February 1, 2006
More on Soderbergh's "Bubble"

So, in the wake of all the hype and worry about Steven Soderbergh's Bubble, Craig Mazin over at The Artful Writer concludes that (at least in this particular case) it was much ado about nothing:

B-Day happened, and shock of all shocks...Hollywood got had.

[The] Bubble strategy was clearly about hype. This is a film that, by all accounts, shouldn't have gotten a theatrical release at all. The movie grossed about $70,000 on its opening weekend. It was only in 32 theaters, but its average was a rather anemic $2200, well below what you'd hope to see for an arthouse movie.

Similarly, no one watches HD Net.

Craig goes on to argue that it's in the interests of studios to perpetuate the extant studio system for every kind of film except those they expect to bomb in the theaters:

Is there a shrinking window between [theatrical and DVD release]? Yes. Is that because of piracy? In part. You'll find that the window is much smaller for bombs. Poor theatrical runs means you can't count on much anticipation getting built for the DVD. Getting the DVD out quickly to capitalize on what little bit of cultural currency you have makes sense.

Nonetheless, it's suicidal to really consider day-and-date for studio films...unless you know ahead of time that your movie's a bomb. Even then, day-and-date may kill you overseas, where films that have been released in a true theatrical pattern are worth far more for rebroadcast than direct-to-video films.

If Bubble were the sort of film that the financial backers had real faith in, they wouldn't have done this. At least, I don't think they would have. An arthouse film with a chance for success needs a theatrical arthouse run, starting on as few as 2 screens. It needs critical acclaim, and then a few nominations for awards. Then you build your theatrical release, and cash in on the ensuing DVD release.

Until people start rejecting theaters (and a 6% downtick doesn't mean rejection, it just means a 6% downtick), to go day-and-date is to kill your chance for real success. Let the handwringers keep wringing. War, television, VHS...all touted as the death knell for movie theaters... I give Soderbergh and Cuban a lot of credit for finding some way to hype their movie, but there's nothing to fear here.

Personally, I think Craig's mostly right about this, although a multi-tiered model may emerge with DVD release overlapping the tail of a theatrical release, or DVDs being sold in theater lobbies. Hollywood's desire for instant financial gratification (and the desire of consumers to avoid nasty movie theatres by using their home theater systems instead) shouldn't be underestimated.



The problem I have with this movie is that it cost $1.6 million to make.

Six day shoot without even a small named actor? They shot with locals. Where does $1.6 million come from? I don't know if any special effects were used, but I would hope so to get up to that money.

I realize that $1.6 million is literally pocket change in the movie industry, but this movie sounds like a Robert Rodriguez special. Shoot it in HDV and probably edit it in less time than it took to shoot it. Printing film for the 32 screens could have cost more than creating the film itself.

That being said, it seems to me like this may have been an idea to release a film in theaters, on DVD and on TV, but they didn't have a film. So they threw one together and we got this film that may or may not be pretty bad. This idea needs to be tried with a "Blair Witch-type" film.

Super cheap, super hyped through film festivals, critically acclaimed and then dropped on the public like war time propaganda by a major distributor that picks it up.

What the movie industry has failed to realize that is that bad movies are killing the industry more than anything else. Make good movies and people will come watch them, produce high-dollar gimmicky trash and we won't.


I'm not so inclined to agree. Cuban in past blog entries has shown himself to be aware of the ability of digital theaters to offer far more than just movies. And I suspect what he really wants is the flexibility to do as he sees fit without having an entrenched industry try to interfere with his plans.

Sure, he might have known "Bubble" wasn't a great movie and maybe he played it up for the hype; that's just being a salesman. But then again, for what it cost, I find it hard to believe he was expecting either a "Lord of the Rings" or a fluke like "Blair Witch". And his losses (assuming there are any in the end) certainly won't qualify this as a modern day "Heaven's Gate".

So let's turn this on its head. If this was intended to be some kind of publicity ploy to lift up a mediocre film, what does Cuban gain in the long run? A little extra profit on what apparently was already a recognized dud? That doesn't sound like him. Instead, maybe what he really wanted was a film that fizzled. Sound odd? Well, assuming Cuban is a "big picture" guy, he can certainly absorb this modest investment. And what does he potentially gain? The ability to go out to the industry in the future and say: "Look at what happened last time! This is how I want to release my new movie; opening weekend and DVDs the next week. Obviously, you've got nothing to worry about."

He gains more control. That's worth more than the profits on this film.

I don't think this is over. This is just the beginning.

On February 1, 2006 at 4:23 PM, Dustin Bratcher said:

I guess Cuban is a big picture guy, but my problem with this is that he tried this "ingenius" new way to distribute a movie and whether or not he was shooting for a flop, it flopped. And on a sidenote, it was still too expensive for what it was and I haven't even seen it.

Anyway, Cuban can't patent this idea and regardless of whether or not theater owners are glad it didn't work out, everyone needs to realize that if it was a good movie, this could have been a raging success.

So Cuban had better have another bullet in the gun and be ready to fire because someone will try this again with a good movie and they'll have the last laugh and all Cuban will have is his big picture. With the exception that somene will release the DVD 30 days after the theatrical release and look like a genius.

He's competitive and his head will explode if he isn't the first one to make this work well. Besides, the only reason this type of campaign was considered was so that movie studios would have to languish for months waiting to see if DVD sales were going to save them from big losses. They are just looking for instant gratification.

If I were Cuban, I would have found a decent little festival film with festival hype and distributed like this. And I say that because Cuban is a billionaire and he's not really entrenched in anything other than money. LOL He can do anything he wants, but I totally agree that when digital theaters become the norm, things will change.

Then ordinary people like you and me will be able to release a movie if only on our local theater's screens.


Just so you're aware, Dustin, your comments weren't posted when I wrote mine and so I wasn't responding to you in anything I wrote. That said...

wrt "whether or not he was shooting for a flop", I think you're misunderstanding my point. I didn't say he was "shooting for a flop". I said he was shooting for the flexibility to do what he wants; that he was going after control. If "Bubble" was a resounding success, he wins of course. But if "Bubble" is a flop, he still wins (if not immediately) because he can spin it to his advantage. I see this as a smart move on his part because it's a win-win deal for him - a very small investment with huge potential payoff. And tbh, anything under a $1M probably wouldn't even have gotten much industry attention. It wouldn't surprise me if a minimum price tag had been set up front.

So Cuban had better have another bullet in the gun and be ready to fire because someone will try this again with a good movie and they'll have the last laugh and all Cuban will have is his big picture.


But to ignore the risk to ROI as you seem to be doing doesn't make sense to me. No one can predict whether a film will succeed or not. Certainly the people overseeing Gilliam's "Brazil" had no clue. So who predicts whether a film will be "good"? And are the obvious successes (LoTR, Star Wars, etc) likely to be used as guinea pigs? I don't think so.

This is a balancing act. I'd be surprised to see a $100M film used to test a new distribution model and I doubt investors would appreciate their money being used for this.

Cuban is a billionaire because maximizes his risk-to-return ratio. I trust he hasn't changed his methods.

Besides, the only reason this type of campaign was considered was so that movie studios would have to languish for months waiting to see if DVD sales were going to save them from big losses. They are just looking for instant gratification.

I disagree. I believe Cuban understands that in the near future, when theaters go entirely digital and content is downloaded via satellite, a whole new form of piracy will emerge. And movies will be available immediately upon release whether studios want that or not.

Control over product will be a thing of the past in the not-so-distant future. I'm watching it invade tangible products (e.g. "Chery" automobiles). Intangible's such as music and movies are already toast. The only way forward is to develop new business models afaic. That's what "convergence" will do.


There are so many interesting things about this whole idea, but to me the oddest is that everyone sees Cuban and company as being opposed to the "studio system."

Does anyone remember the old studio system, where 21st C Fox owned the actors, directors, studio, distribution and theaters? As I remember, that system was highly successful for quite a few decades.

So here is Cuban et al with the hallmarks of that system. They have a multi-movie contract with a director. They're casual (to say the least) about star power (typical of the earlier phases of the old studio system). They own the food chain from top to bottom.

Yet, every story talks about them as being opposed to the studio system (as it stands) rather than raising the studio system (as it was) from the dead.

On September 18, 2006 at 6:16 PM, j.fairbrother said:

Ahem. For the record: Bubble is the best American film - studio, indie, or otherwise - that I've seen all year. Say what you will about day-and-date releasing, but the movie itself hit like a lungful of pure oxygen: irrefutably honest and pristinely potent, something to leave the discerning conniseur glowing with euphoric appreciation.

No, there weren't any pretentious movie-stars. No, there weren't any obnoxious CGI effects. No, there wasn't the usual black-and-white Moral Message at the end which American films seem so obsessed with doggie-bagging up for the audience before they leave. What was there? A finely nuanced, wierdly moving study of repression, guilt, and denial, crafted in fascinating style by a film-maker with the skill and audacity necessary to make "experimental" movies work as more than just experiments.

In all the debate over what day-and-date releasing might mean for the Studios and, by extension, we consumers, I think Bubble has been given a raw deal, a bum rap. It's a better film than Dead Man's Chest, The Da Vinci Code, and X Men 3 put together; at $1.6 million, it's also a comparative bargain to produce. Hollywood will not bother to try producing "better movies" until they've exhausted all possible profit from recycling the same insulting garbage that they presently invest their livelihoods in every summer. Try growing a brain, viewers; only when the demand for (read: consumption of) redundantly stupid flicks dries up will the supply be stemmed, too.