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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

What The 'Emoji Movie' Idea Says About Priorities

 Yesterday, Sony Pictures announced plans to produce a movie based on the popular Emoji keyboard emoticons that make your Iphone feel naked if they're not installed. Emoji's consist of ideogram smileys, flags, families and couples, animals, everyday items and vehicles, and even a bomb, cigarette, bathtub, gun, and a smiling pile of poop. Oh and there's even a floppy disk. Yeah, I know, "what is a floppy disk?"
     How could Sony possibly develop a 90 minute long feature out of the emojis? To be completely honest with you, I have no clue. I don't think Sony does either. I know everyone said "how could they possibly make a movie out of Lego and Need For Speed?", but...come on, that's not the same thing. Other weird concepts that have been announced lately include a Play Doh movie, Hello Kitty, Minecraft, Cut the Rope Movie, Monopoly, Roller Coaster Tycoon, Temple Run, a "Robin Hood Cinematic Universe", the 70s TV show "Good Times", 5 Nights at Freddie's (this has potential): it seems Hollywood is latching onto any fad harder than ever. Like an octopus that latches onto you, and you just can't shake it off, so you just go ahead and go about your day with it. That's how this feels.
     Even if Sony did find a worthy pitch, this is not something that should be happening. Latching onto a fad is one thing, but a ideogram keyboard with a smiling pile of poop? I would rather a Bed Bath and Beyond movie, a movie based on Nutella, a Lucky Charms movie, even a movie based on Little Rock, Arkansas. What is in Little Rock worth making a movie about? Exactly. But no, no Little Rock movie, no Nutella movie, instead we get an emoji movie.
     Honestly, Sony should be embarrassed with this emoji announcement. While emojis are obviously popular, the average person will tell you that trying to adapt them into any kind of media is dumb. No one is going "yesss! An emoji movie! I'm so happy, screw Star Wars!" The general reaction is more like "lmao, I can't with this." Sony got no one excited by this news, but rather just invited a barrage of laughs and Nick Young question mark memes
     The point of an announcement is to drum up excitement. I remember the moments I found about a new Star Wars trilogy, Ben Affleck playing Batman, Marvel's upcoming MCU schedule, and even when Finding Dory was announced. How is this emoji reveal drumming up excitement? It's not. It's instead drumming up confusion and mockery. If no one is excited, but instead mocking this announcement, what does that say about the movies prospects? To be fair, The Lego Movie was mocked by some when it was first announced, but at least that was already a tangible franchise, and it wasn't made aware that the movie would be based on an anthropomorphic Lego figure, and not the actual Lego bricks that we would step on as kids. Emoji is different because its a cell phone keyboard with no history or appeal other than use in text messages.
     The offensive thing about this announcement is not necessarily that we're getting a emoji movie, but that this announcement is an assault and insult on creativity. Dozens of great scripts from dozens of great screenwriters are turned away everyday in Hollywood. Plenty of new, independent writers writing Oscar-caliber scripts, scripts with fresh, new concepts, and scripts that have the potential to take audiences new places. But those eager and hopeful screenwriters are shot down. Hundreds of scripts on the "Black List" website alone that Sony could pull from, but instead they decide on emojis.
     As a screenwriter who has currently written 5 film scripts, 3 separate television shows with multiple completed episodes, a skit, commercials, and over a dozen other ideas currently on my hard drive and cloud storage, I have big aspirations. I'm willing to make the over 2,000-mile journey from the east coast to the west coast to test the waters and try to achieve my goals. And I know I'll get more "no" than "yes", but it's upsetting to know that a Hollywood studio will be turning down my new idea, while at the same time trying to figure out how to make a movie about Snapchat, the "Deez Nuts" guy, or the Goat Simulator game. I wish there was more balancing. A more welcoming atmosphere for novice screenwriters to showcase their talent, while we find new IP's to adapt. Maybe there is? I've haven't been to Los Angeles yet, so I can't speak from experience, but the past decade, it seems the majority focus has shifted to studio-generated adaption. It's amazing a completed Wonder Woman script can sit on the shelf for a decade, but we fast track an emoji script.
     Bottom line is Hollywood is an industry. Movie making is a business. In order to keep businesses open, you need customers, who bring money. The sad truth is a Play Doh movie and Temple Run movie are more guaranteed to make money than a random script off the "Black List." I can't completely fault Hollywood. They have to make what's profitable and sustainable. We can hate the overabundance of sequels, prequels, reboots, and remakes all we want, but as long as people keep going to them, they're going to keep getting made. That's bottom line. If I'm given the opportunity to write a sequel, prequel, reboot, or remake, I'm not going to say "are you kidding me? Take that offer elsewhere Warner Brothers!" I'd definitely take the deal if its meaningful (Play Doh Movie 2?), but I just hope my original content turns heads as well.
     But listen up, Hollywood. Yes, there is plenty of established properties that are ripe for a movie and that have potential, but you need to know your limit. Just because it is popular does not mean it is a good idea. Emoji's are popular, but they're not Angry Birds type of "popular." This is probably the worst idea proposed this year, but that's the business. I will say, if we're going to make an emoji movie, the smiling poop and the woman fluffing her hair better be the main characters.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

'Force Awakens': Is the Stars the Limit?

     5 months. Just 5 more months before the force is awakened. That's right, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, aka Star Wars Episode VII is just 5 months away, releasing domestically December 18, 2015. A franchise with one of the most passionate fan bases: hopes, dreams, and expectations are high for Force Awakens. And so is the box office possibilities.
     Before May 1st, the battle for the #1 crown seemed to be between Avengers: Age of Ultron and Force Awakens, but after Ultron's diminishing returns were realized, Force Awakens instantly looked like the early favorite for #1. Once June 14th and Jurassic World's $209 million opening rolled around, the competition for #1 ramped back up and now seems to be between Jurassic and Force. Jurassic is currently at $612 million and counting, and should end in its dino-sized run in the lower-mid $600's. Can Force top that? To be honest, I have no clue. While box office nerds can throw around their $400-$800+ millon figures all they want, no one honestly has a clue where this movie can and will land. Star Wars: Force Awakens may be one of the hardest movies ever to predict, and here is why.
     You may or may not notice, but the Star Wars brand has found a new owner. The Mouse House. 20th Century Fox were the distributors of the previous Star Wars films, but after the purchase by Disney in 2012, all future Star Wars titles will go through them. It's not even a competition: the marketing for Force Awakens will be much broader and dazzling than Revenge of the Sith and co. Disney does not hesitate to spend marketing dollars, and their corporate synergy can only help. Another advantage Force Awakens has over previous Star Wars movies is the advent of social media. There was no Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Vine, and whatever they have in China in 2005. There was Youtube, but it was in its infancy and was mainly just a website of amateur videos of babies biting their siblings. Advertisements and footage for Force Awakens will spread over the web like wildfire, adding fuel to the fire called "hype." You won't only see Force Awakens content on social media sites, but they will definitely play a big role in getting the general public excited.
     Another thing that Force Awakens is doing that many franchises haven't done is bring back the old cast. Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill will be returning, as well as Chewy, R2D2, and C3PO (my favorite), and other characters and locations from the original trilogy. Bringing back the original gang, locations, and even music adds nostalgia to this movie, and many people who saw the originals in the 70s and 80s that may have been considering skipping Force Awakens, may now be inclined to get back on board. The Han/Chewy relationship and C3PO sass is worth admission alone. It's confirmed nostalgia is added, but how much will this effect gross? Sith didn't have nostalgia, and Phantom Menace really only had the nostalgia of being "a new Star Wars 16 years later." Force is in good position here.
     Solid points, but the biggest factor that is preventing anyone from giving a concrete prediction for Force Awakens is the fact that today's box office climate is nothing like before. Force Awakens in 2015 is in a completely different box office world than Revenge of the Sith in 2005, just 10 years ago. Not only has 3D invaded and IMAX became mainstream, but overseas markets have exploded. China, India, Russia, Brazil, the list goes on. For example, in 2010, Iron Man 2 grosses a healthy $623 million. Just 3 years later, Iron Man 3 pulled in $1.2 billion, good enough for #5 all time. In just TWO short years, Iron Man 3 has already fallen to #9. Fast Five shocked the world with $626 million in 2011, and Furious 6 improved on it with $788 million. Bring in Furious 7, just two years later...$1.5 billion. One of the best examples is the Transformers series. 48% of Transformers 2's take came from domestic audiences. Bring on Transformers 4, just 5 years later and domestic grosses only accounted for 22% of the box office. Just like Furious 7, Transformers 4's gross in China alone was bigger than the US/Canada.
     For that reason alone, predicting Force is impossible. It's hard to gauge how interested American audiences still are, but its even harder to gauge how interested overseas audiences have become, especially in Asia, where box office has grown the fastest in the last few years. In this series, we have 6 movies for precedent, but just like Force Awakens, the original trilogy was in a different box office climate than the prequels. There was no $12 ticket prices, Netflix, piracy, HD, and movies weren't going on home video just 3 months later. It's easy for someone in today's climate to say "I can wait a few months. It'll be cheaper." But then again, this is a movie 32 years in the making. Do people really want to miss out on this event? Another factor is the fact that Force Awakens will be released in December, which behaves differently than May. With May, school and work is still in session, so most people have to wait for the weekends. With Force Awakens' December 18 date, Christmas break will be beginning for most. Instead of moviegoers rushing out for Thursday previews and Friday evening, there will be plenty of time for people to do Christmas shopping and see Force Awakens throughout the next couple weeks. With the holiday weekdays, add in the lack of blockbuster competition and Force Awakens could be in for a forcible gross. 
     The general consensus on Phantom Menace, 16 years later, is "it sucks", but that didn't stop it from selling over 80 million tickets. Even if Force Awakens "sucks", the sheer giddyness of having a new Star Wars in theaters when we weren't even supposed to (Sith was "supposed" to be the last), should keep fans blinded long enough to keep Force Awakens from suffering too hard. But if Force Awakens is seen as just "good", possibilities are then endless. Look at Jurassic World for instance. An "okay" movie, but still steamrolling the box office. "Crap", "meh", "good"...but what if Force Awakens is "great?" Oh boy. 
     Over $1 billion for Force Awakens is a given, but is $1.5 billion a given as well? Is $2 billion on the table? Or should Iron Man 3's $1.2 billion be a good target? Only time will tell, but until then, no prediction is wrong or right.
     As of now, I could see Force Awakens doing $600 million and at least $1.2 billion. After Jurassic World, and looking at past Star Wars history, $500 sounds too low, but $700 sounds too high. After the D23 Expo, and once the marketing blitz starts up, we'll have better idea, but for now, just sit back and enjoy the uncertainty. Oh, and be excited (and thankful) that we're getting another Star Wars movie with C3PO in it, and Jar Jar not.