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It Was A Good Week For... Star Wars: The Force Awakens off to a cracking digital start…
It Was A Bad Week For… Brexit groups, not even mentioning the creative industries in their promotional materials…

The future is here, at last, as the first wave of the much talked about 4k Ultra HD Blu-ray releases hit the racks of both online and bricks and mortar retailers. Releases came from both Fox and Warner, as part of a soft launch for the releases – expect more marketing, PR and promotional activity later in the year. HMV has been fully behind the launch and, in a feature on its website, has one of the best introductions to the format you could wish for, penned by Rudy Osorio (see it here) and it’s also landed something of an exclusive in interviewing Joe McCrossan, vp of advanced technology and engineering at Fox about the format. You can see the interview here,  but here’s a few choice extracts, in which he revealed Fox’s plans for new releases and catalogue: “We've taken the stance that we're going to master all of our new products in 4K, so going forward I think you should expect to see the majority of our new release products being available in 4K Ultra HD. We're actually working on the release of one catalogue film at the moment, but we're also looking at other catalogue titles with a view to releasing them later in the year. The exciting thing is that film has much more dynamic range than the older digital formats would allow us to extract and express, so by doing a new scan to create a 4K master we'll be able to bring that across in home entertainment products for the first time.”
Also out this week, in case you hadn’t noticed, was the digital release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, as part of Disney’s staggered release of the latest instalment of the franchise. And it’s had a storming week, according to those in the know. Take, which saw the JJ Abrams film outstripping its week one records – on its first day of release alone. The company’s Simon Homent said: “After the first day of release, Star Wars had already become our biggest ever week 1 EST title. It is the perfect movie for creating the home cinema experience on your smart TV, so it´s no surprise that it has forced it´s way into our record books. The marketing campaign that we have put together is strong with this movie, and we expect it to continue to dominate our charts for several weeks to come."
And what of the physical release on Monday April 18? Retailers are pushing the boat out for the Blu-ray and DVD bow, with HMV rolling its biggest ever point of sale campaign out into stores (archways, bunting… the works). It also sees midnight openings at 10 of its stores, with the first 50 customers at each outlet getting a set of artcards. It’s invited the Rebel Legion and 501st costumed organisations along, and suspects its staff will enter into the spirit of things too. HMV’s Andy Anderson said: “We’re really getting behind it, we’re really excited about it.” The retailer’s Rudy Osorio added: “We're incredibly excited by the release, as are our customers. News of the week one performance from the US bodes well and gives us confidence that this will be as big as we've all been planning with Disney.”

Now on to this week’s other releases? Well, the final film in the Hunger Games franchise, Mockingjay Part 2, is set to perform that rare feat by spending a third week at number one if the Official Charts Company’s midweek bulletin is anything to go by. It’s an achievement that no film has managed in 2016, not even Spectre, and shows the strength of the franchise has continued right to the end. The only new entry in the top five is Victor Frankenstein, Fox’s latest take on the horror story that keeps being reborn, in at number four. Other new entries further down the listings include a brace from Signature and new sister label Precisions, with A Warrior’s Tail and Dragon Warriors at numbers 18 and 22 respectively, as well as Mr Robot. Further down the listings come Sinkhole and Bride Of Re-Animator, at numbers 31 and 38. 
And it’s that latter title we’ll look at, as it marks another impressive feat from Arrow Video, the genre specialist imprint, and another milestone in its history. The Brian Yuzna-directed horror sees the label entering the charts and, according to Arrow Video’s Francesco Simeoni, selling well on both sides of the Atlantic, as it was a simultaneous release in the UK and on the label’s US arm too. It is akin, as we noted on Twitter, to when one of your favourite punk bands got into the top 40 in the late 1970s. Commenting on its success, Simeoni said: “We’re absolutely delighted with the performance of Bride Of Re-animator both in the UK and the US where it’s selling out at all retailers. Fans have shown they are willing to buy on the week of release for lavish catalogue products when the quality of the entire package is top notch. We are continuing to experiment with bold new packaging designs and this summer we hope to take it to the zenith as we will unveil our most ambitious project yet.”
Arrow Video of course was, as reported here, the subject of a major promotion in HMV and Fopp and the latter retailer has this week embarked on a major promotion with fledgling independent operation Signal One. We retweeted it in-store, with the deal covering the imprint’s relative small but perfectly formed catalogue (its take on psychedelic classic The Trip is one of our favourite releases of the last 12 months or so). Commenting on its success, Fopp’s Laurence Cane said: “We've been impressed with Signal One's output in terms of both titles and artwork since its recent inception; Fopp is always keen to support fledgling labels and we think our customers will respond well to this campaign.” Signal One’s James Shimmin added: “"We're very excited about our first ever campaign in Fopp. We've been working hard to release a range of must-own Blu-ray and DVD editions of some of the most unique and compelling films ever made, and this is a sure-fire way to ensure that more and more people are able to discover what we've been doing during our first six months.”

Off to One Belgravia, one of London’s swisher addresses, for the FDA’s annual keynote speech from its president Lord Puttnam. The producer turned peer gave an excellent address to assorted industry types and railed against exhibitors’ insistence – and intransigence – over the theatrical to home entertainment window. He said: “The enforced rigidity of 17-week windows of theatrical exclusivity, preventing legitimate consumer access at a time when cinemas tend only to play films for less than half of that period, is utterly confer-productive and unjustified. The sorely needed ask from distributors is flexibility – one size does not, and cannot, fit all. Name any other product or service which, while being commercially successful and knowing itself to have a limited life-span, wilfully removes itself from the marketplace. There’s not a shred of evidence from con tries such as the US or Australia, where a little more flexibility applies on a film by film basis, that the theatrical box office is harmed in any way whatsoever. As DVD does continue to decline, albeit from a healthy base, it's absolutely vital that digital platforms are allowed to develop freely.”
Lord Puttnam had plenty to say too on the digital single market, and again, he stressed that flexibility was important. He said: “There’s nothing in copyright law, or any other law, to restrict simultaneous pan-European distribution of content online or in any other form – nor should there be. Any changes to the EU copyright regime must be soundly evidence-based, with plurality and cultural diversity at the heart of that planning. This is an industry that’s already deeply engaged in the digital environment – the idea that the film industry is opposed to the DSM is nonsense. But once again, the key is flexibility. The industry must continue to work closely with the European Commission to forge a DSM that works for all Europe’s citizens, including the 7 million whose jobs depend, directly or indirectly, on the creative industries. Europe has 743 million citizens and rising – more than double the population of the US. The notion of a single European audience, seeking the same content at the same time, is also a nonsense. The DSM has many implications. Portability of services is one that we can and should support – subject to strong safeguards being in place to ensure that it does not become a de facto form of cross-border access. ‘Portability’ means providing consumers with the same legitimately acquired online access to films and TV when they travel in Europe as they’d enjoy if they were still at home. The UK government and all industry parties are in lock-step in their belief that cross-border portability is wholly distinct from unfettered cross-border access to unlicensed content, something which fatally undermines the film industry’s business model that depends on territorial licensing.” More on this on our website shortly…
Talking of Europe and the Digital Single Market, brings us on, quite neatly, to the forthcoming European referendum. And as the campaigning has upped a gear, this week also saw the launch of Creatives4EU, a fairly self-explanatory organisation aimed at highlighting the benefits to our industries of remaining in Europe. The group is chaired by former MEP Carole Tongue and a selection of speakers representing different sectors explained why European funding was so important to the creative industries and how exiting Europe would lead to shared experiences across countries (our industry was represented by BASE public affairs consultant Lavinia Carey). It chimes with other options – organisations such as the MPA are thought to be worried about the potential impact of Brexit. Experts believe that however frustrating (and “maddening” as one put it) that the EU is pushing through the Digital Single Market, it’s going to happen irrespective of the UK referendum result and it will impact on our business. If Britain remains, the argument runs, the AV sector can at least influence its implementation and what happens. Carole Tongue said: “Culture and creativity are assets in a Europe still in search of identity and fiscal and financial crisis. However, the development of digital brings new challenges and renewed challenges between threats and opportunities. Specifically, two fields of reflection and debate are now under discussion: first, the willingness of the European Commission to facilitate the emergence of a digital single market raises the question of the future of copyright in Europe; access to works for the public; the remuneration of creators and the fight against counterfeiting. Moreover, with the arrival of non-European giants on the internet, the mastery of the distribution of cultural works raises questions on how best to support cultural diversity in fields like taxation, fair distribution of internet revenues, sectoral support for creation, future rules on TV and film, how competition should be applied in the digital world. Our voice must be heard in these crucial debates. If we were to leave the EU, then the British voice, its creators, creative workers and the whole of its creative industries would not be heard.” 

To the Rich Mix cinema in Bethnal Green, east London, for a special screening of Grey Gardens, one of the six launch titles for the eagerly awaited UK arm of the Criterion Collection, which hits stores on Monday through its ongoing deal with hSony Pictures Home Entertainment. Criterion chief executive Jonathan Turell was in town to help mark the event and teased the audience with a few upcoming releases, not least in the fact that the company was in discussion with one or two companies with a view to licensing more product for release in the UK. It already boasts major relationships with all the majors in the US. He also spoke to The Raygun in SPHE’s offices ahead of the launch. He praised the existing UK operators in the collectors’ market, saying: “There are so many brands doing such good work here, it’s an indication of how strong the market is. Companies such as Eureka’s Masters Of Cinema, the BFI, Artificial Eye, Arrow, Studiocanal… there are so many good lines and there’s a thirst for this kind of product in this market.” He said the main reason the company is launching now is down to its ongoing relationship with Sony. “A lot of the reason we’re doing it now is because of our relationship with SPHE. It’s a very symbiotic relationship, rather than a licensing arrangement. They got what we do, they’re very easy to work with.” We’ll have the full interview on our website shortly…
Meanwhile, SPHE also revealed the second wave of titles due in May under the Criterion banner. The slate includes Dennis Hopper’s East Rider, on May 9, Humphrey Bogart in the classic film noir In A Lonely Place and, on May 30,  Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Avventura. Commenting on its launch,SPHE’s evp for international Aodan Coburn said: “The Criterion name has huge equity with UK film lovers and we’ve been able to capitalise on that with a big publicity campaign and incredible support from our retail partners. As we continue to build a range, we’ll be looking to keep growing awareness of the label and these essential titles.”
Meanwhile, one of those labels that Criterion singled out for mention, Eureka’s Masters Of Cinema, is keeping up the good work, with, next up from the imprint, Man With A Movie Camera, a 1920s Soviet classic, due for release on Monday April 18. Commenting on the release, Eureka md Ruth Schofield said: “We are very excited that our customers will be able to enjoy our limited-edition four-disc Dual-Format edition of Man With A Movie Camera. It’s a project which has been a labour of love for the past six months, and it’s great to finally get it out there, so it can take its rightful place in the Masters of Cinema Series, as one of the greatest documentaries of all time alongside Shoah, and among Metropolis, Nosferatu, The Passion of Joan of Arc and our other ground-breaking silents. The release is limited to 3000 units, most of which we already have pre-orders for, so people will need to be quick to get hold of a copy before they are all gone. Man with a Movie Camera stands as one of cinema’s most essential documents - a dazzling exploration of the possibilities of image-making as related to the everyday world around us. Presented in a definitive new restoration from EYE Film Institute in Amsterdam and Lobster Films, the film is also presented with other works by Vertov, both before and after his masterpiece – Kino-Eye, Kino-Pravda #21, Enthusiasm: Symphony of the Donbass and Three Songs About Lenin. Man with a Movie Camera is released on Monday.”
Location: Dallas, Texas, Date: April 3, 2016. Event: Wrestlemania, the highlight of the grappling calendar. Records kept tumbling at this, the 32nd annual flagship PPV event, as the WWE broke its own attendance record set almost 30 years ago. More than 101,000 passionate wrestling fans filled the giant AT&T Stadium in Arlington, home of the Dallas Cowboys NFL team; not only that but WWE put on an incredible 12 action packed matches, more than any other WrestleMania in history; sold more merchandise during the event weekend than ever before and social conversations were at an all-time high including more than 60 million video views across platforms including  Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, Vine, Instagram and YouTube. WrestleMania 32 also became the highest grossing live event in WWE history, earning the organisation $17.3 million and bearing last year’s record by more than 40 per cent. FremantleMedia’s Ken Law was in attendance ahead of the company’s DVD, Blu-Ray and Digital release of the event on June 6. In the same way it’s the biggest event on the WWE’s calendar, it’s the biggest home entertainment release for Fremantle too. Outlining the release strategy, Law said: “WWE has set us up for a bumper this year with WrestleMania 32. In a declining physical market, WWE and WrestleMania buck the trend and this year we’re giving fans a host of special editions to track down and buy. In addition to the standard three-disc DVD and two-disc Blu-Ray SKUs, there is a limited edition ultra-special finish DVD o-card to seek out as well as limited edition alternative artwork DVD o-card which is a world exclusive – no other territory will be carrying this unique design. We are also releasing a strictly limited Blu-ray Steelbook edition and for the avid collectors there will be 1,000 individually numbered Ultimate Collector’s Edition DVD boxsets which include exclusive WrestleMania memorabilia and prop items used at the actual event itself which are not available anywhere else. It’s all shaping up for a great year.”

British telly has as we’ve noted here previously, is enjoying a remarkable start to 2016 and a title we covered when the new series launched, Line Of Duty, is going from strength to strength. It’s currently drawing more than 5 million viewers on BBC2, an impressive feat, and has drawn acres of coverage, not least because of the return of one of its key characters, Keeley Hawes. Helen Squire, joint head of marketing for RLJ Entertainment: "We're being well supported with the drafting of series one and two - and we're thrilled that the series three DVD will release right on the first Monday after the last episode on May 2. Critics have been really loving it, with viewers close behind them.  This is set to continue to be one of our bestselling franchises to date."
Another forthcoming biggie from RLJ’s Acorn label is The Tunnel, the second series, known as Sabotage, began its run on Sky Atlantic, with the series now standing on its own two feet (the first was based far more closely on Nordic Noir series The Bridge). "The Tunnel: Sabotage starts with an action-packed opening episode and then just rips off in all directions and promises to take viewers on a ride they'll never forget" said RLJ’s other joint head of marketing, Gareth Brown. "I've had the benefit of seeing the entire series and it's really powerful, unexpected stuff. Rewarding viewing and, along with Line of Duty, another sure seller for us this spring, both drafting series one and with the release in June of series two.” RLJ md Stuart Shaw added: “With further series of Our Girl, The Fall and The Missing coming later this year and a new series of Broadchurch filming this summer, RLJ's Acorn label continues to go from strength to strength with great TV on DVD and digital platforms.”
Busy times for Studiocanal, which has a raft of strong releases on the way. One key one, and one of this year’s biggest foreign language releases, A War. As the company’s Manon Dulauroy explained: “Next stop for Studiocanal is the release of Tobias Lindholm’s (A Hijacking, screenplay for The Hunt) critically acclaimed A War on May 9. It is a very unique and incredibly well made film, which examines the moral complexities of modern warfare and military justice. A War continues to receive international recognition and acclaim after being nominated at the 88th Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film and screened in Official Selection at the Venice, Zurich and Zagreb Film Festivals. Our campaign will include press, online and social activity and a full publicity campaign supported by multiple award winner, Pilou Asbæk.”
Out next week on digital formats, ahead of a May 2 physical bow, is Paramount’s Daddy’s Home, one of the biggest comedy titles of the past year or two, thanks to its huge UK box office haul. And it sees Paramount and Universal working closely together on the release, another under the 2015 deal that sees the latter handling physical releases for the former, which in turn looks after its digital release. Commenting on the digital release (we’ll have more on the physical side in a forthcoming newsletter), Paramount’s Barney Hands said: “it's been great to see the level of digital platform engagement for this £17 million UK box office title – especially considering the focus that Star Wars received this week. Obviously all our campaigns are now safely managed across all formats despite spanning dual-distribution. Our EST release campaign features multiple advertising elements  including national radio, SKY TV, vod spots, Facebook - targeting users of digital platforms and also a wider family demographic to encourage digital trials. Daddy's Home is also supported by an innovative social media campaign, working across digital and physical to celebrate UK dads.” More on that, as noted, soon… 
Thriving indie operation Screenbound, which includes international sales and UK releases under its banner, has inked a deal with production outfit Compelling Films, which will see its sales arm handling international sales to overseas territories as well as releasing its product here in the UK.  Forthcoming titles due under the deal include British coming of age comedy A Dozen Summers, the wonderfully named Mariachi Gringo, historical drama Tin and Alicia Silverstone comedy Rock My World. Commenting on the deal, Compelling Films’ ceo, Mark Thomas said: “We are delighted that Screenbound will be expanding the sales and distribution of our film portfolio. We are constantly helping to produce new features that have compelling narratives and with Screenbound’s distribution expertise on-board we can concentrate on further acquisitions.” Screenbound’s Alan Byron added: “It’s a fantastic opportunity for us to help sell and promote a unique film slate where every film has an engaging storyline. We anticipate that on the back of theatrical releases there will be approximately eight Compelling Film releases per year.”

There’s been a raft of activity this week in the vod sector, as both Amazon and Netflix have been busy launching exclusive programming. The former has been pushing Outlander, with new episodes of the second season going up on its service, and it is working with star Sam Heughan and charity Bloodwise to raise cash for its coffers, promoting Tartan Tuesdays. These will encourage consumers to wear – and tweet pictures of – tartan on, er, Tuesdays.  Heughan said: “It's really important to raise awareness as blood cancer is the fifth most common cancer and affects people of all ages. I hope people enjoy a month of TartanTuesday, have fun with it, and that we raise as much money and awareness as possible. I look forward to seeing everyone’s pictures on Twitter.” Cathy Gilman, chief executive of Bloodwise, says, “Sam’s dedication to Bloodwise over the years has been absolutely fantastic and we are proud that he has once again chosen to support our charity by fronting #TartanTuesday. We are looking forward to working with Amazon UK on this great initiative which we hope will raise vital funds and awareness to enable us to improve the lives of even more patients.”
Back to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and we liked the activity that sees Lucasfilm working with with government’s GREAT Britain campaign and Great Ormond Street to help promote the release and raise cash for the children’s hospital. Stars from the film, including newcomers John Boyega and Daisy Ridley, as well as veterans Mark Hamill, Warwick Davis and Anthony Daniels, have created their own designs based on new droid BB-8, with the results being auctioned off for charity after displaying at 46 Mortimer Street Gallery in London. Simon Pegg, Paddy McGunness and Years And Years have also contributed, along with scores of others…

“Despite the noisy suggestions otherwise,  cinema provides a unique and powerful experience you can’t get anywhere else but your theatres."
MPAA chief Chris Dodd talking about the Screening Room premium vod plans, which dominated conversations at the Cinema Con event in the US…
The Huntsman sequel, Winter’s War, took the top slot in its opening frame, taking a touch over £3 million in its first weekend. Midnight Special took just under £500,000, while the top 10’s other new entry was Hardcore Henry, with more than £200,000. 
Superhero news, as there;s been a raft of activity this week in this sector. Firstly, Spider-Man’s return in a new Sony Pictures feature is on its way, with the studio this week revealing the full title for the film. It will be called, wait for it, it's called,Spider-Man: Homecoming. What's more, Michael Keaton is rumoured to be returning to don a costume again, as he's wanted to play the as yet unknown villain. Also confirmed this week, in case you hadn't guessed or merely assumed, is Deadpool 2, with the team that turned he first outing into such a huge success, all returning... Oh, and Warner has got in on the act, confirming that there's a new solus Batman film coming onto its slate, with Ben Affleck directing as well as starring...
It's been a while since we reported on James Cameron's long gestating Avatar sequels and this week the director has revealed that it's bigger than even he anticipated: there will now be four sequels, each with its own story, but interlinked into one big arc. They'll be die in 2018, 2020, 2022 and 2023...
In this week’s least likely casting news and this week’s only news involving the Candle In The Wind maestro, Elton John is exported to be in the frame for an, ahem, “fun” role in the sequel to Kingsman. If he does appear, the former Watford chairman will be doing the Crocodile Rock with stars Taron Egerton and a likely Colin Firth, alongside Julianne Moore, Halle Berry and an also returning Mark Strong. The comic book adaptation, taken from Kick Ass creator Mark Millar’s creation, will again be helmed by Matthew Vaughn and co-written by the director and Jane Goldman. 
Here’s this week’s comic book biggie…
Oh, hang on, no, is it this one?
A truly amazing trailer…
From Toho Studios…
Full Spacey…
More secrets…
Wizarding ahoy!
Two from Refn, first Icon’s wonderfully soundtracked teaser…
…and here’s a fuller US version…
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