Tag Archives: Warner Bros

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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Multiplexes Set to Feast on Television Leftovers

Son of God and Veronica Mars

“Son of God” (left) and “Veronica Mars” – two theatrical releases derived from television properties.

Two movies hitting North American cinemas over the next three weeks are primed to do blockbuster business. Unlike most blockbusters however, they aren’t being released with the support of multi-million dollar marketing campaigns. Both are derived from properties that originated from a source cinema owners’ have traditionally considered their biggest nemesis; television.

Despite their small screen provenance, if either or both titles perform as expected, it could set a new paradigm for how Hollywood goes about distributing certain films and we can expect to see the concept duplicated.

Son of God

The first of these films to hit multiplexes (in North America and Latin America) is “Son of God”. The movie is an abridged reworking of “The Bible”, a 10-hour mini-series that aired on the History Channel less than a year ago. The new theatrical adaptation whittles the television version down to 2 hours, 38 minutes and is recut to focus solely on the story of Jesus Christ.

The television mini-series was an all inclusive tale that included Bible stories from the Book of Genesis through the Book of Revelations. When it premiered last March on the History Channel to an audience of 13 million, it set the 2013 record for cable viewership and was the most watched program the network had ever produced. The Blu-Ray and DVD release of “The Bible” was just as successful going on to become the all time sales champ for mini-series on home video.

The mini-series was the first scripted program from Mark Burnett, a veteran of reality-TV producer of such shows as “Survivor” and “The Voice”. He produced “The Bible” with his wife, Roma Downey, and it was always their intention to extract a theatrical release out of the series. The only question was who would help them release the film. The answer was Twentieth Century Fox.

On the run up to the February 28th release of “Son of God” Burnett and Downey went on an extended publicity tour, showing excerpts of the film to various Catholic and Christian religious groups throughout North America and certain international markets. The gambit seems to have paid off, for much in the way pastors and clergymen promoted “The Bible” to their congregations, they have also used the pulpit to encourage their flocks to go see “Son of God” upon its release.

A week before its release numerous media outlets, starting with the Hollywood Reporter, began picking up on the escalating advance sales the film was generating. The trade publication discovered that a children’s charity, Compassion International, had purchased 225,000 tickets in 40 cities and gave them to local churches to disperse.

YouTube Preview Image

It was reported that at least 10 multiplexes around the United States were booked solid by church groups and organizations. Not just in a single auditorium, but in what was dubbed a “theater takeover” every single screen in these cinemas was scheduled to show “Son of God” the night of February 27th.

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Warner Bros. Brings Looney Tunes Back To Cinemas

Looney Tunes In 3DJust this past weekend I was shocked when my daughters, six and four-year-olds, asked who Bugs Bunny was. I’m not sure why I was so surprised, since they watch very little television and most of the movies they’ve seen feature characters from Disney, Pixar and Dreamworks Animation titles. This is probably why my attempt to trigger their memory with a “What’s up Doc?!” in my best Mel Blanc voice was such a failure.

Thanks to YouTube it only took a few minutes to introduce my daughters to not only Bugs Bunny, but Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, Wile E. Coyote, Tweety Bird and all the major Looney Tunes characters I remember so fondly from my own youth. Yet, as if responding to my personal predicament, Warner Bros. themselves will be lending me a hand in my daughters animation education.

Earlier today, the studio announced that three new animated Looney Tunes shorts will be shown in theaters in front of Warner Bros. releases. Not only will these new shorts be shown in 3D, but they will feature the voice of Mel Blanc based on recordings he made in the 1950s.

Per the press release, the shorts hitting theaters are as follows:

  • “Daffy’s Rhapsody”: In the first of the new shorts, a persistent Elmer Fudd chases Daffy Duck (Blanc) on stage during a musical performance. The short features Blanc performing the song “Daffy Duck’s Rhapsody.” “Daffy’s Rhapsody” is scheduled to debut in theaters on November 18, 2011, in conjunction with Warner Bros. Pictures’ release of “Happy Feet 2.”
  • “I Tawt I Taw a Puddy Tat”: A classic game of cat and bird transpires in Granny’s apartment as Tweety Bird goes to great lengths to avoid the clutches of his arch-nemesis Sylvester the Cat. The short also features the hit song of the same name, which was performed by Blanc, and sold over three million copies worldwide.
  • Untitled Coyote & Road Runner: Wile E. Coyote’s epic quest to capture the Road Runner continues in this all-new short. Will the Coyote finally get his paws on his elusive prize?>

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Warner Bros. Scraps 3D For Next “Harry Potter”

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 7.jpgAfter being heavily criticized for the poor 3D conversion on “Clash of the Titans” earlier this year, it seems Warner Bros. is being more cautious about making the same mistake on future blockbusters.  The Los Angeles Times reported on Friday that the studio has scrapped plans to convert the next “Harry Potter” film into 3D.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1” will still be released on November 19th, but will not have a 3D version as previously planned.  The studio released the following statement explaining the decision:

“Despite everyone’s best efforts, we were unable to convert the film in its entirety and meet the highest standards of quality.  We do not want to disappoint fans who have long-anticipated the conclusion of this extraordinary journey.”

After the success of James Cameron’s 3D opus “Avatar” Warner Bros. raced to convert “Clash of the Titans” in under eight weeks.  Maybe the studio has learned its lesson when it comes to performing such work under tight time constraints.  I’m not certain when or if the “Harry Potter” conversion began, but the film opens in just over a month.

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Sony Pictures VPF Deal With Regal & AMC Makes Warner Bros The Only Hold-Out Studio

sony-pictures-logo Sony Pictures has become the next-to-last  Hollywood studio to sign a virtual print fee (VPF) agreement with DCIP, the digital cinema integrator representing the three largest US cinema chains (AMC, Regal and Cinemark). This should help DCIP re-start the intended 3 1/2 year roll-out of digital cinema to all of its screens as of this summer, when credit is predicted to start flowing again. Variety only did a brief item on the announcement, covering the bare basics:

Sony’s deal with the Digital Cinema Implementation Group, a consortium repping Regal, AMC and Cinemark, means that Warner Bros. is the odd man out. Every other major, as well as Lionsgate, has already signed its own agreement with DCIP.

DCIP intends to use the studio deals as collateral in securing a multimillion-dollar line of credit that theaters can use to pay for the cost of the conversion. Those efforts have been sidelined by the economic crisis.

THR.com went a little more in depth with the analysis and implications, particularly as to why Warner Bros might be holding out:

“We’re in the middle of negotiations,” Warners domestic distribution president Dan Fellman said. “We’re close. So we might be the last one, but we’re going to get there.”

Sony signed its VPF pact with Digital Cinema Implementation Partners several weeks ago, but the news was delayed pending internal review of the formal announcement.

Through VPFs, studios volunteer to pay the equivalent of print costs for years after switching to digital distribution as a means of defraying most exhibitor costs to convert auditoriums. Sony refers to its VPF as a “digital conversion fee.”

For Warners, set to release more films this year than any other distributor, the cost of a VPF is likely to run considerably higher than that for studios with lower annual output. Sony also is among the most prolific film distributors.

Neither of the two articles makes an explicit link between the SPE-DCIP deal and the earlier announced deal between DCIP member AMC and Sony Electronics to equip its cinemas with SXRD 4K projectors. While the SPE deal would not have been contingent on the AMC-4K deal, it most likely didn’t hurt and may have acted as a sweetener.

So what does WB have to hold out for? Noit much. Coming in last amongst all the studios means that the it will benefit from whatever best terms have been previously agreed under the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) provisions that states that DCIP cannot offer a better deal to a future studio unless those terms are offered retroactively to those already signed.

This means that DCIP will be resisting getting squeezed on VPF terms by WB, who in turn (as the biggest releaser of 35mm prints) will have seen the price of celluloid prints [acetate prints actually, as true celluloid was phased out decades ago, only 'Acetate Junkie' doesn't sounds as good; Ed.] drop significantly as Kodak offers cheaper and cheaper film stock prices to maximise what is left of the film print stock business. Why pay a VPF of, say, $725, when a print has dropped to, say, between $600 and $500. Particularly in these times of plunging DVD sales.

If DCIP want to blame anybody for the delay in Warner Bros signing a VPF deal, the telephone number for Kodak’s switchboard in Rochester, NY, is 1-800-621-FILM. See how far you get arguing with a sunset industry.

Universal and Disney Close To VPF Deal With DCIP

And then there were four.  Four studios that is.  Or so says the Wall Street Journal which broke a story today reporting that Universal Pictures and Walt Disney Company have reached a virtual print fee deal with Digital Cinema Implementation Partners, the joint venture formed by North American exhibitors Regal Entertainment, Cinemark and AMC Entertainment to finance, install and maintain digital cinema equipment in their theatres.  The three chains, which represent a combined screen count of around 15,000, would like to start rolling out digital cinema as soon as the fourth quarter of this year, in time for the flood of 3D movies studios have slated for release next year.

Previously, DCIP had reached a VPF deal with Twentieth Century Fox, though the studio has never confirmed the news.  The signing of four studios is a crucial milestone which DCIP must cross in order to secure the USD $1 billion in financing the company has lined up from J.P. Morgan Chase to pay for all the expensive digital cinema equipment required to outfit theatres.  The Wall Street Journal had reported that Paramount Pictures had also signed a VPF agreement with DCIP, which had been rumored in the press but never officially announced.  Indeed, by the end of the day Variety had taken the air out of the Wall Street Journal’s big scoop by confirming that Paramount Pictures had not yet signed with DCIP. Read More »

How digital cinema can make a difference (unleash your archive!)

UKFC logo The always readable Andreas Fuchs has an excelent piece in the latest issue of Film Journal International on the difference that the UK Film Council‘s Digital Screen Network has made. It was never intended to help the Hollywood blockbusters, though arguably it got the ball rolling in UK for digital cinema, but the benefits have been tangible where they were intended. From the article:

Last year, “The Summer of British Film” used the Digital Screen Network to bring back classic British films. Seven films from Goldfinger to Withnail & I were shown digitally in 136 cinemas each Tuesday over a period of as many weeks. “We tied in with the BBC’s ‘British Film Forever’ series of documentaries, which looked at seven different film genres the preceding Saturday,” Stolz explains. “Each program genre under discussion was then illustrated [with] a classic British film in cinemas.” This initiative was “a great success and demonstrated the possibilities of digital programming, attracting cinema audiences of over 62,000. We received extremely enthusiastic responses from members of the public who were delighted to see these classic films back on the big screen. This summer we are supporting two distributors in releasing classics from the legendary British filmmaker David Lean.”

Although any one of Sir David’s films certainly more than matters, it was Warner Bros. which had already opened its vaults on that particular note. From mid-May onwards, the first “Movies That Matter” festival brought 15 marvelous titles for one-week engagements into 30 Vue Cinemas across the U.K. (www.warnermtm.co.uk). Starting in Casablanca and bloody well ending for Bonnie and Clyde, with highlights like The Wizard of Oz in between and East of Eden and North by Northwest further pointing in the right directions, the press notes promised them all to be “remastered to flawless, crystal-clear 2K-resolution digital cinema, the highest quality standard in cinemas today.”

Sadly the UKFC’s example has not been adopted very widely. With the exception of the anyways exceptional Norway, only Canada and Australia has adopted something similar, though these went arguably wrong by going for lower end e-cinema networks.

Warner Bros. Looking To Shed Titles

Alan HornIf you’re looking for a screaming deal on a finished film you should probably give Warner Bros. a call. In his Los Angeles Times column today Patrick Goldstein details an interview he conducted with Alan Horn, the studio’s top dog. Goldstein contacted Horn after he learned producer Joel Silver was pitching Lions Gate Films to pick up “RocknRolla”, the British gangster film from director Guy Ritchie which Warner Bros. was due to release in early October.

Apparently, with the recent shuttering of subsidiaries Warner Independent Pictures and New Line Cinema Warner Bros. finds itself with too many films to release over the next six to twelve months. Besides “RocknRolla” Goldstein reports that Warner would be happy to unload two additional films; Danny Boyle’s “Slumdog Millionaire”, originally a WIP release, and the New Line cop drama “Pride and Glory” starring Edward Norton and Colin Farrell. Silver became proactive in a finding a new home for his film when he realized Warner Bros. wasn’t about to spend the money to market the movie. Horn confirmed this in his conversation with Goldstein, saying: Read More »

Warner Bros. Promotes Aylsworth

Crediting their “aggressive commitment to explore and implement the latest technological advances in production and industry standards” Warner Bros. promoted Wendy Aylsworth to Senior Vice President, Warner Bros. Technical Operations. Aylsworth, who has been with the studio since 1994, previously served as Vice President, Technology, Warner Bros. Technical Operations.

Many in the industry are familiar with Aylsworth through her work as Engineering Vice President of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers. Over the past year she was instrumental in reorganizing the Technology Committees to better service emerging technologies such as digital cinema. In fact, before she took over as Engineer Vice President she was Chair of SMPTE’s D-Cinema Technology Committee, a group that created the first 24 standards for D-Cinema. Like many executives who work in standards bodies, Aylsworth participates in other standards activity, including those run by ATSC and CableLabs. Most recently she announced the creation of the 3-D Home Display Formats Task Force within SMPTE, a group that will help set standards for mastering stereoscopic content for home viewing.

Aylsworth’s new position within Warner Bros. is not unlike her old one in that she will be overseeing a group that is responsible for pushing the studio’s (as well as the industry’s) agenda in both national and international standards organizations. In addition, she will continue to head up the group within Warner Bros. responsible for reviewing and implementing emerging technologies in the content production and distribution space. In the press release announcing the promotion Chuck Dages, Executive Vice President, Emerging Technologies, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group was quoted reiterating Aylsworth’s background and rising stature within the industry:

“Wendy has taken a lead position not only for our studio but in the external organizations dedicated to creating new standards for such exciting innovations as digital cinema and 3-D viewing for the home. This promotion recognizes not only her achievements to date but the increasing importance of her efforts to our studio and our industry.”

While Aylsworth has built a strong reputation for herself in the entertainment industry, she began her professional career in technology working in the aerospace industry at companies such as Lockheed. She earned her MS/MBA in Managerial Sciences and Strategic Planning fro the University of Southern California and holds a BS in computer Sciences from the University of Michigan.

NATO and Warner Bros. Duke It Out

Even before the ink was dry on last Thursday’s Los Angeles Times article about the struggle Hollywood studios face in finding enough digitally equipped screens to distribute 3-D movies, The Hollywood Reporter published a story that had key industry executives debating who is to blame for the slow rollout of digital cinema. Representing Warner Bros.’ Dan Fellmandistributors was Dan Fellman, Warner Bros.’ president of domestic distribution, while exhibitors were repped by John Fithian, the president of the National Association of Theatre Owner. The article has the two exchanging verbal barbs, each blaming the other side for the lack of digital cinema installations.

The Reporter makes it seem as if Fithian was responding to statements Fellman made at a public forum, however they don’t say whether Fellman’s quotes come from any specific event or speech or simply an interview they conducted. It was the pending release of Warner Bros.’ 3-D flick “Journey to the Center of the Earth” that brought the issue to a head, which is why the distribution exec opened with:

“3-D is the future, so why is exhibition dragging its feet? I’m pleased ‘Journey’ will be the biggest digital 3-D release to date. But it is disconcerting that since November, the 3-D screen count has only gone up. . .”

Fellman’s quote is abruptly cut off by The Reporter – presumably a typo. Fithian was quick to answer however, in saying:

“It is particularly ironic and frustrating that a senior executive from Warner Bros. would accuse exhibition of ‘dragging its feet’ on 3-D when Warners has been the absolutely slowest of all major studios to come to the table with support for the d-cinema rollout. If Warners believes there are an insufficient number of 3-D screens in the marketplace today, they have no one to blame but themselves and they know it.”

What Fithian is referring to is Warner Bros. reluctance to enter into virtual print fee (VPF) agreements that provide an exhibitor a subsidy for the installation of digital cinema equipment. In essence, the studio will pay a fee for every screen one of their movies play on and that fee will go toward the purchase of D-cinema equipment. System integrators such as Digital Cinema Integration Partners and Access Integrated Technologies have been trying for some time to negotiate a VPF deal with studios and Warner has proven one of the few holdouts. The studio has only signed one agreement with XDC for rollouts in Europe. Because that deal pegs the VPF at USD $850, many in the industry have argued that Warners was simply trying to remove doubt they were serious about digital cinema by signing the cheapest contract they could find.

Whatever Warner Bros. reasoning for shying away from VPF deals, Fellman believes the studio has firmly supported D-cinema:

“Warner Bros. has released more films digitally than any other studio, without question. Our discussion is with exhibition, circuit by circuit, and John has never attended one business session at which any Warner exec was present. . . We are continuing to serve every digital theater that request a (digital) print. We stand by our record.”

John FithianDespite Warners’ track record, Fithian definitely faults the major studios with holding hope the world-wide digital cinema roll out:

“Exhibition stands ready to provide our patrons in the U.S. and around the world with wider access to exciting 3-D technologies as soon as all of our partners in distribution come to agreement on the level of support they will provide for the underlying digital cinema infrastructure. You cannot have 3-D without D-cinema. And we cannot have digital cinema by ‘negotiating’ through the media.”

Negotiating?! Seems more like they are arguing to me. Though that could well pass for negotiating in Hollywood.