Easter Movies to Watch and Avoid

This Easter season will once again bring an influx of faith-based films to a theater near you. Several of the films will gear up with tremendous hype and false marketing, not out of choice, but rather out of ignorance—blind to the promotional materials not matching their films.

Since I’ve already endured the bad films, there’s no reason why you should find yourself suffering, too. Here are a few tips of what to watch and avoid.

I-CanI Can Only Imagine—WATCH

(March 16, 2018—I’ll give it 4 out of 5 stars)

Out of all the faith-based films being released this season, I Can Only Imagine is the one worth seeing. The film tells the true life story of how the band Mercy Me got started and how the title song became the number one Contemporary Christian hit single of all time.

The best part of the film was watching Dennis Quaid (The Rookie; The Parent Trap; Yours, Mine and Ours), known for happy protagonist roles, play the antagonist—showing off his true acting chops. In fact, his performance was so good that I bought into his creepiness and got a little weirded out, wondering what in his life he might have drawn from to pull off such a nasty character. Quaid’s performance alone is worth the ticket price.

That’s not to say the entire film was great. The story had a hard time getting started and the director clearly struggled with how to end the film, resulting in three back-to-back endings. The standard practice for creating a clean ending is done by making sure all of the subplots resolve prior to the start of the ending sequence. If you only have time to see one Easter movie, pick this one.

PaulPaul Apostle of Christ—AVOID

(March 23, 2018—I’ll give it 2.5 out of 5 stars)

All of the eggs were placed in this big budget Easter basket and stars Jim Caviezel (The Passion of the Christ, Person of Interest) who plays Luke. With so much at risk, there will be a lot of promotional money thrown at the public to launch this costly production. Unfortunately, the funds didn’t show up on the screen. And the story… you’ll be confused during the first 30-40 minutes as you try to figure out what the film is about.

The secret… the film is a story about Luke, but it’s being promoted as a story about Paul. The main character that interacts with the supporting characters is Luke, and Paul is only used as the archetype or the wise counsellor—the Obi-Wan Kenobi, if you will. The story takes place in Paul’s last week before his beheading, a time when he has Luke write his final letters.

There is a tremendous amount of artistic license taken in the film, so don’t expect to drink in the moments as if you’re watching the reenactment of Scripture. The reality of Christian suffering is softened with all the bad scenes taking place off camera. And, the number of people nodding off during the screening I attended was massive. Can you say boring and confusing? Don’t waste your time on this one.

Gods_Not_DeadGod’s Not Dead 3—AVOID

(March 29, 2018—I’ll give it a generous 3 out of 5 stars)

God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness never gets the audience to care about the main character. Nor does the audience know why the film is supposed to be important. In other words, this is a TV movie that’s been placed on the silver screen in hopes of it becoming an event film for Easter. Or, the producers are trying to force the trilogy to become a franchise, even though it’s not trending in social media or at the box office (Film 1 $60MM, Film 2 $20MM, Film 3 TBD).

The film gets close to touching on some important issues, but it never takes the time to explore any of it in a depth useful for the audience.

While the budget is supposed to be bigger than its freshman and sophomore counterparts, the story wasn’t properly crafted for the big screen. The film used small screen story structure and stereotypical character development. Within the first five minutes of the film you know how the story will end. In a case like that, the director must get the audience desiring to see how it will unfold, but he didn’t.

Tomb_Raider_(2018_film)Non-Religious Films Competing for Audiences

The films with the greatest chance of drawing in families, regardless of controversy, are the following:

  • Tomb Raider—March 16, 2018
  • A Wrinkle in Time—March 23, 2018
  • Ready Player One—March 30, 2018

These movies are all being promoted as event films for the entire family, but be careful to discuss the stories after watching, so no one accepts the liberal messages without due consideration. The studios know that making high quality, popular films is ideal for delivering their agenda and changing the culture, so expect an attempt for clear, easy to swallow messages being salted into the movies.

Please consider supporting the costs of a new, free webinar designed to help filmmakers craft strong stories, fill in story gaps, and strengthen their story structure—giving them a shot at creating a 5-star film. Click the button below to donate!

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Copyright © 2018 by CJ Powers

 

Directors Pull in Summer Audiences

popcorn-movie-party-entertainmentDecades ago the major studios drew audiences to the silver screen with big extravagant pictures. A few decades later movie stars became the biggest drawing card to pack out film houses. But recently we’ve seen a shift to a new role that is drawing in millions to the box office—the director.

The audience is no longer willing to sit through a star driven movie just because their favorite actor plays a role in the film. Over the past few years, films that had Bruce Willis in its trailer or on the one sheet poster disappointed many. Why? Because the films weren’t really Bruce Willis type films. He was just in the movies for a paycheck.

This summer we saw a lot of film actors fail to deliver audiences to theaters like Scarlett Johansson’s Ghost in the Shell and Rough Night, Tom Cruise’s The Mummy, Charlie Hunnam’s King Arthur, and Johnny Depp’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.

But it was the directors that brought the solid draw as social media buzz surrounded the filmmakers, not the stars. The successful films used lesser-known actors in leading roles under the guidance of strongly directed vision. The box office successes included Jordan Peele’s Get Out, Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, Jon Watts’ Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman.

Tom Rothman, chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment Motion Picture Group told Variety, “To be theatrical, you need to be distinctive now. That’s what Spider-Man and Baby Driver have in common. Even though they are as different as night and day, the audience can feel both are distinctive, and so theater-worthy.”

Director Alex Kendrick, of the faith-based Kendrick Brothers, has carved out a niche for himself that draws in enough audience to generate about $60MM every time he releases a film. While Sony has rarely understood how he does it, they have acknowledged his distinctive films. In fact, there have been many who have tried to follow in Alex and Stephen’s footsteps, but all have failed to replicate their distinctive style.

One of the reasons I study a lot of film is to make sure I create something that hasn’t been done before. A director’s style coupled with his writer, DP and Production Designer choice makes for a uniqueness that is seldom replicated. The heart and soul of his vision must come through in order to create a successful title that will storm the box office.

There will never be another Christopher Nolan or Alex Kendrick, no matter how often a budding filmmaker suggests he offers a similar style.

I’ll never forget listening to an interview with Phil Vischer, of Veggie Tales fame, before he became famous. In the interview he was likened to Walt Disney, which surprised me since I was familiar with both artists. The two were highly creative and did the voices for their primary animated characters, but their styles and audiences were very different.

The thing I remember most about the interview was how quickly Phil’s distinctive style was getting lost behind the Disney name. Don Bluth, known for The Secret of NIMH, had the same problem differentiating himself from Disney. It takes a strong director to carve out a niche for his own style that is memorable and draws an audience to the box office.

So who’s your favorite director?

© 2017 by CJ Powers

Goodbye 2016, Hello 2017

© Andril Pokaz and Isaxar - Fotolia.com

Last year was filled with personal loss, crazy politics and the courting of China’s Wanda in Hollywood. It was a year that most people wanted to exit before they incurred too many losses. The only thing everyone seemed to agree on was that 2017 had to be better.

For 2017 to be better for me, at least from the perspective of the world of entertainment, I’d like to see some changes in the motion picture industry. I’ve decided to consolidate my thoughts by genre.

ROM-COMS
I’m tired of romantic comedies being too dramatic and short on comedy. This might be due to the slow pace all Rom-Coms have fallen into, which likely destroyed comedic timing. This year I’d like to see a fast paced Rom-Com that takes 10 minutes for the audience to figure out how the show ends instead of the standard three minutes.

HORROR
I’ve had enough with the screaming beauties. How about the first horrifying attack being against a buff man instead of a high-pitched screamer. I mean does every horror film have to start with a blond scream? Not in 2017.

FAITH-BASED
I beg you to stop preaching in an emotion-based demonstrative medium (show don’t tell). Learn how to show the human condition so your redemptive moment at the end makes God look majestic instead of trite. Take time to rewrite your scripts two dozen more times before shooting your ultra-low budget film and make sure at least one scene uses subtext instead of Evangelical jargon.

ACTION
Please consider shortening your action sequences enough to add a subplot into your movie that helps us to actually care about the protagonist. I’m tired of comic book stereotypes in an age when diversity makes us stronger.

ADVENTURE
Yes, thinning out your plotlines has increased your box office success, but when you thin it out too much no one wants to watch the story a second time—That’s why box office dollars started to shrink. Give us something to chew on that transcends the action plotline.

MUSICALS
Making a few more every year would put lots of smiles on the faces in the reclining theatre seats. Maybe its time for a new franchise of musicals like the old Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney stories.

BUDDY COP
These films are made all too far away from the previous one. Everyone likes camaraderie intermixed with thrills and spills. Use your creativity and come up with a few scenes we haven’t seen before and we’ll let you toss in a few scenes that play like an old romantic rerun of happy days gone by.

DRAMA
This genre has turned dark and can’t seem to come back into the light without turning cheeky in the process. I challenge you to write a smart drama that carries a happy tone with sporadic nightmares that are quickly sorted by the protagonist. We want the star to step up with an amazing demonstration of unconditional love coated in self-deprecating humor and a touch of chivalry. And while you’re at it, stick it in a courtroom that is rendered with respect, instead of the bitter views of those abused by attorneys.

I suppose that’s enough dreaming to kick off this year. How about you? I’d love to see your comments on what changes you’d like to see this on the silver screen.

Copyright © 2017 by CJ Powers

Box Office Mendoza Line

Mendoza Trading CardMany times critics and filmmakers argue about the quality of a film’s content or message against its story. Star power and a filmmaker’s ability to draw in an audience also factor into arguments about what makes a film successful. But, one factor stands the test of time and survives all arguments about the monetary success of a film: the box office Mendoza line.

Named after baseball’s Mario Mendoza, whose mediocre batting average defined the threshold for incompetent hitting, the box office marks the threshold when theaters drop titles from its screens for the next best opportunity to make money.

The moment a film drops below a per screen average of $2,000 per weekend, it’s no longer viable as a money making device. This amount has stood the test of time based on competitive new releases, negotiated house nuts and the duration of marketing budgets.

When a film crosses the Mendoza line distributors stop promoting the film in order to cut its potential losses and replace it with new selections. Films that fail to rise above the Mendoza line rarely survive past the second week in theaters, as numerous films fight for the few open screens during each release period.

This is partially due to distributors not wanting to lose a screen to a competitor and desiring to manage risk mitigation on the film’s current margins. Theaters also need to maintain a certain level of revenue stream in order to protect its house nut (its negotiated take on concessions).

While the exit strategy on films typically cause titles to have a long distribution tail, very little revenue is generated during this period. Most films only make 5-10% more unless it’s in a light distribution window that can generate an additional15%.

Analysts that estimate each film’s market potential and weekend predictions, use additional tools that determine expected thresholds of a film’s longevity. For instance, prior to making adjustments based on the impact of social media, all films will make 50% of its opening during its second weekend. The third weekend will make 50% of the second weekend’s box office and so on.

However, advertising and social media directly impact the percentage. The alterations can change the percentage from 50% to 35-55%. The addition or dropping of screens due to contract changes or regional performance success can also impact the percentage by a plus or minus 30-45%. While these sound like huge swings, an analyst who has tracked the market for two years can easily estimate within a plus or minus 5% of accuracy.

Analysts do take into account outliers and transitions within sub-genres, which paint clear pictures of market trends. This gives production and acquisition departments a leg up when determining future investments and expansion.

Production companies also benefit from understanding and tracking the Mendoza line. Any picture that never rises above it or falls too quickly below it either has too few super-fans or has a story that didn’t connect on a universal basis. In a fragmented market that’s filled with social media, a film only needs 1,000 super-fans (or influential fans) to succeed.

The combination of factors that keep a film above the Mendoza line for numerous weeks includes a great story, influential super-fans, star power and provocative social media. Writer/directors have also become a factor over the past ten years, but are still considered new to the promotional cycle.

Copyright © 2015 by CJ Powers