Thursday, September 11, 2008

Paramount Vantage R.I.P

I know the shit hit the fan a few months ago but it took a little while to finally settle in my brain. Not long after I left the Mountain, Paramount made a big move to consolidate Vantage into the parent company. Of course Paramount wasn't the only studio to let loose on their Indie division. New Line, owned by Time Warner, and their Indie division Picturehouse laid off about 450 people. It's a tough time to be working in the movie biz as of late, especially distribution. As frustrated and disappointed as I am with Paramount for what happened I can't help but feel proud of what we accomplished in my year and a half.

When I started in November of 2006 Paramount Classics was put on the back burner while Vantage was picking up steam. John Lesher, who was given the reins of Vantage, was attempting to rebuild the Indie label. The first hit was An Inconvenient Truth with Al Gore that, for just a college lecture, made more money and acclaim than anyone ever anticipated. It won best Documentary as well as best song for the Oscars that year by beating not one, not two but three Dreamgirls songs. Take that big Paramount. Next up was Babel which did OK at the box office but did really well at the Golden Globes by winning the top prize, the Best picture award. Babel was nominated for 7 nominations at the Globes. Babel was also nominated for 7 Oscars but won only one for original score by Gustavo Santaolalla. (If you check the movie reviews on the site you can see my review for Babel.) It was a great film and an excellent follow up to An Inconvenient Truth.

In 2007 we hit a bit of a snag with quirky films like Black Snake Moan and Year of the Dog. I personally liked Black Snake Moan but it tanked at 9 million. In all fairness it was a tough film to market because of the weird tone of the film; was it a B movie, was it a drama, was it a comedy? I felt that it was all of the above but it was just too strange for the mainstream. This was Craig Brewer's follow up to his hit Hustle and Flow. Next up was Mike White's Year of the Dog. It was reviewed well but again it just wasn't for a mainstream audience and tanked. As the Summer of 2007 approached I got a chance to see a great bio-pic that was heart wrenching and hard to watch. On top of that I felt I learned some interesting, little known, facts about Pakistan in the film. We had a huge star, Angelina Jolie, and overall we had a good film to boot. The tricky part was trying to sell it to an audience that already knew the fate of Daniel Pearl. As good a film as A Mighty Heart was it just didn't resonate with people despite good reviews and Angelina Jolie. We were 0-3 at the start of 2007 and it was frustrating. If you've read any of my reviews I'm usually pretty black and white I don't hem and haw about a lot of technical things I usually like a flick or I don't, everything comes from the gut. It was troublesome to me to really enjoy 2 out of 3 films in early 2007 and then to have them all bomb, it was tough.

As Summer 2007 was coming to a close we again thought we had a marketable film, this time for the kids. I mean how many people flocked to March of the Penguins it made like 1oo million bucks which is insane for a documentary, especially a documentary of this type. Arctic Tale, narrated by Queen Latifah about a family of walruses and Polar Bears and their struggle to survive in the Arctic tundra. We gave out a bunch of those plush toys and marketed the shit out of it. I guess the kids really love Penguins cause after our movie came out they sure as shit didn't like Walruses and Polar Bears. We released Margot at the Wedding in October/November, it was a modest indie that did ok, but not big bank. It was directed by the indie darling Noah Baumbach. As many would say it was a very "New York" type of film. The trifecta we were waiting for was Into the Wild,(Note: Into the Wild was released before Margot.) There Will Be Blood and the Kite Runner. You could technically include The Coen Brother's No Country For Old Men which we shared with Miramax. Our three films I thought were the creme of the crop for Vantage, our crowning achievement. I still believe that too.

Into the Wild was one of my favorite films of that year. Now the statement I'm about to make may sound funny to you especially if you know the true story of Chris McCandless, but after seeing this film I really wanted to get my backpack and go hiking again. Yes, I realize the guy died of starvation in some beaten up old bus out in the middle of nowhere but that really isn't the point of the film. It was beautifully shot and directed and I got to tell you that Emile Hirsch owned the role. I'm not a big Sean Penn fan but I really did love the hell out that movie. It did well at the box office, not well enough in my eyes or probably in the eyes of Paramount but it was a damn good film. Now I must do a little bitching here I couldn't believe that Into the Wild got snubbed so badly at the Globes and the Oscars. There were only two Noms at the Oscars for editing and for Hal Holbrook in the supporting actor category. You mean that incredible score by Eddie Vedder wasn't even included? Nope. WTF? I think they nominated three songs from that Enchanted movie, I tried to watch the musical numbers--- they were just horrible. At least the Globes had the sense to give Eddie the nomination and the win, but they didn't have it in their hearts to give any other noms. Ok, end of rant.There Will Be Blood was the best film of the year period. It most certainly was the Godfather of the oil industry. Daniel Day Lewis was exceptional as always, but it was P.T. Anderson who really stepped it up and made the best film of his career. Daniel Day did get the Oscar and we did have a funny if not odd marketing campaign where Daniel Day Lewis' Oil Man makes the pronouncement that he drinks our milkshake. It was fairly effective, I know some of the publicity guys and gals delivered shakes to some of the press people to keep the Oscar buzz alive. Our other film No Country For Old Men took the other top prizes like Best Picture and Director.

The Kite Runner was a good film by Marc Forster and the novel had a huge fan base, but for the film, we had a real problem. The Parents of the childen in the film were concerned about repercussions against them regarding some of the scenes that included the rape of a child. So Paramount did the right thing and delayed the opening of the film to later in the year when the kids were out of school. They felt once school was over the kids could leave to the Arab Emirates and be protected in case of some backlash, and thankfully everything worked out well in this regard. Although it's hard to say whether or not this move hurt the film, but regardless of the popularity for the book, the movie tanked. You're probably saying to yourself I am sensing a pattern here.In early 2008 How She Move and Son of Rambow fell through the roof in domestic sales. Son of Rambow was a quirky comedy about kids trying to make their own film about their favorite hero Rambo. The only probelm for American audiences, they were British and it took place in the 80's. It did real well in it's native England but I think culturally it was difficult to relate to an American audience. How She Move was a dance movie that didn't shake it's money maker at anyone.

And that pretty much sealed our fate and put Vantage where it is today, in a pine box. I really enjoyed my experiences there and will always have fond memories of the people that I worked with. I learned alot at Vantage and I will always will be grateful for the opportunities it provided. But I just wanted to iterate how great many of the films were and even though they didn't make a lot of money I think they will be remembered down the road even if Vantage is not.

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