Tag Archives: Sony Pictures

Sony Hackers Crossed A Line By Threatening Movie Theatres

The Interview Premiere

Though most of the entertainment industry and business world has been riveted to every breaking development of the Sony Pictures hack, we have purposely refrained from writing anything about it. That was until the perpetrators of the cybercrime threatened movie theatres showing an upcoming Sony film release with terrorist acts.

Yesterday morning, in what has become an almost daily ritual since news of the Sony hack first surfaced the group taking responsibility for the cyber attack, who call themselves the Guardians of Peace, sent an email which threatened:

“We will clearly show it to you at the very time and places “The Interview” be shown, including the premiere, how bitter fate those who seek fun in terror should be doomed to.”

The email went on to state that “The world will be full of fear” and referenced the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington D.C. It suggested, in no uncertain terms, that moviegoers should stay away from movie theatres screening “The Interview” and those that live near such cinemas should evacuate their homes. No specific reason was given, however since the hack against Sony Pictures first occurred it has been widely speculated that North Korea might be responsible for the attack in retaliation for “The Interview”, a film Sony had scheduled to open Christmas day. The comedy featuring Seth Rogen and James Franco centers around a plan to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

As a media outlet focused on the motion picture exhibition and distribution industries we were among those who received the hacker’s daily emails. Over the past few weeks we could have used this site to dissect the notes of countless DCI meetings from the past ten years or even highlight the terms of Sony’s various virtual print fee (VPF) agreements, details of which were contained in the staggered distribution of Sony’s data. However, there is a reason such information was meant to be kept confidential and its publication serves no greater public need. As well, the commercial matters being discussed within such documents is ancient history and any interest in them would be purely academic at best. That our silence came with the advantage of not publicizing the hackers or their crime was an added bonus.

But when the perpetrators took aim at the general public, threatening innocent people in a venue this particular media outlet considers a place of secular worship, they crossed a line that even the most malicious hackers know to avoid. Virtual thievery in the anonymity of cyberspace gives victims the false sense they are not in direct danger of physical harm. Threatening terrorist acts upon specific people or places in a world still smarting from an endless string of such events panics a public with feelings of immediate personal danger. That’s what makes such threats so affective and why the Sony hackers’ intimidation of movie theatres is far more damaging than any of the data they leaked.

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Good Dose of Reality Is the Perfect Antidote For All the Netflix Fear Mongering

Crouching Tiger Sequel on Netflix and IMAX

It’s been a week since streaming media giant Netflix announced two big agreements which signal the company is aggressively moving into a space once occupied exclusively by motion picture distributors and exhibitors. One calls for a sequel to the martial arts classic “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” to be released next August day-and-date on Netflix and in select IMAX theatres. The other sees Netflix enter into a deal with actor Adam Sandler to finance and distribute four feature films.

In their pieces on the announcements journalists used phrases such as “landmark”, “game changer” and “paradigm shift” so often the words lost all meaning. A week later, it turns out the sun still rises in the east and sets in the west, North American movie theatres were just as crowded as ever over the weekend and cinema goers still gobbled up popcorn while watching the latest releases.

This is not to say Netflix’s moves weren’t noteworthy or significant, but rather that the pots of ink (both virtual and otherwise) spilled covering the news were, more often than not, used to write overblown treatises filled with hyperbolic predictions of the industry’s demise crafted primarily to play on the fears of those who depended on it for their livelihoods. Now that everyone’s initial excitement has died down we hope to bring some sanity back into the conversation by examining a few often overlooked concepts.

Crouching Content, Hidden Sequel
Before last week, how many of you actually knew that a sequel was being made to “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”? After last week’s Netflix news, you can more than triple the number of people who know about the movie, and that’s being extremely conservative. Mainstream media had hitherto paid little notice of the sequel being made to a fourteen-year-old Chinese-language film.

Sure, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” was a blockbuster when it was released in 2000; the first foreign language film in the United States to earn more than USD $100 million and for years was the country’s highest grossing foreign language movie of all-time. The movie was also nominated for ten Oscars, the most Academy Award nominations ever received for a foreign language film, a record the film still holds. “Crouching Tiger” went on to win four trophies including Best Foreign Language Film and it served to jump-start the career of director Ang Lee, who was already a well respected helmer.

When it comes to the sequel none of that matters however, in part because so many of the elements which made the original “Crouching Tiger” film a success are missing. Stars Yun-Fat Chow and Ziyi Zhang are missing, leaving Michelle Yeoh as one of the few returning cast members. The screenwriters, including James Schamus, are absent as well. Perhaps most importantly, Ang Lee will not be directing.

Instead, Woo-ping Yuen has been tapped to direct the sequel being penned by John Fusco. Arguably an incredibly influential figure of the Hong Kong action genre, Yuen has only made one film in the past 20 years; “True Legend” in 2010 which cost RMB ¥122.6 million (USD $20 million) to make and only made RMB ¥46.5 million (USD $6.82 million). He has been working predominantly as a fight choreographer for movie such as “Kill Bill: Vol. 2″.

To be sure Yuen may be a fine and capable director, though currently is a bit of an open question due to his limited creative output in recent years. So too then is the quality of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend” itself. When Netflix first announced they would finance and open the film it raised speculation that the sequel may not actually be any good. Realizing this, the movie’s distributor, The Weinstein Company, may have been trying to lay off some of their risk on the production, if not entirely recoup their expenditure, by selling Netflix the rights to distribute it.

Brooks Barnes of the New York Times echoed these sentiments as a guest on Showbiz Sandbox this week stating that The Weinstein Company “…got a huge big publicity pop for this sequel and that has to be viewed in that context. Yes it’s sequel to one of the best performing foreign films ever, but if you look closer at that film there are some questions about it…. you just kind of have to wonder what kind of sequel is this? Is this a route that gets them a big headline for something that may ultimately been a direct to home video title all along.”

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Hollywood Studios Embrace High Frame Rate For All Films (Sort Of)

CineAsia 2013

A large flat screen monitor displays trailers at CineAsia

It should come as no surprise that Warner Bros is showing off the trailer for “The Hobbit: the Desolation of Smaug” in high frame rate (HFR) at the current CineAsia trade show in Hong Kong. After all, that is how director Peter Jackson filmed it and wants audiences to see it. What is more surprising is that WB is also showing HFR trailers for its other films: “300 Rise of Empire” and “The Lego Movie”. What, you didn’t know that they were HFR? Then you will be even more surprised by the HFR trailers for films from Disney, 20th Century Fox and Sony Pictures. In fact ALL these studios’ film trailers were playing in HFR.

Seeing these trailers will come as a surprise to those who thought that Messrs Jackson and James Cameron were the only ones advocating and shooting in HFR and not expect auteurs like Wes Anderson or multi-hyphenates like George Clooney to also have embraced the format. But walk around the displays of WB, Disney, Fox and Sony and you will see the trailers on loop for all of their future films showing the same smooth, video-like HFR characteristics. Sony Pictures “Robocop” reboot looks just like the console game it will no doubt tie in with, while “Heaven Is For Real” looks like a shot-on-video TV film-of-the-week. Disney’s “Bears” looks just like a Discovery channel documentary while Angelina Jolie slinks about super-ultra smoothly in “Maleficient”. Over at Fox, Iceland is looking crystal clear in “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” while “The Book Thief” and “The Monument Men” give us a video vision of World War II.

By now you might have worked out that none of these films were actually shot in HFR. But the way the big monitors from Samsung and LG have been set up with default 100Hz to 200Hz refresh rate, interpolation and edge enhancement, MPEG+ and other “image improvement” features they might as well have been shot in HFR for the look it creates. The only studio to have calibrated its display monitor to give a film look to its titles is Paramount, showing the new “Jack Ryan” and “Noah” trailers the way people will see them in the cinemas. (Universal only has a cardboard standee for “47 Ronin”).

This might seem like a trivial issue. After all, the studios show off the trailers on the big screen properly in their product reels. That’s where it matters, surely? But overlooking the trailers at a trade show, seen by exhibitors over and over is emblematic of a larger issue.

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Viral Video Marketing Campaign Builds Awareness For “Carrie” Remake

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One movie marketing trend that has proven most effective over the past several years is the use of viral videos. These short videos are crafted to promote and build awareness of a specific movie by having viewers pass them along to friends and family, thus marketing a new film.

The most recent example of such a marketing campaign was produced by Sony Pictures for their upcoming release “Carrie”, a remake of the classic 1976 horror film which is based on a best selling Stephen King novel. The previous adaptation starred Sissy Spacek and was directed by Brian De Palma whereas the most most recent iteration is helmed by Kimberly Pierce and stars Chloë Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore.

Rather than feature footage of the movie being marketed, these viral videos play off the themes and content of each film. The video for “Carrie” is a well rehearsed stunt rigged and staged in sNice Cafe, a New York City coffee shop chain with three locations, including one in Greenwich Village. The concept plays off reactions of unwitting cafe patrons who are shocked and frightened as a disturbed woman uses here telekinetic powers to throw a man across the room, scatter the restaurant’s tables and chairs and send books flying from shelves.

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Studios Find A Backdoor Into Shorter Theatrical Release Windows

Major Studio Release Windows

History may remember this past summer’s blockbuster season more as the one when studios successfully shortened the theatrical window by three weeks, rather than as the one in which numerous $200 million tentpole films failed at the box office. Sure, the latter seems to be getting all the press right now, but it’s the former that may prove to have a longer term impact on the industry.

Back in June, Sony and Disney made headlines by announcing they would experiment with streaming movies online while the films were still playing in theatres. Movies like “Django Unchained,” “Wreck-It Ralph” and “Brave” were all available for streaming before their theatrical runs were over. In case you’re wondering why you never saw them on Netflix or your local video-on-demand service, the pilot program took place in South Korea to test market feasibility and adoption. South Korea was a perfect target destination for such a pilot; not only is it the eighth largest film market in the world, it is also the currently the home of the fastest overall Internet connectivity on the planet. Make no mistake, if the trial proves a success, we will see theatrical releases streamed into the home in Europe and the United States.

Amazon, iTunes & DVDs

Much in the way television production companies have turned from traditional cable networks to services such as Netflix with shows like “House of Cards” and “Orange is the New Black”, movie studios have found a way to circumvent the DVD/Blu-Ray distribution chain (and its accompanying restrictions) by releasing films on iTunes and other VOD outlets before physical copies ever hits retail stores.

MacRumors reported in August that Paramount Picture’ “Star Trek Into Darkness” got an early release on iTunes and Amazon weeks before DVD or Blu-Ray. Movie fanatics with beefier ISP connections from providers like HughesNet and Verizon have bandwidth fast enough to watch Blu-Ray quality streams at the click of a button; no buffering required. “Star Trek Into Darkness” is one of the bigger titles to get an early online release and given how successful it’s been, will hardly be the last.

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A Deeper Look At Sony’s Battle With Exhibitors Over 3D Glasses

RealD Glasses

Some industry professionals will look back at September 27, 2011 as the day motion picture studios took their first step on what may be a long road to end the practice of subsidizing 3D glasses for their movies. Others will remember it as the day the inevitable finally happened.

For those who still aren’t aware of the events of the past week, I’d like to be the first to officially welcome you to the planet earth and invite you to join us as we read between-the-lines of this latest industry scuffle. On Tuesday of this week The Hollywood Reporter broke the news that Sony Pictures Entertainment had sent a letter to North American theatre owners stating as of May 1, 2012 they would no longer pay for 3D glasses. What makes this major industry news is that Twentieth Century Fox tried a similar move back in 2009 with the release of “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs” but retreated when exhibitors revolted en masse. They now fear Sony might succeed this time around causing other studios to follow suit. Talking to the Reporter, Sony’s president of worldwide distribution. Rory Bruer said:

“This is an issue that has to be resolved between us and our exhibition partners. We are trying to give them a very lengthy lead time in regards to the change in policy.”

As one might expect, it didn’t take long for the National Association of Theatre Owners, the trade organization which represents exhibitors, to respond to Sony’s move. Their press release dated September 28, 2011 stated:

NATO believes Sony’s suggestion is insensitive to our patrons, particularly in the midst of continuing economic distress. Sony’s actions raise serious concerns for our members who believe that provision of 3D glasses to patrons is well established as part of the 3D experience… we are concerned that Sony’s attempt to change this business model would unilaterally upend long-standing industry practices… Sony would be well advised to revisit its decision.

There were some grumblings from theatre owners and the media that NATO’s statement had no bite, though making sweeping threats is not necessarily their responsibility. This is not true of the organization’s members, like Amy Miles, chief executive officer of Regal Entertainment, who said if Sony stuck with their announced plan to stop paying for 3D glasses, then her circuit might show 2D version’s of Sony’s films in the future.

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Did Sony Leak The Red-Band Trailer For ‘Dragon Tattoo’?

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Over the weekend the Internet lit up with news about a pirated version of the red-band trailer for the English language remake of “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo”. It wasn’t long before speculation arose that Sony Pictures, the distributor releasing the film, had actually planted the trailer on YouTube as part of a viral marketing campaign.

Adapted from the first novel in Steig Larsson’s best selling trilogy, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” is being directed by David Fincher and is due to hit theatres worldwide before the end of the year. A Swedish adaptation of the novel was a worldwide hit when it was released in 2009.

The online appearance of the red-band trailer had movie bloggers frothing at the mouth for a number of reasons, including the popularity of the source material and Fincher’s stature as a modern day American auteur. But what really got their juices flowing was a growing conspiracy theory that Sony had purposefully leaked a trailer.

The Hollywood Reporter and Mashable were some of the many media outlets to point out a few inconsistencies:

  • While the trailer starts out looking as if it was captured secretly with a camcorder inside a dark movie theatre, after the first few seconds the off-center, shaky image becomes more steady and clear.
  • The quality of the audio is much better than traditional camcorder versions of pirated movies and the video can be viewed in HD.
  • The red-band trailer for “Dragon Tattoo” was only released in theatres internationally, however the online footage begins with the MPAA’s red-band advisory notice. This poses the question as to why international markets would show a an advisory from a U.S. ratings board.

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Fandango To Donate “Karate Kid” Ticket Revenue To Starlight

Starlight Logo.jpgNorth America’s largest movie ticket website is feeling quite charitable lately. In fact, over the next two weeks (June 7th through June 20th) Fandango will be donating $1 to the Starlight Children’s Foundation for every ticket they sell to “The Karate Kid” which is being released today by Sony Pictures in the U.S. and Canada.

The partnership seems rather complimentary given that Starlight’s whole mission of aiding critically ill children and their families revolves around entertainment. The 25-year-old charity uses entertainment as a distraction from the pain, depression, fear and isolation a child may experience during an illness. The organization presently has more than three million family members in their network.

A single dollar may not seem like much, but according to the press release published to announce the program Starlight manages to stretch a dollar quite far:

  • $1 enables a child with cancer to play Starlight’s Fun Center video games for almost an entire day while going through chemo therapy
  • $1 enables a teen who is too sick to leave home to spend a day finding supportive friends on Starlight’s Starbirght World
  • $1 helps a family get away from hospital treatments to have fun for a day at a Starlight Great Escapes event

Over the last five days “The Karate Kid” has accounted for 52% of Fandango’s ticket sales and the film continues to outpace the sales of this weekend’s other new releases.

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ShoWest Opens With Michael Lynton Keynote

Michael Lynton at ShoWest 2010

Michael Lynton at ShoWest 2010

The 2010 edition of ShoWest, the annual gathering of theatre owners and distributors, kicked off in Las Vegas earlier today with a keynote address from Michael Lynton. The Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Sony Pictures Entertainment had both junk and theatrical release windows on his mind, and not necessarily in that order.

After opening his remarks with some cheerleading over 2009′s record breaking box office returns, Lynton detailed why he believed the industry was doing so well in the midst of a deep recession:

“People battered by the recession see in movies reasonably priced escapism. It is the most affordable way to take a break, get out of the house, take the kids or get away from them and be transported to another world.”

Lynton pointed to the industry’s willingness and ability to change as being one of the prime factors for increased theatrical revenue over the past year. Despite economic, social and technologic challenges, he praised both exhibition and distribution’s willingness to find new ways to overcome challenges and prosper.

But Lynton wasn’t all smiles. He highlighted the increasing economic difficulties faced by studios this past year. At the height of the DVD boom in 2005 and 2006 57% of Sony’s revenues came from DVD rentals and another 43% came from DVD sell-through, but today, thanks in large part to the recession, that split is nearing a 75% – 25% split. Read More »

Daily Cinema Roundup – Friday 8 May

orange-wedensday-witch

- Catch someone taping a film off the screen? You have little choice but to let him (it’s rarely a ‘her’) walk free in the UK, according to Sky News. “Tim Richards, who runs Vue cinemas, told Sky News that while his staff are getting better at catching film pirates, he invariably has to let them go. He said: “We catch these individuals and we can’t do anything with them. It’s extremely frustrating.” But the police say sales of illegal pirated (usually elsewhere) DVDs are a bigger problem and the UK government urges cinema to go after the cinema camcorders with the Fraud Act. Yes, really, don’t laugh;

- UK mobile phone carrier Orange has been running its two-for-one mid-week offer for five years and have clocked up 14m uses (that’s 7m couples). From newmediaage, “The Orange Wednesdays offer has encouraged an average of 300,000 people to go to the cinema each week, saving them an estimated £30m, the operator said. The five most prolific users have redeemed the offer an average of 70 times each.” Apparently “Mamma Mia!” has been the most popular film.Notice that the Orange Witch [Surely she's green and wicked, not orange? - Ed.] from the advert (below) is brandishing a Celluloid Junkie icon popcorn box knock off. Definitely not authorised by us;

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-Imax‘s finances are slowly improving, with Q1 of 2009 showing a narrow loss as the company waits for digital to kick in, according to THR.com. “Toronto-based Imax posted a loss of $2.6 million to March 31, compared to a loss of $10.2 million in 2008, on revenue up 43% to $33.7 million, against a year-earlier $23.5 million. Imax recorded sharply lower R&D costs compared to 2008 when it incurred steep digital projection rollout costs. The first quarter operating profit was $2 million, compared to a loss of $5.6 million in 2008.” Perhaps more interestingly than digitla itself was that revenue from bigged-up Hollywood releases such as “Watchmen” and “Monsters vs. Aliens” doubled from around $15m to over $30m in the quarter;

- Sony PicturesAngels & Demons” had its world premiere in Rome using Sony Electronics 4K SXRD projector. From the press release, “Oliver Pasch, head of digital cinema in Europe at Sony Professional says, “We’re delighted to have played a part in helping Sony Pictures  premiere Angels & Demons. The studio understands the phenomenal value of 4k projection and how it allows audiences from across the world to see more detail than ever before, thus creating a truly unique cinematic experience.”" The film will be released in 4K, so best place to catch it will be Norway or an AMC cinema – click here for full list of 4K locations.

-With the stand-off in Bollywood between Indian film distributors and multiplexes still not showing any sign of ending, exhibitors are starting to look for small films to distribute themselves. From liveMint.com, “In a clear signal that the gloves are off in the dispute with
producers, Fame India Ltd has joined forces with its fellow leading
national cinema chains INOX Leisure Ltd, Cinemax India Ltd, Adlabs
Films
Ltd, Fun Cinemas and PVR Ltd and set aside around Rs40 crore [$8m] to
acquire a film on the open market for release in multiplexes, where the
deadlock has seen all new releases being put on ice since 4 April.
” A handfull of candidate films are hten listed. Meanwhile distributors are saying that they will release their films in single screens and independent multiplexes. Still no word if Hollywood distributors will soon start releasing their films during the stand off;

– If you think Indian multiplex operators have it hard, spare a thought for their colleagues in Iraqi, where cinemas are dying a slow death. From LA Times, “Before the 2003 invasion, Baghdad had 40 cinemas; now there are only
eight. In those days, the theaters opened at 8 a.m. and closed just
before midnight. Today, the theaters shut at 1 p.m. Hashim says only
the riffraff and lowlifes frequent his theater…. Other theaters have closed rather than cater to the new
market — the owners of the now-shuttered Nujoom (Star) cinema
described their clientele after 2003 as “drug addicts, alcoholics and
freaks.”
” We have highlighted the plight of Iraqi cinemas before, but it is sad that there appears to be no hope in sight;

- Reasons why 3D is plenty D’s enough, from UK’s The Mirror. “A cinema at a National Sea Life Centre is so realistic it is causing visitors to feel seasick. Bosses at the £1million 4D screen in Birmingham are handing out sea sickness bracelets after customers complained the images of giant waves, vibrating seats and water spray made them ill.” Isn’t ayone complaining bout the water sprays making their popcorn wet?

– A novel way of attracting customers to cinemas? Bag of cocaine found in Reel Cinema in Grantham by 10 year old. From the local paper, “”Obviously this is a family entertainment venue and children are present. It is very worrying when a ten-year-old comes into possession of drugs like this.” Jonathan had only recently started to let his son do things on his own but the experience has made him worry. He said: “What if a child had picked it up and thought it was sherbet? Or what if he had walked in to find someone taking drugs?” I’ve heard of weed smoking to Cheech and Chong and LSD for “2001: A space Odessey”, but cocaine to “X-Men Originas; Wolverine” seems like a desperate way of improving the film;