Thursday, February 28, 2013

Christian Movie Connect Episode 60 - Larry Poland

Ohio native, Larry Poland, has made media a key part of his life since the late 1970′s. For 18 years, he hosted a daily radio feature, “The Mediator,” which aired on hundreds of radio stations. Larry is the founder, chairman, and CEO of Mastermedia International, a ministry to the top leadership of film and television in Hollywood and New York. Mastermedia seeks to keep Christian believers informed of the spiritual dynamics inside media. As the recipient of the Covenant Award for significant, Christian influence on the secular media and as founder of the National Media Prayer Breakfast, Larry is a key contributor to the National Religious Broadcasters Convention.

In this interview, Poland talks with CMC host, Cheryl Ariaz Wicker, about his mission of developing one-on-one and small group relational strategies to reach executives in global media, particularly Hollywood and New York. He believes that in building trust and solid relationships with executives in Film and TV, culture can be changed in a dramatic way.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Two Hour Window

For years, there’s been an ongoing debate about what kind of movies Christians should be involved in. Is it possible to make mainstream films and at the same time remain faithful to our values and principles as people of faith? Or should we go out of the Hollywood system and independently produce Christian films and media?

As I said, it is an ongoing struggle and a source of conflict for many people. Here at Media Missionary School we talk a lot about media missionaries. We believe it’s possible for people of faith to create art that speaks of Jesus the least but has him most in mind. We believe we can live out our faith in front of our peers while at the same time create media that is thought-provoking, socially redemptive and, above all, truthful.

Media missionaries understand the power of the redemptive story and have the passion and ability to influence what is on the screen as well as what’s behind the scenes. This is my classic definition of a media missionary—an individual working in mainstream media and entertainment and, through his/her art, has the ability to inject Biblical principles into his/her work.

I recently told this to one of my friends who had a rather puzzled look on his face. He said that this sounded like somewhat of an indirect approach. How will they know the Gospel if we’re talking about Jesus the least? Shouldn’t we be direct about our message? Leave no stone unturned. Make sure they hear the Word of God.

His argument sounded reasonable, but is it Biblically correct? Jesus gave us the model. He used parables and storytelling to communicate the truths of the Bible. But he wasn’t always direct. In fact, he was rather mysterious and, at times, ambiguous. He used the concept of “the Kingdom of God is like” versus “the Kingdom of God is”. In other words, he never told his audience what to think. He challenged them to find the meaning in his story. Often, they would walk away not sure what he meant. But they would have something to think about and would have to dig deep to interpret its meaning. Most of the time, Jesus didn’t offer a five-point sermon. He told compelling stories that were full of drama, conflict, and the realities of the human condition. That doesn’t sound like a lot of Christian movies or family-friendly entertainment we produce today.

Most Christian movies fall into the category that I call “the two hour window”. The window opens. The window closes at the conclusion of two hours which is the typical run time of most movies. I believe in an open window approach in which the window continuously stays open. As I see it, I want the audience to be thinking about the movie two hours, two days, two weeks and two months later. That only happens if you connect on a deep emotional level both consciously and subconsciously.

You want your audience to be challenged and reflect on their lifestyle choices, the pathway they have chosen, and how they are treating their family, their fellowman and their relationship with God. But in order to do that we have to offer stories that are honest, broken and willing to dive into the human condition. I believe as people of faith we can present the truth in such a compelling fashion that it will cause people to look for answers. Movies are great at starting discussions and getting you to think. And guess what? That’s exactly what Jesus did through his parables.

Recently I read a response to one of my blogs from an aspiring filmmaker who is a Christian. He wants to produce visually appealing films that are realistic, dramatic, and powerful. He believes the most effective way to do this is to present the realities of life, which sometimes can be very ugly. He believes that sometimes you have to use bad language, violence and other means in order to be effective. Sometimes an element of ambiguity is also necessary. This vision won’t set well with many Christians.

He went on to write that Christian films and family-friendly films are often nonrealistic and seem insincere. I think he’s right. If we want to break through the two hour window, we must leave our audience with something to think about at a very deep level. That won’t happen if we continue to pull our punches.

We can talk about Jesus the least but have him most in mind and get our point across. I’m convinced this approach is neither direct nor indirect. It’s both simultaneously.

Monday, February 25, 2013

'Argo' wins big prize, Day-Lewis sets record at Oscars

Argo had one more Hollywood ending to pull off this awards season. Mission accomplished.
Director Ben Affleck's political thriller lived up to its favorite status and won three honors, including best picture, at the 85th Academy Awards.

"I was here 15 years ago and I had no idea what I was doing," Affleck says, referring to his screenplay win for Good Will Hunting. "I was a kid. I never thought I would be back here and now I am because of so many of you."

Daniel Day-Lewis won his record third best-actor statue for Steven Spielberg's Lincoln — his others came for 2007's There Will Be Blood and 1989's My Left Foot.

"I really don't know how any of this happened. I do know I've had good fortune in my life," he said, making reference to his knack for completely becoming his characters.

"I do know my wife Rebecca (Miller) has lived with very strange men, and she's been the perfect companion to all of them."

Day-Lewis also tapped into his lighter side and joked with presenter Meryl Streep: "Three years ago, before we decided to do a straight swap, I had committed to play Margaret Thatcher (in The Iron Lady). And Meryl was Steven's first choice for Lincoln. I'd like to see that version. Steven didn't have to persuade me, but I had to persuade Steven that Lincoln didn't have to be a musical."

Lincoln entered the night leading the field with the most nominations — 12 — but left with just two Oscars, for best actor and production design. However, Life of Pi exited the ceremony with the most wins — four — including best director for Ang Lee, following up his first victory with 2005's Brokeback Mountain.
"Thank you, movie god. I have to share this with all 3,000 who worked with me on Life of Pi," he said. "You're the golden statue in my heart."

The movie also locked up visual effects, cinematography and original score. Composer Mychael Danna remarked that Lee directed the movie in the same impressive spirit that "people came from around the world to breathe life into this music."

After wowing critics and audiences for her Les Miserables musical role as the tragic Fantine — and her emotional belting of the showtune I Dreamed a Dream — Anne Hathaway picked up her first Academy Award, for best supporting actress.

"It came true," she said with a whisper after receiving her Oscar. "Here's hoping that sometime in the not-so-distant future the misfortunes of Fantine will only be found in stories, and not in real life."

Best-actress nominee Jennifer Lawrence also became a first-time winner for Silver Linings Playbook — although she did have a spill on the way to the stage to receive her award.

"You guys are just standing up because I fell and you feel sorry for me," joked Lawrence, who also made sure to wish her fellow nominee, Amour star Emmanuelle Riva, a happy 86th birthday.

Meryl Streep hugs Daniel Day-Lewis after he won the Oscar for best actor.

Christoph Waltz won his second Academy Award for his role as bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz in Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained. He won the same award for 2009's Inglourious Basterds, also directed by Tarantino, and an emotional Waltz profusely thanked his director.

"We participated in a hero's journey, and the hero being Quentin," said Waltz, winning in a field featuring five actors with 21 Oscar nominations between them. "You scaled the mountain because you're not afraid of it. You slay the dragon because you're not afraid of it."

In turn, Tarantino paid respect to his actors when the Django filmmaker picked up his second Oscar for best original screenplay. (His first was for Pulp Fiction.)

"I have to cast the right people to make those characters come alive and for them to last a long time," he said. "It's such an honor to get it this year. This will be the writer's year."

Argo writer Chris Terrio won his first-ever Oscar for best adapted screenplay, and dedicated it to former CIA officer Tony Mendez — whose work to save six Americans in revolutionary Iran was the basis for the political thriller — and those around the world "who use creativity and intelligence to solve problems non-violently."

In the race for best animated feature, Pixar's Brave — about a young redheaded Scottish lass — conquered the field, and the win marks the animation studio's seventh triumph in 12 years.

"I just happened to be wearing the kilt," Brave director Mark Andrews joked.

Amour, which is also up for best picture, garnered the Academy Award for foreign language film. The movie followed an octogenarian husband and wife, and in his acceptance speech director Michael Haneke doled out his own love to his wife ("You are the center of my life") and his two stars, Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant ("Without them, I would not be up here").

Adele's hit title tune from the James Bond film Skyfall garnered the Oscar for best original song. The British singer and recent Grammy winner tearily thanked everyone around the project "for believing in me all the time."

Malik Bendjelloul and Simon Chinn's Searching for Sugar Man, about the obscure American singer Sixto Rodriguez, was the winner for best documentary feature.

Rodriguez wasn't at the ceremony "because he didn't want to take any of the credit himself," Chinn said. "That says everything about that man and his story you'd ever want to know."

Anna Karenina's Jacqueline Durran picked up the Oscar for costume design, Les Miserables was honored for sound mixing as well as makeup and hairstyling, and film editing went to Argo. There was also the sixth tie in Oscar history, this time in sound editing, between Zero Dark Thirty and Skyfall.

In the shorts categories, Shawn Christensen's Curfew won for live-action film, documentary went to Inocente by Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine, and Disney's Paperman, by John Kahrs, garnered the animation Oscar.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

How Do We Rise Up Visual Storytellers With A Missional Approach ?

So the question is how do we raise up visual storytellers who understand the power of story and have the ability to communicate it with a missional approach.

Whatever we do, we must begin early in their development - starting no later than middle school. To raise up these type of storytellers requires an intentional approach. I see it as a three-step process.

(1) We need to determine if they have an interest in media. What are their gifts or talents? Are they potential artists?

(2) We need to get them involved working on media and entertainment projects where they can have a hands-on experience.

(3) We must develop the messenger as well as the message. Do they have a calling as a media missionary? Could this lead to a possible career in media and entertainment, especially in Hollywood? We need to provide a program that will develop their talents and skills as visual storytellers. One of the most important things we can do at this stage in their development is to provide a mentor—someone who can advise them on the spiritual and practical aspects of being a visual storyteller.

One of the best places to start is in youth ministry. The youth pastor could play a huge role in helping to create tomorrow’s future visual storytellers. They are in the right place and time in the lives of those who could have a calling as a media missionary.

The youth pastor’s encouragement could make all the difference. Although most youth pastors have done a good job implementing the first two steps, they often lack the time or resources necessary to complete the final step. Media Missionary School wants to help by providing needed resources which are required to develop tomorrow’s visual storytellers.

I’m convinced media missionaries and visual storytellers do not happen by accident. We believe reading The Red Pill--The Cure for Today’s Mass Media Culture and The Media Missionary’s Journey—A Roadmap for Hollywood Success can provide the framework and foundation necessary for tomorrow’s visual storytellers. We want to create a network of mentors across the country who can help to develop the message and the messenger.

I encourage everyone to get involved. Perhaps, you work in youth ministry, or you have a career in media and entertainment. Your participation is critical. I suggest you look around to see where you can fit in. I’m sure that there is someone in your local church who could use your help and support. Think about becoming a mentor and making a difference.

Even if you are not in youth ministry, or you are not a professional in the media or entertainment business, your help is still crucial. I’m sure there is something you can do. Most young people are just looking for someone who will believe in them. You could encourage your youth ministry to be an active participant in developing future visual storytellers. We provide all the necessary information and resources on this website to assist you. Feel free to contact me for more information. E-mail me at I will be more than glad to help with anything I can.

Best Picture Contenders Earn Over $300 Million After Nominations

Much more so than in past years, the 2012 Best Picture Oscar contenders have collectively put up strong box office numbers in the six weeks since nominations were announced.

From nomination day (January 10th) through the Thursday before Oscars (February 21), the nine Best Picture nominees have grossed over $305 million at the domestic box office. That's a new record ahead of 1997's $260.9 million in the post-nomination, pre-awards period (over half of which came from Titanic).

There are a handful of factors that help explain this phenomenon, many of which simply have to do with scheduling. This year the nominations were announced earlier, giving a full 12 days more in the post-nomination, pre-awards period than there was the last two years. Also, seven of the nine Best Picture nominees opened in November or December, which is noticeably more than the five from 2010/2011 and the four from 2009. Finally, this is only the fourth year in the modern era in which there were more than five Best Picture nominees, which gives 2012 a major advantage.

Two of those late-year titles—Zero Dark Thirty and Silver Linings Playbook—received their biggest push after nominations were announced (Zero Dark had previously only been in 60 theaters). Unsurprisingly, Zero Dark Thirty leads the way in post-nomination grosses with $83.8 million, followed by Silver Linings with $65.1 million.

Additionally, the two strongest 2012 holdovers, Django Unchained and Les Miserables, also managed to receive Best Picture nominations, and therefore earned $45.2 million and $38.3 million, respectively, in the post-nomination period.

While it's likely that the nominations helped a bit, all four of these movies had a lot going for them otherwise: Zero Dark Thirty had its topicality and controversy, Silver Linings had fantastic word-of-mouth, and Django and Les Mis had tons of momentum coming out the holidays.

Further down, though, is where the "Oscar effect" becomes more apparent. Lincoln and Life of Pi—both November releases—grossed $31.4 million and $19.95 million, respectively, during the post-nomination period. Meanwhile, Best Picture frontrunner Argo—which opened three months before nominations—earned $17.3 million and even found its way back in to the Top 10 for a bit.

Even Amour got in on the action: its $3.7 million post-nomination gross might not sound like much, but it's more than any of writer-director Michael Haneke's movies have ever earned at the domestic box office. Finally, Beasts of the Southern Wild returned to theaters and added over $1 million to bring its total to $12.4 million.

The Best Picture nominees have accounted for a huge share of 2013's box office so far. Four of the Top Five so far this year are 2012 Best Picture nominees, and the combined nominee gross of $415 million represents nearly 32 percent of year-to-date box office.

Overall, the Best Picture nominees have now earned $928.3 million, which averages out to $103.1 million per movie. That's better than the 2011 average ($69.8 million), but off from 2010 ($135.7 million) and 2009 ($170.5 million). Lincoln leads the way with $177.1 million, followed by Django Unchained at $157.8 million and Les Miserables at $146 million. This is also the first year ever in which six Best Picture nominees have earned over $100 million.

Forecast: 'Snitch,' 'Dark Skies' Debut on Oscar Weekend

The final weekend of February is typically a slow time at the box office, and that looks to be the case again this year. With many moviegoers gearing up for the Academy Awards on Sunday, new nationwide releases Snitch and Dark Skies are both poised for modest debuts, and there's a good chance holdover Identity Thief winds up taking first place. Overall box office will once again be down year-over-year this weekend, which brings to an end a very mediocre month.

At 2,511 locations, Snitch is the latest starring vehicle for wrestler-turned-actor Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. Johnson has a solid track record at the box office: last year, he led Journey 2: The Mysterious Island to a very good $103.9 million, and the year before he helped Fast Five set a franchise record with $209.8 million. He's also headlined a handful of modestly-successful family movies like Tooth Fairy ($60 million), Race to Witch Mountain ($67.2 million) and, most-notably, 2007's The Game Plan ($90.6 million).

Unfortunately, Snitch is a solo outing targeted exclusively at older males, which hasn't worked as well for Johnson. For example, 2010's Faster wound up with a terrible $23.2 million, while 2005's Doom only earned $28.2 million. Additionally, the market in general hasn't been kind to these type of tough-guy action movies lately: in the last five weeks, The Last Stand, Parker and Bullet to the Head have all opened to $7 million or less.

Snitch does appear to be in a better position than those three titles thanks to its PG-13 rating and a solid (albeit modest) marketing effort from Summit Entertainment that's clearly outlined the movie's high-stakes story about a father going undercover to keep his son out of jail. Summit is currently expecting between $10 and $12 million for the weekend, which seems like a fair forecast.

Extraterrestrial horror movie Dark Skies also debuts this weekend at 2,313 locations. A big part of The Weinstein Company's marketing effort has been the movie's connection to Paranormal Activity and Insidious through producer Jason Blum. That strategy worked well for last October's Sinister, which opened to $18 million on its way to $48.1 million total. That movie's advertising campaign delivered the scares, though, while Dark Skies hasn't really hit the mark in that department. Also, Dark Skies features an extraterrestrial threat, which historically isn't nearly as appealing to audiences as the supernatural.

The Weinstein Company also doesn't appear to be very confident in the movie's potential: they have a very tight review embargo on it, and they also wound up getting in in to fewer theaters (2,313) than the 2,400 that they initially projected last week. All of this suggests that the best-case-scenario is an opening in line with Insidious ($13.3 million), though it's more likely that it will wind up close to $10 million.

Arenas Entertainment is giving Bless Me Ultima a moderate release at 263 locations. The light marketing campaign—which has included some television spots—is targeted mostly at Hispanic audiences, which could push the movie over $1 million on opening weekend.

Forecast (Feb. 22-24)
1. Identity Thief - $13.5 million (-43%)
2. Die Hard 5 - $12.1 million (-51%)
3. Snitch - $11.2 million
4. Safe Haven - $10.5 million (-51%)
5. Escape From Planet Earth - $10.3 million (-35%)
6. Dark Skies - $10.2 million

Bar for Success
Over a five-day weekend in 2010, The Rock's Faster disappointed with $12 million; if Snitch can hit that number in three days, though, it's off to a fine start. Most horror movies manage to open north of $10 million, and Dark Skies also needs to hit that threshold to at least get a pass

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Weekend Report: 'Die Hard' Narrowly Wins Presidents Day Weekend

A Good Day to Die Hard opened in first place over Presidents Day weekend, though it was overshadowed to some extent by strong runner-up performances from Safe Haven and Escape From Planet Earth. Meanwhile,Beautiful Creatures was such a huge miss that it could temporarily quell the post-Twilight young adult adaptation craze.

For the four-day holiday weekend, the Top 12 grossed an estimated $143.5 million, which is off around 16 percent from the same period last year. Overall, the month of February is on pace to wind up significantly off from last year's record-setting $818.2 million gross.

A Good Day to Die Hard grossed an estimated $29.3 million over the four-day period, which ranks 10th all-time among Presidents Day openers. That's a bit underwhelming for a heavily-marketed franchise movie: in comparison, Unknown opened to $25.5 million on Presidents Day 2011, while Safe House tallied $27.5 million over Presidents Day last year (which was the movie's second weekend).

Rolling in its Thursday gross, A Good Day to Die Hardhas so far earned $37.5 million, which is noticeably off from Live Free or Die Hard through the same point ($48.4 million). It's safe to say that A Good Day to Die Hard won't match that movie's $134.5 million total, and it could even fall short of $100 million.

Overall, though, this is a decent start for a 25-year-old franchise. Throw in strong overseas figures (where the movie should ultimately wind up near the previous entry's $250 million), and A Good Day to Die Hard is going to be a success for 20th Century Fox.

The movie's audience skewed male (55 percent) and older (65 percent were 25 years of age and up), and they gave it a "B+" CinemaScore (noticeably better than the movie's atrocious 16 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes).

In second place, Identity Thief added $27.9 million over the four-day weekend, which is surprisingly close to Die Hard's first place figure. Through just 11 days in theaters, the Jason Bateman/Melissa McCarthy comedy has brought in $75.2 million, which makes it the highest-grossing 2013 movie so far. It's also on pace to be the first 2013 movie to pass $100 million, and could wind up being the only movie from January or February to hit that mark.

Safe Haven had a great $25.2 million four-day start this weekend; add in its strong Valentine's Day performance and the Nicholas Sparks adaptation is already at $34 million. That five-day figure is about on par with Dear John($34.5 million), which is one of the most successful Sparks adaptations to date. This is a huge win for Relativity Media, who secured a fantastic release date and then executed a strong marketing effort straight from the Nicholas Sparks playbook. Unsurprisingly, the audience was 71 percent female and 68 percent under the age of 25, and they awarded the movie a solid "B+" CinemaScore (compared to just 12 percent on Rotten Tomatoes).

Even without much of a marketing push, The Weinstein Company's Escape from Planet Earth managed to open to a very solid $21 million through Monday. That's significantly up on similar movie Planet 51, which earned $12.3 million in its first three days in 2009. However, it's a bit off from Gnomeo and Juliet, a fellow B-level animated effort that opened to $25.4 million in February 2011.

Escape from Planet Earth's good debut is due simply to a big scheduling win for the Weinstein Company: somehow, it's the first movie of 2013 that's rated G or PG, and as a result it was literally the only option for most family audiences this weekend.

Warm Bodies rounded out the Top Five this weekend with an estimated $10.25 million four-day gross. The zombie romance is holding extremely well right now, and with $51.5 million in the bank so far there's a definite chance it winds up close to $70 million by the end of its run.

In sixth place, young adult fantasy adaptation Beautiful Creatures bombed with just $8.9 million this weekend ($10.1 million including Thursday). In comparison, The Spiderwick Chronicles did $24.7 million on this weekend in 2008, while I Am Number Four earned $22.8 million at the same time in 2011. Clearly, the book series' fan base wasn't as large as expected, and other potential audience members were more interested in Safe Haven this weekend. Those who did show up were 67 percent female and 57 percent under the age of 25, and they gave the movie a "B" CinemaScore.

Side Effects added $7.8 million over the four-day weekend for a new total of $20.6 million. While that's not a great figure, it is at least higher than the final tally for director Steven Soderbergh's early 2012 flop Haywire($18.9 million).

Two significant milestones are expected to be reached on Monday. First, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journeyjoins the three Lord of the Rings movies in the $300 million club; also, after starting slow in November and December, Silver Linings Playbook will finally reach $100 million

It was all clean wholesome entertainment

I was born in 1956 smack in the middle of the baby boomer generation. To put it another way, I’m a full-pledged member of the TV generation. In my house, the television was always on. I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t on. It started in the morning through game shows into the afternoon when my grandmother watched soap operas and all the way into the evening programming, ending with the 11 o’clock newscast.

For my generation, television was our baby sitter. It was a real bargain. Our parents put us in front of the tube. We were happy, and they were happy. Nobody asked any questions. Nobody thought about whether or not there would be repercussions. It was all clean, wholesome entertainment. Remember, these were the days of Leave It To Beaver and Father Knows Best.

Recently, I started to think. Did our parents really understand what was going on? Did they realize there were consequences for our society? The TV generation learned well. We grew up with television and wanted to be part of the industry. Later on, we would perfect the use of television by learning how to control and manipulate our audiences. By doing so, we would change the course of culture. Our parents were just looking for a cheap babysitter.

I have a number of friends who work in ministries that are addressing the issues that impact our society from drug use, alcoholism, teen pregnancy, sexual addictions, pornography, and the abortion issue. Most of these issues started to emerge in significant numbers during the 1960s and exploded throughout the 1970s. It kinda makes you wonder. Could there be a connection between television and the rapid increase of social problems?

Stay with me on this one. Think about it. What happened when television came into our homes? I know that if you weren’t there firsthand, this may be a difficult concept to understand. But overnight television became our friend. Our pal. We made it the center attraction in our living rooms. Although a television was expensive to buy, by 1960 practically every American family had one. As I said earlier, in my house the television was always on. Maybe that’s the point I’m trying to make—not that television is either good or evil, but the fact that it became a dominating and controlling factor in our lives. We couldn’t stop watching. We became addicted to the tube. And whatever the tube said was truth and all important.

Furthermore, we stopped interacting with each other. We had less family time. Less time to throw the ball in the back yard. Less time to check in on our daily lives. Less time for help with homework. Less time to be creative. Our lives became separate. In some families, even during the dinner hour, the television would still be on. Do you see a pattern here?

If the family unit doesn’t know what’s happening in each other’s lives, will we be able to see issues that could become problems? Our ability to connect and be united as a family started to disintegrate. Perhaps, this helps to explain why the family today is in critical condition.

If anything, with the acceleration of technology and mobile media devices, we now live a world in which you can access your media any time, any place, any device. What do you think that’s doing to further break down the family unit?

There’s one other point to consider. As baby boomers, our parents bought into the message that television was communicating. They determined to have it all no matter the cost. What they saw on their shiny TVs was The American Dream. A new house in the suburbs with a white picket fence. The finest automobiles Detroit could build. Modern appliances. A swimming pool. Dream vacations. Fashionable clothes and a lifestyle that only their parents could dream about. Who wouldn’t want it? That’s what television was selling. And we were buying.

But what about the cost? How much time would our parents have to spend away from home working long hours and sometimes weekends. In some households both parents had to work to achieve the American Dream. And what was the effect on the children? My generation. The TV generation. Our babysitter taught us well. Perhaps we learned too well. And we have passed it on to our children. And they have mastered it.

It’s never too late to change our course and the course of our children and grandchildren. We still have time. But in this media-saturated culture, we have to learn how to create some space so we can once again connect as a family

America’s fastest growing church

Media has moved from a position of popular entertainment, which includes movies, television programs, music, internet, and social media, to a place where it has now become a media culture. A media culture occurs when our shared consciousness as a people or a society reflects the views, ideas, and beliefs of our media and entertainment, which has now combined to create a force that has never existed in the history of our society. It’s impossible to distinguish where culture ends and where media begins. No space exists between the two.

The media culture has created a new church and a new place of worship that is without a physical address. Its members are unaware that this new church exists or that they are a part of it. It is America’s fastest growing church--the church of media and entertainment.

The members of this church are searching for the truth, but they must experience truth in order for it to be authentic. They are highly influenced by postmodern philosophy. They seek connectivity and two-way communication. They desire to express their views and opinions about life and interact with those who have different views. Social media and You Tube are an intricate part of their lives because they want to be involved in the process. That’s why many in this church make and distribute their own media. They are searching for the truth but do not want to be told what the truth is. They seek a safe place where it’s easy for them to fit in and where they are not required to do anything.

Whether you realize it or not, this media culture does exist. For the majority of the population, it is nothing more than trivial entertainment or harmless popular culture. But I believe this media culture is a crisis for our society. And for committed Christians who are concerned about their faith, it is undoubtedly so because Christianity has lost its impact on the culture. Media and culture have merged to create a “media culture”. By doing so, it is capable of controlling the hearts and minds of this generation. More importantly, the media culture is moving into a position where it will control the direction of Christianity. But perhaps the greatest crisis we face is when we fail to respond to the opportunity the media culture crisis presents to the Church.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Forecast: Fifth 'Die Hard' Should Blow Up Presidents Weekend

After a few very slow weeks at the box office, four new nationwide releases should help bolster business over the long Presidents Day weekend. Among the Valentine's Day openers, A Good Day to Die Hard—which is the fifth entry in the decades-old franchise—should have no problem claiming the top spot, though Nicholas Sparks adaptation Safe Haven and fantasy adaptation Beautiful Creatures are also poised to do well. Animated feature Escape From Planet Earth also lands in theaters this weekend, though it's unclear if family audiences even know it's coming out.

The Die Hard franchise has been a consistent box office performer since its inception nearly 25 years ago. The first movie—which is widely considered one of the best action movies ever—earned $83 million, which made it the seventh-highest-grossing movie of 1988.

Die Hard 2: Die Harder and Die Hard: With A Vengeance weren't as widely liked, but they both finished in the Top 10 in their respective years with $117.5 million and $100 million ($224 million and $185 million adjusted). After a 12-year hiatus, Bruce Willis was back in John McClane's iconic shoes for 2007's Live Free or Die Hard, which is the highest-grossing entry in the franchise at $134.5 million (though it was least-attended).

Opening at 3,553 locations—the fifth-biggest release ever for an R-rated movie—A Good Day to Die Hard should continue the franchise's winning track record (it's already earned $850,000 from 10 p.m. and midnight shows). The ubiquitous marketing has promised the outrageous, superhuman action that fans have come to expect from the series, while also showcasing the movie's unique new location (as corny as it is, "Yippee Ki-Yay Mother Russia" is also kind-of brilliant). The Valentine's Day release date has also been a cornerstone of the campaign, which has created an "event movie" feeling that's unusual for this time of year.

Through Thursday afternoon, A Good Day to Die Hard had an atrocious 12 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. While that can affect some movies, it's likely that the fifth Die Hard is about as "critic-proof" as 20th Century Fox's Taken 2, which opened to an awesome $49.5 million last October despite its 21 percent rating. For Die Hard's five-day opening, Fox is expecting around $40 million.

While domestic earnings are nice, A Good Day to Die Hard is really designed to tap in to the expanding foreign market (which has been Fox's bread-and-butter in recent years). The last movie did $250 million in 2007; with its overseas setting and six years of foreign growth, it's reasonable to expect that A Good Day to Die Hard will ultimately earn at least $300 million overseas. After grossing over $10 million from a handful of Asian markets last weekend, the movie expands in to 47 other foreign territories this weekend including Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Spain and the U.K.

While Die Hard will easily win the weekend, Nicholas Sparks adaptation Safe Haven is the most overtly-romantic movie opening this weekend, which could make for a competitive Valentine's Day. Sparks' romances are fairly consistent box office performers: his last two movies, The Lucky One and The Last Song wound up with $63 million and $60.5 million, respectively. Its weaker cast will keep it from matching Dear John's $30.5 million three-day start in February 2010, though Safe Haven could reasonable earn at least $25 million through its first five days (distributor Relativity Media is expecting $20 to $22 million for the five-day opening).

Opening at 2,950 locations, Beautiful Creatures is the first blatant attempt to get in on some of that Twilight dough since that franchise wrapped up its run last November. While its supernatural teen romance seems to hit the right angles, the source material itself just isn't as popular as Twilight was circa November 2008. Still, plenty of mid-range young adult adaptations have opened decently over Presidents Day weekend: Bridge to Terabithia, The Spiderwick Chronicles and I Am Number Four all had four-day starts north of $20 million, which is a reasonable expectation for Beautiful Creatures.

Animated movie Escape from Planet Earth opens at 3,288 locations on Friday. It's a second-tier animation effort that's barely received any marketing push, though it could still wind up performing decently this weekend considering it's the first movie of 2013 targeted at family audiences. As a result, a four-day start over $10 million is almost guaranteed.

Forecast (Feb. 15-Feb. 18)
1. Die Hard 5 - $44.9 million ($56.5 million 5-day)
2. Identity Thief - $25 million (-30%)
3. Safe Haven - $21.7 million ($29.2 million 5-day)
4. Beautiful Creatures - $19 million ($25.2 million 5-day)
5. Escape from Planet Earth - $11.3 million

Bar for Success
Adjusted for inflation, Live Free or Die Hard's 3-day opening is $39 million; A Good Day to Die Hard needs to at least match that level over its first five days. The last three Nicholas Sparks movies have all opened to at least $25 million in their first five days, so Safe Haven is in good shape at over $20 million. Comparable titles for Beautiful Creatures also suggest it should do at least $20 million, while Escape from Planet Earth would be in great shape if it could get to $15 million through four days

Thursday, February 14, 2013

How Much TV Is Too Much TV?

From Tim Goodman

As the Television Critics Association press tour winds down -- Friday is the last day -- one mostly exciting but partly troublesome theme has been unavoidable.

There’s a lot of original scripted content looking to get noticed. And the vast volume of it, growing aggressively the past few years, is making it harder for cable channels to stand out and find an audience.

Obviously we’re in a full-blown 52-week television season with no signs of letup. What that means for viewers is that their options have increased significantly, but so has the sense that they can’t keep track of it as it piles up on their DVRs. Never has it been harder for niche cable channels to plant their flag and capture the attention of viewers. And while it might be a great time to be a voracious lover of television, with options galore, for content providers there’s a lot of money at stake in this original scripted Renaissance.

On Tuesday, Hulu was at TCA touting its streaming options, which include a new Larry King talk show and the continued importing of British series such as The Thick of It, Rev and Misfits, plus the Israeli series Prisoners of War, which Showtime’s Homeland is based on. Hulu also has a travel series called Up to Speed, hosted by Timothy "Speed" Levitch and directed by Richard Linklater.

At the same time Hulu was here, Netflix (which did not present at TCA but likely will soon) was in Las Vegas at the National Association of Broadcasters, touting its original content. The streaming service had Weeds creator Jenji Kohan, who is making Orange Is the New Black, a series about a woman’s time in a minimum-security prison; Eli Roth, who is making the murder-mystery series Hemlock Grove with Famke Janssen; and the cast of cult comedy Arrested Development, which will have a high-profile season on Netflix before making its movie. Arrested Development has generated tons of buzz, as has the 2013 premiere of the David Fincher and Kevin Spacey project, House of Cards.

Whether any of that works remains to be seen – Lilyhammer, the series Netflix got its feet wet with, is still available on the service, but there’s no truly accurate way to tell how it has performed (reviews were mixed). Nevertheless, this next batch is even more content for viewers to choose from, and this time it’s a lot more high profile.

On Wednesday, back at TCA, new and returning series were presented by BBC America, including the much-anticipated second season of The Hour, plus a new espionage series called The Spies of Warsaw with David Tennant, based on the books of Alan Furst. But the big push for the channel is Copper, its first original drama, created by Will Rokos, the Oscar-nominated writer of Monster’s Ball, who also has written and produced for Southland. The period piece is set in 1864 New York City (Five Points, Fifth Avenue “and the emerging African-American community in northern Manhattan) and centers on post-Civil War cops. It’s co-created by Tom Fontana (who will be the showrunner) and executive produced by Barry Levinson.

HBO also presented at TCA on Wednesday, but the major push was the repositioning of Cinemax, which started a year ago with the launch of Strike Back, a series that garnered a surprising amount of critical acclaim and kicks off its second season later this month.

Kary Antholis, president of programming for Cinemax (and HBO miniseries), said the plan was to “distinguish the Cinemax brand as a premium destination for entertaining, cinematic and compelling original series.”

It won’t be easy to get out of HBO’s shadow or shake off the old “Skinemax” moniker, but Strike Back was a successful start and the channel will follow in October with Hunted, “a conspiracy action thriller set in the world of corporate espionage,” starring Melissa George (In Treatment) and created by The X-Files alum Frank Spotnitz (who also helped on the first season of Strike Back). Then, in early 2013, the channel will premiere the new series Banshee from creator Alan Ball.

Perhaps to drive home how hard it is to stand out in a crowded field, the pay cable channels Encore and Starz came to press tour Thursday, with the spotlight firmly on Boss, the Kelsey Grammer series starting its second season Aug. 17. Although many critics found Boss to be compelling if uneven, the performance of Grammer was brilliant from start to finish, but he was snubbed for an Emmy (something he noted at TCA).

Starz also made inroads with the Sopranos-meets-Mad Men style of Magic City, a series that really found itself near the end of its recently completed first season. Both Boss and Magic City built on the profile the channel created with Spartacus (it has other offerings in 2013, including Da Vinci’s Demons from creator David S. Goyer).

The question is, how do these series stand out in a crowded field? How do they reach a viewing audience seemingly overwhelmed with options? There’s obviously a lot of money at stake. BBC America needs to come off as more than just a retransmission service for its Brit parent. Starz has to up its game to compete with HBO and Showtime. And Cinemax has to get more series on its bench to be taken seriously as a separate, worthwhile entity from HBO.

The plus side to all of this is that there’s an incredible amount of quality in the marketplace. More scripted series means more people employed, just as it means a higher profile upon success for each entity producing the shows. But none of this is going to be easy. These channels are going to have to steal audience from more established outlets, which puts pressure on channels such as Showtime, HBO, AMC and FX to keep product in the pipeline or risk losing traction – and relevance – with the viewing audience.

It almost makes you think it would be crazy to get into the scripted game. And it just might be, since sustaining this amount of content will rely on generous advertising budgets, creatively effective promotion and serious online and social media components.

We’re about to find out what the threshold is for how many series dedicated viewers can keep up with. Godspeed, everybody.

Do You Have What It Takes? part 2

C is for confidence worth 20 points. Can you project confidence? Not false confidence. Obviously, your confidence should come from God and not your evaluation of your talents and skills. In this industry, perception is reality. If you are not confident about yourself being a filmmaker, others will not take you seriously. If God has called you to work in media and entertainment, then exert your confidence. Remember the famous line as it applies to producers: “I have several projects in various levels of development.” This can be an absolutely true statement as long as there’s a few thoughts in your head or perhaps a few things written down. The point is do you have the confidence to sell it?

A is for attitude worth 20 points. The wrong attitude will sink your career. Nobody wants to work with difficult people. I have hired a lot of crew members over my career. I can forgive a lot of things. But I will not bring somebody back who has a bad attitude. That’s like throwing gasoline on the fire because it can spread throughout your crew. The media, film and television business is no different than any other aspect of life. It’s all about the right attitude. Are you willing to serve others and start at the bottom? If you have a servant’s heart, you will have the right attitude to make it in this business. Are you good at making adjustments and adapting to difficult situations? Your attitude will be the determining factor.

D is for drive worth 20 points. Can you outwork everybody else? The media business requires long hours and dedication. If you are looking for a 40-hour week, you have chosen the wrong career. A couple of years ago, I worked with an intern who was a fourth year media student. Her plan was to be a television journalist. The problem was she discovered in order to do that she would be required to work long hours including weekends. She wanted her Friday and Saturday nights off to go out with her friends. Do you think she found a job in her field as an anchor or reporter? If you are not ready for long hours and working weekends, change your major now. In the film business, a typical day can be 14 – 16 hours. Remember, the advantage you have is your youth. The question is do you want it bad enough.

F is for focus worth 20 points. Can you be laser-like in your approach to your work? Seeing the goal at hand is the secret of focus. In the media business, there are all types of distractions. First you can start believing all your hype that you are special or that the rules don’t apply to you. That can lead to bad lifestyle choices as well as to the people you hang around with. All of this is a distraction and will cause you to loose your focus. You can find a lot of successful, talented people who no longer work in the film or television industry because they lost their focus.

P is for a plan worth 15 points. Have a plan. Then have a backup plan. And then again have a second backup plan because in this business things change fast. You get the point. You have to have a plan. Preferably a good one. The whole point is just writing a plan makes you think about the process. It makes you an active participant in your career and not merely a bystander. And, frankly, people will be more impressed with you if you have taken the time and effort to actually develop and write a plan for your own professional and personal development.

X is the unknown factor worth 40 points. So what’s the X factor? It will mean different things to different people. Some people call it fate, chance, coincidence, dumb luck or destiny. For Christians, this is God’s plan and purpose for your life. After all of your hard work and effort, it will probably be the X factor that will determine whether or not you actually make it in this business. For some of you, this may be hard to fathom. All of the other elements get you close to the finish line. It’s the X factor that takes you across the line.

Obviously, the X factor works in your favor if you’ve been called to be a media missionary. But it’s not guaranteed. You must do your part so God can do his part. That means you have to work on your attitude, your confidence, your drive and your focus. You’ve studied hard and are knowledgeable in your craft. When you have done all this, the X factor kicks in on your behalf. On the other hand, if you are just trying to coast in, don’t expect the X factor to do much for you.

T is for total. When you add up all the factors, what number do you need? Remember this is only a theoretical calculation with a possible 305 points. You need to be over 200 points. I consider between 200 and 220 to be marginal. In fact, anything over 220 would put you more in the safe zone.

So how did I make the evaluation? For example, talent is worth 50 points. Anything under 17 or below, it’s not happening. Between 18 and 35 is marginal or average. For 36 and above, you are showing visible signs of talent in some area such as directing skills, writing, producing or acting.

So where do you stand? If you’ve done the work, attained your degree and really applied yourself, chances are you have one true talent that you excel in. That would put you in the upper half of the top third. You probably have three or four categories that you are somewhat efficient in. You would score in the lower end of the top third. You also have three or four categories in which you are adequate or average. That would put you in the lower or the middle end of the middle third. And most students have one category in which they have serious problems. In this case, you would score in the lower third. The trick is not to score in the lower part of the bottom third. So when you add it up, for most students, you are within striking distance, but it is often the X factor that will determine whether or not you make it.

Now ask yourself if you have what it takes to make it in this business. What do you have to work on and improve? More importantly, what are your strengths? Remember, you don’t have to be good in every factor, just excel in what you are good at.

Do You Have What It Takes? part 1

So what exactly are your gifts and talents? Do you have what it takes to be a producer? What about a director? Or perhaps you see yourself as an actor. I am often asked by my film students what it takes to work in Hollywood and the entertainment industry. There is no simple answer to that question. First of all, a film degree will not guarantee you success or even employment. There are completely different skill sets, talents and giftings necessary to be a writer, director, producer, or actor. The trick is discovering where you best fit in.

I have created a formula that can offer some insight into your probability for success in the entertainment and media field. Here’s the formula: T + (N + K + E) + (C + A + D + F) + P + X = T. Remember the formula, at best, is only a probability. It cannot guarantee adequate results.

T is for talent worth 50 points. It is a determining factor, but you can have talent and still not succeed. Talent is one of those things that you either have or you don’t. It is absolutely a God-given gift. Yes, you can enhance talent or sculpture it over time, but it has to be inherent. You cannot go to film school and develop talent. If you are born to be a director, you will be a director. If you are born to be a writer, you will be a writer, etc. The fact is most of your instructors in film school will know after a short time if you have what it takes to make it. The only question is whether or not they will be honest with you.

So let’s say you want to direct. Can you make it in the business with marginal talent? Absolutely. But it will require you to be stronger in other areas to compensate. It might also mean that you would be better suited to be a first or second assistant director.

N is for networking worth 40 points. The media business is all about networking. It’s really who you know that is going to help you to work in this business. People like to work with people they like and trust. So how do you network? First of all, you need good social skills along with an excellent understanding of how the industry functions. Both are essential to be a good networker.

Do you know how to work a room? It’s without a doubt an art form. It certainly helps to be friendly and likable. You create an environment where people respond to you because you make them feel good, and they just like to be around you. It’s also essential to be a good communicator. It also helps to be interesting and capable of telling a good story. Perhaps the most important factor is being capable of listening to people. In other words, you care more about what they are saying than what you have to say.

Networking should always lead to relationship. And relationship will lead to trust and opportunities. Think of networking as your chance to help other people first. Who do you network with? Start with your own peers at film school, conferences, workshops, etc. Also when you are networking with people in higher positions, try to find out what they need and whether you have something you can leverage to meet that need.

K is for knowledge worth 40 points. Obviously, you need to know everything about your field. If you plan on being an editor or cinematographer, develop your craft. This is not only about a four-year experience you have in college, but it must be a lifetime commitment. The more you know, the more you will understand. And the more you can put into practice will dramatically increase your chances for success in whatever media field you choose. Read everything about your field. Find mentors who are experienced and knowledgeable and will show you the practical side of how to apply your craft. What you don’t know will kill you. In this business, people will know in the short term whether you are knowledgeable and know what you are talking about. You will not be able to fool people. And knowing the language of how people communicate in this industry is essential.

E is for entrepreneurship worth 40 points. Let’s stop fooling ourselves. Opportunities usually don’t come looking for you. Do you really think someone is going to offer you a $30 million picture to direct right out of film school? Especially in today’s economic environment, you can’t afford to sit around and wait for the phone to ring. Entrepreneurs make their own breaks and create their own opportunities. They are people who see things that other people don’t see.

Opportunities are everywhere. That’s how an entrepreneur thinks. For example, I just met a young filmmaker starting out in Hollywood. He has worked on several films as a production assistant. It’s entry level work. But he saw an opportunity that others didn’t. So he wrote a pamphlet called “The PA Guide, A Practical Guide to Your First Job in Film or Television”. As far as I know, there has never been a specific book written on the topic of the production assistant. This met a need in the marketplace. The fact is if you don’t know how to be a good production assistant, do you think you will get an opportunity to move up? It’s an excellent resource because it tells you everything you need to know to be the best production assistant you can be. He is selling the book for $7.95. This is classic example of an entrepreneur in action.

What does it take to be an entrepreneur? A good study of people, solid communication skills, and, obviously, a solid grasp of business principles are all essential ingredients. Most people who get to direct, produce or write their films, work in the independent model. That means you have to self-finance your projects. Entrepreneurs know how to raise money, make deals, find distributors and return a profit to the investors.

No you don’t have to be good at being an entrepreneur to make it in the media business, but it sure helps. If you are weak in this area as well as mediocre in talent, you are probably out of the running

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Defining “faith-based films”

By  John W. Kennedy

It’s one of the great Hollywood mysteries.  Right up there with The Maltese Falcon, Rear Window and Memento.

Why, despite continuous evidence to the contrary, does Hollywood continue to act as if making movies featuring protagonists who practice religious faith is somehow antithetical to mainstream box office success?
True, the relative success of certain faith-based films has turned the film industry onto the fact that there is an audience out there for films dealing with faith.

 Most notably, of course, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ which (fueled, at least in part, by controversy) achieved blockbuster status.  But smaller films such as Fireproof and  Facing the Giants (both produced by the Christian-based Sherwood Pictures) also scored successes that were outsized in relation to their distribution and marketing budgets.  According to Wikipedia, Fireproof (starring Kirk Cameron) was the #1 grossing independent film of 2008.  Shouldn’t that warrant a TV series spin-off and a regular gig for Kirk?

But, despite those successes, Hollywood continues to look at the faith audience as a niche to be reached out to while simultaneously keeping it at arms length. Actually, the faith audience is the mainstream — or at least a very big part of it. But because of industry perception, “faith-based films” are rarely afforded big studio budgets and marketing campaigns.

Of course, there are exceptions — but it is the very success of those exceptions that make you wonder why they are, in fact, exceptions.

Many of those exceptions come in the form of fantastic adventures — i.e. New Line’s Lord of the Rings, Walden Media’s Chronicles of Narnia and even Fox’s Star Wars. All three are among the biggest blockbusters ever and all three dealt with themes of faith.  In the cases of Rings and Narnia those themes were strikingly Christian.

Often films in which characters practice faith are period pieces, as if religion itself is a relic of a bygone age. But some more contemporary films have dealt with faith to great box office success.

Just recently, Sandra Bullock scored her biggest career success ever with The Blind Side, the true story of a woman who (with the support of her family)  went out of her way to take in an impoverished kid who ended up becoming a talented football star.  The family was Christian and their beliefs seemed to play a major role in guiding their actions.  It was a faith-based film even if it did go easy on the Bible quotes. (BTW, the AMC network is developing a football-themed TV series from Blind Side writer-director John Lee Hancock called The Wreck. It will be interesting to see how big a role faith plays in that.)    

In 2002, My Big Fat Greek Wedding became an unexpected blockbuster with its sympathetic and funny portrait of a Greek Orthodox family.  No Bible quotes or anything like that, just simple respect for the characters’ beliefs and traditions. If the follow-up TV series had been an hour-long dramedy that maintained the cadence and style of the film (instead of transforming it into just another punchline-laden sitcom) CBS would have had a monster hit on its hands.

In 2008, Clint Eastwood scored a major box office success with Gran Torino  – featuring an idealistic priest that could have been portrayed by Spencer Tracy as one its major supporting characters.
And, of course, Tyler Perry’s movies are routinely box office hits telling stories about characters who believe in God.

On TV, Lost became a phenomenon as it spent six years tackling issues of faith.

Everybody Loves Raymond was one of the most successful comedies of the last decade (and, actually in TV history).  It featured a dysfunctional (yet loving) family that practiced their faith and even sent their kids to Catholic school — details which no doubt made the characters more relatable to large portions of the show’s audience.

Even NYPD Blue, a show that was originally railed against by religious conservatives, seriously dealt with faith and the concept God. It remains a landmark TV series.

So, so my point (and I do have one), is that the term “faith-based entertainment” is often applied too narrowly. A movie or TV show doesn’t have to quote the Bible to be faith-based (although there’s nothing wrong with that, particularly when it naturally flows from the story and characters). And those movies and TV shows that connect to faith (even subtly) actually have a better chance at connecting to a wide audience.  

To me, faith-based entertainment is simply any story told with an underlying respect for the belief in something greater and wiser than human beings (the name “God” works for me). It doensn’t have to directly touch on religion at all for the values of faith to be reflected in the storytelling. And faith-based films don’t have to be about Christians.  Let’s see more movies about Jews, Muslims and people of other faith traditions following their paths as well. The spiritual journey is one everyone can relate to.

While some irreverence is healthy for poking and popping religious pretensions, it’s also important that on balance storytellers tilt the culture toward more reverence, toward eternal truths (found in virtually all religions), toward appreciating the gift of each moment and toward belief in something greater than ourselves. 

Simply put, people of all faiths (including the suits or, more accurately, open shirts of Hollywood) would be wise support films that respect all faiths — and support the common values of love, kindness, hope and forgiveness.

Read more:

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Weekend Report: 'Identity Thief' Cashes Big Check

In spite of the inclement weather in much of the Northeast, Identity Thief got off to a fantastic start this weekend and is well-positioned to be the first major hit of 2013. Side Effects, on the other hand, was a bit underwhelming in its debut, and will be one of director Steven Soderbergh's more disappointing commercial outings.

The Top 12 wound up earning an estimated $89.6 million this weekend, which is off a whopping 48 percent from last year when The Vow and Safe House both opened to over $40 million.

At 3,141 locations, Identity Thief earned an estimated $36.6 million this weekend. That's one of the best openings ever for an original R-rated comedy, and it's director Seth Gordon's top start ahead of Four Christmases ($31.1 million) and Horrible Bosses ($28.3 million). It's also way up from Melissa McCarthy's Bridesmaids ($26.2 million); all three of the aforementioned titles wound up closing with at least $117 million, which suggests a $100 million finish is within reach for Identity Thief.

Universal is projecting that Winter Storm Nemo knocked around 10 percent off the weekend, which lines up with what competitive studios are estimating as well. This suggests that, without the storm, Identity Thief could have debuted north of $40 million.

Identity Thief had many factors working in its favor, including a dearth of competition: the last R-rated comedy that opened over $20 million was Ted over seven months ago. More importantly, though, credit belongs to Universal's marketing team for delivering a fantastic campaign that established the movie's unique premise while highlighting some broadly-appealing gags as well. That campaign also emphasized that likeable leads Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy (in her first lead role) would go head-to-head, and that interesting match-up surely drove a lot of traffic as well.

Universal is reporting that the audience was 58 percent female (meaning McCarthy's fans showed up alongside date-night audiences) and 57 percent were 30 years of age or older. The movie received a middling "B" CinemaScore, which isn't surprising given the movie's atrocious 24 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

In second place, Warm Bodies dipped 44 percent to an estimated $11.5 million. That drop is about on par with last year's Super Bowl weekend winner Chronicle, which fell 45 percent in its second outing. Through 10 days, Summit Entertainment's zombie romance has grossed $36.7 million.

Side Effects opened in third place with an estimated $10.02 million from 2,605 locations. Among comparable titles from director Steven Soderbergh, that's less than half of Contagion's $22.4 million, and is also off a fraction from The Informant!'s $10.5 million. It was at least better than Haywire's $8.4 million, though that's not saying much. The audience skewed female (63 percent) and 85 percent were 25 years of age or older. They awarded the movie a "B" CinemaScore, which is significantly better than Haywire's "D+" last year.

Side Effects is a psychological thriller full of twists, and distributor Open Road Films opted to conceal those twists in the marketing campaign. While that surely delighted the cinephile population (personally I loved having no idea what was coming), it made the movie seem vague and inaccessible to the general movie-going public. For better or worse, audiences tend to respond more favorably when the movie's story is clearly laid out, and as a result Side Effects failed to break out.

It's worth noting that this low opening is not in any way a referendum on Channing Tatum's bankability. Unlike his three $100 million movies last year—where he was front-and-center in the campaign—Tatum was relegated to the background in the Side Effects marketing. The same goes for G.I. Joe: Retaliation next month; the first Channing Tatum vehicle of 2013 is White House Down in June, which will be the next actual test of his star power.

In fourth place, Silver Linings Playbook continued its winning streak by easing just 11 percent to $6.9 million. The movie is projected to pass $90 million on Sunday, and will definitely be over $100 million before the Oscar ceremony on Feb. 24.

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters rounded out the Top Five with an estimated $5.75 million (off a light 39 percent from last weekend). To date, the movie has earned $43.8 million, and will ultimately close with well over $50 million.

In its 18th weekend in theaters, Best Picture front-runner Argo expanded to 1,405 locations and grossed $2.5 million, which was good for eighth place. To date, the movie has earned an excellent $123.7 million; this surge will likely be short-lived, though, considering the movie hits DVD and Blu-ray next Tuesday.

Top Gun 3D scored $1.9 million from 300 locations this weekend, which translates to a per-theater average of $6,333. In comparison, last September's Raiders of the Lost Ark's IMAX re-release earned $1.67 million at 267 locations for an average of $6,269.