Tag Archives: Walt Disney Studios

Can Filmmakers Really Help Kodak Craft A New Image?

Tired of Hearing Film Is Dead

The long standing uncertainty over the future of 35mm motion picture film was finally laid to rest this past week by the Eastman Kodak Co. causing the industry to heave a huge sigh of relief. That’s one way to look at the company’s announcement of an agreement with what the Wall Street Journal referred to as a “coalition of studios” for the guaranteed purchase of set quantities of film stock over the next several years. Another way to see the news is as a temporary stay of execution for the medium.

Whether the stay will turn into a permanent reprieve for film depends on many factors not the least of which are the length of the deal, the amount of film stock being manufactured and the continued creative preference of filmmakers. More importantly, it hinges on whether Kodak changes the strategy and approach of its historic motion picture business. If recent maneuvers are any indication, there may be some hope, however slim. Let me explain.

Mandatory Prerequisite Background
No story about the current state of the Eastman Kodak Co. or its future potential would be complete without reviewing the company’s last several years, specifically the time period leading up to and after January 19, 2012. That was the date the 124-year-old company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The adoption of digital imaging and photography both in the consumer and commercial markets devastated Kodak which wasn’t able to modify its business and product lines fast enough. The recent announcement about motion picture film stock finally gives us a little glimpse into the financial damage the company suffered during the transition to digital cinema.

According to Jeff Clarke, who took over as the CEO of Kodak this past March, the sale of motion picture film declined from 12.4 billion linear feet in 2006 to 449 million feet last year. You don’t need a degree from a fancy business school to know that a 96% decrease in revenue is a bad thing. The sale of film stock, once a profitable cash cow for the company, now accounts for under 10% of Kodak’s USD $2.2 billion annual revenue.

Since 2003 Kodak laid off 47,000 employees (and stand at around 8,500), closed 13 manufacturing plants along with 130 processing labs. The industry as a whole went from 260 motion picture laboratories capable of handling film in 2011 to 111 last year. As certain studios ceased the distribution of their releases on 35mm even giants such as Deluxe shuttered their film operations in the United Kingdom and United States, auctioning off their analog lab equipment.

This year Clarke reports Kodak will likely lose money manufacturing motion picture film and hopes to break even in 2015.

Examining The Past To Predict The Future
Much has been written over the past few years about how Kodak wound up in such dire straits despite having survived more than a century as one of the most widely recognized and dominant brands in the world. Most news stories focused on the company’s slow response to the transition toward digital photography. Though this may be true, Kodak may have avoided its financial difficulties if it had spent more time studying not only its own past, but also that of photographic technology which has never remained static for long.

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Disney To Release Sing-Along Version of “Frozen” In Theatres

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Walt Disney Studios may have struck upon an inventive way to squeeze more revenue from moviegoers who have already seen their latest animated feature, “Frozen”. Hoping to get fans of “Frozen” back into theatres for some repeat business, Disney is releasing a sing-along version of the film on 2,000 screens in North America on January 31st.

Select showings of “Frozen” will include a snowflake that bounces across on-screen lyrics, encouraging audiences to belt out some of the movie’s many songs. Disney’s latest animated film has already grossed USD $773 million dollars globally, and the “Frozen” soundtrack has occupied the number one spot on the Billboard 200 chart for three nonconsecutive weeks in January.

The sing-along concept seems like a natural extension of the “Frozen” release strategy. The music and songs for the film were written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Bobby Lopez, the husband and wife team behind such Broadway hits as “Avenue Q” and “The Book of Mormon”. The pair just earned a Best Original Song Oscar nomination for “Let It Go” one of the songs that appears in “Frozen”. Tunes from the movie have proven so popular that fans have flooded the Internet with videos featuring cover versions.

Every studio hopes for repeat viewings of their blockbuster films, however these days most movies don’t stick around as long as “Frozen” has to offer up such opportunities. I remember working as an intern in the public department of Twentieth Century Fox when “Home Alone” was released in 1990. It was a surprise hit and topped the box office for 12 straight weeks thanks to children who saw the movie multiple times. In the midst of its run Fox eve produced a television spot which featured moviegoers bragging about how many times they’d seen “Home Alone”.

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Why Cinedigm Hired Chris McGurk As CEO

Chris McGurk

Chris McGurk

Okay, I admit that the headline of this post is pure click bait. But did you really want to read another story headlined “Chris McGurk Named Cinedigm CEO”? Truth is I wasn’t in Cinedigm’s board room when they offered Chris McGurk their Chairman and CEO positions, and thus I have no “inside” information. However, from the moment Cinedigm announced McGurk as their new CEO earlier this week my inbox has been flooded with emails from those asking about my own thoughts on the news.

Rather than take the usual Internet approach of writing up an analytical post before the ink was dry on Cinedigm’s press release, I chose gather my thoughts about the news for a couple of days. While it may seem at first that McGurk is an odd choice to head a digital cinema deployment entity, upon reflection one can see the benefits Cinedigm gains with the hire.

As the press release trumpeting the hire so diligently pointed out, McGurk has a ton of film industry experience. Every story reporting McGurk’s new role at Cinedigm recounted his lengthy professional history. Still I feel compelled to do it here. I first became aware of McGurk in the early 1990′s while working as an intern at Walt Disney Studios. At the time McGurk was President of the Walt Disney Motion Picture Group and it was hard to find anyone who had a bad word to say about him. Quite the opposite in fact. McGurk’s tenure at Disney from 1988 to 1996 included a stint as Chief Financial Officer on the studio side, among several other roles. He held similar senior titles (President and Chief Operating Officer) during his three year stay at Universal Pictures from 1996 to 1999.

McGurk is probably most associated with his last two companies Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, where he was Vice Chairman and COO from 1999 to 2005, as well as Overture Films, where he served as founder and Chief Executive Officer from 2006 to 2010. This may have more to do with the current state of those companies than McGurk’s actual achievements, but more on that later.

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Disney Turns To Twitter For “Toy Story 3”

Toy Story 3 Twitter Trending Topic.pngIt is unlikely that “Toy Story 3″ needed any help building awareness as it stormed the box office this weekend and earned USD $109 million in North America making it Pixar’s biggest opening. However, Disney was taking no chances. On top of the massive print, television and outdoor advertising campaigns the studio threw social media into the marketing mix.

As we’ve already reported, Disney was the first studio to sell tickets through Facebook, the world’ largest social networking site. On Wednesday they became the first company of any kind to purchase a trending topic on Twitter, the popular micro-blogging platform.

For those of you who don’t know, Twitter allows users to post messages of no more than 140 characters to groups of friends and followers. It’s kind of like sending a mass SMS message to those who have subscribed to your Twitter feed. Rather than receive messages on their mobile phones, most users actually visit Twitter’s website to read this stream of messages. Others use desktop applications to keep up with Twitter posts.

Either method allows users to see a list of Trending Topics. These topics are the top 10 most popular phrases being used on Twitter at that moment. Lately the Trending Topics list has been filled with phrases associated with the FIFA World Cup. Last Thursday the list became clogged with topics surrounding the Los Angeles Lakers NBA title.

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Disney Gets Social With Facebook App For Movie Tickets

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While tech industry pundits and media outlets have spent the past several weeks throwing stones at Facebook over its privacy policy, Walt Disney Studios may have figured out a way to exploit the popular social networking website to sell movie tickets to their films.

As the New York Times reported yesterday, on May 26th Disney launched Disney Tickets Together, a Facebook application that allows users to purchase tickets for “Toy Story 3″. Without ever having to leave the Facebook site, moviegoers can see which of their friends have purchased tickets to the film or invite their friends along when purchasing tickets.

The friends a user selects to join them at “Toy Story 3″ will receive a message inviting them to purchase tickets for the same showing. In the same way the link to a popular YouTube video will make its way around the Internet via millions of emails, Disney has turned the purchasing of movie tickets into a viral activity. Disney told the Times the application has proven quite popular with groups as large as 80 purchasing tickets for “Toy Story 3′s” June 18th opening. Facebook will not be collecting a percentage of sales.

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L.A. Times’ Patrick Goldstein Debates Release Windows

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Patrick Goldstein of the L.A. Times

If you’ve never read Patrick Goldstein in the Los Angeles Times, you’re really missing out. Especially this past Tuesday when the subject of his weekly column, The Big Picture, was none other than release windows.

Goldstein has been writing his column for as long as I can remember and it is one of my favorite reads each week. When he started blogging back in 2008, a form of journalism he had previously criticized, I made sure to keep up with his daily posts. As the tagline on his blog states, Goldstein covers the “collision of entertainment, media and pop culture”.

On Tuesday Goldstein was covering the collision of exhibitors and distributors over theatrical release windows and some of his observations are worth mentioning. Some of his well-made points I agree with, others I do not.

The columnist cites the recent release of “Alice In Wonderland” as a “dramatic tipping point in film history”, but not because its box office success has confirmed that audiences will come to see 3D movies even when they aren’t made by James Cameron. What Goldstein believes earned Tim Burton’s version of “Alice” a place in movie history is that “It finally put the nail in the coffin of movie theater owners’ mindlessly stubborn resistance to shorter DVD windows.”

In case readers weren’t paying attention to the recent tussle over “Alice’s” DVD release window, Goldstein fills them in on the history of Disney’s decision to release the film on DVD only three months after its theatrical bow. He then goes on to detail the record breaking box office returns the film earned; biggest U.S. non-sequel opening weekend of all time with USD $116 million and a current worldwide gross of USD $366.2 million. Given the amount of press coverage over Disney’s disputed release plans for “Alice” Goldstein figures most audiences knew the film was being released on DVD in just 12 weeks. Read More »

Odeon, Italy and AMC Reach Deal With Disney On “Alice”

Alice In Wonderland - Alice.jpgExecutives at Walt Disney Studios must be breathing a huge sigh of relief having reached a deal with Odeon Cinemas in the United Kingdom and Italian exhibitors to show their upcoming tentpole release “Alice In Wonderland”. Additionally, Disney reached an accord with AMC Theatres to show the Tim Burton helmed film in North America when it is released on March 5th.

After announcing their plans to release “Alice In Wonderland” on DVD in June, just three months after its theatrical release rather than the usual four months, Odeon, the U.K.’s largest cinema chain, publicly threatened to boycott the film. So did exhibitors in Italy. AMC never made any public statements about a boycott, but delayed signing any agreement to show the film. Most of the details about the agreements were kept private by both parties, but according to a story in Variety, here is what we know:

  • In the U.K. Disney will not begin advertising the DVD until six to eight weeks after the film hits theatres.
  • In Italy, Disney will release three big movies during the summer, rather than waiting until fall. Traditionally, the summer box office grosses have been tepid compared with those in autumn. “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” will open on August 20th, while “Toy Story 3″ and “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” will also open have summer playdates.
  • Disney has extended the release of “Alice In Wonderland” on DVD from 12 weeksafter its theatrical to 13.

In the U.K., assurances were given that the studio won’t begin advertising for the DVD until six or eight weeks after the theatrical bow. It’s likely that exhibs elsewhere asked for the same terms.
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A Recap Of Disney’s Adventures With “Alice”

Alice In Wonderland.jpgSurely Walt Disney Studios was hoping their upcoming release “Alice In Wonderland” would generate a lot of media attention before it hits theatres on March 5th, though they probably weren’t trying to create the kind of buzz the picture received over this past week. Theatre owners in North America and Europe protested when the studio announced it would move up the DVD release of the movie to early June, just three months after Tim Burton’s adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s classic is distributed theatrically.

The announcement was made on February 8th by Disney’s CEO, Bob Iger, during an earnings call and seemed to come as a surprise to many. A surprising number of newspapers, websites and radio shows beginning running numerous stories about the dispute just two days later and through the course of last week. In fact, the Los Angeles Times managed to sum up the latest battle over movie release windows rather nicely:

The flare-up illustrates how an arcane topic once only of interest to Hollywood executives can affect moviegoers around the world.

The L.A. Times, along with The Wrap, touched on the fact that studios have been meeting with key North American exhibitors (probably Regal Cinemas, AMC Theatres and Cinemark) to negotiate a deal on shortening theatrical release windows. These meetings weren’t done surreptitiously. In January John Fithian, President of the National Association of Theatre Owners, told attendees of the International Cinema Technology Association’s tech conference that theatrical windows would be changing to help studios maximize revenues from home releases:

“As a person who represents the cinema industry I’m not going to tell you that we’re very happy that that model is going to change, but it has to. But it has to change logically and it has to change with studios and exhibitors sitting down together and analyzing the models. It’s not a great secret, this is happening. Leading studio executives, leading cinema representatives are talking about what these models should look like. The good news is we’re all at the table talking. That’s much better and much more cooperative than if studio x decided just to abandon the model and release a major picture in the cinema and in the home roughly at the same time. That’s not going to happen. What’s going to happen is some scientific thinking and some research and a deliberative process to maximize the model for the studios without killing the model for exhibition.”

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Setting The Record Straight On ShowEast

ShowEastLet’s face it, while mainstream media might be screaming about an economic recovery, times are still tough for many businesses all over the world. That is especially true for trade shows. No matter the industry focus, attendance at global conventions has dropped in 2009 by more than 25% in most cases. Just look at attendance at some of the annual confabs the motion picture industry holds; the Sundance Film Festival down 11%, ShoWest down 15%, NAB down 20%, the Cannes Film Festival down 30% and IBC in Amsterdam down at least 7%. That may be why at ShowEast, which was held in Orlando, Florida from October 26th to October 29th, the talk amongst delegates was as much about the trade show’s attendance as it was about 3-D, digital cinema and the upcoming blockbuster release “Avatar”.

While such conversation tends to feed on itself ultimately making mountains out of mole hills, Robert Sunshine, the Vice President of Nielsen Film Group which organizes the event, readily admits attendance at this year’s ShowEast, like most conventions around the world, was down roughly 20%. “It’s numbers that we don’t like to see,” said Sunshine. “We attribute it to the economy and we also attribute it to the fact that there are lots of [industry] conventions, there’s the major convention, ShoWest, and certain people don’t have the money to attend all of these shows so they are picking and choosing where they go.”

Another factor Sunshine might not be considering is that digital cinema is maturing, growing out of its infancy and into adolescence. The technology is responsible for one of the greatest, if not most disruptive, transitions the motion picture exhibition industry has ever seen. By now, there has been some shakeout in the number of companies who entered the digital cinema space, and those that remain are naturally looking to augment their marketing plans. This is a common trend in emerging markets and industries, though unfortunately this phenomena is taking place in digital cinema during a record setting recession.

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It Was A Very Good ShoWest 2009 For Sony

The popcorn has been swept away, the 3D movie banners folded, the quiet talk about how cinema is holding up in the recession has faded – ShoWest 2009 is over.

While VNU will continue to host the Las Vegas-set cinema trade show and exhibition for one more year before NATO is rumoured to take the show back (and move it to Ceasar’ Palace) in 2011, there was something of an End Credits roll feel to the confab. The number of attendees was down, the studios were (with two exceptions) largely absent, the parties scaled back and nowhere was there any open celebration of the fact that this year’s box office easily looks set to cross $10bn.

So who did well in this year’s conference? Digital Cinema? Old hat. 3D? Sure, “Monsters vs. Aliens” did well, but that was to be expected. Instead it would seem that ShoWest 2009 will go down as the year that Sony and its 4K SXRD technology took its decisive step into the limelight. No, it was not a case of audiences waking up and suddenly finding 2K resolution inadequate and demanding 4K, as Sony still hasn’t figured out how to create a pixel-fetish driven demand amongst cinema goers (free hint: don’t call it ’4K’ – call it an ’8 megapixel projector’ versus DLP’s ’2 megapixel’ – sure, it’s not correct, but since when did that stand in the way of aggressive marketing?).

No, it was three interlinked announcement that helped crown Sony Electronics (not SPE – Sony Pictures Entertainment) the unofficial King of the ShoWest hill. Read More »