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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Word of Mouth

Indie films find financial backers online through Kickstarter

May 10, 2012 |  8:00 am

Somewhere Between

This post has been corrected. See note at the bottom for details.

Paul Li is a Bay Area doctor whose show business experience is mostly limited to visiting the multiplex. Yet Li, through the website Kickstarter, managed to help underwrite the coming theatrical release of the Chinese adoption documentary “Somewhere Between.”

Li joined with about 1,400 other donors to raise more than $100,000 to finance “Somewhere Between's” U.S. distribution. “It really struck a very emotionally resonant chord,” said Li, who with his wife is raising an adopted Chinese-born daughter. “It really connected with me on a personal level.”

Increasingly, outfits such as Kickstarter and its chief rival, Indiegogo, are helping ultra-low-budget productions make their way into movie theaters.

Looking to raise money to finance a movie's production or distribution, a filmmaker will take his or her project to the Internet, pitching not only its premise but also a specific fundraising goal and deadline. There's no chance that the donors will make any monetary return on their gifts, but they can receive plenty of perks — from free DVDs to invitations to movie premieres — to encourage contributions.

“The kind of art and culture that we like are things that tend to be more on the margins and aren't easily funded,” said Kickstarter co-founder Yancey Strickler. “Normally, people put money into things because they're gonna make money and that's a primary motivation. But the kinds of things that we like ... they just want to exist and to be heard.”

It's called crowd-funding — the fundraising campaigns usually entail hundreds of small contributions rather than a handful of large gifts — and Kickstarter and Indiegogo are being used to finance all manner of creative endeavors, but they are particularly addressing a perilous bottleneck in the independent film world.

Last year, 469 independent films were released theatrically, a huge increase from 2002's total of 270 titles. The most prominent art house distributors — companies such as Fox Searchlight and Sony Pictures Classics — typically handle only a dozen or so movies a year each. Although million-dollar sales deals generate film festival headlines, the vast majority of movies receive puny distribution offers (or none at all), leaving their backers swimming in red ink with little chance at breaking even.

After premiering at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, “On the Ice” received good reviews and a couple of distribution nibbles, but none that would cover more than a fraction of the Alaskan coming-of-age drama's $1-million budget.

So, the film's makers decided to fund their own distribution and turned to Kickstarter to raise $80,000. The campaign succeeded, and “On the Ice” rolled into a handful of theaters this February, where it has grossed more than $70,000 to date. While those sales still leave “On the Ice” well short of making a profit, the theatrical release should boost DVD sales.

“The Kickstarter money allowed us to hire a public relations firm, to make a trailer, to have posters — all the things you need to do to put your movies into theaters,” said Lynette Howell, one of the film's producers. “And it's still in theaters. It just keeps going.”

Kickstarter campaigns must reach their funding goal by a deadline set by the project's creators, or all funds go back to donors. On Indiegogo, filmmakers who come up short can return funds to donors or pay a 9% fee to keep the balance. For projects that reach their goals, Indiegogo charges a 4% fee, while Kickstarter levies a 5% charge. Furthermore, Kickstarter accepts donations from all around the world,  but the recipient of any donation must have a U.S. bank account.

Linda Goldstein Knowlton, the director and producer of “Somewhere Between,” said she wasn't sure her $800,000 film should try for a theatrical release until it started winning festival prizes, including the people's choice award at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival. “It's really hard to distribute a documentary theatrically if you're not Michael Moore,” she said. “But the response to the film was beyond our dreams. It plays well with a crowd.”

All the same, the reaction from potential distributors was muted. “Even without seeing it, they feel it's a very niche thing,” Goldstein Knowlton said.

Continue reading »

Word of Mouth: 'Wrath' tries to right 'Clash's' 3-D wrongs

March 29, 2012 |  4:18 pm

"Wrath of the Titans"

The Hollywood gods spoke. And they did not approve of "Clash of the Titans."

Even though 2010's sword and sandals was a global blockbuster -- its nearly $500 million worldwide haul made it the year's 11th highest-grossing release -- its industry critics made a lot more noise than the ticket buyers. The focus of their ire? The hasty "Clash of the Titans" 3-D conversion, undertaken at the last minute to take advantage of higher 3-D ticket prices.

While James Cameron is spending more than a year turning his 1997 smash "Titanic" into a 3-D presentation for its April 4 re-release, the makers of "Clash of the Titans" spent a mere six weeks hurriedly converting the mythological spectacle into 3-D.

DreamWorks Animation's Jeffrey Katzenberg said the film's makeover "snookered" ticket buyers, while "Avatar" creator Cameron said of the conversion, "There was no artistry to it whatsoever."

Arriving on Friday, the "Clash of the Titans" sequel, called "Wrath of the Titans," attempts to atone for the first film's shortcomings.

Although the new, $150-million "Titans" film also was converted from 2-D into 3-D, any number of shots and visual effects sequences were designed from the very beginning for stereoscopic presentation. What's more, the filmmakers spent a year on the 3-D upgrade, working hard to ensure that the conversion was done as well as possible.

Even if "Wrath of the Titans," which stars "Avatar's" Sam Worthington, silences its 3-D critics, it will have a hard time making a big splash at the box office, as it must fend off "The Hunger Games" juggernaut. The reviews for the film have been better than they were for "Clash of the Titans," but the "Wrath" notices are still mixed to negative.

In this week's Word of Mouth column, John Horn looks at the sequel's prospects, and previews his report in this video:


Movie Projector: 'The Hunger Games' to dominate box office -- again

Lily Collins sees herself in 'Mirror Mirror'

Carmike reverses course, will show ‘Bully’

Photo: Danny Huston, left, and Sam Worthington in "Wrath of the Titans." Credit: Jay Maidment / MCT

Word of Mouth: Will Ferrell's Spanish-language gamble [video]

March 15, 2012 |  5:11 pm

Will Ferrell might do pretty much anything for a laugh. But the "Saturday Night Live" alumnus faces an unusual test this weekend, with the premiere of his "Casa de Mi Padre."

The $6-million spoof of Mexican soap operas, which costars Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal, is almost completely in Spanish. Ferrell learned his lines phonetically and all of the dialogue is subtitled. The parody, produced by Nala Films and distributed into about 350 theaters by Pantelion Films, is courting two distinct audiences: the English-speaking ticket buyers who attend Ferrell's big-studio comedies like "Anchorman" and Latinos who have broad moviegoing interest.

The marketing opportunities, as well as the challenges, are the topic of this week's Word of Mouth column. Above is a video preview.  


Mexican culture in a sweaty headlock

Mexican stars chase the Hollywood dream

Will Ferrell to star in Spanish-language film 'Casa de Mi Padre'

— John Horn

Will Ferrell's 'Casa de Mi Padre' crosses language borders

March 14, 2012 |  4:06 pm

"Casa de Mi Padre"

One of the most-publicized scenes from Will Ferrell’s new film “Casa de Mi Padre” shows the comedian with a couple of ranch hands at a campfire, singing the song “Yo No Se.” Translated into English, the chorus means “I Don’t Know,” which might describe how hard it is categorize the movie itself.

Opening Friday in limited national release of about 380 theaters, “Casa de Mi Padre” is a $6-million Spanish-language parody that its makers hope will play equally well to fans of Ferrell’s comedies and Latino moviegoers. Ferrell has made a number of promotional appearances on TV prgrams such as CBS’ “Late Show With David Letterman,” ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” and NBC’s “Today,” but you’re far more likely to find “Casa de Mi Padre” commercials on variety shows like Univisión’s “Sábado Gigante” and “El Gordo y La Flaca.”

“It’s a tough film to put in a marketing box,” said Darlene Caamano Loquet, whose Nala Films financed the movie that Ferrell’s company, Gary Sanchez Productions, developed. “But it’s one of those movies that can bring those two audiences together.”

Latinos make up more than 16% of the U.S. population, but can often account for a larger proportion of ticket buyers, particularly for family and genre films. At the same time, any number of movies that have tried to target the Spanish-speaking audience — including “A Better Life,” “Selena” and “The Perez Family” — have failed to sell many tickets.

“Casa de Mi Padre” is an R-rated spoof not only of telenovelas, or Spanish-language soap operas, but also spaghetti Westerns and 1970s B movies. Ferrell plays the not-too-bright Armando Alvarez, a member of a Mexican ranch family drawn into a drug war. The cast includes Gael García Bernal, Diego Luna and Genesis Rodriguez. Early reviews have been mixed to negative.

“It gives us a chance to laugh at ourselves, which Hispanic Americans are not given a chance to do,” Loquet said.

Continue reading »

Word of Mouth: Eddie Murphy's not laughing on way to bank [video]

March 8, 2012 | 11:18 am

Eddie Murphy

Not that long ago, an Eddie Murphy was a box-office slam-dunk.

And then came "Meet Dave."

And "Imagine That."

DreamWorks' "A Thousand Words," which stars Murphy as a fast-talking book agent, is finally being released nearly four years after it was filmed. Paramount, which releases DreamWorks movies made at the studio before Steven Spielberg and Stacey Snider's company moved to Disney, isn't expecting "A Thousand Words" to break any records.

Paramount initially hoped that "A Thousand Words" would benefit from Murphy's work in the ensemble caper comedy "A Tower Heist" and his hosting this year's Oscars. But "Tower Heist" fizzled fast, and Murphy quit as the Oscar MC when Brett Ratner (who directed "Tower Heist") was forced to resign as the Academy Awards' producer.

This week's Word of Mouth column looks at the film's troubled history, with this video preview:



'A Thousand Words': Can Eddie Murphy regain his voice?

Eddie Murphy Oscar kerfuffle won't affect 'Words'

Eddie Murphy out as host of the Oscars

Photo: Eddie Murphy. Credit: Chris Pizzello/Associated Press

'Safe House': Universal looks for vivid visuals from Espinosa [video]

February 9, 2012 |  2:50 pm

Daniel Espinosa
Star Denzel Washington, who plays opposite Ryan Reynolds, thought it was a little odd that Swedish director Daniel Espinosa wanted to put his "Safe House" cameras behind his actors' heads, rather than in front of them. Producer Universal Studios was a bit taken aback when they saw the first batch of footage from the film's South Africa set, but eventually calmed down.

But the very things that give "Safe House" its unusual look are what separate the CIA thriller from any number of action movies. Even though the film is likely to lose to "The Vow" at the weekend box office, "Safe House" marks a notable arrival of a new filmmaker.

This week, John Horn profiles the young filmmaker, and in this video talks about his distinctive style:

-- John Horn

Word of Mouth: Guy Ritchie returns to form with 'Sherlock' [video]

December 8, 2011 |  2:14 pm

Once known only for directing arty gangster movies such as "Snatch" (and for having been married to Madonna), British director Guy Ritchie burst onto the blockbuster scene with 2009's "Sherlock Holmes." Although the movie featured a few of the filmmaker's stylish touches, his real handiwork is much more evident in Dec. 16's sequel, "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows."

Audience tracking surveys suggest Ritchie's sequel, in which Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and Watson (Jude Law) try to foil an international plot, could be the holiday season's biggest hit. While Ritchie is now developing a remake of "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." with producing partner Lionel Wigram, he may soon be asked to direct a third "Sherlock Holmes" film.

Times staff writer John Horn discusses all of this in this week's Word of Mouth column, and in this video.


On the Set: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law talk 'Sherlock Holmes'

On the trail of the cinematic Sherlock Holmes

Guy Ritchie calls marriage to Madonna a 'soap opera'

— John Horn



Word of Mouth: Demolition derby at the Thanksgiving box office [video]

November 17, 2011 |  3:49 pm

It's one of the busiest moviegoing weekends of the year. And this Thanksgiving could also be one of the ugliest.

No fewer than three PG-rated movies will be released Wednesday, and because all of them are pursuing the same basic audience — parents and their kids — it's likely there will be a bit of show business cannibalization. In this week's Word of Mouth column, John Horn looks at the opportunities for and challenges facing the three movies — "Hugo," "The Muppets" and "Arthur Christmas."

The movies not only have to compete against one another but also the second weekend for the latest "Twilight" sequel and "Happy Feet Two." Like a big Thanksgiving meal, perhaps there will be enough to go around for everyone.


Word of Mouth: 'The First Grader' seeks Oscar attention

Word of Mouth: Paramount makes 'Crazy' bet 

Word of Mouth: 'Paranormal' scares up fan, Twitter fervor

Word of Mouth: Eddie Murphy's 'Heist' gets a rewrite [Video]

November 3, 2011 |  5:33 pm

Eddie Murphy’s original idea for what would become “Tower Heist” -- an all-black “Ocean’s Eleven” -- changed a lot on the way to theaters this weekend. While the basic parameters of the story remained intact, the cast and the villain changed materially from when Murphy first came up with the idea six years ago. In this week’s Word of Mouth column, staff writer John Horn looks at the film’s development, and what’s at stake not only for Murphy but also the film’s director, Brett Ratner.


A long-planned 'Heist'

Movie review: 'Tower Heist'

Movie Projector: 'Tower Heist' to swipe No. 1 spot from rivals

Photo: Ben Stiller, left, Matthew Broderick, Michael Pena, Casey Affleck and Eddie Murphy in "Tower Heist." Credit: David Lee / Universal Pictures

Photo: Ben Stiller, left, Matthew Broderick, Michael Pena, Casey Affleck and Eddie Murphy in "Tower Heist." Credit: David Lee / Universal Pictures

Word of Mouth: Paramount makes 'Crazy' bet [video]

October 27, 2011 |  4:18 pm

Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones in "Like Crazy." Drake Doremus' low-budget, largely improvised, semi-autobiographical love story "Like Crazy" sparked an intense bidding war at this year's Sundance Film Festival. But the winning bidder was not a specialized film company that typically ends up handling such art-house fare. Rather, Paramount Pictures--the distributor of the "Transformers" and "Iron Man" movies--beat out Fox Searchlight, Focus Features and the Weinstein Co. for "Like Crazy's" worldwide rights.

Having paid (it split the deal with independent producer Indian Paintbrush) some $4 million to acquire "LIke Crazy," Paramount now has to sell the movie to two different audiences. Young moviegoers should relate to the  long-distance love affair between a Los Angeles furniture designer (Anton Yelchin) and London-based journalist (Felicity Jones), while older patrons could be motivated by the film's glowing reviews and film festival credentials.

Times film reporter John Horn, who wrote about Paramount's marketing challenges in this week's Word of Mouth column, talks about the film in this video:


Movie review: 'Like Crazy'

A 'Crazy' little thing called love

Paramount doubling down on 'Like Crazy' promotion

-- John Horn

Photo: Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones in "Like Crazy." Credit: Fred Hayes


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