9/01/2006

THE GORILLA AND THE SPIKE

When you work for the newspaper as a staff writer you'll find that overall, maybe a third of the copy you write never makes it into print. It's either trimmed away by tight-fisted sub editors or just gets "spiked" completely because the paper fills up with something more important.
The story below was spiked on Saturday night and therefore didn't make the Herald on Sunday. As a freelancer, that's a major pain in the ass because you don't get paid unless the article makes it into print and then only for the number of words published. If those subs are in a bad mood you can end up putting in a day's work for 250 words.
Here then is the spiked story. I'd set out to write a story about how disappointing King Kong must be to an industry that had expected it to beat every other holiday blockbuster and bring in Titanic-esque box office takings. The reality is that no one in Hollywood, whatever their views on whether the 20 extra minutes should have gone in or not, really cares that Kong will take in less at the box office than Narnia. Or if they are they're not really saying so on the record.
The analysts at least seem happy and have distanced themselves from the frenzy of hype that preceded the film's release last month. Kong will easily pass the US$200 million box office takings total that is so crucial to movies with its sort of budget. It and Narnia saved 2005 from being a complete box office fizzer, something for which the industry appears very grateful. Jackson's backend won't have suffered too much and as Reel Source's Robert Buckbaum points out, Jackson is still the king of Hollywood, capable no doubt of commanding another US$20 million pay check for some upcoming special effects-laden blockbuster.
ENTERTAINMENT
by Peter Griffin
Peter Jackson’s 187 minute epic King Kong looks unlikely to claim the top spot at the US box office this weekend but entertainment industry pundits say the film maker is still on track to deliver a multi-billion dollar earner for movie studio Universal.
Box office monitoring company Reel Source is picking Andrew Adamson’s The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe or Lionsgate’s debuting horror Hostel to land in the number one position for the second weekend of the year.
Analyst company BoxOfficeGuru expects New Zealand-made Narnia to win out this weekend, relegating Kong to number five in the rankings of the biggest grossing movies of 2005.
“Narnia now looks to reach US$275 million plus from North America,” said BoxOffoceGuru editor Gitesh Pandya.
“If you asked people in early December if they thought Narnia would eventually beat Kong by over US$50 million, they would have laughed at you.”
“But that’s really not the point,” said Reel Source president and theatre owner Robert Bucksbaum.
“It's pretty insane to say a film that grossed over US$180 million in less than four weeks failed to make expectations.”
Entertainment industry analysts had expected King Kong to break financial records with its cinematic debut, but Narnia, which had a smaller production budget than Kong and was released with a five day headstart, took US$230 million in the same period leading many pundits to the conclusion that Kong’s long running time has stunted its earning potential.
As a rule of thumb, films usually have to make three times their production budget to break even. It’s not unusual for a holiday blockbuster to make its money back at the US box office alone, but Mr Bucksbaum says the days of big daily box office returns are fading for Kong as new films arrive in theatres.
“If Kong doesn't receive an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, we expect revenues to top out at approximately US$220 million in North America, not too shabby,” he said.
Kong would continue to generate revenue in “ancillary markets” for years to come.
Worldwide box office takings for Kong were at US$418 million and climbing. Mr Pandya is forecasting total worldwide box-office takings of at least $500 million. Then there would be sales of the DVD, deals with pay TV and free to air broadcasters, merchandising, video games and the theme park ride.
“People consider Waterworld a bomb but they don't realize the fact that Universal is making billions from the concept at their theme parks. Expect more of the same for Kong,” said Mr Bucksbaum,
Nevertheless, with the hype surrounding Kong at fever pitch months out from the release of the movie, which was widely expected to trounce Narnia, Universal executives are no doubt wondering why Kong didn’t come out on top for the holiday season.
“Making a movie about a big ape in today's technologically savvy marketplace is not an easy sell. With that said, Peter Jackson created a masterpiece so you should be proud of your hometown hero,” Mr Bucksbaum added.
He said Reel Source had always picked Narnia as the winner from the two New Zealand produced blockbusters due to its appeal to family values.
“Narnia is a family film released during a family holiday so we expected the film to perform better than Kong.”
Peter Jackson’s total back-end earnings for Kong are linked to the total the film earns for Universal but Mr Bucksbaum said Jackson was still king in Hollywood as the movie would end up being very profitable.

“I don't think Peter is worrying too much about his Kong salary. He won't have to leave his day job anytime soon - any studio would happily give him a few hundred million to make his next film.”

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