Troubling Future for Tomorrowland's Box-Office

Tomorrowland, starring George Clooney, opens to a dystopian $40+ million in its first four days to top the US box office over the Memorial Day weekend. This also marks the worst Memorial Day box office since 2001. 

Tomorrowland marks another box office low for leading man George Clooney. His directorial effort, The Monuments Men, was also a disappointment at the box office last year. The big question surrounding Tomorrowland is how bad is the write-off going to be for Disney. The film is reported to have cost $180m, not inclusive of the marketing/advertising campaign, and the House of Mouse is probably scrambling on ways to recoup the cost. Globally, the film made just $107m during its 2nd weekend. 

I'm not sure why the film is a failure given the combination of four Oscars® between actor George Clooney and director Brad Bird, with each of them having won two each.

If I have to make a guess, I venture that it's a combination of poor marketing and miscasting George Clooney as an old curmudgeon. From the marketing, it's difficult to decipher what the film is about. Is it an adventure? A sci-fi? Time-travel? While certain directors can pull off marketing a film with just their name alone, Christopher Nolan and JJ Abrams come to mind, I'm not sure people are as familiar with director Brad Bird. Hence, people are less likely to give him the benefit of the doubt and just watch a film based on his name alone. Secondly, George Clooney's appeal is that of a suave rogue as seen in Ocean's Eleven and Up in the Air. Guys want to be him and girls want to be with him. George Clooney plays an old curmudgeon in Tomorrowland and perhaps that ruins the fantasy for people. They don't want be reminded of the reality that George Clooney might actually be an old curmudgeon. Does this mean actors shouldn't explore new roles and stay typecast? No, I think Matthew Mcconaughey shows that actors can experience a Mcconaissance, but that the roles they're taking on doesn't conflict with their initial appeal. I mean, honestly speaking, George Clooney as an old curmudgeon holds very little appeal. Matthew Mcconaughey as a stoic, intelligent detective as seen in True Detective, now that's appealing. 

So the lesson from Tomorrowland is 1) make sure your audience knows what the film is about 2) make sure you don't miscast your A-list actor's appeal.  

In the meantime, here's an hour long talk that director Brad Bird and screenwriter Damon Lindelof did at Google to talk about the thought process behind the new film. From the talk, it sounds like a decent film. Too bad hindsight is 20/20. 

Web Comedy Series in China - Diors Man (屌丝男士)

An old acquaintance came into town for the All That Matters conference. We started to talk about web comedy in Asia and I told him about Diors Man (屌丝男士), a funny web series in its third year. It's extremely popular in China and mainly targets the domestic market (hence, no official English subtitles). 

How popular is the show? Johnny Galecki, more famously known as Leonard Hofstadter from The Big Bang Theory, guest starred on the web series (see the video on the right).

Japanese AV actress Akiho Yoshizawa (吉沢明歩) has also guest starred on the show. Don't let the view count fool you as the show is extremely popular and it's not limited to just YouTube. If you do an aggregate view count, where you tally viewership from all the different platforms in China, I'm sure the show is in the millions. And yet there is no English wikipedia page for the show. 

I'm bringing this up to show that there's a lot of amazing, original content in China, but Chinese producers are mostly interested in the sizable domestic market. Netflix acquired the popular Chinese drama Empresses In The Palace for its U.S. audience but I'm not sure of the demographics that would watch Empresses In The Palace in the US.

On the other hand, a funny, irrelevant show like Diors Man has a much wider appeal since these guys are lovable losers/geeks, much like the appeal of The Big Bang Theory. The title - Diors Man - is a play on the idea of the lovable loser. Dior is, of course, the name of the luxury brand. A popular Chinese slang is 屌丝 (diǎosī) which means loser so the idea is that these guys think they're high-end, but in reality they're just charming losers. 

It's shows like these that Netflix or other video platforms should try to acquire. 

Youngest Consumers = Heaviest Mobile Users

The result isn't shocking but still good of Nielsen media to provide the stats. 

Outside the house, TV drops to less than 20% for people under 65. This explains why investors are excited about online media providers like YouTube, Netflix, and Hulu. 



Film Review: I Fine...Thank You Love You

I got a chance to watch this movie in theatre and have to say that I really like it.

It's a charming romantic-comedy (remember those?). The genre hasn't been popular lately due to a string of poor performing, critically pan rom-coms. Think of the last time that you watched a rom-com in theatre. Been a while? Yeah, you're not alone. 

What I like about this film is it's accessibility. The characters and settings are set in a Bangkok that is international, but yet with Thai characteristics.

The story centers around Yim, a foul-mouthed Eurasian with a poor command of the English language, who coerces Pleng, an English tutor, to tutor him English so that he can get his girlfriend back. Yim’s girlfriend, who’s Japanese, studied English with Pleng and passed the company’s English exam. She relocates to the US and asks Pleng to tell Yim that it’s over. Yim blames Pleng and forces her to teach him English. Hilarity ensues and Pleng starts to fall for her ill-mannered student. 

Yim, as required by the laws of the rom-com genre, is oblivious to his feelings for Pleng and continues to pursue his ex-girlfriend until it's almost too late. 

Of course, the film is not without faults. There is a lot of cheap humor, with jokes about poop and butts. There is also a lot of overacting in the film, but it sort of fits the genre. 

The film is a bonafide hit in Thailand, setting the record for the second-highest opening day at 29 million Thai baht. All in all, I can see why it’s a huge hit and I think the globalized nature of the story allows for a remake. 

I can imagine similar scenarios starring people of different nationalities. Imagine the comedic possibilities with miscommunication and mispronunciation. The story can be adapted and localized to fit the local market. 

Last year, China’s Heyi Pictures teamed up with South Korea's Film Line Pictures Production and Malaysia's Prodigee Media to remake the Thai film, Teacher's Diary. Personally, this film holds a lot more remake potential than Teacher's Diary.

YouTube, Netflix, and Vine - Vying for Kids' Hearts

Children's media app is the next battleground for the media industry.

Last month, YouTube launched a YouTube Kids app, Vine launched a Vine Kids app, and Netflix announced that its expanding its kids’ lineup with 5 new shows. Why this sudden interest in kids' media apps? I think it's due to the proliferation of content — print, blogs, TV, web videos, film, video games, selfies, vine videos, etc — and the fact that a lot of the content were previously not targeted toward kids. 

Online media providers like YouTube, Netflix, and Vine realize that the market penetration for adult is already very high and if you want to expand your market, you have to look at expanding your demographics. Kids seems like an easy choice because they are a gateway to the household and they eventually grow up to be in the initial target market. If kids were so easy and convenient, why now? That's probably because of the advancement in machine learning and algorithm. It's easier now for computers to categorize content than when YouTube was first starting out. Either way, it looks like content providers are now focusing on the children's market and it'll be that way for some time. 

That's good news for kids, headaches for parents, and a godsend for advertisers. 

Nintendo's Treasure Chest

A couple of weeks ago, there were news about Netflix developing a live-action adaptation of Nintendo's Legend of Zelda series.

This bodes well for Nintendo and may help Nintendo in stopping its money drainage. It's no secret that the Nintendo video game console is not as popular as Sony Playstation or XBox One. Nintendo has not had any overwhelming success since the original Wii system back in 2006. 

While Nintendo did try to previously license its characters for live adaptation, bringing to mind the critical and commercial disaster that was the 1993 Super Mario Bros movie, this time is different. 

For one, Netflix has a record of producing decent shows. Marco Polo isn't as successful as people anticipated, but it is successful enough. House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, and Arrested Development are some of the few Netflix series that command a huge following. 

Secondly, the Marvel Cinematic Universe illustrates that a faithful adaptation can translate to massive success. 

Nintendo has arguably the most recognizable video game characters in the world. Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Yoshi, Donkey Kong, Kid Icarus, Samus (of the Metroid franchise), and, of course, Link of the Legend of Zelda franchise. Except for Kid Icarus, these Nintendo characters have brought in hundred of millions of dollars for Nintendo. 

A Nintendo Cinematic Universe would bring a lot of money into the coffer and allow Nintendo to continue publishing video games. Bear in mind, Marvel entered bankruptcy in 1996 and that Disney bought it for $4 billions in 2009. Marvel's fortune shifted dramatically in 13 years and it's due to the success of its cinematic universe. 

The success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe propelled its current run and high valuation. If Nintendo, with its staple of bankable characters, can execute a similar success, then Nintendo's valuation will also shift dramatically. 

Of course, all this depends on Nintendo's ability to create a cinematic universe, something it has little experience with. It's speculative and premature to say that this move will be a major success for Nintendo, but it does mark a remarkable departure from its previous decision to not adapt its franchises following the 1993 disaster of a movie. 

Post-Oscars: What I Learn

This year's prediction got only a 54% accuracy. 

However, if we include the ones where I mentioned that it's a close race between two choices and I name the other film that was likely to win (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Foreign Film, and Best Original Screenplay), then it goes up to 71%. 

For the categories where I got it completely wrong (Best Animated Film, Best Film Editing, Best Makeup, Best Original Score, Best Short Film, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Visual Effects), here's what I learned. 

I underestimated Disney's marketing. I thought Dreamworks Animation did a better marketing campaign than Disney and so that was a critical oversight. Shouldn't underestimate Disney in animation. 

Best film editing, I thought the award would have gone to Boyhood because that's 12 summers of material. I underestimated Wes Anderson's popularity with the Hollywood crowd. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a great film and so I'm not discounting its editing, I just thought Boyhood had an edge. 

Best makeup, I should have mentioned The Grand Budapest Hotel as a possible alternative because the makeup really is amazing in the film. I just thought that the voters would reward something more commercial.

Best visual effects, again, I thought the voters would vote for something more commercial this year. Interstellar has strong visuals, but I thought that Groot would help convince voters for Guardians of the Galaxy.

Best original score, I rewarded Interstellar for this category because Hans Zimmer was crucial to the story (Chris Nolan asked to hear the score so he can find the emotional core of the story) and I thought that the voters would reward him for that. However, Alexandre Desplat is competing against himself and the safe choice would be to name him as a possibility. Also, he's been nominated various times and should have been awarded. 

Best sound mixing, I should've mentioned a film about music as a possible contender for this category. Whiplash deserves the win and I'm a bit embarrassed for not rewarding it more. 

In summary, I learned that the Oscars is still wary of commercial fares (Guardians of the Galaxy) except in the animation category, to not underestimate Wes Anderson's popularity (Best Film Editing, Best Makeup, and Best Original Score where I didn't consider his film), and to name a film about music in a category dealing with Sound Mixing. Till the 88th Academy Awards.



Ben Thompson's terrific analysis of YouTube's monetization problem

It's a great read for those who are interested in YouTube and its monetization strategy.

I think it’s more that nearly everyone at tech – and I’ve witnessed this first hand again and again – is deeply conditioned to think at scale. It is the first question out of anyone’s mouth when it comes to a new service or product – ‘Can it scale?’ Niches, though, don’t scale; they go deep. More importantly, they go deep in a way that wasn’t possible previously.
— Ben Thompson

Highly recommended. Read it here.

Crowdsourcing in a remix culture

Walter Isaacson, the CEO of the Aspen Institute and biographer of Steve Jobs, Benjamin Franklin, and Albert Einstein, talks about a future where authorship of books is just another crowdsourcing project

I wholehearted agree. Wikipedia is already an accepted form of crowdsourcing content, whereby multiple authors can edit a page and the crowd checks to see the legitimacy of the content. Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and likes are already popularizing the notion of crowdfunding to the masses. AirBnB and Uber have catapulted the "sharing economy" into the limelight.

So, after various forms of the crowd-movement are widely accepted into society - crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, and crowdsharing - it's only a matter of time until more creative content are derived from crowdsourcing. Sites like Quirky and HitRecord are the first wave. Wait until we see the second wave. 

Copyright laws would have to dramatically change in the age of crowdsourcing and remix culture. 

Time for a prestigious international screenwriting competition

It's the beginning of a new year and still no compelling screenwriting prize that's outside of Hollywood. 

Hollywood has the annual Nicholl Fellowships in screenwriting, a screenwriting competition that was founded in 1986 to aid screenwriters and is currently administered by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Every year, the Academy awards five amateur screenwriters with a $35,000 fellowship. The reward is prestigious and almost all screenwriters who received the Nicholl Fellowship are able to secure an agent and a manager based solely on the fact that they won the Nicholl Fellowship. In 2014, they received 7,511 entries. The percentage of being one of the top five is 0.066% The odds are better than winning the lottery but more difficult than getting into Harvard. 

In addition to the Nicholl Fellowships, most TV stations also have their own writing programs. There's Disney ABC Writing Program, NBC Writers on the Verge, and the Warner Bros. Television Workshop just to name a few. 

I'm bringing this up because I don't understand why film/tv industry in Asia don't seem to offer the same kind of competitive writing competitions that's available in Hollywood. 

Granted, Hollywood is the media capital of the world and can afford to do so, but the importance of the global box office (higher than US domestic box office now) illustrates that the international market is hungry for quality content. For example, both China and Korea, with increasing aptitude in filmmaking and huge market potential, should focus on ensuring that they've a steady supply of wordsmiths. One such way would be to create a prestigious global screenwriting competition, much like the Nicholl Fellowship, where amateur screenwriters can get access and recognition for their talent. Such a move would raise the prestige of international screenwriters and ensure that the international film industry has access to quality storytellers who aren't already in Hollywood.