July 16, 2007

Keep on Talking to Me

So, I got a good group of folks this weekend to check out "Talk To Me" this past Friday night here in L.A. at the Arclight. I'll have alot to say about the film in a bit - in short, I absolutely love it, the emotional intensity is more spin-tingling to me than any number of explosions I saw last week in "Transformers", and Meshell Ndegeocello has a rediculously good track in the end credits with Terence Blanchard called "Compared to What".

But, I would like to point out the statistics:
on 33 screens nationwide, Talk to Me brought in $391,000, for a per-screen average of roughly $11,848 for the weekend. "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix", on 4,285 theaters nationwide, brought in $77,410,000, for a per screen average of $18,065.

Let's say they took a 10th of those Harry Potter screens and played "Talk To Me" instead, for a combined number of 461 screens - assuming the same per screen average (which is, admittedly, a huge assumption - but when my friends in Chicago are telling me that the movie's not playing, well, there's clearly a market) - they could have earned $5,461,928, which would have placed it at 6 for the weekend box office, above "1408".

Actually, a better comparison would be, instead of taking ~400 screens away from Harry Potter, a Warner Bros movie, how about taking 200 each away from "Evan Almighty" and "Knocked Up", both of which are distributed by Universal Studios - who owns Focus Features and also distributed "Talk To Me". The highest per-screen average Evan ever did was $8,654, and Knocked Up's was $10,690. Knocked Up opened on 2700 screens, and Evan Almighty on 3600. And both those films, as of this weekend, were still in 1700 and 2700 theaters, respectively. My point is, Universal left money on the table this weekend by giving Talk to Me such a limited opening. I do, however, expect that it will expand in a week or two.

I'm just sayin'.

July 13, 2007

The Silver Screen

t's funny - I just went to see "Pirates of the Caribbean" last night (which was much better than I expected), at a Q&A screening from Creative Screenwriting magazine at Harmony Gold's theater on Sunset. My fellow fanboys from the '80's will remember Harmony Gold as the people who brought us "Robotech". Oddly enough, for all my African-American brothers & sisters out there, WE remember Harmony Gold for bringing us "Shaka Zulu".

If I may digress for a moment - Robotech & Shaka Zulu. "two great tastes that taste great together", right? :-)

Since it wasn't a regular multiplex or theater, there were no ads projected on the screen before the show, and the curtains were open so all you could see was this huge white empty space.

There's that word again.


Begging to be filled.

And it reminded me that, as a filmmaker, it's my job to fill that space - and you can't do that with close-ups all day. :-)

I think it's very easy for those of us still in the early parts of our careers, looking to create opportunities to show our stuff, to just want to shoot and be seen anywhere. TVs. IPods. Cell phones. Computer Monitors.

And we keep whittling down our visions to fit into these smaller screens.

I think about Ridley Scott.

He's a graphic designer by training, and, after working in commercials for a few years, he made his first feature film, "The Duellists". Adjusted for inflation, he spent less than a 4th of the money to shoot in France and achieve a richly textured vision of the Napoleonic era comparable to anything those guys at Merchant Ivory have done as they spent on that rotten "Boogeyman" movie that got made a few years back.

Right before I shot "5", I spent a great deal of time watching Ridley Scott films - I learned so much on how to pimp your budget for maximum effect (particularly in "Alien" and "Gladiator") listening to his DVD commentaries, I should pay that dude tuition.

Say what you will about "Pirates" - the money is definitely on the screen. Now, again, being a history nut and coming from a maritime city, I'm a sucker for tall ship movies (go see "The Bounty" with Mel Gibson & Anthony Hopkins - it's a gem) - but production design can make or break a film. And the design on pirates is so rich.

And then, last night, I caught a peek at the trailer for "The Golden Age", a sequel to Shekhar Kapur's 1998 film, "Elizabeth", which earned Cate Blanchette her first Oscar nomination.

First of all - I'm so impressed that an exquisite mid-budget film that was a moderate box office hit gets turned into a franchise.

But, again - just look at the freakin' trailer! Isn't that just delicious!

But you don't have to do period pieces to get richness. Think of all of David Fincher's films. I once heard George Lucas say that part of the reason why he made "Star Wars" was that he'd been doing so many tiny, guerrilla films ("American Graffiti" and "THX-1138", for example), but that he loved old Hollywood, and wanted to do a costume drama.

Filling the space - I think, in some cases, "Pirates" clearly went overboard. But isn't it better to err on the side of excess?

Again, I'm just musing out loud.....

July 08, 2007

go see "Talk To Me" this Friday

Now, I know you COULD go see "Harry Potter", or you could watch Elisha Cuthbert get tortured in "Captivity", or you could even go see "Transformers" again.

But, quite frankly, Harry & Optimus Prime are gonna be a'ight as far as opening weekend box office grosses go. There will be sequels. And no matter how well or poorly "Captivity" does, people will continue to make garish horror films.

On the other hand, there's "Talk To Me".

Check out the trailer here.

It stars Don Cheadle, along with Taraji P. Henson from "Hustle & Flow", Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Cedric the Entertainer.

It's co-written by Rick Famuyiwa, who wrote & directed both "The Wood" and "Brown Sugar", and Michael Genet, who wrote "She Hate Me" for Spike.

And it's directed by one of my filmmaking heroes, Kasi Lemmons.

You may recognize Kasi as Clarice Starling's best buddy at the FBI Academy in "Silence of the Lambs", or even as one of Tony Todd's victims in the original "Candyman". But the sister has really been puttin' in work for the last ten years as a filmmaker, who, most notably wrote & directed a little gem called "Eve's Bayou".

Point being, here's a great film where virtually all of the above-the-line talent are Black, that gives all of us a bit of our history.

Now, "Captivity" is going to be in 1,500 theaters around the country. "Transformers" is already in 4,000, and Harry Potter is going out to 4,100 on Friday.

Focus Features is only releasing "Talk To Me" on 31 screens.

That's not a typo - only 31 theaters in the entire country are going to get this movie.

My point is, if we want more films like this, made by more filmmakers like these, we need to speak the studios' language by buying tickets. Preferrably on Friday night.

Go see it.

And, while you're at it, if you haven't had the chance, check out Kasi's last feature film, "The Caveman's Valentine", with Samuel L. Jackson as a former concert pianist who's become schizophrenic and homeless, but is still trying to solve a murder mystery. It's good stuff.