Loss of awards show is film biz's first strike hit

The loss of the Golden Globes ceremonies marks the first time that the film business has taken a collective direct hit since the writers went on strike nine weeks ago. Until now, television had felt the immediate brunt of the work stoppage.

Just how hard a hit it is, nobody yet knows.

“It’s a fair question. We’ve never been here before,” one studio exec said Tuesday.

Over time, the Golden Globes have turned into a publicity orgy for specialty companies and studios embarking on the final phase of their Oscar campaigns. Studios couldn’t buy the kind of media blitz offered by the Globes — the preshow, the red carpet and the parties, all held at the Beverly Hilton — even if they wanted to.

“Without the traditional ceremony, you lose that visual reminder of what these films are, who is in them. People watch that show and then go buy tickets. There is no question about it. So to lose that is a disappointment,” Focus Features prexy of distribution Jack Foley said.

At the same time, the Globes, bestowed by the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., are not the Oscars in terms of stature or history.

Last year, some 20 million viewers watched the Golden Globes telecast. No one in the film biz is sure how many TV viewers will tune into NBC this Sunday for the bare-bones, primetime press conference at which the winners will be announced.

“Who wants to watch a press conference?” one specialty unit topper said.

Specialty pics expand substantially right around Globes time. This year, both Focus’ “Atonement” and Paramount Vantage’s “There Will Be Blood” will do so, with “Atonement” further along in its run than “Blood.”

DreamWorks and Warner Bros.’ “Sweeney Todd” has been playing only 1,249 screens since its release on Dec. 21, with the studios waiting until Jan. 18 to go wider.

Likewise, Miramax’s “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” and Searchlight’s “The Savages” will pick up runs.

Films that have been in the marketplace longer often will return to centerstage and begin adding theaters again around the time of the Globes. Miramax plans to expand “No Country for Old Men” later this month.

“Distributors have created their entire release schedules hoping to get a bump from the Globes rolling into the Oscars,” one studio specialty unit topper said.

As they absorbed the news that the Globescast had been iced for this year, no one wanted to even touch on the issue of how the WGA strike may affect the Oscars.

While the TV biz felt the impact of the writers’ walkout immediately, the film side has been more insulated because of the cyclical nature of movie production. Studios were able to stockpile projects and presumably put enough films into production to take them through most of 2009 before the strike started.

All agree that the loss of the Globes telecast and resulting hoopla is a major blow. On the other hand, distributors and studios can still tout a Globe win in their media campaigns, just as they’ve been blanketing the airwaves in recent weeks with ads plugging a Globe nomination.

There is often a two-step bump, Foley said, with the Oscar noms following about a week after the Globes, but that dynamic will be different and money will undoubtedly be left on the table.

“It’s a big deal, in that you usually do get a box office bump. It’s not a lot, but there is a bump,” one veteran studio marketer said.

Also, the Globes are announced before final Oscar ballots are due.

Some distribs downplayed the impact of losing the Globes telecast, saying their films already have buzz and box office credibility. Instead, they lamented the Globes have gotten caught up in the crosshairs of the strike.

“I feel lousy that the HFPA is bearing the brunt of this,” said Scott Rudin, one of the producers of “No Country for Old Men,” who echoed the sentiment of many in the industry. “They’re an organization that really wants to support quality and challenging movies. They’re the people caught in this situation that has nothing to do with them.”

Films enjoying a box office bump from the Golden Globes in recent years include Miramax’s “The Queen” and Fox Searchlight’s “Sideways.”

“The Queen,” released in September 2006, never played on more 700 or so screens through the fall. It maintained enough runs to stay in the marketplace through the holidays and then expanded to 1,586 runs on Jan. 19, 2007, the first weekend after the Globes. The move paid off, with the film grossing $4 million that weekend to hit No. 8 overall.

“Queen” went on to gross $56.4 million domestically. Also last year, “Babel” saw another round of box office interest after winning the Globe for drama.

And with “Sideways,” released in late October 2004, Searchlight held back from going wide until around the time of the Golden Globes.

There is, however, a silver lining to the cancellation of the Globes.

“People are secretly thrilled for two reasons. The truth of the matter is that people are happy to go to one less black-tie event. It’s time you get back. Also, people don’t feel celebratory right now, between the election and the strike and everything else. I had heard that stars weren’t even planning to dress up should the telecast have happened,” one Hollywood exec said.

Gothamites were also ambivalent about the outcome, especially since the indie and specialty titles nurtured in New York don’t always play to the HFPA. At Sunday’s New York Film Critics Circle awards, most publicists and execs were in general agreement that it was something of a relief not to have to deal with the hassles of the show, which always falls just days before the Sundance Film Festival.

(Dade Hayes contributed to this report.)

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