|WEEKEND BOX OFFICERISE OF SKYWALKERBOX OFFICESKYWALKER1917|
During the current worldwide pandemic, movie studios are no longer providing box-office figures because theaters have been shut down around the nation and the world. Because we are less interested in the actual figures themselves and more interested in what people are watching over the weekends, each week we will dive into Most Streamed and Bestseller Lists on Fandango, iTunes, Netflix, and Hulu to pinpoint the weekend’s most watched films.
We are now in our third week of inspecting the most watched movies at home, and it’s interesting how much more movement there is in the VOD market than in the traditional box office. That may be more of a function of our current situation, however, where theatrical movies released earlier this year are heading to VOD in a much faster clip to take advantage of the increased movie consumption at home. They’re probably also trying to recoup some of their losses, as well.
In our first two weeks, we’ve been eyeballing the iTunes and Google Play lists to come up with the most watched VOD movies, but Fandango’s most watched VOD movie seems to be a very good compromise between the two lists. In either respect, most of the lists suggests that the two most popular VOD movies this weekend were the home debuts of the two biggest films released in theaters in 2020, Bad Boys for Life and Sonic the Hedgehog. The two movies add to their $204 million and $146 million theatrical box office. Meanwhile, Pixar’s Onward comes in third now that it is being offered for $5 rental instead of $20 purchase note families: It’s free on Disney+, which cost $6 a month, and if you are spending $5 to watch Onward, you probably live in a family that could use Disney+ to help get through the next couple of months. This is not a plug. It is a lifeline.
Invisible Man is still going strong even at the $20 rental price point, but it’s still doing extraordinarily well, even as other movies have debuted and fallen below it, like Knives Out and Jumanji. e don’t have exact figures on Invisible Man on VOD, but it’s safe to say that it has been a resounding success. Excluding Trolls World Tour which is on presale, Invisible Man is number four, while Harrison Ford’s Call of the Wild - which was also ousted from theaters early - debuts at a middling #10, ahead of the original Bad Boys and two other movies still only available for purchase, Ben Affleck’s The Way Back and Robert Downey, Jr.’s Doctor Dolittle, which isn’t even doing well on the VOD market with families starved for movies.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell’s Downhill, which bombed in theaters, is likewise not making much noise on the VOD market, where it debuted at number 24. Meanwhile, I am only seeing it on the iTunes list #11, but the critically acclaimed indie flick Never Rarely Sometimes Always seems to be doing well. I haven’t seen it yet,...
There’s one particularly telling and effective moment in The Skywalker Legacy, the feature-lenght documentary that’s included on the Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker home release that sums up much of the ambivalence and consternation that some had with J.J. Abrams’ return to the Star Wars universe. After showing the intricate construction of a giant, practical snake monster, the doc cuts back to footage of Jabba The Hutt, that old analogue beast that slithered its way into our hearts. The sentiment is clear – we’re making movies like we used to! A celebration of practical effects, the dripping of k-y jelly to give viscosity just like the old costume days, it’s all there. There’s excitement on set, everyone talking about how amazing it looks, how lifelike, how this is how you’re supposed to do movies like this.
Cut to Visual Effects Supervisor Roger Guyett who shatters the myth, letting us know the creature was replaced by a CGI version in post.
Guyett’s resume is mighty. Having made his bones on groundbreaking films like Twister and Casper, he helped Spielberg bring the events of D-Day to screen in Saving Private Ryan, helped bring to life the best looking film in the Harry Potter series, Alfonso Cuarón’s Prisoner of Azkaban, and even made the theatrical version of Rent feel more than a stage production. Guyett has had many collaborations with Abrams – from the Star Trek Reboots through The Force Awakens and The Rise of Skywalker he was even second unit director on the former, as well as working with George Lucas on Episode III to round off the prequels. He’s in a unique position to speak to these changing landscapes of epic filmmaking.
We spoke at length about the apparent contradictions and indulgences in making a Star Wars film, and he made the case for why nothing was wasted and all contributed to the final presentation. He was erudite and open to the discussion, making for a dream conversation with a man who quite literally has helped shape what amazes us on screen for decades.
The following has been edited for clarity and concision.
We see practical effects being championed as almost a marketing ploy with the “postquels” as a mix of nostalgia and an attempt to delineate from Lucas’ second trilogy. In some ways the love of the practically-realized snake undercuts the extraordinary CGI you and your team accomplished, and raises questions about why the need to fetishize the on-set inclusions when they’re replaced anyway. Could you talk about that ethos, that somehow doing stuff on a computer is a “cheat” while doing an effect practically is not?
I think at the end of the day we’re all trying to do the best that we can, trying to make the best, most dramatic or emotional movie we can visually. I’m coming from figuring out how do you get the most...
Week three of no theatrical releases. That will technically change soon — Universal’s premium VOD-opening “Trolls World Tour” has a handful of still-open drive-ins to play don’t expect any grosses reported. But it was a week full of important stories, with particular interest in a series of release date adjustments. However, no date can be realized if theaters aren’t open, and nobody knows when that will be.
• Exhibitor trade organization NATO held a webinar Friday. President John Fifthian raised hope that some theaters might be open by late May or early June. AMC Entertainment CEO Adam Aron, who oversees the most screens in North America reiterated his hopes for mid-June.
• With the COVID-19 still in its early stages of national spread, uncertainty about the curve flattening, and signs that in China, which had the earliest outbreaks three months ago, that viral decline doesn’t equal viral defeat, the reality is it could be weeks before anyone can make a reasonable assessment on reopening.
• Countering industry optimism that after weeks indoors, people will flock to theaters is a survey by Performance Research about public attitudes on return to public events. It saw 49 percent of respondents saying feeling safe about returning to theaters ranged from in a few months to never, with 28 percent saying if they do return, it will be less often. That said: This is a snapshot taken nearly two weeks ago, and shouldn’t be considered predictive. It showed similar or worse results for sporting events, concerts, and theme parks.
• Sports league executives spoke with President Trump, who urged resumption as soon as possible. However, Dr. Alan Sills, chief medical officer for the NFL, cautioned it is premature to believe that football can return this fall. Governors in some states that aren’t fully shut down, like Nebraska, encouraged voluntary compliance — with the threat that if the virus isn’t contained, their ardent fans might not have a season. Sports, of course, demand close player and spectator contact, and are more vulnerable even than theaters to the ongoing threat of contagion. But the idea that it is conceivable the country could have a year with no more sports is even more shocking than disruption to theaters.
• The key takeaway from multiple studio release schedule changes is, in re-dating titles, they don’t expect theaters to be fully operational until July at the earliest. Though key June and July titles like Pixar’s “Soul” and Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” remain in those months, “Mulan” on July 24 is the earliest rescheduled date for any major title. Other date changes act as a diversion while theaters are closed, but the reality is everything is written in pencil, not pen.
The “hidden man” is how editor Lee Smith sees himself in 1917. Not for a second did Smith want audiences paying attention to his cuts or tricks, but to instead immerse themselves in director Sam Mendes‘ World War I story, which is constructed to take place in one seemingly unbroken take. Despite the obvious technical wizardry and razzle-dazzle, they pulled it off. Audiences were caught up in the feeling and exhilaration of 1917, not the craft of 1917.
The war pic isn’t the first time Smith and Mendes collaborated. The two worked together on Spectre, which involved a long take that gave the editor and filmmaker some ideas of how to accomplish 1917. Outside of Smith’s collaborations with Mendes, he’s edited several Christopher Nolan films, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, and an underrated gem from the early 2000s, Buffalo Soldiers.
Recently, Smith spoke to us about his intense work on 1917, a few of the movie’s standout sequences, and doing what hasn’t been done before.
Congratulations on the movie. I think it’s an incredible accomplishment.
Thank you. I was definitely the hidden man on that one if I did my job correctly.
That’s what you always want anyway, right?
It’s impressive how you can admire the craft while watching it, but not in a way that makes the movie feel artificial.
That was the thing we always spoke about. The film itself had to be front and center. We never really wanted anyone thinking about how it was made while watching it because our leading thought was just making a great story with great performances. That’s what we were aiming for. As we started to test screen the movie, we realized we achieved that. A lot of people around us were talking about the technique before we started screening, so I’d go, “We gotta stop banging on about technique and make sure the movie works.” As soon as we started screening it, we realized everything is working and all the audience can do is talk about the film. That’s exactly what we wanted to do.
You were editing as they were filming and on the set often. Usually, you have so much time to decide on a take, so how intense was moving at that speed?
Yeah, you could say you’re flying by the seat of your pants. Every day I would watch the shoot the day before the shoot, which could run for two hours worth of material and 39 takes for big sequences. I’d have to talk to Sam in the morning. He’d tell me what he likes, I’d tell him what I like, and we’d ask each other why we liked certain takes. It was a fun conversation, but we had to make up our minds because they were setting up for the next shot.
Generally speaking, you want the shot you’re...