Saturday, 5 March 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #688: Motives, Means, Methods, & Movies!!

Welcome to the show folks...

Sorry I didn't post yesterday, I spent the afternoon getting a troublesome wisdom tooth extracted. My dentist said it came out easy, but it sure as hell didn't feel easy to me. But enough about my pain, which you may find amusing, or boring, depending on your sociopathic tendencies.

Let's get down to business, which is the business of this business blog.

Did that sentence make sense? I need to check the best before date on this ibuprofen... anyway, let's get back on topic.

Today I'm talking about AMC Theaters and Regal Theaters and their big new idea. They are two of America's biggest movie exhibitors and they are joining forces to start a new movie distribution company, tentatively branded Open Road, and have hired indie film executive Tom Ortenberg to head it up.

If done right this could be a very good idea, not just for the AMC/Regal partnership, but for the film industry in general. There are three things that this project needs to be a success, they are MOTIVES, MEANS, and METHODS.

1. MOTIVES: AMC and Regal have pretty good and clear motives for getting involved in this project. THEY NEED TO MAKE MONEY.

They are in the business of movie exhibition, and own thousands of screens all over the USA. They need a steady stream of movies to show on those screens or they won't move the popcorn and soda that makes their profit margin. The studios are decreasing their output, specializing in fewer and fewer mega-blockbusters every year. While they put these mega-pics into thousands upon thousands of theaters on their opening weekend, only a few at any time are worth the while of the exhibitors and most leave theaters empty of ticket and snack buying customers. They have to get those turkeys out and get new movies that could put bums in seats in.

They can't turn to the major studios for that product, like I said, they're not making enough movies. Most of the "indie" distributors remaining are merely subdivisions of the majors, and despite the occasional hits like Black Swan, are geared more towards getting Oscar nominations than selling tickets at the box office.

So they have pretty good motives for creating their own distribution company.

2. MEANS: The backers of this project have deep pockets. Those backers include JP Morgan, Apollo Management and the Carlyle Group behind AMC, and Regal's owner, billionaire Philip Anschutz. This means that the company is a pretty good candidate for the sort of financial and credit facilities needed to get off the ground. I think they're in pretty good shape on these grounds.

3. METHODS: As I always say, any idiot can make a movie, but it takes experience, intelligence, and cunning to distribute movies in a way that can make money. Key to operating a good distribution operation is not just volume, but also variety.

The folks behind Open Road are saying that they're looking to not only release art-house or indie fare, but also bigger and more commercial product. A smart strategy, because there's a widening gap between big budget blockbusters and pseudo indie award bait. Something has to fill that gap.

An all too common, and fatal, error made by indie distributors is to get caught up in the extremely narrow art house/festival market, or bankrupt themselves trying to become a major studio overnight by trying to release blockbuster movies without blockbuster resources.

They are also stating that they will not keep their releases exclusive to AMC and Regal owned theaters. Smart. Despite having thousands of screens between them, they really don't have the reach needed for a successful distributor. They will need to deal with the other chains, and hopefully they can do those deals in a way where both sides can walk away happy. I hope they succeed in making those deals, because an indie distributor can't afford enemies.

I'm going to wish these guys luck with this project. Independent film needs something like this to breath new life into the business.

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