Open Wide: How Hollywood Box Office Became a National Obsession

Overview

Every weekend, some of the most powerful players in Hollywood hold their breath and wait to be told a number. Years of work, tens of millions of dollars, and entire careers will be judged against this number. Within hours, it will be reported on the morning news and become a topic of idle conversation across the country. The number determines a movie's ultimate destiny, It is the art and science of filmmaking distilled to a few digits and a dollar sign. It is the opening weekend...

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Overview

Every weekend, some of the most powerful players in Hollywood hold their breath and wait to be told a number. Years of work, tens of millions of dollars, and entire careers will be judged against this number. Within hours, it will be reported on the morning news and become a topic of idle conversation across the country. The number determines a movie's ultimate destiny, It is the art and science of filmmaking distilled to a few digits and a dollar sign. It is the opening weekend box office gross.

On July 4, 2003, three highly touted studio soldiers were sent to battle for the hearts and souls (and wallets) of American moviegoers. That was the weekend that Arnold Schwarzenegger's Terminator 3 collided Reese Witherspoon's Legally Blonde 2 and Brad Pitt's Sinbad in thousands of theaters across America. In Open Wide, veteran Hollywood journalists Dade Hayes and Jonathan Bing brilliantly illuminate this quest for box office supremacy. chronicling the nerve-wracking months leading to that summer showdown, following every key decision that took these movies into the nation's multiplexes. They watch as focus groups of suburban teenage girls critique movie trailers and advertising campaigns. They are in Cannes when Terminator 2 robots are unleashed and in London for Legally Blonde 2's lavish, chaotic press junket. A mammoth convention in Las Vegas finds celebrities and studio executives mingling awkwardly with small-town theater owners and vendors hawking high-concept snacks for adventurous concession stands. The films are screened, tested, and frantically re-cut. Publicity stunts are engineered and theater exhibition chains are booked. Star egos are stroked and the Terminator himself announces his campaign for the California statehouse. As the clock ticks down to July 4, opening weekend becomes a moment of eager expectation for some and utter dread for others. And, inevitably, the numbers arrive.

Open Wide shines a bright light on the secretive inner workings of Hollywood's vast sales and marketing machine, past and present. As the authors explore how and why box office receipts have evolved from a closely guarded corporate secret to a national obsession, they bring acute insight to an industry that is increasingly devoted to producing the next big blockbuster-the next high-concept, future-franchise picture that they can "open wide."

 

About the authors:

Dade Hayes is managing editor of special reports at Variety. His writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, TV Guide, and Premiere. He lives in Santa Monica.

Jonathan Bing is deputy managing editor at Variety. His writing has appeared in The Nation, Entertainment Weekly, and The Village Voice. He lives in Los Angeles.

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Editorial Reviews

Janet Maslin
Open Wide takes its reportorial eye everywhere: to plants where millions of feet of film are developed, to other plants where this same film is later chopped up and recycled, to the warehouse in the San Fernando Valley where a vast amount of red carpet is stored. And while the authors' taste for inside baseball leads them to pay undue attention to certain producers, market researchers and box-office number-crunchers, it also yields an entertaining and illuminating immediacy.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Two Variety editors open readers' eyes wide to the inside story of Hollywood's relentless pursuit of fast maximum bucks in this engaging, informed look at the major films of the 2003 July Fourth weekend. Three big movies clashed at the box office from Wednesday, July 2, to Sunday, July 6: Terminator 3, Legally Blonde 2 and Sinbad. Hayes and Bing, writing smoothly together, consider each film primarily as a business product, bringing unprecedented attention to the massive marketing campaigns engineered by the respective studios (T3: Warner; LB2: MGM; Sinbad: DreamWorks). They follow Schwarzenegger through the publicity grind; sit with Mission Valley girls for a test screening of an early trailer for LB2; scrutinize the performance of DreamWorks marketing chief Terry Press at ShowWest in Las Vegas as she defends the hand-drawn Sinbad in the era of Shrek. Visits to myriad locations brighten the narrative (Technicolor's film processing plant; Schwarzenegger's vast office), while a smart history of blockbuster cinema, which the authors trace back past Jaws to Joseph E. Levine's Hercules and 1953's The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, deepens it. In this excellent book that's a must read for anyone passionate about the film business or cultural trends, the authors have created an intricate, suspenseful and learned chronicle of the confluence of money and art. Agent, Dan Strone, Trident Media. (Sept.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Ever since multinational corporations gobbled up independent studios, Hollywood's main concern is a film's bottom line rather than its art. Increasingly, the intense focus has been on the picture's first weekend of release, during which box office receipts are considered a make-or-break situation. Variety's Dade and Bing track three much-hyped films Terminator 3, Legally Blonde 2, and the animated feature Sinbad through their feverish marketing campaigns and openings. Somewhat surprisingly, the makers of the first two films granted cooperation; DreamWorks, the producer of Sinbad, declined (nonetheless, the authors succeed admirably in tracking its progress). With many hundreds of millions of dollars at stake, intense marketing attention was given to previews (mostly for those under 21), meetings with theater operators, and film festivals. Ultimately, each movie turned out to be somewhat of a disappointment, but this book is a major success. With wit and insight, the authors have used their access to take a trenchant look at behind-the-scenes Hollywood. Their narrative drive is superior to that of most blockbusters. For most collections. Roy Liebman, California State Univ. Lib., Los Angeles Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781401352004
  • Publisher: Miramax Books
  • Publication date: 9/28/2004
  • Pages: 448

Meet the Author

DADE HAYES is managing editor of special reports for Variety. His writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Premiere, and TV Guide. He lives in Santa Monica. JONATHAN BING is deputy managing editor at Variety. His writing has appeared in Slate, The Nation, Entertainment Weekly, The Village Voice, and Linguafranca. He lives in Los Angeles.
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