The Guardians, which opens November 21st, suggests it might be something like this:
Global Showbiz Briefs: News Intl Fights Pricey Doc Disclosures, Nine Financial Woes, Honor For ‘Rise Of The Guardians’
News International Fights Expensive Document Disclosures In Phone-Hacking Case
News International has argued against pricey document disclosures relating to civil damages in the ongoing phone hacking case, warning that the cost to the company might reach $12.1M. The branch of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. has already spent $1.6M on disclosure searches of documents and emails pertaining to litigation, with consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers spending a further $5.6M. News International counsel Dinah Rose QC argued at a high court civil case management hearing that the disclosures served the interest of prosecuting legal teams and not their clients. They are claiming for compensation related to News International’s four-year denial of phone hacking, when no claimant has pleaded this. “That’s the source of this problem,” Rose said. “We have here a superstructure created not because of the claims of a particular claimant, but [because of] the interests of a legal team.” Meanwhile, the Metropolitan police investigation into phone hacking continues, with a senior counter-terrorism detective charged Monday with breaching the Official Secrets Act. Detective chief inspector April Casburn is charged with feeding information pertaining to the Met’s inquiry into phone hacking to staff at the News Of The World. Police have also made two more arrests in the computer hacking investigation. One is believed to be a former News Of The World journalist and the other a private investigator. – Joe Utichi
Childhood hero-figures Santa (Alec Baldwin), the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher) and the Sandman (Tom Kenny) enlist the assistance of Jack Frost (Chris Pine) as they team to stop the evil spirit Pitch from taking over the world. Based on William Joyce’s Nicholas St. North And …