The company has been on a release-date roll, slating a dozen films since Friday. In its second announcement today, Warner Bros has set theatrical debuts for the Untitled New Line Horror Film (October 3), Mean Moms (May 8, 2015), …
Considering that global movie ticket sales reached precedent levels after a particularly robust holiday period and a mostly sizzling summer, 2013 was one of the most turbulent years I can remember in the executive suites of major studios. Studios were overhauled all over town to better compete in an arena that is more of a global pursuit than ever, with victory belonging to whoever can build and maintain the most franchises.
Purists will decry the fact that Hollywood’s brightest minds are mostly focused on repackaging derivative concepts for maximum global grosses, but evidence of the rewards are right there in the gross charts: Six of the top seven biggest films were sequels that provided the kind of results that keep studio conglomerate parents happy, keep studio chiefs employed, and slate co-financiers coming back for more. Sure, studios will still get involved with awards-season prestige films like The Wolf Of Wall Street, American Hustle and 12 Years A Slave, but often only when someone else pays to make them. This franchise fever pushed costs of blockbusters to ridiculously high levels, and left top execs and producers explaining, and sometimes packing, when some badly misfired. Add that to internal power struggles at places like Universal and Warner Bros, and you needed a scorecard to keep up with the executive changes — which came fast and furious, especially after the brutal summer blockbuster season. Among them:
*Universal fired film chairman Adam Fogelson in a move that surprised him along with everyone else in town but Ron Meyer and Donna Langley, with whom he engaged in a quiet power struggle. Fogelson was blindsided by the result, coming hours after he presided over the Toronto premiere of Rush. The Comcast-orchestrated move that put Jeff Shell in charge of filmed entertainment after he did well running NBCUniversal’s international operations. Meyer was upped to vice chairman of NBCUniversal and Langley as sole Universal Films chairman and picture picker. Even though the studio placed third in market share and Despicable Me 2 could become the studio’s biggest-ever box office hit when it plays in China, Universal also flubbed franchise launch attempts like R.I.P.D. and 47 Ronin, and Kick-Ass 2 proved that once was enough. Universal has sequels to Jurassic Park, The Mummy and Ted coming, and a new salty adult franchise in Fifty Shades Of Grey for 2015. Thomas Tull’s Legendary Pictures moved in to hatch pictures and co-fi Universal titles like Jurassic World, hedging the studio’s bets as it moves forward. Langley’s biggest challenge has been retooling the studio’s most lucrative franchise, Fast & Furious, which was halfway completed when star Paul Walker died tragically in a fiery car crash. Right after Fogelson was ousted, longtime Focus Features chief James Schamus was dismissed just as suddenly. He was replaced by Peter Schlessel, the whip-smart former Sony dealmaker who’d been running FilmDistrict and who clearly will be charged with broadening the highbrow Focus slate to include more low-risk high-return genre films like the FilmDistrict hit Insidious. Schamus’s co-chairman, Andrew Karpen, declined to relocate and stay on, dramatically changing the complexion of that prestige company.
*The final shoe dropped after Warner Bros gave the top job to Kevin Tsujihara instead of Warner Bros movie chief Jeff Robinov. At a time when Robinov should have been taking victory laps after his bets on filmmakers paid off so well with Ben Affleck’s Argo, Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, Zack Snyder’s Man Of Steel and Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity, Robinov instead left in a frosty exit to form his own moneyed film venture. This, and the equally tempestuous exit of Legendary’s Tull after a lucrative franchise-fueled run, left Robinov’s successors Greg Silverman and Sue Kroll under big pressure to assert themselves to find new franchises. The studio re-upped Village Roadshow Pictures and replaced Legendary with James Packer, Brett Ratner and Steven Mnuchin’s RatPac Dune in a slate co-financing deal that will spread $450 million or more over 75 films. While Warner Bros brass tired of Tull imposing his creative will and cherry-picking Warner Bros titles to co-fi, RatPac Dune will not do that, and I heard the studio was able to exclude certain plum titles from the arrangement. But Warner Bros also gifted RatPac Dune with a co-fi stake in Gravity after it was completed, creating a big windfall for a fledgling venture. It’s ironic given nobody in Hollywood but Robinov seemed to want to make that movie — an expensive auteur effort that has zero sequel potential. One challenge for the new team at Warner Bros: keeping Robinov from peeling away the directors he empowered, from Christopher Nolan to Affleck, Snyder, Luhrmann, The Hangover‘s Todd Phillips and Cuaron to make movies at the new company he and Graham King are expected to launch at Sony. Silverman is respected and Kroll is regarded as arguably the best marketer in town and the studio’s global distribution and marketing operation is as good as there is, but the pressure’s on even though Warner Bros topped other studios in market share. It also has what seems like a strong year with franchise launches in Godzilla and LEGO, another installment of 300 (so what if everybody died in the original?), and a Hobbit finale. Beyond Hobbit, New Line continues to do its part on the franchise front, hatching a Horrible Bosses sequel for 2014 and gearing up another installment of its sleeper 2013 road trip comedy We’re The Millers.
*After two costly summer misfires in After Earth and White House Down, a lackluster Smurfs sequel that fizzled the franchise, and disappointing returns on the Matt Damon-starrer Elysium, Sony Pictures chairman Amy Pascal found herself in the cross-hairs of minority activist shareholder Daniel Loeb. The result: seismic changes in its executive structure and game plan moving forward. The studio dropped marketing head Marc Weinstock, corporate PR chief Steve Elzer and home entertainment chief David Bishop, and then added former New Line president-turned Fifty Shades Of Grey producer Michael De Luca to share president of production duties with Hannah Minghella. The studio vowed heading into its fall investor meetings that it would cut $250 million in costs through 2016, and make fewer movies in 2014 and pour the money into TV. I keep hearing that was temporary window dressing, and after adding former Fox chief Tom Rothman to revive TriStar, which creates another buyer on a lot full of them, Sony will continue to try and create franchises to go along with its Spider-Man and 007 stalwarts. Sony secured a big slate co-fi investment from John LaViolette and Joseph Singer’s Blue Anchor that begins with George Clooney’s The Monuments Men. And then there is the prospect of the venture by Robinov/King which would give Sony huge movies to release and gain market share and bragging rights, without actually having to fund them if they don’t want to. If 22 Jump Street and especially The Amazing Spider-Man 2 hit as well as is hoped, some of that pressure could be alleviated as the studio presses ahead with reboots of past franchise successes Ghostbusters and Men In Black.
Global Showbiz Briefs: ‘Broadchurch’ Book; ‘The Escape Artist’ Sales; Bassem Youssef; Louis Delluc Shortlist; More
‘Broadchurch’ Gets Book Treatment
Little, Brown has acquired world rights to a novel inspired by ITV crime series Broadchurch. According to Bookseller, Sphere Fiction’s Jade Chandler bought the book from Cathy King at the UK’s Independent Talent, representing Broadchurch screenwriter Chris Chibnall. He’ll co-write the novel with thriller author Erin Kelly. To be published next August, it will add material to the existing story and delve deeper into the back stories of the characters. Broadchurch, starring David Tennant and Olivia Colman, was a massive hit for ITV this year in the UK. It also aired on BBC America and is being remade by Fox with Tennant playing an American detective brought to a small town where a young boy has been killed under mysterious circumstances.
‘The Escape Artist’ Sells In Scandinavia
In related David Tennant news, Norway’s TV2 and TV4 in Sweden have taken rights to Red Arrow International’s three-part drama The Escape Artist. Tennant stars in the thriller that debuts on BBC One tonight. David Wolstencroft wrote the series that’s produced by Hilary Bevan Jones and Paul Frift of Red Arrow’s Endor Productions. Tennant plays defense lawyer Will Burton who specializes in getting people out of tight legal corners. But when his talents acquit the prime suspect in a horrific murder trial, the tables turn. I saw the debut episode last week in London and, without giving away any spoilers, I will say it packs a wallop.
Gravity just became IMAX‘s highest-grossing second weekend title ever, but French moviegoers won’t get to see it in the format when the Warner Bros hit bows in France on October 23rd. That’s because Amélie helmer Jean-Pierre Jeunet‘s 3D The Young And Prodigious T.S. Spivet has staked out the only slots at the country’s five IMAX locations. Spivet comes out on October 16th, a week before Gravity, and is expected to stay in place until Thor: The Dark World moves in on October 30th. So how did a film that lends itself so completely to the IMAX experience find itself without a window in France?
Gaumont, the studio behind Jeunet’s English-language Spivet, has a deal with IMAX for the film to be released locally and internationally in its immersive format. The pact follows IMAX’s collaboration with Pathé’s 2012 French comedy Houba! On The Trail Of The Marsupilami, as the company looks to work increasingly with local filmmakers. Spivet initially had an October 23rd release – a similar date to Jeunet’s last two films, Micmacs and A Very Long Engagement, which coincidentally were released by Warner Bros France in 2009 and 2004, respectively. Warner Bros for its part had originally been eyeing a November 6th Gravity release in France, but in February this year moved onto October 23rd. Spivet then also moved, to October 16th. Because IMAX was committed to Spivet, and doesn’t split screens in France, Gravity was effectively squeezed out. Ultimately, I’m told Warner Bros preferred sticking to its planned release strategy rather than co-opt it for just the five IMAX screens. (The latter half of October in France is hotly-contested release real estate in any format. Among the recent hits to lay claim, box office and/or prestige-wise, are Asterix & Obelix: God Save Britannia, Amour, The Artist, Paranormal Activity 2 & 3, The Adventures Of Tintin and Little White Lies.)
EXCLUSIVE: Sony Pictures Soon Latest Studio Closing Big Co-Financing Film Deal
By Nikki Finke — EXCLUSIVE: All of the Sony parent company brass from Japan including Kazuo Hirai are in Culver City this week for meetings to discuss among other things the film studio. Finally, here’s some good news for Amy Pascal et al. I’ve learned that Sony Pictures is in the process of closing a rich co-financing deal.
SHOCKER! Peter Schlessel Takes Over Focus Features
By Mike Fleming Jr. — The news that Universal dropped another bombshell today and announced that James Schamus would leave as head of Focus Features has left everyone at that boutique label reeling. But it hits the company’s New York staff hardest.
Focus Features Day 2: Who’ll Stay?
By Mike Fleming Jr. — EXCLUSIVE: Yesterday’s bombshell that caught everyone at Focus Features by surprise has given way to a collective depression among the people at Focus who watched the abrupt exit of their leader James Schamus, and learned Universal will close the Gotham headquarters after incoming head Peter Schlessel arrives in January.
After Eight ‘Harry Potter’ Hits David Heyman Follows Up With ‘Gravity’ – This Time He May Finally Be Going To The Oscars
By Pete Hammond — With Gravity looking like it is soaring at the box office today and the Harry Potter 8-pack of films successfully behind him, producer David Heyman is riding high. Of course, director Alfonso Cuaron and stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are getting the lion’s share of attention for the space drama, but Heyman is happy to give credit where credit is due.
Expanding their longterm, lucrative partnership on the Harry Potter franchise, Warner Bros and author J.K. Rowling are putting a new film series in the works. Rowling will make her screenwriting debut on Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, an original story based on the Hogwarts textbook that appears on a reading list in the first Potter tome, Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone. This is the first in a planned series of films and will feature magical creatures and characters from the Potter mythology, including the textbook’s fictitious author, Newt Scamander. Rowling says it’s not a sequel or a prequel to the Potter adventures, but will kick off in New York, 70 years before Harry’s story starts. No timeline or director has been identified yet. If the films follow the Harry Potter process, they’ll make use of Warner Bros’ Leavesden studios outside London which Warner acquired and revamped after the last Potter film was shot. Warner Bros noted today that the relationship between Rowling and the studio will be managed in London by Neil Blair of Rowling’s literary agency The Blair Partnership, and by Warner UK, Ireland and Spain chief Josh Berger.
Fantastic Beasts will also be developed across Warner Bros’ video game, consumer products and digital initiatives businesses. As part of the newly extended relationship, Warner Bros has also boarded the BBC adaptation of Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy which goes into production next year. Warner will distribute the series globally, excluding the UK. A full press release on the new arrangements follows:
UPDATED, 8:07PM… Both sides are claiming victory — of course — in the battle over The Butler. As Deadline first reported Thursday and then updated this morning, the MPAA said tonight that its original ruling in the case went too far, and it has overturned the part that excluded the Weinstein Company from using the word “butler” in the title of its historical drama. The MPAA Appeals Board’s decision — read it here and decide for yourself — says TWC can use the word “butler” in the title, but all words in the title have to be of same size/prominence. If the company indeed decides to title the film Lee Daniels’ The Butler, though, “Lee Daniels” has to be 75% the size of “The Butler.” TWC has to pay $400,000 to the Entertainment Industry Foundation as sanctions for violating the July 2 award and must pay the charity $25,000 per day to for violating today’s award, which increases to $50,000 a day if they don’t issue new digital materials (trailers, TV ads, etc.) for the film by July 26 and new print materials by August. TWC also has to pay Warner Bros’ $150,000 in legal fees. Some background, for those who might have been on safari the past few weeks, after the jump:
If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, goes the old saying. While the studios continue trying to crack the nut of getting Hollywood films into China, many of the majors also have a wider global strategy that’s proving lucrative both there and elsewhere: Local-language production. Hollywood’s involvement in the area is not new. But, increasingly, movies that are co-produced or distributed by the majors in such places as China, India, Germany, Italy, Spain, Korea and Latin America are finding themselves reaping strong returns.
The markets “are huge,” especially where local box office rivals that of Hollywood pictures. Homegrown films in China, for example, generally snag about 50% of the annual market share and are currently widely outperforming Hollywood films – this week’s Iron Man 3 notwithstanding. In India, the indigenous share of a $2B market can be as much as 90%. There’s an argument to be made that Chinese or Indian films don’t cross cultural borders, but with those kinds of numbers, “Why would the film need to travel?” posits an exec.
Richard Fox, EVP International for Warner Bros., says the studio is looking to develop relationships to make Chinese-language films. “There are a lot of moving pieces in assessing which countries to focus on,” but, “if it doesn’t recoup in the country of origin, we don’t get involved,” he says. Warner recently bet well in Mexico where its comedy Nosotros Los Nobles smashed records with the second biggest opening ever for a non-animated local film.
Another studio exec says local language production “is all relatively opportunistic.” It can be a distraction to try and stay abreast of local material, but “paying attention to local markets, filmmakers and stories around the world gets you more educated in terms of worldwide taste and emerging filmmakers.” Plus, “the minute you have a hit, it’s ‘How much money are we making? Why don’t we up this business?’” Here’s a look at how the studios are speaking in various tongues:
It’s been a couple of months since the last trailer dropped for Guillermo del Toro‘s Pacific Rim. Warner Bros. India today posted the first international TV spot that features Idris Elba’s Lieutenant-Commander Stacker Pentecost who’s “cancelling the apocalypse” as Earth battles evil aliens risen from the …
Berlin: Studio-Produced Local-Language Comedies Tickle Germany’s Funny Bone; Fox Eyes Remake Of ‘The Break-Up Man’
The Berlin Film Festival may be heavy on art-house fare this year, but over at the multiplex, two German-language comedies are burning up the box office. And, they’re both produced by the local arms of a pair of …
UPDATE: Deadline has learned that Radio New Zealand journalist Cushla Norman is in fact invited to the red carpet and press conference for Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. While we understand a mistake was made in uninviting the reporter, it has been rectified and her credentials have not been revoked. People close to the situation have assured Deadline that there is no media blacklist.
Norman said earlier today that her premiere and press conference credentials had been revoked because of her negative coverage. Separately, Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit production company Wingnut Films told New Zealand’s TV3 “We don’t have — and have never had — any form of media blacklist. That’s not who we are or how we operate.”