How a ragtag group of young coders skirted the studio and created a pop culture sensation that's still standing two decades later ... The marketing was hitting all the right notes, including on the Internet – even if no one noticed or cared. A few blocks from the flagship Warners store, up on the 29th floor of 1375 Avenue of the Americas, a group of five outcasts, working out of cramped cubicles and closets that doubled as office space, had cranked out what would become, over the next two decades, one of the most beloved websites ever made. At a time when asking to put a web address on a movie poster usually produced blank stares and then exasperated sighs, the site pushed all the limits of web development. There were inside jokes alongside animated GIFs, Easter eggs to be found and virtual reality 360s ahead of their time. It was free-flowing, unsupervised, guerrilla design work, all being done under the umbrella of one of the largest entertainment companies on the planet. ... The site lay more-or-less dormant for the next 14 years. But that changed for good in late 2010, when the Internet, exponentially bigger than it was in 1996, rediscovered the site – almost entirely unchanged from its initial launch. It was reborn as a viral sensation, the web's equivalent of a recently discovered cave painting.
After an auction of many of his most iconic belongings, the Hollywood legend is back with a memoir about the famous people he worked with and loved. Ned Zeman tracks the Bandit down at his Florida mansion for a discussion about his career, his breakups (including that one with Sally Field), and what really cost him the most. ... Reynolds lived like a redneck Croesus, resplendent in velvet suits and silk bandannas. At his peak he was earning about $10 million a year. His real-estate portfolio included, in addition to Valhalla, a 153-acre ranch in Jupiter, Florida; a spread in Arkansas; mansions in Beverly Hills and Malibu; a Tara-like estate in Georgia; and a mountaintop retreat in the Smokies of North Carolina. He owned a private jet, a helicopter, and numerous custom-made sports cars ... Plus 150 horses. Plus well over $100,000 worth of toupees fashioned by Edward Katz, “the Armani of hair replacement.” ... But his personal life remains much smaller, and not in a bad way. “I feel like a man whose house was blown away in a hurricane. His possessions are gone, but he’s thankful to be alive.”
Wang Jianlin, one of China’s richest men, is creating a rival to the American dream factory, from scratch. ... Most americans probably associate Qingdao, China, with beer. In 1903, German and British settlers founded the Tsingtao Brewery there, and Teutonic influence can still be seen in some of the architecture in older parts of town. But the city’s temperate climate and coastal setting, almost 350 miles north of Shanghai, lend it an atmosphere that more strongly recalls Southern California, an association lately reinforced by the new buildings going up on the coastline southwest of town. There, on a steep green hillside that overlooks the Yellow Sea, you’ll see a gigantic sign with white freestanding characters: 东方影都, which translates literally as “Eastern Cinema.” It’s like the Hollywood sign that has overlooked Los Angeles since 1923, only bigger. ... On a sprawling 1,200-acre site at the foot of that hill, a gaggle of construction cranes is noisily building Qingdao Oriental Movie Metropolis, a vast development that includes a movie studio, a theme park and entertainment center, a 4,000-room resort-hotel complex, a shopping mall, a 300-berth yacht club, a celebrity wax museum, and a hospital. The Dalian Wanda Group, China’s biggest commercial real-estate developer and the world’s largest owner of movie theaters, has committed $8.2 billion to the project. Wanda Studios Qingdao is the linchpin of the new development, and when it opens its doors in April 2017, it will be one of the largest and most technologically advanced feature-film-production facilities in the world, encompassing 30 soundstages; an enormous temperature-controlled underwater stage; a green-screen-equipped outdoor stage that’s still larger, at 56,000 square feet; a permanent facsimile of a New York City street; and much more. ... In 2011, the research firm IBISWorld named postproduction one of America’s “dying industries,” along with DVD, game, and video rental; newspaper publishing; and photofinishing. ... In 2012 alone, the country added 10 theater screens a day; it now has more than 28,000. Only the U.S., with close to 40,000 screens, has more, and Wanda owns more than 5,000 of those.
It’s clear that in addition to being one of the most gifted movie directors in the world, somehow the heir apparent to both Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, Abrams is also a superfan. ... That puts him in a precarious situation. He has inherited the one megafranchise to rule them all. Sure, this won’t be the first time Abrams resurrects a beloved Enterprise. But … this is the saga. It’s one of the things that invented modern superfandom. And this is no reboot. With The Force Awakens, Abrams is marshaling the same actors, writers, designers, and even the same composer to reanimate the characters and themes that made the original Star Wars into, well, Star Wars. He loves those movies as much as you or any of your laser-brained friends do. But when he first met those movies he was just an apprentice. Now he must become the master. ... the stakes are merely the future of the franchise that made Abrams a filmmaker; a mythology held precious by millions of people for four decades; and, oh, right, billions and billions of dollars in movies and merch over the next half century (at least). ... “More than anything, I drew on personal experiences as cautionary tales, things that I didn’t want to do again. ... I tried to not forget the mistakes I’d made, but I also tried to focus on things that I find inspiring about cinema.”
Fogelson suspects that filmmakers will agree with any opinion he offers in order to get a green light, so he lets them describe the film they really intend to make, then trusts his gut about whether it sounds commercial. Choosing which movies to make is the crux of his job, the hundred-million-dollar decision. When he was eight, his father, the head of marketing at Columbia Pictures, told him, “You need a clear good guy and a clear bad guy, and the audience needs to know what it’s rooting for.” ... “Only make a film you already know how to sell.” ... Fogelson believes that seventy-five per cent of a movie’s success is due to its marketing and its marketability. ... The six major studios, besieged by entertainment options that don’t require people to get off the couch, have bet that the future lies in films that are too huge to ignore. Although they make low-budget films for targeted audiences (teen girls, say, or horror fans), they focus most of their energies on movies that cost more than three hundred million dollars to make and market. Such films are predicated not on the chancy appeal of individual actors but on “I.P.”—intellectual property, in the form of characters and stories that the audience already knows from books or comics or video games. ... STX’s internal data showed that such star-showcase films, within that budget range, were profitable thirty per cent more often than the average Hollywood film. So the studio planned to make a lot of them. By 2017, STX expects to release between twelve and fifteen movies a year, as many as some of the major studios. ... Fogelson looks at comps, too, but then he applies a three-part test. First, can the film be great? (By “great,” he means “distinguished within its genre.” ... Then, Do we know how to sell it? And, Can we make much more in success than we lose in failure? ... We go to the movies now for the same reasons that Romans went to the Colosseum: to laugh, to scream, and to cheer. Comedy, horror, and triumphs of the human spirit still play better in theatres than at home. What plays best of all, of course, is a spaceship going kablooey all over the screen. ... What is novel is the studios’ heavy reliance on the string of sequels known as a franchise.
In an industry where no one knows anything, here, finally, was someone who seemed to know something: Ryan Kavanaugh, a spikily red-haired man-child with an impish grin and a uniform of jeans and Converse sneakers who had an uncanny ability to fill a room and an irresistible outlook on how to make money making movies. Not yet 30 when he founded Relativity Media in 2004, he very quickly became not only a power player in Hollywood but the man who might just save it. With a dwindling number of studios putting out ever fewer movies, other than ones featuring name-brand superheroes, Kavanaugh became first a studio financier and then a fresh-faced buyer of textured, mid-budget films. To bankers, Kavanaugh appeared to have cracked the code, having come up with a way to forecast a famously unpredictable business by replacing the vagaries of intuition with the certainties of math. ... Even Hollywood wasn’t used to a pitch this good. Kavanaugh alternately dazzled and baffled — talking fast, scrawling numbers and arrows and lines on whiteboards, projecting spreadsheets. ... Borrowing a tool from Wall Street, he touted his “Monte Carlo model,” a computer program that runs thousands of simulations, as a device that could predict a film’s success far more reliably than even a sophisticated studio executive. Better, Kavanaugh convinced several studios that he could raise more money for them if they gave him access to their guarded “ultimates” numbers showing the historical or projected performance of a film across all platforms (DVD, video-on-demand, etc.) over a number of years.
Big arrangements came naturally to Newman; his uncle Alfred, the oldest of his father’s six brothers, had from 1940 to 1960 been the musical director of Twentieth Century Fox, overseeing what was widely regarded as the best studio orchestra in Hollywood. Two other uncles, Emil and Lionel, were also composer-conductors. Why not wed that heritage to contemporary pop songs? ... Newman won his first Oscar in 2002, for the song “If I Didn’t Have You,” from Monsters, Inc., after losing out the initial 15 times he was nominated. ... for all the accolades and admiration directed Randy’s way, Newman, by dint of his inherent sardonic nature, can’t help but regard with amused resignation the disconnect between the connoisseur’s Randy Newman and the popularly known Randy Newman: between the fearlessly acerbic cult artist revered in critical quarters for such flawless albums as Sail Away and Good Old Boys and the rumpled fellow in thick eyeglasses who sings those amiably shuffling ditties in Pixar films and managed a fluke hit in 1977 with “Short People,” and whose ambivalent tribute to his hometown, “I Love L.A.,” is the official victory song of both the Dodgers and the Lakers.
Imagine you are Little Steven Spielberg. It’s the early 1950s. You are 7, maybe 8. You are very small in an enormous world. You feel things strongly, as all children do, and seemingly all at once. Awe, dread, wonder, joy, vulnerability, sadness—often these come crashing over you together as a single phenomenon. Later, when people recognize your gift for re-creating the sensations of childhood—when a critic describes your work as going “so deep into the special alertness, loyalty, and ardor of children that it makes you see things you had forgotten or blotted out and feel things you were embarrassed to feel”—it’s this sensitivity they’re often talking about. ... You are exquisitely uncomfortable with yourself. You are pimpled, wimpy, and Jewish, and you are bullied for all of it. Nickname: the Retard. One day your class has to run a mile, and eventually only you and one other boy are left slogging around the track. This other kid actually is intellectually disabled. But now he’s gaining on you, and the entire class is cheering, yelling, “C’mon, beat Spielberg!” You know, intuitively, that you should take a dive; letting him win is the generous thing to do. So you slow down, start fading. Then, once he’s overtaken you and your classmates explode with glee, you make a show of running hard again, so it still looks close. As an adult, in the ’80s, you’ll remember: “Everybody grabbed this guy and threw him up on their shoulders and carried him into the locker room.” But you just stay there, bawling by yourself, not even trying to sort out the conflicting spasms of pride and shame inside you. All you know is “I’d never felt better and I’d never felt worse in my entire life.”
Kos-Read, who is known in China only as Cao Cao, is by far the leading foreign actor working in the country today, having appeared in about 100 movies and television programs since his career began in 1999. He is famous throughout the mainland, and his career has been on a steady upward trajectory. Last December he appeared in the action film “Mojin — The Lost Legend,” currently the fifth-highest-grossing movie in Chinese history. ... just as Hollywood has begun to crack the market, Chinese cinema has come into its own. In recent years, Chinese studios have started shifting away from the agitprop that defined their cinematic output for generations and are instead focusing on genres that draw viewers to theaters in any country: action, adventure, comedy. In February, a sci-fi comedy called “The Mermaid” became the highest-grossing movie ever in China within 12 days of its release, earning more than $430 million. Increasingly, Chinese cinemagoers are opting to buy tickets for movies made specifically for them — like those in the “Ip Man” series — not those that pander to them or lecture them. It is in this sort of film that Kos-Read has finally had the chance to act, rather than portray a stand-in for Western imperiousness. If the Hollywood studios really want to understand how to succeed in China, Kos-Read’s journey makes for a kind of accidental guide.
Marvel, which has ramped up production to be able to make three movies a year, is proving that, if done correctly, these character universes can resemble successful technology platforms—ecosystems that enable both creative risk taking and significant growth and profits. But too often, other companies look at the winning result without appreciating the forethought that produced it. Look no further than Marvel’s arch nemesis, DC Entertainment, which, in conjunction with Warner Bros. (its parent company), has tried to catch up to Marvel by launching its own “extended universe” of characters. ... Marvel’s approach, then, has been easy to replicate but challenging to duplicate. What is the true essence of Marvel’s success?
A well-regarded hollywood insider recently suggested that sequels can represent “a sort of creative bankruptcy.” He was discussing Pixar, the legendary animation studio, and its avowed distaste for cheap spin-offs. More pointedly, he argued that if Pixar were only to make sequels, it would “wither and die.” Now, all kinds of industry experts say all kinds of things. But it is surely relevant that these observations were made by Ed Catmull, the president of Pixar, in his best-selling 2014 business-leadership book. ... The painful verdict is all but indisputable: The golden era of Pixar is over. It was a 15-year run of unmatched commercial and creative excellence ... The theme that the studio mined with greatest success during its first decade and a half was parenthood, whether real (Finding Nemo, The Incredibles) or implicit (Monsters, Inc., Up). ... The Disney merger seems to have brought with it new imperatives. Pixar has always been very good at making money, but historically it did so largely on its own terms.
To save time and money, Blum does a lot of his work as a producer — making calls to actors, directors and studio heads — in the back of a gray Ford cargo van that he has equipped with wide plush captain’s seats, two large video displays and window blinds that are nearly always drawn shut. Often, in the middle of a call, the van will stop, the automatic sliding door will open, the aggressively bright Los Angeles daylight will pour in and there Blum will be: at some suburban theater for a test screening of one of his movies ... Horror movies occupy a special place in the hearts of producers. They are cheap, their fans don’t demand well-known actors and the ratio of risk to reward can be astonishing. “Night of the Living Dead” cost $114,000 to produce in 1968 and has since grossed at least $30 million; “The Blair Witch Project” cost $60,000 to produce in 1999 and has since grossed $249 million. Blumhouse’s own “Paranormal Activity,” shot in one house with two unknown actors and almost no crew, cost just $15,000, yet its box-office return since its 2009 release has been $193 million, a return on investment of about 1.3 million percent. ... Because the production cost is low, he can consider other options for movies that don’t seem likely to break big — ones that don’t require an additional multimillion-dollar marketing commitment but could still recoup the initial investment with maybe a little extra as well. Some Blumhouse productions appear on a few hundred screens, often targeted at narrow fan niches.
The takeaway: Gaming may be mainstream entertainment, but game companies are hit-driven—and none has successfully expanded beyond videogames. ... Activision Blizzard hopes to be the first. It’s not just dragon-centric TV shows that are being spun out of its massive vault of proprietary characters ... There are multiple movies under development, loosely based on the bestselling war-game franchise Call of Duty. There’s a newly launched consumer products division, tasked with developing everything from comic books to apparel based on Activision Blizzard’s intellectual property. ... And most notably, there is an “e-sports” empire in the works—a major foray into the booming world of competitive videogaming. That genre, once merely a niche, is reaching a tipping point. About 385 million people worldwide are expected to view e-sports events in 2017—mostly online, but increasingly on cable television and at live competitions. ... It might be more accurate if ESPN not only distributed football games but also owned the National Football League—and made all the footballs in the world as well.