early movie releases Tag

Kaleidescape’s Luke O’Brien on the Importance of Catalog

Kaleidescape's Luke O'Brien on the Importance of Catalog

Someone peering in from the outside might assume that the Director of Content Operations at a luxury movie-download service like Kaleidescape is a kind of high-end traffic cop, tasked primarily with taking the 4K HDR files sent along by the various studios and ensuring they’re posted on the company’s movie store without any serious technical glitches—in other words, a job defined more by technical diligence than anything else.

 

But Luke O’Brien (like Kaleidescape’s Principal Engineer of User Experience Michael Kobb, who we profiled in “Inside a Film Connoisseur’s No-Compromise Home Theater”) is a deep-dyed movie fan. And his passion for film permeates the entire Kaleidescape experience, from the selection of movies to the creation of the transfers to the crafting of the descriptions on the interface and store.

 

With most big movies on hold with no clear sense of when—or how—they’ll make their way to the home market, which is causing a lot of people to turn to older films for entertainment, this seemed like a good time to pick Luke’s brain about the virtues of exploring Kaleidescape’s [11,000]-title catalog of films, series, concerts, and other content.

—Michael Gaughn

It seems like it might have been wiser for the studios to have released more of their big summer movies straight to the home market than to sit on them for an indefinite amount of time. But I guess they’re willing to gamble that they’ll get a big enough bump out of them when and if they’re able to get them into theaters.

I think the studios are going to do everything they can not to give up on that window. But as time continues to move forward, they do have a lot of stuff that is already finished. It becomes hard to make those choices about when do they actually get those titles into the world to monetize them. Even if they do choose to release some of them now, if we’re still in a period where they’re not getting back to things being filmed and finished, we’re just delaying another very hard dry spell we might 

have to experience months down the road. Because if you show everything you currently have in your backlog now, there will be a point later on when the well is dry and you have to figure out how you can live through that experience.

 

Premium video on demand (PVOD) seemed to come out of nowhere to at least get some mid-tier titles into the home market.

We’ve seen things that, if not tent poles. would have at least been prominent theatrical releases transitioned straight into the premium EST [electronic sell-through] and premium VOD markets. It’s the first time that’s happened. So we are in an unprecedented time right now.

 

How has this played out for Kaleidescape in particular?

It’s been a really interesting period for us. We are continuing to see very good traffic coming through our store. There are two things people are really diving into, both of which are encompassed by what we generally talk about as “catalog” —that is, movies that have been out for over a year.

 

One, there are a lot of films that maybe people missed the first time around but now they’re getting a chance to 

dive into. And then there’s also—I heard the phrase the other day—“comfort viewing” that’s taking place. This is where you have movies you love or stars you connect with and you’re diving into their content and kind of snuggling up with it to really make the end of your evening a more pleasant experience.

 

When this first all started to play out, did you see people gravitating naturally or sort of organically towards catalog in the sense that there was an unusual uptick of people going in and checking out those titles?

When the pandemic first started, we saw what a lot of platforms did, that movies like Contagion jumped into people’s minds right away. So there are some famous films like that that come to the top of your mind when you’re at a time like this. But as 

time went on, it became, “What are the things I’ve missed? What can I go and revisit in the catalog that’s going to help me be happy?” We just did a promotion where we featured some films of Stanley Kubrick as an extraordinarily masterful director. That’s an opportunity where people will say, “Oh man, I’ve seen The Shining. What are the other ones?”

 

As time has gone on, what do you see people gravitating toward? Are they getting more adventurous with their choices?

That’s more a per-customer sort of thing, but we are seeing some of them who are going in and doing more deep dives. They’re electing to go through and pick up a bunch of titles in the furthest reaches of the catalog, like some of the extraordinary noir films from the 1940s that they hadn’t gotten around to before. But for a lot of people, it’s the stuff they missed maybe two years ago—stuff that feels not that far away.

 

I know older films like Jaws, Top Gun, and Easy Rider have recently been

Kaleidescape's Luke O'Brien on the Importance of Catalog

upgraded to 4K HDR. Do you see that trend accelerating, given the increased demand for catalog titles?

If that plan ends up coming into effect, we’ll likely begin seeing the results the very end of this year and into early next year. It takes a lot of resources for the licensers to go out there and do those 4K remasters. They really want to do them well and right. They don’t want to slap together a cheap “scan it up and ship it out”-type product to people. So when they make a 

Kaleidescape's Luke O'Brien on the Importance of Catalog

deliberate effort to go back and get those films redone, it takes a little more time.

 

While the market might not be able to make that happen as quickly as we’d like, I think we have to be pretty excited about what they’ve been able to get out of the new titles that have come through. To pick an example, The Shining, which I just mentioned—that 4K remaster is gorgeous. It’s an absolutely beautiful film, which only increases that wonderful Kaleidescape cinematic experience of being at home and getting to enjoy that movie in the best way it can be experienced.

 

For people who’ve never really gotten into older films, your AFI Top 100 collection would seem like a good place to start. I know you’ve been able to round that collection out since you obtained the rights to the MGM catalog, but is there anything else you’ve been able to do recently to spruce it up?

Acquiring the MGM catalog did allow us to add films like Silence of the Lambs. And we’ve been able to enhance the collection with some recent upgrades to things like Duck Soup and Swing Time. We’re trying to make sure that we’re supporting the Top 100, which we know is one people gravitate to, as best we can.

 

If you could point people toward some other areas, what would they be?

To echo the recent winner of the Best Director Oscar, we want to continue to introduce people to the movies that

take a little more investment in terms of having to read subtitles. There’s so much good international content on our store, and we’ve got a Best of Foreign-Language Cinema collection. A great recent foreign title is François Ozon’s Frantz, which we added a couple of years ago and which did very, very well. It’s so morally challenging and visually stunning and just a great film to kind of get people engaged with.

 

It’s not clear to me why, but I know musicals can be a hard sell for some people.

We’re fortunate to have had animation keep the musical alive when live-action let it go away. But even new movies that aren’t musicals can still have that same intonation. One of the biggest hits last year was the remake of A Star Is Born. That has as much song as story taking place in it, so it’s got some of the qualities of a musical running through it. We just had the Trolls World Tour drop, which is an animated film that was one of the premium early releases. I’ve got a friend who says his niece

won’t stop listening to it. So that tells you it’s got a quality that is certainly attractive to the market as a musical.

 

Interesting people in silent films can also be a challenge.

100%. We have some real masterpieces that live there on the store, and if you can just get somebody interested in something like Buster Keaton’s The General, you can often lead them to other silent classics. The great thing about the foreign silent films is that there is no language barrier to watching something like Battleship Potemkin or Metropolis or The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. You can see really some of the most interesting and visually stunning movies you’re ever going to watch.

 

We’ve been focusing on films, but things like concerts and your recent acquisition of the PBS titles also give people room to roam.

For somebody who has invested in their home theater experience, being able to enjoy a concert film in lossless audio—there’s nothing like it. It blows the doors 

Kaleidescape's Luke O'Brien on the Importance of Catalog

off. One of my dealers reached out to tell me how excited he was to sit down and watch the INXS concert, which looks and sounds great because it was provided to us in HDR with Atmos audio. Bruce Springsteen’s recent significant movie was his Western Stars concert in a barn. It’s also sort of a personal journey film that I think is gorgeous and totally engaging.

 

You mentioned us recently adding PBS to the store. We have so much extraordinary television content, and the great thing about that is that it you can have a much longer-term engagement with it that’s not just a two-hour experience. If you watch one of those extraordinary Ken Burns documentaries, that’s several hours of your life having a deeply enveloping educational experience. I love a lot of the mysteries, like The Bletchley Circle. I watched The Manhunt for the first time, the Martin Clunes detective thriller from RLJ Entertainment, which is actually the length of a movie but it’s got that serial episodic hold to it that I find totally engaging.

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs,
couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.

Barry Sonnenfeld on Pause, Pt. 1

Barry Sonnenfeld on Pause, Pt. 1

Barry Sonnenfeld is the undisputed master of the puckish fairytale. Anyone who knows him mainly from Men in Black might think he specializes in effects-driven sci-fi films. But the one thread that runs through his entire body of work—from The Addams Family to Get Shorty to Wild Wild West to the first live-action Tick series to Big Trouble to Pushing Daisies to A Series of Unfortunate Events—is the sense of someone standing just off camera eager to tell you a very tall, very droll, and often surprisingly bittersweet tale. That quality lends his work a sense of both irony and intimacy that super-sized space operas usually lack.

 

It also helps to explain why you can almost always find not just the Men in Black franchise, but the Addams Family films and Get Shorty playing somewhere on cable. There’s a comfortable consistency to his work that’s allowed him to always draw an audience, whether he’s creating for movies or TV.

 

Barry in person displays the same droll and sometimes acerbic tendencies as his output. More candid in his observations about the movie industry than most mainstream directors, he’s not afraid to occasionally chomp on the hand that feeds him. And, unlike most directors, he doesn’t just talk the talk when it comes to considering how people experience his work at home but has been deeply involved in the creation of his own home theaters.

 

Knowing he’d have a unique take on how Hollywood is faring during the pandemic, I was lucky enough to catch up with Barry for a few minutes as he was settling into his new hometown of Vancouver and about to begin pre-production on a new series—which we’ll discuss in more detail in Part 2.

—Michael Gaughn

Would you agree that there’s never been another time even remotely like this in the history of film or TV production?

Well, yes, there’s never been a situation like this before. What’s interesting to me is that the downfall of feature-film product actually started several years ago when the studios decided to make mainly movies based on IPs, whether they be sequels or huge books or comic books. What happened was that marketing became so expensive that if they had to spend between $50

and $100 million to market a movie, they’d rather spend $100 to $200 million to actually make a movie. Even if you make a good movie for $20 million, it’s still going to cost $50 million to market it.

 

So the movie business became a blockbuster-only business. And what that did is it sent any interesting scripts or concepts that weren’t big-budget IP, “I can only see this in a movie theater” kinds of movies to television.

 

In addition, Netflix has become so successful and has led to all these other streaming services—Amazon Prime, Hulu, Disney+, HBO Max—so fewer and fewer movies are being made for theatrical distribution. And even in those cases, it will only be very expensive, very VFX-laden movies. You see fewer and fewer small, interesting art movies going to movie theaters. Especially when you consider that the Motion Picture Academy is now accepting movies that are on streamers to be considered for nominations as feature films as long as they’ve been on in a short window in theaters.

 

COVID obviously has exacerbated this massive shift by a factor of 10. I think AMC and all of these other theater chains are basically going to have to go into the real-estate business and find ways to sell off their properties, because I don’t see that they’ll continue to need nearly as many theaters as they presently have.

 

Did you see the recent announcement from AMC and Universal?

Yes. AMC is cutting their exclusive-release window down to 

19 days, which favors only those movies that people want to see on the big screen instead of in their homes—the ones that require them to see them immediately so they can brag to all their friends that they saw the new Star Wars or Marvel movie or whatever.

 

Now, the theater chains hadn’t done a good job for the previous 20 years of maintaining their theaters, of creating an experience worthy of getting a babysitter, going to the theater, paying for parking or paying for a subway or a cab. So, until half a dozen years ago, the theaters could be blamed for their own decline because they didn’t realize they needed to not only make it an experience based on the size and scope of the movie but also on the experience of actually being in a movie theater. They overcharged for popcorn, they didn’t clean the theater between shows. They’ve started to come around; they’ve

just been very late. But now there are those draft-house and art-house theaters that have food delivery and waiter service.

 

But theaters have been in the candy store business as much as the theatrical release business. They probably make a higher percentage of their income from selling food, water, etc. than from ticket sales, because right off the bat, the theater gives half of 

Barry on home theaters vs. movie theaters

the money back to the studio. A $10 ticket only grosses them $5. So it’s not a great business, and I think COVID is going to really change that theatrical experience for, at a minimum, the next 18 months. I don’t know how theaters stay in business with their massive real-estate investments until then.

 

Do you have any thoughts on the whole situation with Christopher Nolan and Tenet?

I haven’t been following it that much. Is it Warner Brothers?

 

And IMAX. The claim is that they’ll be able to make the film available in theaters to 80% of the U.S. population by September 3rd, even if they can’t open in California or New York.

I’ll be frank with you, I don’t understand how they think they will be releasing Tenet in three weeks to all those IMAX theaters. Second of all, unless IMAX has changed, I don’t particularly like the format. The screen seemed to be 1:66 in ratio—they’re not 1:85, although you can crop them for 1:85. Also, I never thought the IMAX sound system was particularly good. For me,

RealD—they’re high-end, premier theaters—are a better movie-going experience than IMAX. They have better sound, their screens are the right aspect ratio.

 

I think a lot of the Tenet thing is hype and perception more than reality. I don’t see how Nolan’s movie could be released to 80% of the country. But what do I know?

 

Beyond Tenet, you’ve got Wonder Woman 1984, the Fast & Furious sequel

Top Gun.

 

Right. There are probably a dozen tentpole or nearly tentpole films they may not be able to release until next spring at the earliest. Is there a risk that these will just feel over-hyped and out of date by the time they actually put them out there? Are they missing an opportunity by not just going PVOD with some of these titles?

There are several costs, including the interest costs on all these movies. The longer they hold a movie, the more they’re paying in interest on it because they’ve already laid out $200 million and they’re not getting any of that money back in. Perhaps there will be either a COVID vaccine, or rapid testing where for 15 minutes while you’re waiting on line, you do your tests and then you’re allowed into the theater. I wish there was some other venue.

 

What’s really funny is it’s bringing back drive-in movie 

Barry Sonnenfeld on Pause, Pt. 1

Barry recently published his autobiography, which describes his journey from shooting movies for
the Coen brothers, Penny Marshall, Rob Reiner,
and others to creating his own hit films

theaters. The problem with drive-ins used to be the sound more than the picture—although they never could get the image bright enough. In fact, I don’t think they could ever show The Godfather at drive-ins, or any movie shot by Gordon Willis, because they couldn’t get the print bright enough.

 

But the biggest problem used to be terrible sound, with those wired speakers that you hung on your car window. Now they’ve gone to broadcasting the sound on a narrow FM channel.

 

I don’t know how you get 400 people into a movie theater. And I do question whether or not in a year from now when Top Gun is released and everyone’s had a year to pirate it and find other ways to get copies of it, if it will have the same sort of cachet.

 

They’re going to release Tenet overseas this month before it opens here in September—if it opens in September. That means the entire planet’s going to be awash in bootlegs before it ever gets near the U.S.

Well, I don’t know what percentage of the U.S. market will want to see movies like Tenet, etc., etc. on a bootleg copy with Italians coughing in the foreground. Unless it’s good bootlegs done by projectionists or that kind of stuff. I think that’s a small problem, but, again, if the movie is already out there, it’s sort of damaged goods to a certain extent. That’s why the streamers are in a really great place right now because people don’t want to leave their homes yet, unless it’s for political reasons.

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs,
couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.

Mulan: The Other Shoe Drops

Mulan: The Other Shoe Drops

We’ve been tracking the reopening of theaters and the next batch of theatrical releases closely here at Cineluxe, and the movie-going world has been using Christopher Nolan’s Tenet as the benchmark for what other studios might do with their upcoming tentpole films.

 

Disney had been delaying the release of its live-action remake of Mulan in lockstep with Tenet, shifting back a week or so in response to Tenet’s fluid date, as if the studio wanted to use Nolan’s film to test the waters and gauge public sentiment about returning to the cinema. When Warner Bros. decided last week to release Tenet internationally first, followed by a limited roll-

out in the States as theaters reopen, all eyes turned to Disney wondering how it would respond.

 

I had speculated to Cineluxe editor-in-chief Mike Gaughn that Disney was in a unique position since they own their own movie theaters spread across theme parks and cruise ships where they could debut Mulan as part of the park/cruise experience. This would allow them to get the film out to a limited number of viewers, while keeping tight control on piracy.

 

Disney has shown itself nimble in adjusting to these unprecedented times, first making the decision to make Onward, the latest Disney/Pixar animated title, available for purchase via digital retailers within days of theaters closing back in March, and then moving the title to its Disney+ streaming service shortly after. The studio then decided to roll out Hamilton to Disney+ subscribers a full year ahead of its planned theatrical release; shortly after that, they canceled the theatrical release of Artemis Fowl and instead moved it to Disney+.

On Tuesday, Disney took its boldest and most unusual step so far by deciding to make Mulan available as a premium-viewing option on Disney+ starting September 4, while still opening it in theaters, beginning with the overseas market. The Disney+ rollout will be unique in that it will be a premium video title within a subscription service, meaning Disney+ subscribers wanting to watch Mulan will need to pay an additional one-time $29.99 fee for the privilege. Once paid, the title will “unlock” and be available for repeated viewings as long as the person continues their Disney+ subscription. There was no word as to how long the title would be a subscription-within-a-subscription model à la the dream world in Nolan’s Inception, but presumably at some point it will become available to all subscribers and likely even available at other digital retailers.

 

What this move shows is that studios—especially Disney—are remaining open, flexible, and proactive to different distribution strategies instead of just letting finished content molder away on a shelf—well, more likely a server—somewhere. With this summer movie season rapidly becoming a wash, studios will start looking to the next big film cycle—Christmas—which already has a full slate of planned releases.

 

You have to imagine other studios with streaming services—Warner’s HBO Max, NBCUniversal’s Peacock, Apple TV+, Amazon Prime, Netflix—are all eyeing how Disney’s premium pricing of Mulan plays out. If a large percentage of Disney+’s 100-million-plus subscribers decide to bite on the $29.99 fee, might we see Warner’s upcoming Wonder Woman 1984—one of the next major films set to release currently on October 2—give this a try? Or might high-profile Netflix titles like Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman or Chris Hemsworth’s Extraction start coming with a premium? And without having to share any of this revenue with cinemas or distribution partners, might it actually be more cost-effective to look at this avenue going forward?

 

If you are a theater owner, this has to be the nightmare scenario. How long will doors be able to remain closed and weather the storm of potentially billion-dollar films going straight to home?

 

One thing is for sure: It’s a good time to have a luxury home cinema to fall back on to enjoy movies in the safety and comfort of your own home, however they are delivered.

John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

Another Giant Step Toward Day & Date

Another Giant Step Toward Day & Date

In perhaps one of the biggest moves in home entertainment history since Hollywood started releasing movies on VHS, Universal and the AMC theater chain came to an unprecedented agreement yesterday that will drastically shorten the time it takes movies to make it from the theater to your home. Where the traditional theatrical-to-home release window has been 72 to 90 days, this new agreement slashes the time to just 17 days. One proviso is that the film must play theatrically over three weekends, meaning that if a movie is released on Saturday the 1st, it could be available for home viewing on the 17th, but 

if it’s released on Monday the 1st, it can’t go into homes until the 22nd.

 

Also, the agreement makes these films available for early premium-video-on-demand (PVOD) rental viewing, not for purchase or for release to streaming services like Netflix. Previous Universal PVOD titles released during the pandemic, such as The Invisible Man, Emma, and The Hunt, carried a rental price of $19.99 for a 48-hour viewing window. (Information on when titles would be available for sale was unavailable.)

 

Since the vast majority of theatrical box-office receipts are typically brought in within the first few weeks of a film’s release, in theory this new arrangement shouldn’t have too much impact on the box office takeIn reality, however, it seems highly likely that many families and luxury home theater owners will opt to wait just a few extra days to enjoy the movie in the comfort of their own homes on their own schedule.

 

While this current agreement is just between Universal and AMC, it will be interesting to see how other theatrical 

chains such as Cinemark and Regal react, or how quickly other studios head to the bargaining table looking for similar terms. Of course, the other studios might wait to see how Universal does with this gamble before deciding to jump in, but now that the early-release genie is out of the bottle, it will likely be difficult to stuff him back in.

 

It’s also interesting that this deal comes between Universal and AMC, a duo that had a very public spat just three months ago over the early PVOD release of Trolls: World Tour. After NBCUniversal chief executive officer Jeff Shell announced he expected to release movies simultaneously in theaters and in direct-to-home formats, AMC chair/CEO Adam Aron responded quite publicly by declaring that they would no longer show any NBCU titles in any of their cinemas in the US, Europe, or the Middle East.

 

It’s certainly not news that cinema chains and studios alike are suffering financially in these unprecedented times and will likely continue to do so until a vaccine has become widely available, and this agreement offers some clear advantages to both sides. With their symbiotic relationship, theaters can’t exist without content to show, and studios need the revenue of massive blockbusters to fund other projects.

 

With a shortened release window as an option, studios might be more inclined to release films domestically on a smaller scale—perhaps in cities where the virus has been more contained or in drive-ins, which have been seeing a bit of a resurgence—unlike the international release strategy Warner is adopting for Tenet. It also might open the way for smaller-budget films to find a theatrical release instead of going straight to video or streaming. Being able to bring the film to PVOD after a shorter time could allow for a bump at the box office, while having a wider PVOD release follow shortly after that can benefit from the advertising and buzz generated from the commercial release.

 

But this is certainly a bigger gamble for the cinema chains than it is for the studios. That lengthy window was one of the biggest hooks theaters had to get people to come to the movies, with most people opting not to wait three months to see a buzzworthy flick. Having the theaters agree to such an early release window feels a bit like another nail being driven home.

 

Once a new consumer habit has been formed, it’s difficult to get people to change, and after being home for months and getting into the habit of watching movies there, the allure of waiting just a couple of weekends to enjoy something in the comfort—and safety—of your home might be too tempting for many to pass up.

John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

Is Christopher Nolan Too Much of a Purist for His (& Our) Own Good?

Is Christopher Nolan Too Much of a Purist for His (& Our) Own Good?

Since the fate of the summer box office is hanging on it—and possibly of the box office for the foreseeable future, and maybe of the movies as we know them—most of you are probably already well aware of the ongoing saga of the release of Christopher Nolan’s Tenet. (If you’re not, go check out John Sciacca’s brief and to the point “Is Tenet to Die For?”)

 

Well—the date of its U.S. release has now been put on indefinite hold. Which of course creates a hell of a pickle for the other studios, who are itching to get titles like Wonder Woman 1984 into theaters, hopefully before Summer 2020 is nothing more than a troubling memory. Disney is likely to go its own way with its live-action Mulan, even though trying to lure people back into theaters any time soon will inevitably have a serious Hansel & Gretel feel to it.

All of the above could have been predicted. What’s more interesting—and telling—is that Warner Bros. is now considering releasing Tenet overseas while it continues to brood over what it wants to do about it in the U.S.

 

(Before I proceed, and in the interest of full disclosure, I should say that I’m not a Nolan fan. I find his films cold, manipulative, brutal, and condescending and think he’s the second most overrated director in Hollywood. [Actually, he and James Cameron are jockeying for the No. 2 slot.] None of that is really relevant to what I’m about to say—it just felt good to say it.)

 

Anyway—Nolan might have painted himself into a huge corner with his “My great piece of cinema called Tenet shall be released to movies theaters first or it shall not be released at all” position. If we’ve all learned one thing from the current series of rolling crises, it’s that no one can afford to cling to a single, intractable position, no matter how seemingly well founded, because unforgiving forces beyond our control will chop you off at the knees.

 

The stakes are too high, and the situation too perilous, to put your faith in any kind of orthodoxy. Only the nimble, innovative, and open-minded are likely to survive all of this relatively intact.

 

To return to the possibility that Tenet could be released in Europe, Asia, and elsewhere before it sees the light of day in the U.S.—I floated that idea a couple of months ago and was immediately shot down, being told the U.S. box office will always be No. 1 and it was inconceivable a movie that big would find a home everywhere but here. But the foreign box office can add up to at least half of a tentpole film’s haul, and better to take that and run than let what many expect to be the movie of the year sit getting moldy on the shelf.

 

And here’s where Nolan’s “A movie theater is the only 

proper place to see my film” position could become untenable. If, for the sake of honoring that position—or any contractual obligations that might be attached to it—Warner Bros. does decide to launch the film overseas first, we all know it will be bootlegged the second it hits the screen, and in the very next second will be sent streaming around the world.

 

And that means thousands and thousands of people—maybe millions—in the U.S. will first experience Tenet as a crappy illegal dub, with no possibility on the immediate horizon of seeing it under any better circumstances. Unless I’m missing something here, wouldn’t that completely undermine Nolan’s purist stance? Now, he could decide to compromise his self-anointed position as God and have the film released immediately to the U.S. home market in 4K with an Atmos soundtrack and have the vast majority of people who can appreciate the difference see it in better quality than they would experience it in a movie theater.

 

If he actually did care about the quality of the moviewatching experience and the future of the movies, Option 2 would be a no-brainer. But since he appears to be little more than an ego-driven Hollywood poseur (which I realize is a completely redundant description that could apply to practically any contemporary big-budget director), it’s more likely he’ll now just dig in the heels of his imported handmade brogues even deeper.

 

I’ve got to wonder how he feels about wearing a mask.

Michael Gaughn

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs,
couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.

Is “Tenet” to Die For?

Is "Tenet" To DIe For?

Christopher Nolan’s Tenet routinely gets bandied about as the tentpole to officially launch the 2020 summer movie season and herald the reopening of movie theaters. AMC initially said it would have its 1,000 theaters around the world back in operation in time for its July 17 release, but as additional waves of the virus hit, it was pushed back until July 31 . . . and then just days ago to its latest official date of August 12.

 

Disney has been keeping an eye on Tenet, and has been shuffling its own summer tentpole, the live-action version of Mulan, back to be the second major film scheduled to hit big screens, moving from its original March 27 date to July 25 and then to August 21.

 

We can glean a couple of things from this.

One, we know Nolan is a huge advocate of the theatrical experience, specifically IMAX. Remember all of his calls practically begging people to see Dunkirk in full 70mm or IMAX if at all possible? He even wrote an impassioned opinion piece for The Washington Post back in March describing how movie theaters are a vital part of American social life.

 

He is also one of the few modern directors with the clout to bend a studio to his will, and perhaps it is even in his contract that his films will debut initially in a commercial cinema—or even on IMAX screens—before any other release. Warner Bros. certainly seems willing to follow Nolan’s desire. In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, a studio spokesperson said, “Warner Bros. is committed to bringing Tenet to audiences in theaters, on the big screen, when exhibitors are ready and public health officials say it’s time.”

 

Second, it seems the studios have drawn a line in the sand (for now) for their major properties, and will stand firm on

releasing them theatrically . . . whenever that will be. Even it it means pushing them back a year or more.

 

Sure, we’ve seen lots of movies coming directly to home, whether as premium video-on-demand rentals or available for sale, but those have all been relatively small titles that didn’t have the revenue potential of a Tenet or Mulan (or Wonder Woman 1984, Top Gun: Maverick, the next Fast & the Furious installment . . .). A couple of notable exceptions are Disney/Pixar’s Onward and the decision to launch Hamilton on Disney+ a year ahead of its planned theatrical release date.

 

It seems unlikely we could have theaters responsibly opening by July 31, the current date planned for the Russell Crowe thriller Unhinged, let alone just a couple of weeks later for Tenet. And we don’t even know what things will look like when theaters do reopen, whether it will be to greatly reduced capacity and mandatory distancing in auditoriums, temperature checks at the door, requiring masks, limited/no concessions, etc.

 

As much as I love a night out at the movies, and want to see Tenet in the best presentation possible, I’m not ready to bet my—or your—life on it.

John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

Cineluxe Talks to Kaleidescape’s Cheena Srinivasan

Cineluxe Talks to Kaleidescape's Cheena Srinivasan

Last week, I had the opportunity to chat with Kaleidescape’s CEO Cheena Srinivasan about the current state of the movie industry and home entertainment. Among other things, with theater chains around the world being closed due to the pandemic, movies are being released in the home market far earlier than usual, and the studios have held the release of some major films and delayed production on others. Cheena shared his insights on Kaleidescape’s movie sales, the quality of streaming versus downloading, and day-and-date film releases.

—John Sciacca

We are in uncharted waters when it comes to traditional film distribution, with some studios releasing movies to the home market right after they were in theaters for only a short time. Are you seeing customers exploring catalog or older titles or are they primarily going for new releases?

Kaleidescape is interesting in that we cater to a movie-loving audience that has invested in a high-quality media room or home theater experience. These people are generally affluent and also tend to be very busy, so they are looking for great content to watch in the time they have. But when it comes to great content, it’s hard for the latest releases to make up for what a hundred years of movie-making has already contributed to people who love cinema, so there’s always good stuff to catch up on. Kaleidescape has a deep library of more than 11,000 titles, and historically we’ve always seen a 65/35 split between customers purchasing great catalog library titles and new releases.

 

We have agreements with 44 movie studios now, giving us a complete content offering. In general, the number of movie downloads increases each year, and for March we saw a 70% growth. New titles being released early certainly helped these 

numbers, and we also had a nice injection from the recent 4K James Bond releases.

 

Besides movies, we also have a large selection of concerts, TV series, documentaries, and even operas. If you want to enjoy a nature series, there is nothing better than the rendition of Blue Planet II available in 4K HDR from BBC. No one else offers that with the level of 

quality we do. Ditto with some of the Disney 4K HDR titles with full Dolby Atmos audio. We are very proud to have the kind of offerings we do for the cinema connoisseur, people who really care about that experience—because that’s what it’s all about, the experience.

 

We also offer a movie pre-download service enabling dealers to provide a turnkey solution for their clients. Clients can choose from the finest curated content that is important to them, which is then purchased and downloaded at the factory onto their new Kaleidescape system. When the system is configured in the client’s home cinema, all of their pre-purchased fantastic content is available to watch immediately.

 

Most other internet services rely on streaming for content delivery, but Kaleidescape employs a download-only model. Why is that?

To ensure that predictable, always-great experience we’re known for, content must be downloaded instead of streamed. This is something we have taken as an anchor for our brand. With Kaleidescape, you can schedule downloads to happen when everyone is asleep, and once downloaded, the content resides on a server in your home and you aren’t reliant on the

internet or delivery speeds to dictate the highest fidelity picture and sound playback.

 

With recent improvements to our system and a gigabit internet connection to your home, we’re able to deliver a full 4K movie with lossless audio soundtrack in 15 minutes or less. We can’t provide instant streaming playback without sacrificing what the brand stands for, which is the finest quality experience every time.

 

Increasingly, studios aren’t releasing 4K versions of movies on Blu-ray but instead sending them directly to the download and streaming services. The recent Kristen Stewart film, Underwater, is one example, as are the older, non-Daniel Craig James Bond films. Is this the next step in the demise of physical media?

Disc-based products have declined rapidly in the past couple of years, which makes total sense to me because there is more complexity with anything physical. You have to forecast how many quantities are needed for different markets, then edit, review, test, approve, and manufacture the discs. This is followed by working with retailers on the logistics of stocking the right amount, and, finally, working with the retailers to dispose of unsold inventory at a discount or loss. This is too much work, and you have none of this complexity or uncertainty with digital. Internet entertainment will be the way consumers will watch Hollywood’s greatest movies for years to come.

 

Universal tried something unprecedented with the release of the Trolls sequel as a $19.99 premium video-on-demand rental the same day it was scheduled to be released in theaters. Do you think we will see any long-term changes to traditional theatrical release windows after things open back up, and will this help ease the move to more widespread day & date releases at home?

We have not seen other studios following NBC Universal’s lead. Most studios, especially with big, blockbuster titles, have opted to push them out until later when theaters reopen. That’s because it’s very risky to release movies early. It all depends on how much money you put into producing the movie and what kind of confidence you have in terms of monetizing that content over a period of time to break even on the investment. There’s no proven model for doing early releases, and I think studios will embrace the age-old belief system: If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it. And if you’re going to fix it, you better have very high confidence it’s going to work. What is clear is that more mid-range and low-budget films will be hitting the home entertainment window, skipping theatrical releases.

 

If consumers get used to the in-home convenience of enjoying movies, especially as they come closer after the 

theatrical release, they might decide to just wait and not go to the theater. But there is a case to be made that blockbusters and tentpole films are mutually beneficial for both content owners and theater chains. The big question no one can really answer is, “What can we expect in the future?” It doesn’t make sense to have a tentpole and require people to sit six feet apart from each other, because tentpoles are as much a social driver as the movie itself. And what if customers get frustrated that tickets are sold out because the theaters are operating at 50% capacity? This is why I think many studios have decided to push new releases out many months to when theater operation returns to normal.

 

Now that people are aware that they can find themselves at home for long periods, do you think they will start improving their entertainment systems and we will perhaps see a boom in media room installations?

The resurgence of interest in home theater and media rooms suggests that people are looking at it and saying, “It may not be a bad idea. We could enjoy it for many years to come.” And once they do that, that’s a psychological, mental preference change. But I think no matter what, content owners always win. It’s a mere matter of figuring out the economics, and the market will adapt and evolve.

 

It’s also very clear that the home entertainment experience is improving, and people are becoming more cognizant. Just look at the millions of soundbars and millions of 4K TVs, or even general consumer awareness of technologies like Dolby Atmos. The more that large-TV big-screen viewing happens, the more people will decide, “Hey, I’m going to find out if I could have somebody come and put a media room together!” We have always diverged from the general market in that our audience

tends to be pickier about how and with whom they spend their time—the emphasis is as much social, big-screen home cinema experience with the people you love. This is about quality entertainment time.

 

It’s been interesting to see the vibrancy of home entertainment in a very big way, and I’ve been happy 

Cineluxe Talks to Kaleidescape's Cheena Srinivasan

about recent reports discussing the shifting of content viewing and streaming services away from portable, mobile devices over to TVs. Kaleidescape has never offered any kind of mobile viewing experience because we don’t deem that to be cinematic. Anything cinematic is deserving of watching with family and friends, and we’re fortunate to be the purveyor of the highest fidelity content for home cinema owners.

 

I think there are going to be some major changes over the next couple of years that will make us look back and say, “You know, I’m glad I was on the side of internet home entertainment because this is a horse that’s destined to win!” Home entertainment has a lot of tailwind and that’s going to help it in the foreseeable future.

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

Are People Watching Hollywood’s Early Releases?

Are People Watching Hollywood's Early Releases

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post titled “Hollywood Dives Deep Into Day & Date” that discussed the different strategies major studios were taking in light of commercial theaters around the world closing in response to the virus pandemic.

 

As a quick recap, we’ve seen studios taking one of five actions with films either released or just about to be released.

 

1) Release them on a Premium Video on Demand (PVOD) rental model.

2) Release them for sale digitally.

3) Release them directly to streaming sites like Netflix.

4) Push the theatrical release date to a new date.

5) Postpone the theatrical release date indefinitely.

 

Universal Studios decided on a PVOD model for Emma, The Hunt, and The Invisible Man, which you can rent for $19.99, with a 48-hour viewing window. Universal is also going to make the Trolls sequel available for PVOD rental on what would

have been the day of its theatrical release, April 10.

 

Disney accelerated the release dates for two major films, bringing Frozen II to its Disney+ streaming service months ahead of schedule, and upping the digital release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker by several days.

 

Sony Pictures, Warner Brothers, and Lionsgate followed by making movies released theatrically between March 7-13 available for digital purchase. Disney then released the latest Pixar film, Onward, for digital purchase just two weeks after its theatrical release, followed by its availability for streaming on Disney+ just two weeks later.

Paramount Pictures decided to send its upcoming comedy, The Lovebirds, originally scheduled for theatrical release on April 3, directly to Netflix for streaming (no date currently available).

 

With all of these changes, it had us at Cineluxe wondering if this was having an impact on the viewing habits of viewers. Were people renting or buying these movies? If so, which ones? And, if not, why?

 

We put together a brief seven-question survey that received a total of 117 responses—certainly not a big enough response to be definitive, but enough to get a snapshot of what movie lovers are doing in these atypical times. (If you took the time to take the survey, thank you!)

 

I posted the survey in a variety of Facebook groups, including Home Theater Enthusiasts, Kaleidescape Users Group, Dolby Atmos Home Users, and UHD 4K Blu-ray Collectors, as well as at the Kaleidescape Owner’s Forum, with the goal of targeting people in the habit of regularly watching movies at home.

 

Here are the results along with a bit of commentary.

Are People Watching Hollywood's Early Releases?
Are People Watching Hollywood's Early Releases?
Are People Watching Hollywood's Early Releases?

Question 1

Question 2

Question 3

click on the images to enlarge them

Question 1 dealt with PVOD rentals, with 2/3 of respondents saying either they had rented or planned to rent a title.

 

Question 2 followed up asking why people had not rented a title. The lack of quality was the biggest reason, indicated by 34% of respondents, as none of these PVOD titles were made available in 4K HDR video or with Dolby Atmos soundtracks. In second place with 25% was the lack of interest in the titles, with 20% saying the $19.99 price was too high.

 

Question 2 also offered a separate Other/Comment box that received quite a few answers. Ten people said they only buy movies, not rent; four said there were plenty of other movies to watch; two said it was the lack of quality of rental titles; one said the films weren’t available in a foreign language; and one said they only rented because they had a coupon.

 

Question 3 asked about purchasing early-release titles, and offered the ability to check multiple answers, which is why the results total more than 100%. Respondents could answer “Yes, but I would have bought it anyway” (36.36%), “Yes, I bought because of special pricing” (16.16%), “Yes, I bought because it was available early” (32.32%), or “No, haven’t purchased any of them” (40.40%).

 

The interesting thing is that the lower price of these titles had very little impact on the purchase decision, whereas the early availability motivated nearly one-third of purchases. If studios are looking to spur purchases in the future, shortening the theatrical window could be an option.

Are People Watching Hollywood's Early Releases?

Question 4

Are People Watching Hollywood's New Releases?

Question 5

Are People Watching Hollywood's New Releases?

Question 6

Question 4 asked where people went to purchase these titles. The overwhelming weight of Kaleidescape purchases (33.33%) is telling for a few reasons. One, with the survey posted at the Kaleidescape Users Group on Facebook and at the Kaleidescape Owners’ Forum, it’s clear this is a passionate group actively interested in discussions about movies. Two, it’s logical that people investing in a high-end movie server like a Kaleidescape Strato would be interested in getting the latest releases. Three, it suggests Kaleidescape owners are among the highest percentage of movie buyers.

 

Apple held the next highest share at 21.51%, followed by Amazon (16.13%) and Vudu (12.90%). It’s also comforting to see that “Torrent Site” (a common means of getting nefarious, pirated content at no charge) received zero votes. In addition to the options listed, DirecTV, YouTube, and Xfinity all received one write-in. 

 

Question 5 asked if people were watching more movies recently, not streaming series or TV programming. Hollywood should take comfort in the fact that 64% responded they were watching either far more, or more than normal, showing that many still view movies as a primary source of entertainment. 

 

Question 6 asked which of the early-release titles people had watched at home, with a list of eight of the most popular current movies and allowing for multiple responses. Not surprisingly, the Top Three films are all ones available for purchase instead of rental, with the most-watched film being Pixar’s Onward at 37%. Onward had only been in theaters for two weeks, and was the Number One film in the country when theaters closed. In second place at 29% is Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey, which benefitted from a full theatrical run but was released to home for purchase several weeks earlier than usual. And rounding out the Top Three is Sony’s Bloodshot at 23%, the latest Vin Diesel sci-fi/action title, which had been in theaters for 

roughly the same amount of time as Onward.

 

Call of the Wild, Downhill, Dr. Doolittle, I Still Believe, and Bacurau all received single write-ins. (While Trolls World Tour received 3% of the votes, it actually won’t be available for PVOD rental until April 10.)

 

Question 7 offered the same title choices, but this time asked if people did or would have seen any of these movies in the theater. With this question, I was trying to get a sense of how much theatrical revenue was lost due to films being released at home instead of the commercial theater.

 

Again, Onward and Birds of Prey were one and two, but this time with order reversed. The Way Back, the new Ben Affleck sports drama, actually benefitted from the home release, with only 1% saying they would have seen it in the theater, compared to 14% who purchased the title. Another title that benefitted was the controversial The Hunt, which had just over 8% saying they would see it 

Are People Watching Hollywood's New Releases?

Question 7

in the theater compared to 11% renting it at home. Perhaps most telling is that more than 57% of respondents said they would not have seen any of these films commercially.

 

The final question asked if people missed going to commercial theaters. We often hear about the death of the commercial cinema experience due to a variety of factors, however this is split almost down the middle, with 48% saying they do miss commercial theaters, 30% saying they don’t really miss the theater and that viewing at home is much better, and 22% saying they rarely went to commercial theaters before.

Are People Watching Hollywood's New Releases?

Question 8

Now that we are forced to spend so much time in isolation, will the communal experience be something we long to return to, or will it become something we look back at if this happens to change the movie-distribution model forever . . ? Only time will tell.

John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.