Monday, April 10, 2017

Give, Take, and Leverage

Two members of the WGA's negotiation committee have talked (in broad brush strokes) about where the Writer's Guild and AMPTP are in their ongoing contract talks. If what they say is accurate, it looks like the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers are playing a wee bit of hardball with the WGA:

... This idea that the Writers Guild walked out of the talks. It’s just an absolutely provable falsehood. We made an absolutely major, major step in the negotiations, which I thought had been going pretty well. On Wednesday of the second week, we made a major step in one of the proposals that we made to them. We actually, by that point, had taken 44% of our economic asks off the table, unilaterally. And the response from the companies was not the commensurate step. The response from the companies was actually two huge rollbacks and a lot of ‘Nos’ in a lot of areas – a proposal that they knew we couldn’t come close to accepting. ...

Negotiations are one part substance, one part kabuki theater, one part* game of chicken.

The trick is, knowing where the deal is and having some idea how much you can push. Knowing what kind of leverage you really have. Sometimes mistakes are made.

I don't know if the AMPTP has decided to be hard-nosed and out for some blood this contract cycle, or if the WGA is reaching for more than they can realistically get. (But that's what labor negotiations and labor actions are for ... to find out what the bottom lines are).

Here's the WGA's podcast.

* The parts are NOT of equal size.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Box Office -- Animated Newbie Falls Short

Sadly, not every animated feature released in the 21t century comes roaring out of the gate. (It only seems that way).

The Boss Baby might be triumphing at America's multiplexes ... along with Disney's reboot of a well-loved animated classic ... but other entries can (and do) underperform.


1.) The Boss Baby (20thCentury Fox/DWA), 3,829 theaters (+56) / $6.9M Fri. / $11.8M Sat/$7.6M Sun/ 3-day cume: $26.3m (-48%)/ Total: $89.3M/Wk 2

2.) Beauty and the Beast (DIS), 3,969 theaters (-241) / $6.8M Fri. /$10.59M Sat/$7.58M Sun/ 3-day cume: $25M (-45%) / Total cume: $432.3M/ Wk 4

3.) Smurfs: The Lost Village (Sony), 3,610 theaters / $4.15M Fri. (includes $375K previews) / $5.6M Sat./$4.26M Sun/3-day cume: $14M /Wk 1

4.) Going in Style (WB/VR), 3,061 theaters / $4.2M Fri. (includes $600K ) /$4.8M Sat/$3.4M Sun/ 3-day cume: $12.5M (includes previews of $600K)/Wk 1

5.) Ghost in the Shell (PAR/DWA/REL), 3,440 theaters (0) / $2.1M Fri. /$3.1M Sat./$2.09M Sun / 3-day cume: $7.35M (-60%)/Total: $31.57M/Wk 2

6.) Saban’s Power Rangers (LGF), 2,978 theaters (-715) / $1.65M Fri. /$2.7M Sat/$1.79M Sun/ 3-day cume: $6.2M (-56%) / Total cume: $75.1M / Wk 3

7.) Kong: Skull Island (20th/Legendary), 2,753 theaters (-388) / $1.5M Fri./$2.5M Sat/$1.77M Sun/ 3-day cume: $5.8M (-32%)/ Total cume: $156.5M / Wk 5

8/9.) Logan (Fox), 1,949 theaters (-374)/ $1.1M Fri. /$1.8M Sat/$1.15M Sun/$4.05M (-34%)/ Total cume: $218M / Wk 6

Get Out (UNI), 1,574 theaters (-270) / $1.2M Fri. /$1.8M Sat/$1.02M/ 3-day cume: $4.02M (-29%)/ Total cume: $162.85M / Wk 7

10.) The Case for Christ (Pureflix), 1,174 theaters / $1.5M Fri./$1.3M Sat/$1M Sun/ 3-day cume: $3.9M /Wk 1

Smurfs: The Lost Village did not open in the resounding way Sony was probably hoping for. The pic received an A CinemaScore, but that apparently is not enough to lift it above a lackluster opening.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Mr. Potato Head Exits

Don Rickles died today.

Most people know him as an insult comedian who knew how to wield a razor-sharp verbal stiletto on Vegas and nightclub stages. Rickles' grandchildren knew him as a Pixar character.

Me, I like to remember Don Rickles' lesson about the movie business, overtime, contracts, and using leverage ... which he learned as an actor on the set of the World War II drama "Run Silent, Run Deep":

...Burt Lancaster, a serious man, says to me, "This is a serious movie, Don. You really need to know about submarines. It will help you in your character development if you know the intricate workings of the submarine." Burt says all this as if we're about to be ordered to our battle stations.

Meanwhile, [Clark] Gable is one of the most relaxed movie stars in the history of the business. "Look," he tells me. "I'm a five o'clock guy."

"What does that mean, Mr. Gable?" I ask.

"It means, kid, that my day ends at five. Regardless. Five is scotch-and-soda time. And then I'm on my way home." Every day at five, Gable sticks to his guns. Five o'clock comes and he's in the trailer. He enters as a Navy commander and exits as a Brooks Brothers model. Driving off the lot in his Bentley convertible, he waves goodbye as he passes through the security gates.

Because he's a producer of the picture, Lancaster is far more intense and worries about overages.

...Most of the action isn't done on location but in the studio. One scene involves a series of explosions followed by a deluge of water. The mechanics are tricky and the technical guys work on it all day. They can't quite get it right. Finally, at about five to five, it all comes together -- the bombastic explosions and a deluge of water.

Gable and I are in the battle scene, the climax of the film. [Director] Robert Wise signals action and all hell breaks loose. The special effects are spectacular.

In the midst of this drama, Gable says, "Sorry, boys, Mr. Five O'clock is done for the day."

And then, with the grace of a European prince, Gable struts to his trailer.

Lancaster chases after him.

"Clark," says Burt, "we finally got this thing to work. It'll cost a fortune if we dismantle it. We gotta film it now."

Ever the gentleman, Gable looks at Lancaster sympathetically. "Relax, Burt," he says. "I'll dive with the submarine tomorrow."

-- Don Rickles' Book; Don Rickles with David Ritz; pp. 76-78.

"Fair" and "unfair", unfortunately, are in the eyes of the beholder. When you scrape away the bark, there is only what you have the leverage to get. (And Clark Gable knew that).

Rest in peace, Don. You provided a lot of laughter, for which I'm grateful.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Closer And Closer?

The Writers Guild of America ups the ante with the folks sitting on the far side of the negotiation table:

The WGA leadership continues to apply pressure on TV networks and studios ahead of resuming contract negotiations next Monday. WGA West executive director David Young has sent a letter to ad buyers warning them they may be wasting their money if there’s a writers’ strike come May 2.

“With the cable networks’ upfronts underway and the broadcast networks’ upfronts beginning in May, I am writing to inform you of a potential labor dispute that could have a significant impact on primetime programming for the 2017-2018 television season,” Young wrote in the letter. ...

Focused pressure is what this is. Whether the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers respond to it the way the WGA would like remains to be seen.

Without knowing details, we're left to surmise that there are major issues on the table: Extra help for the Guild's health and pension plans, wages, Residuals? And perhaps it's the employers wanting rollbacks that the WGA isn't prepared to give. No doub we'll find out more in the fullness of time.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Hunting Commies

Professor Tom Sito reminds us:

April 4, 1952- CARTOON COMMIES- Nationally syndicated columnist Walter Winchell accused the owners of a New York commercial animation studio, Tempo Productions, of Communist sympathies. One of the owners was Disney Layoutman Dave Hilberman, who was a union organizer and was the only artist personally named by Walt Disney to the House UnAmerican Activities Committee*.

The F.B.I. began investigating Tempo and their Madison Avenue clients quickly pulled their business. Tempo closed, laying off 50 artists. Mr. Clean, Markie Maypo and the Hamm’s Beer Bear were once again safe from Red subversion.

* The Committee was originally set up in 1938 to investigate Nazi-Fascist infiltration in American industry. During WWI German sabotage on American and Canadian dockyards was common. So they wanted to avoid that in the immigrant community. But by 1944 the committees and the FBI intentionally shifted their focus to socialist and leftist associations. Exposing a high profile actor or screenwriter made more headlines that hunting reds in the Dept of Games & Fisheries

As in 1919, after World War II the government went after left-wingers. For over a decade, black-listing threw a lot of people out of work. Studio moguls could have stood up for their employees but it was easier, safer and more convenient to go along and get along.

So, the blacklist.

Happily, by the early sixties the thing was dying a natural death, but it took a few people standing up and saying "bullshit" to make it happen. Spines, then and now, are something in short supply in Hollywood. (Big money turns many people into invertebrates, and there's nothing to be done about it).

Saturday, April 1, 2017

The B.O. of the Weekend

An animated movie from Jeffrey K.'s old haunts sits atop the box office heap.


1.) The Boss Baby (20th Century Fox/DWA), 3,773 theaters / $15.6M Fri. (includes $1.5M in previews) / 3-day: $51.6M Wk 1

2.) Beauty and the Beast (DIS), 4,210 theaters / $13.1m Fri. (-34%) / 3-day: $48.6M (-46%)/ Total: $396.5M/Wk 3

3.) Ghost in the Shell (PAR/DWA/REL), 3,440 theaters / $7.6M Fri. (includes $1.8M) / 3-day: $20.3M /Wk 1

4.) Saban’s Power Rangers (LGF), 3,693 theaters (0)/ $4m Fri. (-73%) / 3-day: $13.67M (-66%)/Total: $64.2M/ Wk 2

5.) Kong: Skull Island (20th/Leg), 3,141 theaters (-525) / $2.3M Fri. (-37%) / 3-day: $9.1M (-38%)/Total: $148.1M/Wk 4

6.) Logan (Fox), 2,323 theaters (-840)/ $1.71M Fri. (-34%) / 3-day: $6.5M (-37%)/Total: $212.2M/Wk 5

7.) Get Out (UNI), 1,844 theaters (-630) / $1.73M Fri. (-31%) / 3-day: $6M (-32%)/Total: $157M/Wk 6

8.) Life (Skydance/Sony), 3,146 theaters (0)/ $1.65M Fri. (-63%) / 3-day: $5.58M (-55%)/Total: $22.38M/ Wk 2

9.) CHIPS (WB), 2,464 theaters (0) / $1.1M Fri. (-55%) / 3-day: $4M (-48%)/ Total: $14.3M /Wk 2

10.) Zookeeper’s Wife (FOC), 541 theaters / $998K Fri. / 3-day: $3.2M/ Wk 1

Boss Baby was expected to gross somewhere in the 40-million range, maybe a skosh higher. So to have the picture to open with a $50 million take bodes well for its future, and is also a nice opening for DWA founder to leave behind. As Deadline notes:

... Most of the animated movies that Katzenberg put his fingerprints on possessed a satirical sense of humor in the Airplane-sense of the word, going back to Disney’s Aladdin and continuing well beyond Shrek. Boss Baby‘s campaign continues to carry that comedic sensibility. ...

And of course the partially-animated Beauty and the Beast continues to hold well, crossing the $400 million barrier for domestic earnings the first part of next week.