Today’s Guest: Tatiana Siegel, reporter, The Hollywood Reporter
How do you measure the summer? Baseball games, picnics, trips to the beach? Around my house, it’s the Monday box office scores – rounded to the nearest million dollars, of course.
The first three big movies of Summer 2007 – Spider-Man 3, Pirates of the Caribbean 3, and Shrek the Third – all opened with predictably big weekend hauls. But these three sure things didn’t overwhelm the general movie-going public quite the way most observers thought they would. All three have been panned by critics and aren’t generating the buzz many expected.
Their performance opened the door for something a little less spectacular – the new Judd Apatow movie, Knocked Up, which has won rave reviews and could gain even bigger audience as the long hot summer continues – at least until the new Harry Potter movie opens.
To talk about this summer’s movies – as well as the just-completed Cannes Film Festival, which she attended – I invited The Hollywood Reporter‘s Tatiana Siegel to join us today.
For the past four years, Siegel has worked at The Hollywood Reporter covering the economics of the entertainment industry. She tracks three major studios: Sony, Paramount, DreamWorks, and MGM. Siegel also covers the agency beat, following the behind-the-scenes developments at such talent powerhouses as CAA, William Morris, and Endeavor.
She has interviewed hundreds of studio executives, producers and directors and enjoys unique access to agents, managers and publicists.
In this entertaining, informative, audio interview, Siegel reviews the financial performance of the summer’s first blockbusters; offers her opinion on Pirates‘ second week box office plummet; points out the shrinking number of women directors in Hollywood; describes the scene at this year’s Cannes Film Festival; explains why Frank Miller’s adaption of Will Eisner’s The Spirit moved up on the schedule and Sin City 2 stepped back; and finally, why Ari Gold and Vincent Chase still matter.
BOB ANDELMAN: I mentioned in the introduction that some of this summer’s movies have not held up the way many people thought. Would you say the summer has been boffo or bombo?
TATIANA SIEGEL: I would say boffo. I think the box office in general is doing great. It’s allowing several different types of movies to excel and do well. You have, obviously, the sequels, the Pirates of the CarCaribbean, Shrek the Third, and Spiderman 3, but you also have smaller films, like Knocked Up, doing very well and exceeding expectations, so I think it’s a healthy, robust box office this year.
ANDELMAN: All three of the big ones, though, have had drop-off after the first week, and of course, that’s expected. You don’t expect the movies to do $100 million dollars every weekend, but has it been more acceptable for some than for others?
SIEGEL: I think so. I think that with Pirates of the Caribbean, it was a really big drop-off from the first weekend to the second weekend. Normally, 50 percent is sort of acceptable, and Pirates fell 62.4 percent, so that’s actually a big drop, and when you’re talking millions of dollars, it’s a lot of money, so that was probably a disappointment for Disney. Of the three big sequels, even though it’s made a lot of money so far, that’s the one that seems to be more sort of in danger.
ANDELMAN: Where you are and the circles that you travel, what’s the explanation for that fall-off? That’s pretty big.
SIEGEL: Yes. I think that probably it suffered from the same thing that King Kong did a few years ago. It’s nearly three hours long, and people, I think, just sometimes don’t have time to see three-hour movies. King Kong was a fantastic movie and was one of the best-reviewed movies of the year that it came out, but it was 3-plus hours, and it’s a big commitment. I think there’s a perception that there’s no reason for an action movie to be three hours long. Keep it tight, keep it two hours, and everyone’s happy. Spider-Man also was a long movie, two hours and twenty minutes, and I think that it felt long when you actually were in the theater watching it, that there were scenes that sort of went on longer than were necessary. Not the action scenes, of course, but some of the scenes felt a little bit long, so I think that there’s a little bit of a backlash toward that. Why make a movie that long?
ANDELMAN: I know in our house, my wife and my daughter and I saw Spider-Man the day that it opened, and my 10-year-old and I were very pumped up. The theater here in St. Petersburg, Florida, had just outfitted itself for IMAX, so we were especially excited. We were going to see it in IMAX on the opening day, and a funny thing happened. My daughter and I were very excited and having a good time, but we came out of there, and my wife was shell-shocked. The action and the violence and the special effects and the IMAX effect, it actually overwhelmed her, and it was two hours and twenty minutes, it was a long time to be drawn into that.
Another thing that happened was that when Pirates opened, my daughter went on the last day of school with a bunch of friends from school. I picked up her and a couple of her friends afterwards, and they had an interesting response: my daughter was all enervated, that’s just the way she is with the movies, but her friends were physically and mentally exhausted and overwhelmed by the violence and the non-stop action. I haven’t seen it yet, but they literally were too tired to even talk about the movie, and none of them wanted to see it again, which is a very different response than they had to the first two movies. I wondered if anyone had considered that aspect. With Pirates, the first two movies seemed to be pretty good for children. It’s a little much, but they really enjoyed it, and they really got into it, but this one, it doesn’t seem like it’s quite made for the same audience.
SIEGEL: I think you raised a good point, where it’s exhausting. When you look at a movie like Titanic, which also was three hours or so, people could handle seeing multiple times because it wasn’t non-stop action. It was a love story. It was obviously special effects-laden, but it was a story, too. When you have these movies that are just one explosion after another, to make it three hours is almost too much for the audiences.
ANDELMAN: So the good news in this, I guess, is that it opens the door for people to want to go see a nice, calm comedy, like a Knocked Up. Is that right?
SIEGEL: Right, because the people are at the theaters and maybe one show is sold out and they’ll see another show, and Knocked Up did very well. It made nearly $30 million in its first weekend, which was what its budget was, so that’s obviously a success, and I think that the studio, which was Universal, would have been happy with anything more than $20 million. It definitely exceeded expectations. It’s a movie that probably won’t drop dramatically in its first weekend to second weekend and will continue to through word of mouth draw more audiences. It has had very good reviews, unlike the Pirates, Shrek the Third, and Spiderman 3, so I would imagine that people will see it in the second or third weekend and it’ll do very well this summer.
ANDELMAN: It’s interesting that this movie pretty much establishes Judd Apatow, that there’s an Apatow kind of movie now.
ANDELMAN: The 40-Year-Old Virgin, things like that, but who else benefits from the success of this movie? Is it Katherine Heigl, is it Seth Rogen?
SIEGEL: Yeah, definitely. He is sort of now looking like the next Steve Carell as far as the guy you want to cast in your comedy. He also will be in another Judd Apatow film called Superbad. That’s a Columbia Pictures, and in fact, today I reported in The Hollywood Reporter that Apatow had just set up another film with Jack Black and Harold Ramis, who’s one of the legends of comedy. He wrote and directed some of the classics from the ’70s and ’80s, and he’ll direct a project called Year One for Columbia Pictures. Michael Cera, who’s not a big name, is one of the sort of Apatow up-and-comers. He played George Michael Bluth on “Arrested Development.” He will also star in this film. Judd Apatow works with the same people over and over again, and he makes these less big names become big names. Steve Carell wasn’t a big name before he was in 40-Year-Old Virgin, so I think that as a comedy actor, obviously, it’s great to be in a Judd Apatow movie.
ANDELMAN: Now, you’ve mentioned Steve Carell, so I want to ask you about Evan Almighty, which is due this summer, the sequel, sort of, to Bruce Almighty. Carell, up until this point, seems like he can do no wrong, and yet, anyone who’s seen the trailers for Evan Almighty has got to be scratching their head. There is nothing funny about it. Is there any buzz on this movie that we could discuss? Are you hearing anything?
SIEGEL: You know, it is a strange choice for him, because he just did Little Miss Sunshine, which was a fantastic career move, because even though he didn’t make a zillion dollars doing it, it put him into this sort of category of Oscar-nominated type movies. To do Evan Almighty, I’m not sure if it was just a paycheck kind of move, but it doesn’t look like anything fresh or original. It looks like a lot of rehashing of the first one and sort of a Jim Carrey type project. Jim Carrey’s having trouble booking movies. I think that type of humor has been superseded by the Judd Apatow type of humor right now or people from “The Office,” a little bit more ironic and wry as opposed to just straightforward kind of goofy laughs.
ANDELMAN: It’s interesting. Bruce Almighty, Jim Carey had Steve Carell to pick on. That’s what made the movie in a lot of cases. That was the humor of the movie. But here, it just doesn’t fit. I hope I’m wrong, because we certainly enjoy Carell, but it just doesn’t look like it’s going to work.
SIEGEL: Even if it doesn’t, he will still be making movies. He’s booked pretty solid for a while.
ANDELMAN: I guess the other really big movie this summer will be Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Any doubt from anybody that that will perform as expected?
SIEGEL: I think that that’s definitely as sure a thing as you can have. They just do every one of those movies with real quality. They’ve used different film makers on many of them. Alfonso Cuarón did one, Mike Newell and just, they’re always visually very exciting films, and the books are fantastic sellers, so I think that there’s no reason to expect that it wouldn’t do well.
ANDELMAN: What do you hear about other movies this summer, some that maybe we haven’t heard as much about? Anything we should be expecting to kind of break out of the pack?
SIEGEL: I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry probably will be a fun comedy. That’s with Adam Sandler and Kevin James and Jessica Biel. That’s Universal. The Bourne Ultimatum with Matt Damon, that’s another third shot at a sequel franchise that the first two were really good, really well reviewed, so I would expect that to be another winner at the box office. I’m really looking forward to The Simpsons Movie. It could be great, it could be disastrous. We’ll see, but as a fan of the show, I’m looking forward to it. That’s from 20th Century Fox. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer will be another one for the comic book type crowd. Ocean’s Thirteen, with its all-star cast, is probably something that looks good. A movie that’s not getting a whole lot of buzz yet but I think will do very well is Surf’s Up. That’s an animated one from Sony Pictures Animation. It’s the voices of Shia LaBeouf and Zooey Deschanel and Jeff Bridges, and it’s penguins that surf, and I’ve already seen it. It’s very cute, and I think it’s a good option for kids, parents to take their kids to.
ANDELMAN: Tell me about the Cannes Film Festival this year. Was there any theme that came out of it for you or any commonality?
SIEGEL: I was covering both the festival and the marketplace where movies are bought and sold. As a festival, the one thing that sort of stood out to me is that men still make all the movies. I would go to panels, and it would be an entire panel of male directors, or it feels funny that, God, this industry still just seems to really be only employing men as directors, at least in the kind of art house type of films that are embraced by the festival’s jury.
ANDELMAN: Why do you suppose that’s still the case? And where is Betty Thomas this year? Doesn’t she have a movie? Why is that still happening?
SIEGEL: I am not sure. I think the numbers are dropping every year as far as women directing movies. Every year it goes down a little bit. The year before, they had Sofia Coppola making a big splash with Marie Antoinette, but the film was roundly booed by the critics at the press screening. There’s a dearth of female directors and I am not sure why.
ANDELMAN: We’ve had women running studios. Have they not provided a helping hand to women directors?
SIEGEL: I would say definitely not. Every studio seems to have one woman in a high and prominent position, but I don’t think it’s done anything to increase the employability as a director for women out there working. And there’s also a problem with female action stars. There have been several movies that have tried to go with, Catwoman and Elektra, and my colleague, Boris Kitt recently did a column on what’s going on with the female action movie, but that’s an interesting sort of sub-category of what’s going on with that. There’s really only been to my memory one very successful one, and that was Angelina Jolie’s Tomb Raider, the very first one. They just don’t really translate well to audiences.
ANDELMAN: Where are the opportunities? This is a little off where I thought we’d go, but where are the opportunities for women in film other than being the girlfriend, the mom, or the hooker? I mean that in all sincerity. Where are their opportunities?
SIEGEL: The women that win Best Actress every year, they tend to be hookers or nuns.
ANDELMAN: Or victims, we should add. There is a lot of victimization.
SIEGEL: Yeah. So I think Reese Witherspoon’s Walk the Line portrayal was refreshing because it was a character that was neither a hooker or a nun, and she sang. That was sort of encouraging to me as a woman watching the type of roles that women get lauded for, and I think that was a good sign, and I think Reese Witherspoon also picks very good movies, so she’ll be in more movies. She will demand more scripts that have sort of good characters, so at least there are certain actresses that can kind of command that power.
ANDELMAN: You cover the agency side of things. On the business side of Hollywood, are you seeing more women agents?
SIEGEL: At CAA, you could swing a cat and not hit a woman. There is not a lot of women working at the agencies, especially CAA, the number one agency, so that might be the reason why it trickles down. I don’t know.
ANDELMAN: I’m really glad we got into that for a minute, but I do want to come back to this Cannes Film Festival. What will people be talking about either in terms of titles that came out of the festival that emerged or on the business side? Was there anything different about the business of Hollywood in Cannes this year?
SIEGEL: Well, the hot titles, the Michael Moore’s Sicko was probably the most talked about title just because it sort of has a little bit of controversy built in. It’s a documentary about the health care industry, and there is a part of the movie where he takes some of the people who can’t get health care in the United States. He takes them to Cuba to get health care, so it has a little bit of controversy, but the French love him. He a couple years ago won the Best Film award, Palme d’Or, for Fahrenheit 911, so they really like him there, and his movie was really the talk of the featival. And then there was also the movie that won the Best Film, the Palme d’Or, this year was titled 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (4 luni, 3 saptamini si 2 zile), and it was a film that dealt with abortion. It was a Romanian film, so also a little bit of controversy with it. But I think that the movie that seemed to be very much embraced there was the Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men. That was a movie that the critics seemed to universally like, and then from a business perspective, the big sale, was James Gray’s We Own the Night, which stars Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Wahlberg and Eva Mendez. That film was bought by Sony, and they paid roughly $11.5 million to acquire the North American rights, so that was kind of the big business story, but ironically, that film was actually booed by the audiences.
SIEGEL: Yes. And I actually thought it was quite an enjoyable movie, but the critics there, at least the English language critics really were sort of put off by it.
ANDELMAN: One of the interesting things that seems to have emerged post-Cannes this year is that, and I don’t know if this is a big story or not, but Frank Miller was there coming off of 300 and announced going forward on the adaptation of Will Eisner’s The Spirit, but what seemed to happen after he left is that word got around that Sin City 2 got postponed. Is that a big deal?
SIEGEL: I think that he’s going to concentrate on The Spirit right now. I actually interviewed him there at Cannes, and I think he wants to move forward with The Spirit. It’s his first directorial project that’s solo. He did Sin City with Robert Rodriguez, he’s already in negotiations with Samuel L. Jackson to play the villain in The Spirit, and he’s looking to find the right actor to play the Spirit, so I would suspect that’s the project that he is going to move forward with first.
ANDELMAN: Do you think that Sin City 2 getting pushed back, is that in response to Grindhouse not delivering?
SIEGEL: Possibly. I mean, The Weinstein Company would never admit it, but I think there was a need for that film to do well at the box office, and it didn’t do well because they’re a new company. But the Weinstein Company and Dimension Films, which is run by Harvey and Bob Weinstein, they insist that their company is healthy and whatnot. Sin City did do well in terms of box office versus budget, so there’s no reason to suspect that a sequel wouldn’t do well. Grindhouse may have been yet another, “I don’t feel like watching a three-hour movie,” part of that phenomenon. I think it’s almost like arrogance with these filmmakers that people think that people want to watch three-hour movies, and I don’t think they do.
ANDELMAN: It was a long double feature. The payoff just wasn’t there, and twice. It was entertaining, but I think I would have enjoyed it more sitting at home, being able to pause it at some point, get up and leave the couch for a few minutes.
SIEGEL: Right, right, right. Yeah, I think that if you look at the movies that sort of, I think that the three-hour movies are problematic.
ANDELMAN: Well, Tatiana, one more subject I just have to ask you about before we let you do. You’ve been very gracious with your time. Do you think that Vincent Chase’s film, Medellin, will make it big?
SIEGEL: You know, it’s that art imitating life… I have no idea, on but my flight back from Cannes, the entire cast of “Entourage” was on board both flights of my plane. That was kind of funny to see… We forget sometimes that that’s not real. But yeah, I’ll be watching like everyone to see how it does.
ANDELMAN: Now, you cover the agencies, so I wonder, it seems like a year ago the show was really blowing up, and we were hearing all about everyone just following the show religiously and talking about it. It’s now going into its fourth season. Is there still the buzz? Does anyone care what Ari Gold does at this point?
SIEGEL: Within Hollywood they do, and I think it had its best rating. I’m not a TV reporter, but I think that it did very well ratings-wise this year. It might have been its best year yet, but the buzz I was hearing was that the episodes were not as strong and not as compelling as they’ve been in years past, so you know, I think that it might no longer be like water cooler talk, everyone discussing last night’s episode, but I think that it’s branched out beyond Hollywood, and people in the rest of the country are enjoying it, so that’s probably more important for the makers of the show.
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