Welcome to The Morning Read.

'Tis the season.  Oscar-hopeful films are starting to screen heavily, and at this point, almost everything's been seen by someone.  In the last few days, I've seen "Nine," and I've got several films lined up this week that aren't coming out until the end of December.  It seems like the last of these films that's going to screen for anyone is "Avatar," which makes sense.  They're still putting all the last minute technical touches on the film, and I'm sure the first time Cameron screens it for press, he wants it to be 100% finished so that they get the full intended experience.

He is, after all, HMFIC.

If you don't know what that means, then you probably didn't see the piece that "60 Minutes" ran last night about "Avatar" and Cameron.  And why would Cameron sit down with a news magazine show that pretty much no one under a certain age watches anymore?  Ten minutes after the show ended, there was a message on my answering machine from my 60+ year old mother, telling me to tune in and check it out.  "Avatar" was already on her radar because she reads my work, but if it wasn't, that would have done the trick.

Right now, the most important thing for 20th Century Fox is getting the word out to every single demographic, every single niche audience, and every single potential ticket buyer.  They don't just want you to see "Avatar" on December 18th.  They NEED for you to see "Avatar."  And not just once, either.  They're hoping that they will get you on the hook for repeat viewings.  Over and over.

Let's start today with a look at the full "60 Minutes" segment, and then we can talk about some of what they discuss, and some issues that have arisen from conversations I've had about this segment:

 

 

Overall, it's a softball.  Notice how casually they drop that $400 million figure in there?  I've been hearing that as the final number on the film for about a year now, and when I used to mention it to people, they'd scoff.  Well, here's a piece that had the full co-operation of Cameron presumably, and they say it like it's no big deal.  I think it's safe to say that's pretty close to an official cost on the film, and a staggering one.

There's a comment that Morley Safer makes during the introduction to that piece that caused me to stop and comment on Twitter, though, when he refers to "Titanic" as the most profitable film ever made.  I scoffed at the assertion and cracked wise about how impressed I was that "60 Minutes" would get a fact wrong before the story even began, and almost immediately, I got a flood of responses via Twitter and IM and e-mail telling me I'm an idiot and I have no idea what I'm talking about.  After nearly 20 years working in Hollywood, I'd argue that I have at least a wee little bit of an idea what I'm talking about, but evidently some of you don't agree, so I thought it was worth exploring in print this morning.  After all, just a few weeks ago, Paramount was claiming that "Paranormal Activity" is now the most profitable film of all time.  Obviously "Paranormal Activity" hasn't made anything near the same amount of money "Titanic" did at the box-office, so something's wrong with one of these claims.  Some film obviously holds the record, but if no one can even agree on the definition of what "profit" means when talking about movies, then how do you decide which film gets to accurately make that claim?

I've always been taught that ROI is everything.  That's the number that really makes people hot.  That's what makes a great producer a great producer.  Your return on your investment.  If you invest one dollar, do you want to get ten dollars back or one hundred dollars back?  Or $900 back?  Or $78 million back?  That number is your return on your investment.  

So the films that are "most profitable" can either be the films that made the largest gross returns, which would definitely put "Titanic" at the top of the list, or the ones that make the highest return on investment. And lists are kept that calculate things both ways.  I'd call that highest-grossing, though, not most profitable. The way gigantic studio movies are financed, anyone will tell you that there are rather mercurial definitions of the word "profit."  Ask how many people who are allegedly part of a profit pool on some giant hit movie if they've ever seen anything significant in "profit" paid out.  The way numbers are reported on both ends of the studio process are suspect.  

I think when you're talking about films that have been wildly profitable, you're typically talking about the films that offered the highest ROI percentages for the initial investments.  That's what you're chasing in the end. That's the lure of film financing.  Everyone would love to make "Halloween" or "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" or a "Rocky" or an "American Grafitti."  Those are films that cost very little and went haywire at the box office.  Those are the movies like "Once" that are impossible to predict, the "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" style hits that just pop and then play and play and play and play.  Those films are profitable in overwhelming ways.  That's the dream, isn't it? 

Anyway... this digression has been brought to you courtesy of "Avatar," and let's bring it back around to the film with this new feature that focuses on  Stephen Lang's character, Colonel Quaritch.

 

 

There's some beautiful new stuff in that one.  I shouldn't be watching these anymore.  The film's only like... three weeks away?  Is that possible?

Have you checked out the "Ninja Assassin" contest we're having here at HitFix?  YOU SHOULD.

Edgar Wright just realized that "Shaun Of The Dead" was named one of the 25 best horror films of all time by Time magazine, and he Tweeted about it.  It's a fairly solid list they originally published last month, too.  If you didn't read Edgar's tribute to the great Edward Woodward when he passed away last week, you should.  It's evocative, and although I never had the great privilege of meeting him, I admired him greatly, and I was glad to see him eulogized well by someone who I know took such pleasure from directing him.  I wasn't alone in feeling moved by what Edgar had to say, either.  And Simon Pegg had some Woodward words of his own.

As a parent, I would totally have this teacher's back

I want this.  I covet it.  I need it and then I need another 50 volumes of it. 

RT @paulscheer: Just FYI - If you stake a hipster thinking he's a vampire the cops will not accept the defense that u have twilight fever #twilight

Vern reviewed "Anti-Christ."  Why haven't you read it yet?

Mind.  Blown. 

I like this sentiment on the part of Devin Faraci.

And speaking of awesome... 

This was sort of amazing. It blows my mind that it was a secret for so long.  Impressive.

This sounds like a truly off-the-rails panel conversation featuring Judd Apatow and Sarah Silverman. 

I love this animated film.  I love this story.  I love this visual representation of it.  I think the entire thing is one of the great baseball stories ever told, and I could watch this film every morning.  It just pleases me:

 

 

RT @paulscheer: Didn't realize one of the services on Main Cabin Select on @VirginAmerica is that it comes with a dude who farts for 5 hours.

Finally, to bring everything full-circle, here's the craziest "Avatar" spoiler of all.  If you want to, you can pre-order the soundtrack right now, and you can read a track listing for the score.  This is always dangerous business.  I remember people freaking out because of some of the "Star Wars" soundtracks giving away major business in track titles.

1. “You Don’t Dream in Cryo…”

2. Jake Enters His Avatar World

3. Pure Spirits of the Forest

4. The Bioluminescence of the Night

5. Becoming One of “The People”
    Becoming One With Neytiri

6. Climbing Up – “Iknimaya – The Path to Heaven”

7. Jake’s First Flight

8. Scorched Earth

9. Quaritch

10. The Destruction of “Hometree”

11. Shutting Down Grace’s Lab

12. Gathering All the Na’vi Clans for Battle

13. War

14. I See You (Theme from “Avatar”) 

I CAN'T BELIEVE I JUST READ THOSE.  I HAVE NO SELF-CONTROL WHATSOEVER.  I HAVE NOT CHANGED A DAY FROM WHEN I WAS TEN YEARS OLD IN REGARD TO SPOILERS. WHO AM I FOOLING?

*sigh*

I'll have my review today for you of "The Road," and I'll also have a sneak preview of exactly what Peter Berg is up to with "Battleship," since I'm heading down to his office today to talk to him about it.  And don't forget to check out this week's DVD column tomorrow morning. 

The Morning Read appears here Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  Except when it doesn't.

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