Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Summer to Make Even Hollywood Blush Box-Office Sales Are Setting Records - Yet Recent Events Show All Is Not Well for the Industry

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Summer to Make Even Hollywood Blush Box-Office Sales Are Setting Records - Yet Recent Events Show All Is Not Well for the Industry

Article excerpt

Standing in line for a Thursday matinee showing of "Big Daddy," Craig, Erica, and Ed Mitchell are seeing their first movie together in 10 years.

"Craig got me out to see 'Star Wars' a couple weeks ago and I had so much fun I had to come back," says father Ed. "We saw so many trailers that were promising, I just chose one and here we are," he says.

The Mitchells are just one of thousands of families across the nation doing the same. Repeat business from usually noncommittal moviegoers is just one of several reasons that summer 1999 is enroute to smashing all-time records for the box office. Movies have taken in $1.7 billion since early May, compared with $1.32 billion over the same period last year - a 28 percent jump over last summer's record pace.

"What is happening out there is truly amazing," says Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations, a box-office tracking firm.

"'Phantom Menace' has put people in a moviegoing mood, and studios have barraged the public with trailers, ads, posters, and merchandise. So far, people are eating it up, big time."

Worrying developments

At the same time, however, analysts are decrying recent developments behind the scenes which hint that box-office figures are not translating into thick wallets for most Hollywood filmmakers.

On Friday, two of Hollywood's longest-standing studio heads resigned amid industrywide pressure to boost feeble profit margins by making less-expensive - and thus lower-risk - films. Warner Bros. co- chairmen Robert Daly and Terry Samel shocked the entertainment industry by ending their 20-year reign, one of the most stable in Hollywood.

On top of this, the Screen Actors Guild and the Directors Guild of America recently released a report showing productions are moving overseas, where it is cheaper to film.

In 1998, $10.8 billion of United States-developed movies and TV were filmed in other countries, a figure up fivefold since 1990.

"When you look at the drying up of outside capital, which has hurt DreamWorks, MGM, Universal, and others, when you look at runaway production costs, when you get beyond the surface {box-office} numbers, you realize that a two-month surge in movie receipts doesn't necessarily mean all is right in the world of Hollywood," says Chris Lanier of Motion Picture Intelligencer, a box-office tracking firm.

To keep production from running overseas, Rep. Mark Foley (R) of Florida announced last Wednesday the creation of a subcommittee of the Entertainment Industry Task Force. …

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