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OSCAR MOGULS: Rich Ross Q&A

The Deadline Team of Nikki Finke, Pete Hammond, and Mike Fleming have spent recent days interviewing the studio moguls to gauge their perspective on this very close Oscar race:

WALT DISNEY STUDIOS
12 Nominations: 5 Toy Story 3, 3 Alice In Wonderland, 1 Tron: Legacy 3D, 1 The Tempest, 1 Tangled, 1 Day & Night

DEADLINE’s Nikki Finke: You’ve never done an Oscar campaign before. These weren’t even your movies. What was the biggest challenge you were facing?
RICH ROSS: For me to be able to support films that I didn’t greenlight was putting me in the brain of a marketer. I certainly knew I was lucky that I saw Alice In Wonderland before it was complete, and I saw Toy Story 3 way before it was complete. I think what made it very easy for me, in all honesty, was working with Tim Burton on Alice or working with John Lassiter — people who pour their heart and soul into these movies. And seeing how these movies both performed and were talked about and heralded is no less thrilling because I didn’t greenlight them. I see the faces of the people who win and you know they are thrilled. And that makes me happy. I would say that the most challenging situation was coming in and coming up with a strategy of support. At the same time you don’t have relationships which people have had for 20, 30, 40 years with the different organizations who determine the outcome of those races — people in the Directors Guild or people in the Producers Guild or the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, or the National Board of Review. These are many, many organizations aside from the critics who are giving out kudos.

DEADLINE: But you had Oscar consultants.
ROSS: We already had Tony Angelotti on the animation side, and we had Kira Feola on the live action side. They’ve split up the responsibilities. And the late Ronni Chasen was working on Alice In Wonderland, too, because she had worked with the Zanucks for a very long time. So Dick had asked me if it was possible to bring in Ronni to help support the film, and of course to support the filmmaker we said sure.

DEADLINE: It must have been such a blow for everyone at Disney when she died.
ROSS: Well, it was beyond shocking because I saw her the night before and she was very much in the heat of the moment because she was very close with the Zanucks and so when it happened it was very tough.

DEADLINE: You’ve done plenty of Emmy campaigns. What is the difference do you think now?
ROSS: The Emmy campaign is so much more targeted because you’re really going for one group of people who are voting on that series of awards. The Oscar campaign difference is the diversity of the groups. You have to thread the needle. You are going from literally that first National Board of Review list through every critics group that are in Iowa and St. Louis to all the Guild groups til you get to the Oscar nomination and an Oscar win.

DEADLINE: Let’s talk about Alice in Wonderland first. It didn’t get a Best Picture nomination.
ROSS: My feeling on Alice was I knew going into it we had a proverbial issue of timing. Obviously, it made a billion dollars. But that doesn’t help you. It opened in March. So it was about getting people to remember what they saw. Aside from the problem of when they do see it, the No. 2 challenge is commercialism which seems to come up every year. Last year the ultimate was with Avatar vs The Hurt Locker where people felt Avatar already had its success because the box office was there. It’s not that it doesn’t get attention but it’s definitely a challenge in terms of people’s interpretation of the Awards season. And one of the curious things for me was Mia Wasikowska who was doing her first film and held together a $150 million plus film that made a billion dollars. And when people are talking about breakout stars, I would stand around talking about her, and they are like, ‘Really?’ Now she’s getting huge movies and I believe she will be a huge star. But to me that was the most curious.

DEADLINE: And then Tim Burton has been pretty much ignored by Oscar voters.
ROSS: I think he’s clearly at the top of his game. This was a giant year for him and I assume he wanted to be appreciated. I do believe that day will come before it has to be an honorary Oscar. And I don’t believe it will be a small movie, Nikki. I do believe it will be some substantial commercial film where people will say, ‘It’s about time.’ Read More »

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TOLDJA! Warner Bros Wins Market Share Crown (Again)

Reports are suddenly surfacing that Warner Bros finished 2010 atop the leader board among studios in box office marketshare. Deadline covered this on January 1. In case you missed it, here’s what Nikki Finke wrote two days ago:

Overall, the movie industry domestic box ended the year at $10.3 billion, down from $10.6B in 2009. As I previously reported, Warner Bros will three-peat (a record) in winning the domestic market share for the 3rd year in a row with $1.885 billion, followed by Paramount, then Fox. ”A lack of strong commercial product at Christmas was the reason that the 2010 box office could not close strong,” one top studio exec emails me. However, the final movie industry international box office cume will definitely be a record. The final figure isn’t available yet, but the international numbers look like a tie between Warner Bros and Fox with $2.290 billion, so that gives Warner Bros the crown for worldwide market share for 2010 with $4.804 billion. That’s the 2nd year in a row. As I’ve already reported, Disney’s international total for 2010 was its biggest ever with $2.3 billion. And domestic cume will end the year its second biggest year ever with $1.49 billion. Thank its three 3D titles, Alice In Wonderland and Toy Story 3 and Tangled. Here are official numbers from the studios for New Year’s weekend box office with daily and cume estimates. More bad news: overall grosses this weekend look to be $158M, which is -28% down from last year.

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NEW YEAR’S WEEKEND: ‘True Grit’ Gives #1 ‘Little Fockers’ A Run For The Money; Many Holiday Pics Grossing Big Overseas








SATURDAY PM/SUNDAY AM UPDATE, HAPPY NEW YEAR!  Overall, the movie industry domestic box ended the year at $10.3 billion, down from $10.6B in 2009. As I previously reported, Warner Bros will three-peat (a record) in winning the domestic market share for the 3rd year in a row with $1.885 billion, followed by Paramount, then Fox. ”A lack of strong commercial product at Christmas was the reason that the 2010 box office could not close strong,” one top studio exec emails me. However, the final movie industry international box office cume will definitely be a record. The final figure isn’t available yet, but the international numbers look like a tie between Warner Bros and Fox with $2.290 billion, so that gives Warner Bros the crown for worldwide market share for 2010 with $4.804 billion. That’s the 2nd year in a row. As I’ve already reported, Disney’s international total for 2010 was its biggest ever with $2.3 billion. And domestic cume will end the year its second biggest year ever with $1.49 billion. Thank its three 3D titles, Alice In Wonderland and Toy Story 3 and Tangled. Here are official numbers from the studios for New Year’s weekend box office with daily and cume estimates. More bad news: overall grosses this weekend look to be $158M, which is -28% down from last year. Here are the Top 10:

1. Little Fockers (Universal) Week 2 [3,554 … Read More »

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OSCAR: The Awards Race Starts December

Pete Hammond

The controversial 38th International Animated Film Society’s Annie Awards announced their nominees for Best Animated Feature today:  Universal/Illumination Entertainment’s Despicable Me, DreamWorks Animation’s How To Train Your Dragon, Sony Pictures Classics’ The Illusionist, and Disney’s Tangled and Toy Story 3. What the official press release didn’t mention is that Disney/Pixar is boycotting the awards and refusing to participate due to complaints they have about the voting process among other things. Though the Annies nominated two Disney films in the top category as well as directing and writing for Toy Story 3 (how could they avoid it and maintain cred?), the group gave Disney and Pixar only 7 mentions. But the Annies showered 15 nominations on DWA’s Dragon and 39 nods overall that included films like Megamind and Shrek Forever After. It’s interesting that there was no mention of vote totals in the ASIFA-Hollywood release. Hmm. Something’s wrong in Toonville, and both Disney/Pixar and the Annies have some explaining to do.

“Hosted” screenings by notables not directly connected to the movies in contention for awards seem to be rampant these days. For instance, at the DGA in Hollywood, Sean Penn moderated a Q&A Sunday with his 21 Grams director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Javier Bardem (who received a standing ovation) after a screening of Biutiful. Similar screenings for that film have been moderated by the likes of Werner Herzog and Robert Benton with upcoming unspoolings hosted by Michael Mann and Alfonso Cuaron. The DGA has a long tradition of inviting other directors to interview contenders. Joel Coen recently talked up Sofia Coppola after Somewhere screened in NYC while Alexander … Read More »

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‘Black Swan’ Sets Fox Searchlight Record; ‘Tangled’ Now Tops ‘Harry Potter 7A’ For #1

SUNDAY AM: First weekend I’ve slept past 8 AM in what feels like forever. But this is Hollywood’s lone box office break for big movies before the end of the year, and the 2nd slowest grossing weekend of the year (since the Fri-Sat-Sun post-Thanksgiving is usually a turkey). But a lot of specialty films had their debuts or expansions including Fox Searchlight’s drama Black Swan from Darren Aronofsky starring Natalie Portman (18 theaters in 8 cities — NY, LA, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Washington DC, Dallas, Toronto). It had Friday’s best per screen average with $23,660, and the studio knew it was overperforming when Friday’s matinees were double the per screen average of Aronfsky’s previous The WrestlerBlack Swan grossed $1.3M with a gross per theater average of $77,459, setting an all-time record for Fox Searchlight. (More than Juno, Slumdog MillionaireSideways, and Little Miss Sunshine all of which were in fewer theatres.) The drama also is the 2nd highest opening of a limited release for 2010, passing The Kids Are All Right and now only behind The King’s Speech.

Also for Fox Searchlight, there is Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours with James Franco (433 theaters for a gross per screen average of $3,695), The King’s Speech from The Weinstein Co (6 theaters) with another terrific gross per screen average of $54,312. Roadside Attraction release I Love You, Phillip Morris starring Jim Carrey scored $18,886 gross a screen in 6 theaters for its opening. “Considering the behemoth that is Black Swan, who took away a nice chunk of our hipster, gay and specialty audience, we think we came through with shining colors,” a Roadside exec tells me. Roadside and its partner on the release,  Liddell Entertainment,  are spending a fraction of what, say Fox Searchlight or The Weinstein Co is spending. Magnolia’s drama thriller All Good Things (2 theaters), directed by Andrew Jarecki, debuted with a gross per screen average at NYC’s Paris and Angelica of $20K. But the movie has already made millions on VOD and is on its way to becoming Magnolia’s most successful on that platform. “There is a giant section of America that doesn’t have access to these types of films,” said a Magnolia rep. “The VOD/Theatrical model is alive and very well and these numbers proves that clearly. Many wonder how VOD will affect theatrical – this opening shows that it can lead to success for both. The VOD acts as a sneak and word of mouth tool and theatrical numbers reflect that.”

The good news is that the marketplace expanded for all of these films because the adult audience still feels underserved. Also in theaters are Summit Entertainment’s Fair Game (436 theaters), and Waiting for ‘Superman’ from Paramount Vantage [85 theaters]. Most are platforming for awards season, but none are cracked the Top 10 this weekend. Fair Game added screens but still came in behind Black Swan which looks to gross a phenomenal $300K for Friday, so figure about $1 million for the weekend. On the other hand, the expansion of 127 Hours still can’t get it to hang with the big boys.

As for the major studios, only Rogue/Relativity’s martial arts western The Warrior’s Way stealth-opened semi-wide in 1,622 theaters. I never saw a single trailer or TV ad for it anywhere. No matter: it’s a bomb with the production budget at $42 million and independently financed thanks to international superstar Dong-gun Jang. It was distributed in the U.S. as a rent-a-system deal by Relativity. With a CinemaScore of “C-”, the studio claimed today, “The opening results, while modest, didn’t fall far below expectations as the campaign and spend were very targeted.” According to exit polls, 35%/65% were under/over age 25, with 65% of moviegoers male. But it was a very diverse audience with 27% Asian, 23% African-American, 20% Caucasian and 20% Latino. Among holdovers, this weekend should have seen even steeper drops since a week ago was the day after Thanksgiving and the biggest moviegoing day of the year. But 3 of the 4 opening pics badly underperformed. Disney’s Tangled finally surged past Warner Bros’ Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows which continues to dominate the overseas marketplace, grossing an estimated $54.4M in 62 territories for an international cume to date of now $469.1M and a global cume of $713.3M.  Disney’s 50th animated toon took in $26M this weekend from 15 territories representing 35% of the international market. With Tangled now hitting a domestic cume of $96.5M and overseas total of $45.8M, the new global cume is $142.3M:

1. Tangled (Disney) Week 2 [3,603 Theaters]
Friday $5.1M, Saturday $9.9M, Weekend $21.5M (-56%), Cume $96.5M

2. Harry Potter/Deathly Hallows (Warner Bros) Week 3 [4,125 Theaters]
Friday $4.8M, Saturday $7.4M, Weekend $16.7M, Cume $244.2M Read More »

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Family Pic Feast On Thanksgiving Weekend: Hair No Match For ‘Harry Potter/Hallows’ But ‘Tangled’ Doubles Predictions; ‘Burlesque’, ‘Love/Other Drugs’, ‘Faster’ All Disappoint

SATURDAY PM/SUNDAY AM UPDATE: Sources have given me these Top 10 results with Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday grosses for North America as well as estimated 3-day weekend, 5-day holiday, and cume numbers. The Thanksgiving break is adding up to an overall $255 million moviegoing weekend, the 2nd biggest Thanksgiving ever. (And only -6% down from last year’s record when Twilight Saga: New Moon, The Blind Side, and 2012 led the way.) Out of the gate Wednesday, four movies released — Disney’s Rapunzel retelling toon Tangled 3D, Sony/Screen Gems’ garish musical Burlesque, Fox’s R-rated adult dramedy Love And Other Drugs, and CBS Films’ actioner on the cheap Faster. But none were able to unseat holdover Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part 1 from atop the box office. All three non-family openers started the holiday weekend very slow while Harry Potter and Tangled and DreamWorks Animation holdover Megamind 3D galloped into the lead. After Friday, the race was easily won by HP7A with Tangled surprisingly close behind. Fox’s Unstoppable showed strength three weeks in release after a mediocre start. The rest of the weekend was a humilitainment contest to see which newcomer faded fastest:

1. Harry Potter/Deathly Hallows, Pt 1 (Warner Bros) Week 2 [4,125 Runs]
Wednesday $14.4M, Thursday $11.5M, Friday $20.7M, Saturday $18.7M
3-Day Weekend $50.3M, 5-Day Holiday $78M, Cume $220M

This 7th Harry Potter in the franchise is the best performer on the single best moviegoing day of the year. The big Friday-to-Friday drop is due only to last week’s enormous midnight screenings number that was loaded into the whopping $125.1M opening weekend.

2. Tangled 3D (Disney) NEW [3,603 Runs]
Wednesday $11.8M, Thursday $8.1M, Friday $19.7M, Saturday $18.7M 
Estimated 3-Day Weekend $49.1M, 5-Day Holiday $69M

According to some media, this 50th animated Disney film is the kind of movie that the new regime doesn’t want to make anymore. Which is why a Magic Kingdom denizen warned me in advance “not to buy into that. The Los Angeles Times is beyond idiotic in its death toll on animation as you well know. Though this is not Toy Story and should not be compared to that.” Maybe so, but Tangled really overperformed by doubling Hollywood’s expectations for the 2nd best Thanksgiving weekend opener ever (not adjusted for higher 3D ticket prices). Add the international weekend tally of $13.8M, and that’s a global cume after 5 days of $82.8M. Then again, Disney has done well on previous Thanksgiving weekends (Enchanted, 101 Dalmations, A Bug’s Life, Toy Story), boasting five of the last top six #1 movies during this time slot. This renamed Rapunzel also benefitted most from the Warner Bros decision not to release HP/Deathly Hallows in 3D, allowing Tangled more breathing room on its 2,413 3D screens. And though I and many others took early swipes at new marketing czarina MT Carney, she ensured this “A+” CinemaScore toon wasn’t dismissed as just another Disney fairy tale princess story, taking pains to attract boys by emphasizing the toon’s male hero and making some surprising TV ads aimed at parents. (I especially liked the clever hair growth spot during a recent Saturday Night Live.) Mandy Moore voiced/performed all the songs opposite Zachary Levi and both promoted the heck out of the movie. This was the largest U.S. word-of-mouth screening program for a Disney animated film ever — 250 screenings in 50 U.S. markets over 5 weeks – and the first global junket held at Disneyland. Tangled is already positively impacting other lines of business. Rapunzel and Flynn Rider also made appearances at 17 NBA games, 4 NHL games, 4 NFL games, 1 NCAA football game, etc. Most important to the Disney money machine is that Tangled merchandise is selling very well in advance of the holiday season for the corporation’s Consumer Products division.

3. Megamind 3D (DreamWorks Animation/Paramount) Week 4 [3,401 Runs]
Wednesday $2.6M, Thursday $2M, Friday $5.3M, Saturday $4.9M
Estimated 3-Day Weekend $12.8M, 5-Day Holiday $17.5M, Cume $130.4M

4. Burlesque (Screen Gems/Sony) NEW [3,037 Runs]
Wednesday $2.4M, Thursday $2.4M, Friday $4.5M, Saturday $4.6M
Estimated 3-Day Weekend $11.8M, 5-Day Holiday $17.2M

Why anybody bothered to make Burlesque or give it such a wide release might be a mystery. Until it’s revealed that Screen Gems chief Clint Culpepper greenlighted his boyfriend’s $55+ million passion project. (Their on-set strife over budget, schedule, and creative decisions resulted in the most expensive film in Screen Gems history, and word is they’re now broken up after 20 years. Awkward.) But novice director Steven Antin deserves at least some credit for bringing back Cher to the big screen: they both dated David Geffen, and the mogul urged Cher to take the role. She hasn’t had a major film since 1999′s Tea With Mussolini and is a bonafide national treasure. But am I the only one who can’t stand Christina Aguilera’s hammy vocal stylings or Steven’s sister Robin Antin “Pussycat Dolls” slutty dance gyrations? No matter. The studio claims this is an event musical made “for women young and old and it offers pure moviegoing fun” for the holidays. Too bad no one showed up in theaters even if the soundtrack opened to #1 on iTunes and is currently #11 overall. Screen Gems did its best to market this clunker by arranging for live performances with Christina on the Dancing With The Stars season finale as well as on the American Music Awards. And for Cher to do her first major interviews in 10 years and have her hand and feet immortalized in cement at Grauman’s Chinese Theater. The studio also did grassroots marketing in the gay community and sponsored pride parades in LA, NY, and San Francisco, as well as Burlesque-themed nights and “Cher-aoke” in gay bars across the country.

5. Unstoppable (Fox) Week 3 [3,183 Runs]
Wednesday $1.9M, Thursday $2.5M, Friday $4.5M, Saturday $4.7M
Estimated 3-Day Weekend $11.7M, 5-Day Holiday $16M, Cume $60.7M

At first, Fox film mogul Tom Rothman despaired that yet another of his studio’s movies was struggling this terrible year. But now, perhaps, he can stop bitching and moaning and burying his face in his hands. Though slow off the mark, this old-fashioned Tony Scott-directed thriller derided as “Speed-on-a-train” is testament to the importance of word of mouth and Denzel Washington’s impressive staying power as a box office star. Its opening weekend “A-” CinemaScore helps as well as solidly above-average exit polls across all demographics to give 20th Century Fox reason to still hope for a long run and decent multiple off of a meager $23.5M opening. Audiences have been very balanced by gender and are skewing older.

6. Love And Other Drugs (Fox) NEW [2,455 Runs]
Wednesday $2.1M, Thursday $1.9M, Friday $3.8M, Saturday $3.8M
Estimated 3-Day Weekend $9.8M, 5-Day Holiday $14.5M

It’s been decades since Ed Zwick directed a romantic comedy-drama, and that was the now classic About Last Night based on the David Mamet play Sexual Perversity In Chicago. So it’s a shame that a quality adult pic like Love And Other Drugs is having difficulty meeting even modest mid-teens expectations for the 5-day holiday. Based on the non-fiction title Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman written by Jamie Reidy, this pic is underperforming even with the very appealing stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway. (But clearly, after Zodiak and Prince Of Persia, Jake can’t carry a major studio picture.) Though tracking best with women over 25, one roadblock could be its R rating because of a topless actress and a bottomless actor. Though reviewers were only lukewarm about the pic, Hathaway and Gyllenhaal should garner Golden Globe heat in the comedy/musical category (despite some killer dramatic scenes) because those Hollywood Foreign Press Association hacks care mostly about star wattage. But that will come too late to help box office.

7. Faster (CBS Films/Sony) NEW [2,454 Runs]
Wednesday $1.6M, Thursday $1.9M, Friday $3.2M, Saturday $3.4M
Estimated 3-Day Weekend $8.7M, 5-Day Holiday $12.2M

Newcomer CBS Films struck out with its first two modestly budgeted films. Now its actioner costing $24 million split with Sony and featuring Dwayne Johnson is another swing and miss at bat after the studio hoped for $15+M. At least the movie division didn’t spend big marketing dollars because Faster was so targeted to the men who make up the CBS TV audience and promoted on shows like the rebooted Hawaii Five-O. Then there are the 29 TV stations, 2nd largest radio outfit, and largest billboard company to exploit as well. So shouldn’t this film have hit it out of the ballpark? ”The biggest problem, honestly, is that The Rock lost his credibility with action fans when he did those family films,” an insider emails me. “It’s hard to be a badass when you’ve put on a tutu in The Tooth Fairy.” Good thing Les Moonves has vowed to be patient.

8. Due Date (Warner Bros) Week 4 [2,455 Runs]
Wednesday $1.3M, Thursday $1.7M, Friday $2.8M, Saturday $2.9M
Estimated 3-Day Weekend $7.3M, 5-Day Holiday $10.5M, Cume $85M

9. The Next Three Days (Lionsgate) Week 2 [2,564 Runs]
Wednesday $760K, Thursday $1M, Friday $1.8M, Saturday $2M
Estimated 3-Day Weekend $4.8M, 5-Day Holiday $6.5M, Cume $14.5M

10. Morning Glory (Paramount) Week 3 [2,441 Runs]
Wednesday $610K, Thursday $840K, Friday $1.6M, Saturday $1.5M
Estimated 3-Day Weekend $4M, 5-Day Holiday $4.5M, Cume $26.4M

WEDNESDAY 8:45 PM, 2ND UPDATE: Disney sources now tell me Read More »

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OSCAR: No T-Day Slowdown For Contenders

Pete Hammond

Traditionally, most Hollywood businesses grind to a halt for the 5-day Thanksgiving holiday. But not this wide-open awards season. Tangled had its official Academy screening last Sunday morning but only drew about 200 people. Instead, the holidays actually seem like a good time to push an animated Disney musical. So Disney isn’t even taking Turkey Day off: instead, the studio has skedded screenings of Tangled at the DGA open to all Guild and Academy members. This isn’t actually a new practice. In the past, Oscar hopefuls like Dreamgirls, The Lord Of The Rings, and others have done the same thing at the DGA theater drawing surprisingly strong crowds of potential voters on a day most people are thought to stay at home. Disney also sent a note warning some early voting groups that they wouldn’t be able to send screeners of the film before deadlines for ballots (piracy concerns are part of that problem), so the T-Day screenings take on even greater import.

Tangled aside, distributors have been rushing to get screeners in as many voter hands as possible before Thanksgiving when they think people will have more time on their hands to pop a DVD in the player before the real crunch comes in December. Among those sent in the last few days are The Social Network, Made In Dagenham, Inside Job, Stone, Let Me In, 127 Hours, Black Swan, Conviction, Never Let Me Go, Toy Story 3, Winter’s Bone, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1,  The Town, Inception, Hereafter, Legends Of The Guardians: The Owls of Ga’hoole, and The Ghost Writer.

Meanwhile, campaign season continues. Over the weekend, American Cinematheque also proved why it can be a very useful tool during awards season by hosting two sold-out events  for Oscar hopefuls. Saturday night, there was a tribute to Pierce Brosnan at the Aero in Santa Monica with a double feature of Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer and Matador. Inbetween, Pierce appeared for a nearly hour-long Q&A (I moderated) in which he discussed his career from TV’s Remington Steele to James Bond to an Roman Polanski’s Ghost Writer in which he plays ex-British Prime Minister (Tony Blair, anyone?) now writing his controversial memoir. Summit Entertainment is hoping the pic will land him in the Best Supporting Actor conversation. Its early February release is a hindrance but by having a toney organization like American Cinematheque create these little tribute evenings, studios believe they can get the “right” kind of association for their contenders.

It was completely sold out, as was the next night at the same venue which hosted a Q&A session with writer Aaron Sorkin and stars Justin Timberlake, Andrew Garfield and Armie Hammer following a special screening of Sony Pictures’ The Social Network. All were talking about the genius of Director David Fincher (away on location in Sweden shooting The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo remake) and the number of takes he would require of his actors. “Sometimes there would be 99 of them, but not 100, never 100,” Timberlake said. In an encouraging sign for writerly respect, most of the audience questions from the predominantly young crowd were surprisingly directed at Sorkin who said dialogue-heavy movie might have been written by Paddy Chayefsky in another era. Not bad company to be in since Paddy won no less than three screenwriting Oscars. Some are asking if there is any way Sorkin can lose the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar this year? Especially after The Social Network opened to near-unanimous acclaim and strong business for a drama.

Other Best Picture competitors were also active over the weekend Read More »

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OSCAR: Rapunzel, Marty, Leo Start Campaigns

Pete Hammond

A Best Song nod could be Tangled’s best shot at Oscar recognition this year after today’s Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science confirmation that just 15 movies have qualified for Best Animated Feature. That’s one short of the 16 needed to trigger five nominations instead of three. With Toy Story 3 and How To Train Your Dragon virtually assured of two of those slots, it will be a real dogfight now for the third position. Tangled composer Alan Menken tells me that, to regain some winning momentum (and maybe tie Alfred Newman for the most music victories in Academy history), he plans to let Disney only submit one song from Tangled: the love ballad, “I See The Light”, sung by Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi, which he thinks has a better shot than some of the more up tempo tunes in the toon. This way, Menken doesn’t risk cancelling himself out again like what happened when his three nominated Enchanted songs were bested by “Falling Slowly” from Once.

He’s adamant about entering just one song even though Academy rules would now allow two. He also bemoans the fact that his score is ineligible due to a rule imposed after music branch complaints when Menken won all those previous Oscars. He does admit though that “if I weren’t me, I would probably be complaining too”. Menken is an 8-time Oscar winner for Beauty And The Beast, Aladdin, The Little Read More »

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Walt Disney On ‘How To Train An Animator’

With DreamWorks Animation opening Megamind today, and Sony Pictures Animation just naming a new president, and Walt Disney Studios releasing Tangled shortly, and Universal/Illumination sending Despicable Me overseas, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences enforcing a November 1st deadline for 2010 Best Animated feature entries, it’s more relevant than ever to spotlight a letter written by Walt Disney in 1935 about the business of toon storytelling. The Drawn Blog (described as a daily source of inspiration for illustration, animation, cartooning, and comic art) recently drew attention to an 8-page Walt memo to Don Graham, a highly respected art teacher, about setting up art classes for Disney animators that would become the studio’s structured training program. That gave birth to the Golden Age of Animation, what with Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs released in 1937, and Pinocchio and Fantasia in 1940.

The full memo is posted on the website, but I felt it was important to repeat it here as well. Because today’s toonmakers who place relentless hipness over emotional substance would do well to remember Walt’s words, especially about animation laughs: “Comedy, to be appreciated, must have contact with the audience. This we all know, but sometimes forget. By contact, I mean that there must be a familiar, sub-conscious association. Somewhere, or at some time, the audience has felt, or met with, or seen, or dreamt, the situation pictured. A study of the best gags and audience reaction we have had, will prove that the action or situation is something based on an imaginative experience or a direct life connection. This is what I mean by contact with the audience. When the action or the business loses its contact, it becomes silly and meaningless to the audience.”

WALT DISNEY PRODUCTIONS
INTER-OFFICE COMMUNICATION

DATE DECEMBER 23, 1935
TO DON GRAHAM
FROM WALT

Right after the holidays, I want to get together with you and work out a very systematic training course for young animators, and also outline a plan of approach for our older animators.

Some of our established animators at the present time are lacking in many things, and I think we should arrange a series of courses to enable these men to learn and acquire the things they lack.

Naturally the first most important thing for any animator to know is how to draw. Therefore it will be necessary that we have a good life drawing class. But you must remember Don, that while there are many men who make a good showing in the drawing class, and who, from your angle, seem good prospects – these very men lack in some other phase of the business that is very essential to their success as animators.

I have found that men respond much more readily to classes dealing with practical problems than to more theoretic treatment. Therefore I think it would be a very good idea to appeal to these men by conducting these classes with the practical approach in mind. In other words, try to show in these classes that the men can make immediate practical application of what they are being taught.

The talks given by Fergy, Fred Moore, Ham Luske, and Fred Spencer, have been enthusiastically received by all those in attendance. Immediately following these talks, I have noticed a great change in animation. Some men have made close to 100% improvement in the handling and timing of their work. This strikes me as pointing a way toward the proper method of teaching in the future.

The following occurs to me as a method of procedure:

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OSCAR: Animation Entries Down To Wire; But Will There Be Enough For 5 Nominees?

Pete Hammond

Today the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences sent out a reminder confirming the 5 PM PT November 1st deadline for 2010 Best Animated feature entries. At this point there do not appear to be enough entries to trigger five nominations rather than the more common three but there is still time, brother. What wasn’t mentioned in the release is the number that have been received so far at the Academy. A really good clue though is a  letter I have learned that was  sent late last week updating members and potential members of the Animation committee (the ones doing the voting)  and informing them that 14 entries had been received but that it was still possible to reach 16, the magic number needed to expand the category. Last year a flurry of last minute entries flooded the Acad offices and Oscar ‘toon watchers were hoping the same might miraculously happen this year. Academy rules state that in any year with 8 to 15 eligible entries there will be three nominations allowed but if it’s 16 or more there will be five contenders, as has happened twice (including last year) since the  category was created in 2001 when Dreamworks’ Shrek became the first winner.

Dreamworks Animation has only won once  since then (for releasing 2005’s Wallace & Gromit in The Curse Of The Were Rabbit) and is back in the game big time this year with its March release, How To Train Your Dragon but would also love to see its upcoming  Megamind (Nov 5) in the … Read More »

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Oscar Contenders, Part 2: Now For The Hopefuls That Didn’t Hit Fall Fest Circuit

Pete Hammond

Passing the giant Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps billboard at the Pico Blvd entrance to 20th Century Fox, I noticed the words “Academy Award” prominently mentioned no less than five times. Academy Award Winner Michael Douglas. Academy Award Nominee Josh Brolin. Academy Award Winner Susan Sarandon. Academy Award Nominee Frank Langella. Academy Award Nominee Carey Mulligan. Not so subtly, making an early bid like this to find any way to associate the Academy Awards and an opening movie this time of year can be a smart marketing strategy. It’s a way to establish a new film as a contender amid the endless glut of generally still-sight-unseen Oscar wannabes.

With that in mind, I continue my rundown of award hopefuls. I started last week with an assessment of Oscar chances for the films that had just appeared at any or all of the three Fall Film Festivals in Venice, Telluride, and Toronto. I began that list with Friday’s New York Film Festival opener The Social Network. Now comes, in order of scheduled release date, the trickier proposition of forecasting the awards status of films that weren’t unveiled at a Fall Fest but will be opening before the end of the year:

WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS (Twentieth Century Fox – 9/24) On paper, with its timely theme, this is exactly the kind of popular drama with an Oscar-heavy cast and director that the 10 Best Picture nominations would tend to favor. Well-received in Cannes last May, it still  hasn’t generated  the kind of serious buzz which fall fest entries like Social Network, The King’s Speech, and Black Swan all managed. Oscar Chance: Bearish, since sequels rarely compete and Oliver Stone’s 1987 original received just a single nomination — and won Best Actor for Michael Douglas. His bigger-than-life Gekko remains its best chance to jump in the race, particularly with goodwill for the actor running high due to his cancer and memories of his acclaimed work in the indie Solitary Man still fresh from earlier this year. Never-nominated Eli Wallach, 95, might have had a shot for his small but indelible role. But he’s already getting an Honorary Oscar in November.

NOWHERE BOY (The Weinstein Co – 10/8) This story of the young John Lennon opened last Christmas in England and has already hit British Airways and Blu-ray but is craftily timed for U.S. release the day before what would have been the musician’s 70th birthday. Oscar Chance: Both female co-stars Kristin Scott Thomas and Anne-Marie Duff were BAFTA nominees last season and might have a long shot in the Supporting Actress category if Weinstein does any sort of serious campaign for this.

SECRETARIAT (Walt Disney Pictures – 10/8) This emotion stirring crowd-pleasing story of the 1973 Triple Crown winner and the woman who wouldn’t give up on him could appeal to the same feel-good contingent that made The Blind Side such a player last year. Oscar Chance: Diane Lane and John Malkovich could figure in acting races. While sound, cinematography, music, and Best Picture nominations are not out of the question. If 2003’s Seabiscuit, which landed 7 nominations including the big one back when there were only five slots, could do it, then it should be a breeze for this horse. But Disney has to campaign just as aggressively as Universal did back then.

COMPANY MEN (The Weinstein Co – 10/22) There hasn’t been a whole lot of buzz on this John Wells written and directed title since it debuted to mixed reviews in Sundance. But this of-the-moment drama about the effect of corporate downsizing on three men has a strong cast that includes past Oscar winners Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, and Chris Cooper. Oscar Chance: A longshot that needs to step up its awards game or risk downsizing to also-ran status against stiff competition.

WELCOME TO THE RILEYS (Samuel Goldwyn – 10/29) Fine acting from James Gandolfini, Melissa Leo, and Kristen Stewart highlight this drama about the effect that a young runaway has on a married couple. Oscar Chance: This quiet and effective drama was a Sundance success. But it’s likely to be more prominent at the Spirits than the Oscars.

FAIR GAME (Summit – 11/5)  The hot button Valerie Plame/CIA leak story gets the cinematic treatment from director Doug Liman. It played well to critics in competition at Cannes in May but has been dormant on the Fall Festival circuit. Oscar Chance: It has two stars, Sean Penn and Naomi Watts, who are usually Academy bait. But so far neither is generating much heat in the highly competitive lead actor and actress races. Perhaps that will change when the film gets its second shot at glory just after election day. Of course, Penn already has a couple of Oscars.

FOR COLORED GIRLS (Lionsgate – 11/5) Except for the trailer, no one’s really yet seen this Tyler Perry adaptation of Ntozake Shange’s 1975 play with the longer title For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf. But apparently Lionsgate has enuf confidence to push the release right up to the start date of the film industry’s official holiday movie season. Oscar Chance: Perry’s a cash cow for Lionsgate but he’s got no Oscar cred yet except for an AMPAS membership card. Last year, this distributor scored 6 nominations and 2 Oscars with  Precious (which Perry supported by lending his name). But can lightning strike twice?

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 1 (Warner Bros – 11/19) The mega-box office Harry Potter series begins its wrap party with the first of a 2-part finale. Oscar Chance: These films are usually good for one or two technical nods but haven’t broken through into the marquee categories. If Harry has any shot at pulling a Lord Of The Rings-style victory lap, it’s probably with the more emotionally potent Part 2 which gets a July release.

THE NEXT THREE DAYS (Lionsgate – 11/19) Oscar-winner Paul Haggis co-wrote and directed this thriller about the turmoil in a couple’s life after the wife is accused of murder. Russell Crowe, Liam Neeson, and Elizabeth Banks star. Oscar Chance: Although Haggis and Lionsgate last struck Oscar gold together with Crash, this one is said to be a strictly commercial bet with no similar awards trajectory. Read More »

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Hot Trailer: Walt Disney’s ‘Tangled’

By | Thursday September 16, 2010 @ 9:01am PDT

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Oscar’s Animation Race Just Got ‘Tangled’

Pete Hammond

I know everyone (including my new Deadline colleague Mike Fleming who will be reporting on the ground there for us) is winging their way to Toronto right now to see a bunch of Oscar hopefuls that I already saw in Cannes, Telluride or oh-so-cool private L.A. screenings (more on THOSE flicks as the fest unveils them). But I am also focused on checking out some contenders NOT on display in Canada. That’s exactly what I did yesterday in the not-as-exciting clime of  Burbank.  I came away feeling I’d found another strong entry in what is becoming a very strong awards season race for ‘toons.

That’s right. Wednesday Disney did something studios never do unless they know they have the goods. They flew in several members of the press–mostly those who cover animation for outlets with long lead times–to see the first ever screening of the big Thanksgiving holiday release Tangled. The musical weaves a new take on the Rapunzel fairy tale, in what represents Disney’s milestone 50th animated feature since Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs in 1937. John Lasseter told the gathered press, “You can feel the pride people in this studio have in Tangled. We just couldn’t wait for people to see it.”

It’s looking like there will again be five nominees for Best Animated Feature this year. Based the deservedly enthusiastic  press response to the work-in-progress print shown yesterday, Tangled could easily be among them. As will Disney/Pixar’s Toy Read More »

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