Frozen Ground: The Distribution Game, Part II

That the film industry is one in transition is oft-discussed. In North America, movies are increasingly watched at home — hence the success of Netflix. Globally, it’s a somewhat different story, as this piece from PWC notes:

China will become the fastest-growing filmed entertainment market in the world, expanding by a CAGR of 14.7% from 2012 to 2017, followed in the Asia Pacific region by Thailand (10.5%) and India (9.9%). Other markets with double-digit CAGR are Venezuela, Russia, and Argentina. The larger traditional markets in North America and Europe are comparatively stagnant, with 1 to 3% growth in general.

Now consider this in the context of The Frozen Ground release schedule. The Argentina release, for example, has moved to December 12, 2013 (where it will be known as [correction] Cazador de mujeres – Hunter of Women). But countries across Europe and Asia have already seen the film’s debut, the one exception being the all-important China market (which should be on track for a 2014 release; the film has already appeared in the Taiwan market).

As noted in our previous blog post, distribution decisions restricted the North American theatrical release — but reflect the changing dynamics of the North American film industry toward the home market and away from the theatrical market, where it seems only blockbusters survive.

Recommendation: If you like Nicholas Cage, see the movie. If you followed the Hansen case, see the movie. And then, when you feel the need for more soda and popcorn, read “Butcher, Baker.” If you want to support a great institution in the process, order it from the Alaska State Trooper Museum.

Frozen Ground: The Distribution Game

I missed this detail in my earlier posts, but the Anchorage Daily News has a great story explaining why The Frozen Ground movie has not enjoyed a wide theatrical release. Dunham quotes Ron Holmstrom, who played Hansen’s lawyer and is an Anchorage-based board member of the Seattle Local of the Screen Actors Guild. Holmstrom explains why the movie did not premiere in Anchorage, where much of it was filmed.

“The reason that Anchorage is being skipped… has to do with a fight among theater chains, producers and distributors that involves, among other things, the video on demand (VOD, home pay-per-view) release of ‘Frozen Ground’ on the same day that it opens in American theaters.”

It wasn’t just Anchorage that was affected. Few cities saw “The Frozen Ground” reach theaters.

Holmstrom adds: “I spoke with both Lionsgate, the theatrical distributor, and Grindstone, the VOD distributor. They assured me that because of the VOD release, the big cinema chains refused to do a wide release.”

This is, of course, a business decision. The principals behind “The Frozen Ground” are Emmett/Furla Productions (they drove the film from its inception). Emmett/Furla are in tight with Lionsgate and Grindstone Entertainment Group, after signing a 10 film deal in 2012. From the PR piece announcing the deal:

The Grindstone collaboration with Emmett/Furla and Cheetah Vision has generated a string of successful features starring notable A list actors, including: the thriller SET UP, starring Bruce Willis, Ryan Phillippe and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson; the crime drama FREELANCERS, starring Robert DeNiro and Forrest Whitaker; the high octane FIRE WITH FIRE, starring Willis, Josh Duhamel, Rosario Dawson and Vincent D’Onofrio; and the serial killer thriller THE FROZEN GROUND, starring Nicolas Cage and John Cusack. The next film slated for release from Grindstone’s partnership with Emmett/Furla is the crime thriller EMPIRE STATE, starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, THE HUNGER GAMES’ Liam Hemsworth and Emma Roberts.

So if you happen to live in New York, Dallas, Phildelphia or… Wasilla, Alaska (pop. 8,456)… You were lucky… Otherwise, it’s VOD (If you have Redbox in your area, you might be able to get it there, too).

Recommendation: If you like Nicholas Cage, see the movie. If you followed the Hansen case, see the movie. And then, when you feel the need for more soda and popcorn, read “Butcher, Baker.” If you want to support a great institution in the process, order it from the Alaska State Trooper Museum.

Saw “Frozen Ground” the movie: Three 1/2 Stars

I just saw “The Frozen Ground,” the movie inspired by Butcher, Baker. It’s available through October as an On Demand movie (check your local listings).

Aside from the usual complaints about what happens when movies try to condense the narrative that’s only possible in books, I have several observations:

  • Scene I missed the most: In the actual investigation, Holcombe (AST Sgt. Glenn Flothe) learns of Robert Hansen’s sordid past while standing next to AST Major Walter Gilmour as they’re peeing at the urinals.
  • AST Sgt. Holcombe’s (Cage) wife in Frozen Ground is largely unsympathetic. The real wife here, Cherry Flothe, interacted with Cindy Paulson on a regular (and always supportive) basis — usually by phone, when Glenn was unavailable. Cherry was an unswerving believer in Glenn, even when others had doubts. In this case, the real thing is much, much better than the fictional thing.
  • Nicholas Cage turns in a strained but credible performance as Glenn Flothe (Holcombe). My “Butcher, Baker” co-author, the inimitable Walter Gilmour, once joked that the first instinct was to put all the asshole cops on the dancer murders. They only succeeded when they put a nice cop (Flothe) on the case.
  • My biggest (positive) surprise was Vanessa Hudgens as Cindy Paulson. She deftly manages to communicate the edgy vulnerability of the real person. Kudos — if Hudgens fails, the movie fails, because the credibility of everything else depends on that performance.
  • The aerial shots of the Chugach Mountains, the Knik River and Anchorage were stunning at times. More than anything, the Hansen murders call up a sense of people and place — and the place is inseparable from how Hansen’s crimes were committed and how he got away with them for so long.
  • Strangest moment #1: Holcombe (Cage) describes Robert Hansen as a stutterer. Yet Hansen (Cusack) barely stutters. Probably a good acting decision. But still a WTF moment.
  • Strangest moment #2: Hansen’s entire interaction with the (white) pimp/enforcer. People, people, people… Robert Hansen was (justifiably) terrified that every human interaction was a route to the unraveling of his elaborate cover. He went to GREAT lengths to make sure no one ever saw him with any of the young women. And then went to great lengths to scare, secure and isolate them. To think that he would blithely order a “hit” on Cindy Paulson is magical thinking on the part of the filmmakers (yes, it adds drama; I would argue it’s gratuitous, that it just gives the actors some action sequences, but… Nevermind).
  • And, yes, there were jailhouse rumors about a hit on Cindy. Or more accurately, talk about how Hansen wanted her to just go away (as in pay her to leave town). Those are two different things. I say: consider the source. Yeah. The jailhouse.

Recommendation: If you like Nicholas Cage, see the movie. If you followed the Hansen case, see the movie. And then, when you feel the need for more soda and popcorn, read “Butcher, Baker.” If you want to support a great institution in the process, order it from the Alaska State Trooper Museum.

Based on Actual Events

Ever wonder what it means when a movie claims it is “Based on Actual Events?”┬áThe new Nicolas Cage vehicle, the “The Frozen Ground,” makes that claim.

Frozen Ground publicity still

But what does that mean? For clues, let’s look at the Nicolas Cage character in the film.

According to IMDb, Cage plays “Jack Halcombe.” Allegedly, he’s the Alaska State Trooper who brought Hansen to justice. That’s strange, because if you look at the definitive account of the Hansen murders, “Butcher, Baker,” you will not find a character named Jack Halcombe.

That’s because there is no “Jack Halcombe,” at least in the context of the Alaska State Troopers and serial murderer Robert Hansen. Jack Halcombe is a fictional character. Nicolas Cage plays a fictional character.

The actual cop who brought Robert Hansen to justice is named Glenn Flothe. Early reports about the movie listed Flothe as the Nicolas Cage character. That changed. I’m guessing (educated guess) the reason that changed is because:

The filmmakers made up a lot of shit. Shit that Glenn Flothe was not comfortable signing off on. And to use Glenn’s name, he had to sign off on it. In the movie business, it’s called “Life Rights.” As in, I can say anything I want about you — true or false — if it helps the movie. You signed off on “Life Rights.” You can’t frickin’ sue me.

It turns out that Glenn Flothe wasn’t the only one who didn’t sign off on the made-up-shit. Here’s the complete list.

Fictional Characters in Frozen Ground

  • Jack Halcombe (Nicolas Cage) = Glenn Flothe
  • Allie Halcombe (Radha Mitchell) = Cherry Flothe (Glenn Flothe’s wife)
    This one should be obvious.
  • Fran Hansen (Katherine LaNasa) = Darla Hansen
    Hansen’s ex-wife, Darla, has no incentive to cooperate with the filmmakers.
  • D.A. Pat Clives (Kurt Fuller) = D.A. Pat Doogan
    Pat Doogan is a good friend of Glenn Flothe, who played a critical role in getting an arrest warrant for Hansen when the local D.A. wasn’t being entirely cooperative. I’m guessing you can’t get one (Doogan) without the other (Flothe).

Ok, so it’s a fairly short list. A short list of very important characters. And when the filmmakers couldn’t navigate a closer tack to the “truth,” they bailed. Call it creative convenience. Call it “based on actual events.” Call it made up shit.

Whatever you do, don’t call it true. For that, you have to read, “Butcher, Baker.”

Take Two: Frozen Ground Trailer

For the moment, there seems to be a site where the Frozen Ground trailer actually works. Thanks, Emmett/Furla Productions. Our collective breath is, um, not exactly being held… UPDATE: The PC-friendly version was Gone in 15 Seconds. Or should I say, Gone In 60 Seconds.

However: The trailer still works on my iPad. And my smartphone. So, we recommend mobile devices for viewing the trailer. It’s the only way. Go figure.

Frozen Ground Trailer

And if nothing else you can always read the original. Butcher, Baker, is available at Amazon. Highly recommended.

Frozen Ground: The Trailer

The trailer is out for Frozen Ground, the film inspired by [1] Butcher, Baker. Here’s a screen capture of Vanessa Hudgens as stripper and prostitute, Cindy Paulson. Not much left to the imagination, I’d say. So much for her Disney image.

Vanessa Hudgens in Frozen Ground

Well, let’s correct a few things. The trailer was available for a little while (week of August 19th). More than a few sites purport to have it; the trailer quickly went viral. But if you’re in the U.S., you’ll get a not-so-cryptic ERROR MESSAGE. Seems there are some problems about the rights. Both copyright and country rights.

Message on U.S. Trailer Sites
Frozen Ground: Copyright Warning

Interestingly enough, one gets a different error message when trying to view the trailer on the French site, Cinema Teaser. UPDATE: Cinema Teaser now reports that its trailer was also pulled for copyright issues. We’ll keep you posted.

Message on EU Trailer Site
Frozen Ground Trailer: Cinema Teaser (France)

ANSWER ME THIS
Here’s the question: if you’re going blockbuster, why play games with the trailer? Why NOT make it broadly available? I’m educated-guessing here, but I tend to agree with Brad Brevet on Rope of Silicon.

Lionsgate is distributing the pic with IMDb reporting a November 30 release date, but this feels like one of those limited release/VOD titles if you ask me with a DVD/Blu-ray release about a month later.

In fact, I’ll go one step further and posit that the limited release will initially focus on Europe. Hence, the Cinema Teaser video from France, among the first sites to feature the trailer.

The fact that there is a European trailer at all tells you where the money is; U.S. domestic sales are falling, international sales are not. There’s also this telling tidbit from The Numbers on box office statistics. The key columns to watch are 1) Weekly Gross, 2) Theaters and 3) Per Theater. Limited Release = Limited Butts in Seats = Limited per Theater Revenue.

Butts in seats still count. And realistically, Frozen Ground already made its money. Film subsidies. State of Alaska.

Global Boxoffice: MPAA

NOTE: Another explanation is here. It shares a similar assessment, expecting a lag in the U.S. theatrical release. Hmmmm…

[1] Maybe I should say “appropriated” because the arc of the movie is absolutely identical to Butcher, Baker. Opens with the escape of the teenage prostitute. Segues to the sensitive Trooper. Yeah. I’ve read the script. Oh, and I wrote the book. First published in 1991. Before the internet existed. Answer me that.

The Publicity Sales Bump

Butcher, Baker is in its fourth, and perhaps final, print publication cycle. I say perhaps because I’ve been wrong before. But the last year has provided me an eye-witness perspective on the difference publicity makes in book sales.

One of the “jobs” I’ve had over the last year and a half is to track Butcher, Baker sales. We wanted some independent accounting in our discussion with Todd Communications. As it turns out, Amazon has some amazing tools for tracking book sales, with data from Nielsen BookScan.

The numbers tell quite a tale. I’ll let them do most of the talking… In the first graph, you can clearly see three sales spikes:

  • First, when the film was announced (The Frozen Ground)
  • Second, when Todd Communications re-published Butcher, Baker
  • Third, when Christmas sales took over

Butcher, Baker Sales: 2010-2012
Butcher, Baker sales, 2010-2012

In the second graph, you see the magnitude of the Christmas spike. Book sales jumped to a recent high (highest sales were during the book’s first printing in 1991; we sold close to 100K). Of course, you can also see the steady decline in sales from that high-point onward. Indeed, Butcher, Baker, is headed back toward “normal” levels (note the pre-July 2011 line in the graph above).

Butcher, Baker Sales: September 2011-June 2012
Butcher, Baker sales, 10-2011 to 6-2012

Go See: The Frozen Ground, the movie inspired by Butcher, Baker. Opening in theaters December 2012.

James Eagan Holmes On Drugs

Well, you know, this guy’s pretty much a hated person.

Accused mass murderer James Eagan Holmes.James Eagan Holmes.

It’s easy to see why. 12 dead. 58 injured. Bug eyes. Orange hair. Who in America loves a crazy man with tons of guns?

The Colorado criminal justice system agrees. They’ve lobbed 142 criminal charges against the dude, 24 of them homicide, plus the injured, plus the bombs. Not sure about the homicide math. 12 dead does not equal 24 homicide charges. But ok, whatever. It turns out the dual charges are based on different legal theories.

And yet… My most immediate thoughts on this homicide say… Darkness, Darkness by Jesse Colin Young.

Stills From “The Frozen Ground”

IMDb is featuring still photos taken from the Butcher, Baker inspired movie, “The Frozen Ground.” Here’s the link to the IMDb slideshow. Some creepy stuff, for sure. My spine be tingling.

Nicolas Cage as Alaska State Trooper Detective
Nicolas Cage in The Frozen Ground 2012 Voltage Pictures

John Cusack as serial killer Robert Hansen
John Cusack in The Frozen Ground 2012 Voltage Pictures

Cereal Killers & All That

Nice to hear some buzz about “The Frozen Ground,” the movie inspired by “Butcher, Baker.” But then you come across a piece like the one below in Yahoo! Answers and you, ah, start to wonder. I’m quoting:

Is anyone looking forward to “The Frozen Ground”?

Its a movie about the 1980s Alaska hunt for the cereal killer Robert Hanson. Its got Nicholas Cage and John Cusack, it looks fantastic. Its in filming now and comes out in theaters on the 1st of December.

At least the Best Answer sets the record straight. Whew. Gotta love the image of Frosted Mini Wheats trying to run away from bad Bob Hansen…