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Judge David Ryan • Location: Natick, MA
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The HSX Report -- 6/5/07
June 5th, 2007 8:45AM

Horrors!!!!!

The HSX database went down at 9:30ish EDT last night; it's still not back up as of this morning. Which means you can't log in, or access anything that pulls info from the database -- like, say, every MovieStock page. Therefore, today's blog will be kinda short, since I can't do my normal linkage thing. Let's get the girl out of the way first.

The Girl from IPOnema
A bond for a hot chick who's in Transformers, and two Bollywood films. Nothing to see here. Move along.

Today's Feature: Why I Shorted Grindhouse (And Made a Killing)
Since I've got nothing else to talk about due to the outage, I'll tell a little story. Back in the halycon days of April, when all was fresh and new in the world, people were eagerly anticipating the release of Grindhouse the Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez homage to crappy films from the '70s. It had a lot of buzz from the cool kids; it was getting a full (not a limited art house) release courtesy of the Weinsteins, and it was trading in the H$90 range. I thought about it, pondered life, had a sandwich, and then shorted the bejesus out of the stock. As we all know, Grindhouse tanked. I made something like H$5M on that decision -- and I never once doubted that I had made the correct decision after I hit that "short" button. Why? Allow me to illustrate my thought process in the hopes that it may illuminate how to be a better trader....

(1) Grindhouse opened.... on Easter weekend!!!!
This, more than anything else, made my decision easy. Holiday weekends are often big box office weekends... except for Easter. It's a religious holiday that typically involves family gatherings. Grindhouse was always going to be a hipster-film buff-college kid kind of film -- it wasn't going to bring in the Cheaper by the Dozen crowd even in the best of circumstances. And where were those hipsters and college kids on Grindhouse weekend? At home! With grandma! And are you going to say "hey Grandma, we're going to take you to a splatter film where Rose McGowan has a machine gun for a leg"??? Of course not. Grindhouse's target audience was stuck at home that weekend. It wasn't going to open at $20M, period.

(2) Grindhouse is an homage.... to bad films!
To pull numbers in the H$90 range, a film has to have relatively broad appeal. It can't target a single, narrow demographic -- say, girls between the ages of 10 and 16 (yes, I'm looking at you, Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants...) -- and expect to have a $30M opening weekend unless there's something there for everyone else, too. Grindhouse's real target was ultra-narrow: film buffs with knowledge of/experiences with the grindhouse genre. And that's fine. But grindhouse films weren't good. That's actually what makes them "grindhouse". If you're not in that target group that was familiar with the genre, are you going to go and sit for nearly four hours to watch an homage to films that were pieces of turd? Probably not. Without huge, huge word-of-mouth buzz, you just aren't going to attract casual viewers to this film. And -- as noted above -- the people who could give the film that huge buzz were sitting at home with Grandma.

There were other issues, too -- for example, I don't think the marketing campaign for the film was particularly good at making it a compelling must-see experience -- but these two factors, more than anything else, told me that Grindhouse was almost certainly going to have a very small take on its opening weekend. I was right; I profited.

The moral of the story is this: It's sad to say it, but the quality of a film isn't the determining factor in how well it does at the box office. You need to look at who is likely to (a) want and (b) pay to see it. If you can't think of anyone you know who would get a babysitter, or find a date, or do whatever they need to do to get out to the theater and see that film... it's probably not going to make $100M. Sometimes, a bit of common sense is all you need.

That's it for today. Let's hope these tech difficulties clear up soon. Excelsior!


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