OLDBOY: Screenwriter And Producer Mark Protosevich Talks Blasphemy, Honor, And Respect

Controversy has followed the US remake of the classic Korean psychodrama, Oldboy, since its proposal years ago. I had a few words with screenwriter/co-producer Mark Protosevich, who has been along for the film's entire ride from Will Smith and Steven Spielberg to Spike Lee.

The Lady Miz Diva:  What were the important points you had to keep from the original film and manga?  The irreplaceable moments?

Mark Protosevich: The core story is you've got this incredibly intriguing concept of the imprisonment; of being in this room and not knowing why. And then being confronted by someone who you have no idea who they are, and then learning that they've done this to you, and then you are put in this situation where you have to figure out why. That core, basic framework, that's the most intriguing thing and that's absolutely essential.

You know there are certain things in the original and the manga, certain elements that we definitely wanted to keep - specifics - and then there are certain things that I felt there's room for change, and I think some of that has to do with cultural perspective. There are definitely elements in the original film and of the manga that echo the society that they were created in and I think some of those elements would not be easily accessible or relatable to a mass Western, American, English-language audience.  

Also, I think that a film should be relatively reflective of the culture that it's created in, so I wanted this to be a more American story and characters that were relatable to people we see around us every day. Aside into getting into specific scenes and certain things, it's more about a philosophy than anything.

How long have you been attached to this project?

MP:
  I've been involved - almost to the day - five years.  It was almost five years to the day that I got a call from Will Smith saying, "I want you to write my next movie, it's a remake of Oldboy. Steven Spielberg wants to direct it. Can you come out and meet Steven?"

Wow.

MP:
  You don't get that call every day, believe me. So, for a year, that was the creative pair that explains my involvement and that was what I thought was going to happen. During the course that first year, I'd written a 30-35-page, very detailed treatment of the movie. I'd become really invested in it, and then it completely fell apart. Spielberg pulled out and because of that, Will pulled out.  

You have many soul-crushing days as a screenwriter - that was a particularly bad one.  Because I had become so attached and invested and the producers still wanted to make the movie, even though there was nobody attached; I was so involved at that time, I said I want to continue, to the point where I said, "If you like what I do, I want to be a co-producer on the movie and be as involved as I possibly can." Luckily, they liked the script and then I was on the set during the production and that was a great experience and the producers and the studio and Spike [Lee] were all incredibly supportive as my being as involved as I possibly could.

Did the script change very much from starting as a Will Smith/Steven Spielberg project to winding up as a Spike Lee joint?

MP:
  You know, it didn't really change at all. I didn't actually write a version of the screenplay for Will and Steven, but I wrote that treatment. Essentially, that treatment, if you've read it, is pretty much the movie that you see - maybe about 80 percent. What I always say, is when you're writing, [for] any screenwriter, the first draft should be the version that [you] want to see. Because they can always ask you to change stuff, but nobody's ever going to let you put back in stuff that you held back. I was writing the version of the movie that I wanted to see and in that sense, it really didn't change.

The original Korean film turns ten years old this year and it's pretty perfect...

MP:
  I mean, look, I'd be lying if I didn't acknowledge that there are a lot of people out there, very devoted fans of the original that sort of regard this version as some sort of an act of blasphemy. All I can say is that we really came from a place of honor and respect. I love the original and I understand their reaction. I mean, there are certain films that if I heard they were going to remake, I would be upset, but I think what I really want is just for people to keep an open mind.

I think even I've come to a point where I want to be open. I mean, there's a Japanese version of Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven. I'm curious about that. I'm curious to see how a film might be translated by a director from a different culture. I think I'm a little more forgiving about that, so...  The other thing I would say is people who do feel strongly about that; there's nothing I can do or say that's going to change that opinion. It's pretty much a fundamental belief and there's no arguing really with a fundamentalist. [Laughs.]

All I would say is that I hope they would give us a shot and maybe keep an open mind. And the other thing I always say it's not like the original film is going to go away. They'll always have the experience of seeing it. Our intention -- anybody who thinks we were doing this as an exploitation and a way to make a quick buck; show me anybody who would watch that original film and go, 'Oh boy, an English version of this is going clean up at the box office.'

Certainly, we want the movie to do well, but everybody who was involved in this went through it because they really cared.


Oldboy will open in U.S. theaters on November 27.

This interview is cross-posted on my own site, The Diva ReviewPlease enjoy additional content, including exclusive photos there

Around the Internet:
  • Zeto

    Blasphemy!!!

  • MasterXan

    lol Mark pretty much took a shot at all those anti-remake whiners when he brought up the Unforgiven remake. Gee...I wonder what their response is going to be? Remember, the anti-remake whiners ON PRINCIPLE (at least that is how they present themsevles) are against remakes...PERIOD. Whether it's Hollywood remaking foreign movies or VICE VERSA...I REPEAT...VICE VERSA. :D Since they are ON PRINCIPLE against remakes, certainly they wouldn't try to spin things by playing the numbers game ("oh well Hollywood makes more remakes of Asian films so if it's the other way around it's ok.") Again, they are against remakes in PRINCIPLE so where's their outrage on the Unforgiven remake?

  • You're expecting consistency and logic in an argument fueled by emotion. The anti-remake brigade doesn't give a damn what people in other countries do, it's purely a 'don't play with my favorite toy' and 'Hollywood is evil' knee jerk response. Because, you know, the original Oldboy wasn't made in Korea to make money.

  • Dave Baxter

    While I can't speak for anyone else - the "brigade" as Todd calls them aren't exactly organized under a manifesto, despite what MasterXan seems to imply - I can definitely clarify my own generally negative opinions about remakes in the current marketplace which I'm certain many naysayers share.

    I don't believe anyone actually believes in "no remakes, ever" on principle, because plenty of films throughout cinema history are remakes of yet earlier films, which most are unaware. Add to that remakes from other cultures and it's impossible to even keep track of them all, and it's impossible to be against something on principle the existence of which you're not even aware of. However, I believe many are against remakes IN GENERAL and moving forward, i.e. the issues many have about remakes moving forward do not necessarily apply to remakes from the past.

    EDIT: Forgot to add - the reason I think most of us are more against remakes moving forward vs. the past, is because streaming and digital on demand catalogues and the ability to access global cinema in a way never before experienced has made remakes far less valuable, culturally, than they used to be. They can be more of a wall now, an excuse not to dive into other older or multicultural works, rather than a gateway.

    From my own perspective, remakes simply have different criteria to be judged by, criteria wherein the bar is lower for non-remakes. This is especially true if the remake is obviously capitalizing on a popular (at the time of the remake) name or brand, the bar generally rising exponentially with the popularity of the brand.

    There's the obvious justification for its existence beyond the "making money" element. While making money is the only reason for a lot of movies (and often the only reason as far as investors are concerned even if creators beg to differ) the fact that there isn't ALSO a creative or artistic reason detracts from a remake from the get-go as compared to original works. It's not that a remake by default has zero value, but it can be argued that it has inherently less value. There are ways to address this justification - is it really an update? Did the original scream for an update or a better production or does switching cultures really update the story to the point of it being a different movie? Has it been a long time since the original? Was the original never very good to begin with (maybe it had potential but fell short)? Is the original difficult to come by, not well known, or otherwise rarefied?

    The problem for me, and I suspect many less eloquent "whiners", is that a remake is not supposed to stand on its own legs from a marketing or money making standpoint, and so it doesn't as a piece of entertainment or art, either. Therefore the criteria most apt to judge a remake by is in relation to the original or however many came before. And that's where many remakes become tedious for those of us who cannot or will not shed this viewpoint: remakes REQUIRE baggage. Original things we can walk in fresh and blind and have a fresh experience, unless the "original" work winds up being derivative to the point of being an unspecified remake, if that makes sense. Obviously once you're past single digit age in life nothing is actually "fresh" and without baggage, but that's not the same as having such targeted baggage to have to drag with you into the "new" thing. And the more remakes there are, the more those of us who don't have as much fun at remakes naturally feel fist-shake-y. We'd rather get less of that and more of something else, which we enjoy more.

    I should also point out the difference between remakes that don't use original titles/brands and those that do. The former doesn't require the baggage of the latter, because the "remake" element is obviously unimportant enough to be downplayed. The creators and producers decided to unleash an "original" piece that just happens to be a (usually unofficial) remake of an earlier film. Tarantino is a perfect example of a director who has made his career on doing these kinds of remakes, and with the exception of Inglorious Basterds the branding is always that of a purely original feature. I have my own problems with Tarantino doing this but as an example of remakes that aren't "remakes" from a marketing angle, he's too perfect.

    Maybe a better example of a remake between cultures wherein it was not using the original's brand/title and the transposition from one time period and culture to another was so effective that it made it a completely different movie, is Blood Simple to "A Woman, A Gun, and A Noodle Shop". You'd never know it was Blood Simple if someone didn't tell you, though you might spot broad story "similarities". Most haters of remakes don't object to this kind of remake. It's more of the Oldboy sort, or the recent Stray Dogs remake, wherein the point of the remake is not very clear, especially given the iconic quality of the original to anyone who would even care about the remake. At the very least, such remakes offer those of us who have this viewpoint little to enjoy. Maybe the mainstream culture will care more, sometimes that indeed happens, but seems to miss as often as it hits, just like original works. Given that, my opinion is that it's better to make original works that succeed or fail on their own terms and offer new IP to exploit in the future, rather than spin the wheels of ships that have long ago sailed.

  • The flaw in virtually every argument you're making Dave - though you make them very well and very eloquently - is that you're assuming that the remade films are intended for the same audience as the original or, at least, that there is intended to be major carry over between the two audiences. And that is fundamentally not the case. You're also assuming that directors only take on remakes out of purely financial considerations, which is also usually not the case.

    A remake is generally made for an entirely different audience - in the case of a remake of an originally English language film, the remake is made for the young generation born since the original; in the case of a remake from a foreign language film, it's for the 99% of the American audience that will never, ever see the foreign language original no matter how good it is - and are attractive to many directors for the same reason that delivering a really good cover song is attractive to many musicians. It lets them put their own spin on things while telling a story that is meaningful to them to a different audience.

    I very honestly believe that most of the negative response to remakes in general - and I very much include my own early knee jerk responses against them in the early years of running Twitch in this mix - is because the original audience doesn't like the feeling that comes when they realize that their tastes and opinions are functionally irrelevant to the industry as a whole. And that pisses people off.

    On a somewhat related note, I had lunch with the director of the original My Bloody Valentine yesterday. In his words, the remake was the best thing that's ever happened to the original, that it drew a ton of attention to him and his work from a generation of people who had never heard of him or it before because of the sheer number of press whose basic take on the remake was "It's okay, but the original is so much better, go look it up." People did. And that effect, in my opinion, adds a ton of worth to any remake.

  • Dave Baxter

    "The flaw in virtually every argument you're making Dave - though you make them very well and very eloquently - is that you're assuming that the remade films are intended for the same audience as the original or, at least, that there is intended to be major carry over between the two audiences."

    Well, not quite, I actually tried to state specifically that the problem was a personal perspective issue for those of us who don't like remakes, meaning the problem is we KNOW that they're not for us (and we know that we have a hard time enjoying many of them, though not all of them), so obviously we'd rather see a select few getting made rather than a glut.

    As for "intended to be major carry over between the two", the amount of natural carryover depends on the status of the original at the time of the remake. But intent on the film makers part is irrelevant in this. The carryover is organic, it's cultural, and if film makers/studios/producers want to ride the coattails of an original, they don't get to define the terms of the carryover when the carryover already exists in the sociological wilds. In this small part alone, I do think film makers/studios are supremely arrogant in thinking they get to set the terms. If they want all the natural organic benefits of handling a known brand, then they don't get to argue they shouldn't suffer any of the organic setbacks or expectations that come from doing this. Though that all said, what the organic carryover is for any given remake differs, it's not a black and white thing, but it does always exist in some shape or form.

    "...the original audience doesn't like the feeling that comes when they realize that their tastes and opinions are functionally irrelevant to the industry as a whole."

    Bingo. This isn't the whole story, as with anything there's a lot more meat to the matter that makes it important beyond personal feelings, but even this alone is a sincere concern for said audience members, and there is no reason to be dismissive of their opinions in these matters. Either our voices make a difference now and again or they don't, maybe suddenly or very slowly over time. But all we can do is try to get those opinions out there and see what sticks. What I don't get is the anti-anti-remake reflex - some of us don't get tired of fighting for something that will only change incrementally if at all. Just because others do, and want to decide it's not worth bitching about, or never liked the bitching in the first place, is no reason to slap down those who still want to push for a different approach whenever it's manageable.

    Art of any kind hinges a lot on personal feelings, no matter how educated or well versed one might become to enhance their feelings in a critical way. That being generally accepted, how is the fact that a point of view is heavily (but not solely, don't over-simplify it) based on a feeling different from any other point of view regarding art/entertainment? Arguing against it is fine, but dismissiveness does no one any good.

    "You're also assuming that directors only take on remakes out of purely financial considerations, which is also usually not the case."

    No, really, I'm not assuming this. However, remaking an original as specifically a remake of the original does come with less artistic/creative merit than an actual original. Please note I don't think there are only two settings: remake and original. There are lots of settings in-between, but a remake is an extreme end of the spectrum. A director can get their head full of all kinds of highfalutin' ideas about how they're doing really amazing creative whatever with it. But here again intent is irrelevant, either you're making a remake, or you're making something MORE original than a remake. The remake has the LEAST originality value of all possible options, by default, no ifs ands or buts.

    But all that means is that remakes need to be judged on other merits, because originality will suffer by default. The biggest problem with most remakes, I find, is that they don't succeed on other merits either. Usually the only way you can call a remake good is by demanding that it be treated like an original and don't compare it or think about it in light of the original. But that's hogwash, why should anyone have to do that? And if they HAVE to do that, then the remake isn't proving itself to be worth anyone's time.

    Re: My Bloody Valentine, this is probably a good example of a remake that had decent justification to be made in the first place. The original is not new, not well known (or at least not well watched) to the general public, and horror film styles and aesthetics have changed quite a bit in the last 25 years. I do think that many remakes have the additional value of putting light on the original, and in cases of older films, this is ideal. However for every MBV there are cases like Straw Dogs, where there's a big fat question mark of "who are they thinking this is FOR? What do they think this will DO?" Anecdotal evidence is nice, but eventually all arguments have to return to fundamental forces and in this remakes offer no more sure bet than originals do, and you could argue whether giving the original a re-release in the theaters backed by a big marketing campaign and what the hell slap some 3D on it for some theaters wouldn't do the same and cost less and keep creators working on new material instead.

    Imagine if they had remade Crouching Tiger for the US instead of just releasing the damn thing. When studios break their own traditions, they often win big. The "remake" question has a lot of different possible answers, it really isn't a question of simply remake or never talk about a film again.

  • The biggest problem with a large majority of films - whether from original scripts or not - is that they don't stand on their own merits. That's not a problem unique to remakes - it's bloody hard to make a good movie - and the argument that remakes are somehow batting a lower average in this regard is, I think, quite false. There are just more people actively looking for / wanting to find flaws in the remakes moreso than in other things.

    As to being dismissive of original audience ... There's certainly no reason to be obnoxious about it but as I pointed out in another Oldboy thread, the ENTIRE audience for the US releases of the original Korean version of Oldboy totals about 0.04% of the overall US population. The film industry CANNOT make creative decisions based on the tastes of such a small segment of the population if it wants to survive. It simply cannot. I'd love it if they did, as I'm part of that 0.04%, but it'll never happen.

    So rather than spending my time and energy griping about things made for a group of people that I know I'm not part of, I prefer to simply be happy that I live in a time when I have easier access to more original content from all around the world than any other time in history. I prefer to be happy that the remakes put money back in the pockets of the original producers who can use it to create more original content. And I prefer to be happy that in many cases the remakes expose the original material and / or original filmmakers to a new audience completely outside that 0.04% of the population that loved the original work.

  • Dave Baxter

    "The biggest problem with a large majority of films - whether from original scripts or not - is that they don't stand on their own merits. That's not a problem unique to remakes - it's bloody hard to make a good movie - and the argument that remakes are somehow batting a lower
    average in this regard is, I think, quite false. There are just more people actively looking for / wanting to find flaws in the remakes moreso than in other things."

    Nnnnno, this is what I meant when I said:
    "Please note I don't think there are only two settings: remake and original. There are lots of settings in-between, but a remake is an extreme end of the spectrum."

    And it is. A remake made EXPLICITLY AS A REMAKE OF THE ORIGINAL, and not an homage or an unofficial sort-of remake, etc. is on the extreme end of the originality/direct copy spectrum. A shot-for-shot remake being perhaps the absolute most extreme.

    What I think you're trying to add here, and I think I agree with, is that some films have all their content lifted straight from other films even if it's not a "Remake". And while these can be far inferior films than many remakes, they still wield a greater originality because no matter how derivative the final product is still original and based on nothing in particular - it's that film makers' original vision, no matter how useless in any other capacity.

    Originality does not = quality. But without originality quality obviously has to come from something else. Some other element. Remakes have the least amount of actual originality, so they must stand on something else.

    "...the ENTIRE audience for the US releases of the original Korean version of Oldboy totals about 0.04% of the overall US population."

    But this is a film that was shown in a handful of big city theaters and then straight to DVD plus during a pre-streaming/VOD era. What if they had released Oldboy on 2500 screens with a big marketing campaign behind it? The fallacy I find in this mindset is that films not given a chance to go mainstream obviously are not going to go mainstream. If the original Oldboy got the same 500+ screens that this remake is going to get, with the same marketing scheme, maybe with a "Spike Lee Presents" placard, would the English still do better than the other? That's a serious question that has not been given due consideration. And examples like Crouching Tiger or Jet Li's Hero are good examples of what can happen when studios let it happen.

  • Are you suggesting that David Cronenberg's The Fly lacks originality or director's vision and is therefore automatically inferior? Or John Carpenter's The Thing? No, you're not suggesting it, you're actually saying it outright, and that's ridiculous. Some remakes are good films, some remakes are bad films. There's no more to it than that.

    As to the distribution question, that's also addressed in the other thread. Ask yourself why Warner Independent, Paramount Vantage, post Weinstein Miramax, Focus Features, Tartan, Artisan, Thinkfilm, October Films, and a host of other arthouse / specialty labels who believed that if they promoted niche films like mass market films that they would draw mass audiences have gone under. It's because they were wrong. People flocked to this idea during the indie boom of the 90s, they pushed it as hard as they could, and they failed en masse. The only ones still standing are TWC, Sony Classics, and Fox Searchlight, all of whom have survived by making mid tier English language films the base of their business. The problem is not lack of marketing, it's lack of audience.

  • Dave Baxter

    Holy crap, Todd, you have got to start reading what I actually write and stop skimming before knee-jerk assuming that I'm saying something simple and stupid, or brush up your reading comp skillz.

    I quote: "And while [non-remakes] CAN BE FAR INFERIOR FILMS THAN REMAKES [emphasis mine], they still wield a greater originality because no matter how derivative the final product is still original and based on nothing in particular - it's that film makers' original vision, no matter how useless in any other capacity.

    "ORIGINALITY DOES NOT = QUALITY [emphasis mine]. But without originality quality obviously has to come from something else. Some other element. Remakes have the least amount of actual originality, so they must stand on something else."

    Those quotes say OUTRIGHT (to use your word) that a remake lacking the originality of a non-remake does not make it inferior nor does originality itself qualify as a mark of quality. However, originality CAN be a source of quality. Remakes do lack the originality inherent in non-remakes and therefore the quality of a remake must come from something else. That's it.

    When people argue that remakes should "stand on their own", they mean on their original qualities, but that's a fallacy, because remakes (usually) do not contain enough originality to manage this. They can be valuable for other reasons, but not this.

    As for distribution, I still think you're falsely equating visible niche marketing for mainstream marketing. None of the groups you mentioned did mainstream marketing, or they rarely did. They did limited releases and DTV releases. They used the festival circuit to gain notice of their films. This is the definition of niche. They might have had more money or clout than yet smaller distributors, but they were in no way promoting their films to a mainstream crowd via mainstream methods (wide release, expensive marketing campaigns, etc.).

  • And you're saying - again - that David Cronenberg's The Fly lacks an original director's vision, at which point the conversation is over for me. If you can't see his clear, distinct and completely original stamp on that regardless of the source material then you are blind. Every single argument you are making to say remakes inherently lack originality apply with equal validity to literary adaptations, which also do not originate with the director. You can swap the language around the argument makes just as much sense on the page as it fails to make on the screen. And neither is valid at all. There are good movies and there are bad movies, regardless of source material, and that is all.

    And beyond the fact that you're wrong about how Miramax et al marketed their films, the exact approach that you're dismissing as niche is exactly the approach used by Sony Classics on both Crouching Tiger and Miramax on Hero which you hold up as examples of how you want things done above. [I am incorrect on Hero, which actually did open wide and not platform up. More on that below.]

  • To put it another way, you are saying that there is somehow LESS of Cronenberg in The Fly than in his other work and LESS of Carpenter in The Thing than in his other work because both are remakes. And that, I say, is just bullshit.

  • Dave Baxter

    No, I am not saying anything about a "director's vision" on any work. That's your own extrapolation. Many director's have nothing to do with the content of a film, and I'm talking about content, not style. Oldboy could have had any director and the problems would remain.

    Literary adaptions do indeed fall under this rubric, yes, though often to a lesser degree (see next paragraph).

    I've stated all along that all remakes are not equal, certain remakes justify themselves far easier than others due to the status of the brand at the time of the remake. Literary adaptations has an instant justification (which is NOT the same as being fully justified, it is simply A justification) by merit of being content never before done within a particular format. Remakes of other films sometimes get an assist from this but not automatically like literature. Cronenberg's FLY benefits from the being an obvious upgrade in format (color) and technology, style and aesthetic. Same with Carpenter's The Thing. These are the merits of these films (among other possible merits). However neither gets an assist from originality. It's a re-do of something already done. There's no getting around that. These are not original movies. These are different takes on already done movies.

    You can even argue that Cronenberg and Carpenter, having an established style at that point, makes the remakes even less original - it's a cliche Cronenberg movie overtop an already-done plot. I think the film is a fantastic one due to many other reasons, a match of style and content made in heaven, but original? Not one smidgen of it.

    Directors have their own originality cross to bear. Many "Auteurs" basically make the same movie stylistically over and over again but change the details of the content, the inverse of a remake. Put the two together and you might have synergy, but you don't have originality outside of that synergy.

    I get that you refuse not to simplify every argument the opposition has, but the "remake" argument is not black and white (which I've also stated from my very first post here) no matter how often you reply with a black and white paraphrasing of the complex arguments I'm offering you.

    Also, Crouching Tiger and Hero were both released on over 2,000 screens here in the States, which was backed by marketing to match such a release. The vast majority of other films released by all the companies you've listed were not, some of them in fact never did such a wide release in their entire life spans. That is a profound difference.

  • Again, I understand what you're saying, I just think you're totally wrong. Though I will give you marks for being logically consistent and coherent on the literary adaptation point, which is far more than you can say for most.

    You're also factually wrong - or misleading - on the Crouching Tiger numbers. They MAXED at 2000 screens. Crouching Tiger opened on 16 screens. A month later it went 'wide', with wide being 693. It categorically did NOT open wide in the manner you're describing. It expanded only after they had proven to find an audience and only to the level that audience would support, with the marketing expanding as the release expanded. It wasn't until week twelve that it reached the max number. This is a model followed to this day. Heck, it's a model SPC followed last year with The Raid, starting on five screens and ending on over 800.

    Hero actually did open on over 2000 screens but counter to your idea that bigger releases will lead to more box office, it actually grossed less than half of what Crouching Tiger did and did so because of Jet Li and marketing that suggested it was a Quentin Tarantino film. That said, I was wrong above in assuming this one was platformed out the way Crouching Tiger was. It would have had a better ROI if it had been, though.

    Let's run the Hero numbers through the release costs I sketched out below: In today's dollars a release on 2000 screens would cost around $20 million, the entire cost of which is borne by the distributor. On top of that you've also got your rights purchase cost for the film which, for this one, could range anywhere between five and ten million dollars. Let's split the difference and call it 7.5. So you're now out of pocket $27.5 million dollars. Now you lop half of your box office receipts off to give the theaters and your distributor their cuts (that's an estimation, but it's a fair one). And guess what? You theatrical release has netted you ... well ... pretty much nothing. You've grossed $53 million at the box office and not actually made a penny and you're now back to the position where your only actual profit will come from home video in whatever form, all of which also comes with its own associated marketing and distribution costs.

    You see how this works? Hero is a best case example. It's a statistical anomaly, a freak that out performed 95% of all similar releases, and it still only broke even on it's theatrical release. And you want MORE people to release movies this way? This is a shit business model, which is why nobody does it. Or, to be more accurate, a good number of people tried to do and then quickly went bankrupt.

  • To return to the marketing thing for a moment: You are clearly unaware of the actual costs associated with the scale of release and marketing you're talking about.

    A modestly scaled release of a film on the 1500 - 2000 screen level will cost, at minimum 15 - 20 million dollars. The Devil Inside, for instance - which pushed dominantly online - was a 20 million p&a spend. Splice, as another example, had a 30 million p&a commitment and barely made a noise in the mainstream. Push that number of screens into the 2500 - 3000 range and spend enough to give yourself a chance of actually drawing a couple hundred people in every town for every showing for a week - which is what you absolutely must accomplish at this level if you're not going to bleed money - and people are routinely spending in the 75 - 100 million dollar range.

    Do you honestly believe you have a chance at making that 75 mil back if you were to put the original Oldboy on 2500 screens? That's madness. It'll never happen. Which is why every company that every tried something along those lines on any significant scale is now out of business.

    The 'people will come if they spend argument' is delightfully naive on so many levels.

    1. It's based on the belief that people basically have the same tastes as you, they just don't know it yet. If you love it, obviously they will if they just have the chance to learn about what you've already discovered. Completely, wildly false.

    2. It's based on the belief that you've somehow stumbled upon a glaringly simple truth that major, highly specialized, incredibly experienced companies that exist only to get movies in front of as many people as possible have somehow missed. It's based, to be blunt, on the belief that every distribution company that has ever existed is staffed by nothing but idiots.

    3. It assumes that audiences are essentially mindless sheep who will turn out to support anything if only it is marketed enough, ignoring the fact that if this was the case the studios would ALWAYS spend enough and no movie would ever bomb.

    4. It ignores the plentiful examples of people who have tried it the way that its proponents have suggested and failed miserably basically by responding, "Yes, but I would do it BETTER."

    5. It is invariably based in a complete and total ignorance on the actual costs and mechanisms involved in physically releasing a film.

    I could go on and on ...

  • Dave Baxter

    Sigh... You are clearly hung up on your own assumptions about people who disagree with you. Might want to occasionally not ride the high horse there and talk to someone like a peer.

    Nothing I believe is based on anything you just wrote. Not one single thing, m'man.

    First off, it's not factually incorrect to say CTHD or Hero were released on over 2,000 screens. Yes, it was a rollout, I never said it was instantaneous - though the jump was still relatively sudden (from 16 to 170-ish then with the help of parent company Columbia/Sony to over 2,000 right quick).

    What these occasional success story films could and (I argue) should have done was allow the niche distributors the ability to mix high-risk and low-risk releases rather than sticking religiously to low-risk.

    Allowing for the only occasional but regularly released high-risk wide release would have done much, much more to push niche films into the eyes of the mainstream than the low-risk strategies, with no mix up, ever allowed. You're right that audiences won't just show up out of nowhere, that's why consistency and patterns are key. Summer tentpoles a great example of how the American audience has grown so attuned to a kind of release and release schedule for such that they respond the way the studios want them to (huge increase in ticket sales, no matter WHAT the releases are, even if some of them flop).

    Maybe niche distributors could have had a period where the big niche film or two or three (from all of them, not just one distributor, I'd assume only 1-3 per year could be managed across the board to begin, if even that). It can be rolled out and marketed like a high risk movie, yes, but keep these as the high-risk, high-reward where the low-risk films could fill in the gap with steady money. At one point in time, the money was good enough to allow for this mix and to lose big on the high risk. It would have meant reduced profits, but if the numbers were crunched and the risk mitigated properly, this could have been done and the companies kept solvent.

    And yes, I do know how much p&a costs, on average, both back then and also now.

    Why should they have done this, though, if it meant losing profits in the short term? Because long term either the American mainstream begins to embrace the niche or the market would eventually close off anyway. But sticking to low risk, they kept niche films niche. They definitely increased the market from what it was before - they actually created a limited theatrical market that before was only a shadow by comparison, but this was never going to be enough.

    Maybe the high risk/low risk mix wouldn't have worked either, but I can't think of any other way to have tried to lure the mainstream into regular contact and exposure. By taking the purely low-risk route the niche distributors basically put their vote on the DVD market forever supporting them while they waited for the rare hit to go mainstream via their low risk set up. And while no one could have predicted how the DVD eventually fell or what would take its place, believing it wouldn't fall when the VHS era only lasted for about 15 years of peak business, was silly.

    Instead, the legacy of the niche distributors is that they created a strong but very small niche audience, mostly in big cities. Whatever brushes with the mainstream they had were flukes, happy accidents that can't be repeated instead of concentrated efforts that can be understood and honed to its tiniest detail, just like the studios have always done, succeed or fail.

    To summarize for clarity's sake: while the low risk approach is controlled and understood, the drawback is that is keeps the mainstream from experiencing the niche market enough. Without this exposure, it's unlikely to ever catch on and grow beyond the happy accident level. And that, ultimately, proved unsustainable anyway.

    P.S. - Splice was a terrible movie. I saw it in the theater, it had a good marketing campaign behind it, but the movie (mostly the script) was simply not good enough for word of mouth to help it go to the next level. The Devil Inside and also Paranormal Activity are good examples of a targeted approach working (though I'm unaware if Paranormal was rolled out slow or fast, low-risk or high-risk, do you know?).

  • Paranormal was rolled out fast in terms of release, but only after years of recuts and test screenings.

    Again, though, you're steadfastly ignoring that people tried what you're describing and failed en masse. And the result was actually not a retreat to DVD but the development by companies like Magnolia and IFC - both of which rose as the companies described above failed - of an entirely different release model that leveraged an emerging technology (VOD) to make films immediately and widely available in communities that could not support a theatrical release. They leveraged the long tail better than anyone else, basically, and have thrived as a result while everyone else collapsed.

    If you feel I'm talking down to you it's because you're willfully ignoring fact in favor of a fantasy scenario that actually isn't even fantasy. It's a known failure. It's been tried repeatedly and proven not to work. But you insist you know better because ... Well ... People should do things the way you like regardless of reality. Your argument is based on literally nothing other than wishful thinking and the assumptions above.

  • And you absolutely ARE being dishonest with CTHD, which you're holding up as a success story of what you think people should do while simultaneously slamming the exact model used by SPC on that film - the gradual rollout driven by market demand, not peaking until week 12 - as 'low risk' and somehow insufficient. SPC have never changed how they release their films and still use this exact same model today. I've worked with SPC as a producer and know from the inside exactly how their system works. If audience demand had been there for The Raid it would have expanded the exact same way CTHD did. But it wasn't, so it didn't. And that's a good thing because if they had insisted on an expansion that the audience wasn't there for, all they would have done was to snatch failure from the jaws of success.

  • Actual screen numbers for CTHD:

    Week 1: 16
    Week 2: 31
    Week 3: 143
    Week 4: 163
    Week 5: 172
    Week 6: 693
    Week 7: 837
    Week 8: 868
    Week 9: 1163
    Week 10: 1204

    This is not a rapid wide release by any measure and was actually a slower rate of expansion than used on The Raid. SPC expands based on audience response, using per screen averages at each level as the marker as to whether they should continue to expand, hold, or contract. It's what they did here, it's what they continue to do now, and it works. If they've lacked another CTHD scaled hit, it's from lack of audience, not a change in method. The method has not changed one iota.

  • CTHD did not succeed because it released wide, it released wide because it succeeded. There's a big difference. Hero, on the other hand, released wide because Miramax thought they could repeat CTHD's success by leveraging a bigger cast and celebrity endorsement and ended up not making a cent on theatrical. One company still exists. The other one doesn't. Which understood the audience better?

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