MPAA ADMITS COLLEGE PIRATE STUDY WAS WRONG

The Motion Picture Association of America has acknowledged that a study that it commissioned in 2005 -- that concluded that widespread illegal downloading of movies on college campuses was responsible for billions of dollars in losses -- was wrong. The study had claimed that students with access to high-speed Internet connections in college dorms were to blame for 44 percent of the industry's domestic losses from online pirating. However, on Tuesday, the MPAA admitted that it got the figure wrong because of "human error" and that it was more like 15 percent. But Mark Luker, vice president of Educause, told the Associated Press Tuesday that the study did not take into account the fact that 80 percent of college students live off campus. He figured that campus networks may be responsible for only 3 percent of illegal downloads. The industry's earlier figure, he maintained, was intended to show that if college campuses got tough on the issue of illegal downloads, "it would make a tremendous difference in the business of the motion picture industry." He said that the new figures show that campus action would "have only a small impact." For its part, the MPAA said Tuesday, "We take this error very seriously and have taken strong and immediate action to both investigate the root cause of this problem as well as substantiate the accuracy of the latest report."

AUSTRALIAN POLICE STAGE BIGGEST PIRATE RAID

Police in Melbourne, Australia today (Wednesday) staged the country's biggest raid on DVD pirates, seizing more than 400,000 bootleg DVDs and confiscating 170 DVD recorders. Among the seized DVDs, were copies of three films currently playing in Australian theaters, American Gangster, I Am Legend, and Alvin and the Chipmunks. According to Australian news reports, the raids came about following complaints from neighbors of the homes where the DVDs were being manufactured.

MOVIEGOERS FLOCK TO THEATERS ON MARTIN LUTHER KING DAY

The box office posted solid results on Monday, the Martin Luther King Day holiday, with the top 12 movies recording $27 million in ticket sales, according to final figures released Tuesday by Media by Numbers. Paramount's Cloverfield led the pack with a gross of $6.09 million. It also set a record for the four-day holiday with a total of $46.1 million. It's three-day total of $40 million set a weekend record for January, erasing the previous record of $35 million set by Star Wars (Special Edition) in 1997. Paramount says that the total budget for Cloverfield was just $25 million, although it was assumed that the studio spent far more than that to promote it. In a successful effort at counter-programming, Fox's 27 Dresses came in second with $27.4 million for the holiday, $4.43 million of which was earned on Monday.

The top ten films over the four-day Martin Luther King Day holiday weekend, according to final figures compiled by Media by Numbers (figures in parentheses represent total gross to date):

1. Cloverfield, Paramount, $46,146,546, (New); 2. 27 Dresses, Fox, $27,442,040, (New); 3. The Bucket List, Warner Bros., $16,664,347, 5 Wks., $44,223,780; 4. Juno, Fox Searchlight, $11,966,082, 7 Wks., $87,092,615; 5. National Treasure: Book of Secrets, Disney, $9,606,326, 5 Wks., $199,489,171; 6. First Sunday, Sony Screen Gems, $9,504,908, 2 Wks., $30,170,510; 7. Alvin and the Chipmunks, Fox, $9,433,049, 6 Wks., $198,813,230; 8. Mad Money, Overture Films, $9,273,645, (New); 9. I Am Legend, Warner Bros., $5,905,443, 6 Wks., $248,482,867; 10. Atonement, Focus, $5,528,377, 7 Wks., $32,653,183.

LEDGER DEATH POSES PROBLEMS FOR WARNER BROS.

The death of Heath Ledger on Tuesday is likely to pose a considerable marketing problem for Warner Bros., which is due to release the Batman movie The Dark Night on July 18, in which Ledger plays The Joker. Daily Variety pointed out that one of the first posters to be released in advance of the film's opening shows Ledger as The Joker drawing a clown's smile on a mirror with lipstick and the words, "Why So Serious?" A studio insider told the trade publication: "The Joker character is dealing with chaos and life and death and a lot of dark themes. ... Everyone is going to interpret every line out of his mouth in a different way now." Meanwhile, original reports by New York police that Ledger died of a probable drug overdose were revised. An NYPD spokesman said late Tuesday that no illegal drugs were found in his apartment, although prescription sleeping pills were found near his bed. Meanwhile, Editor & Publisher commented today (Wednesday),"If you watched the story of Heath Ledger's death explode chaotically across the Internet, with facts, errors, inconsistencies and confusions flying every which way, you may have concluded that in the new digital media's race to break stories in minutes, accuracy has been left in the dust." It warned that while in the past, journalists had hours to vet and craft a story, reporting now often "unfolds in real time."

FOCUS FEATURES PAYS $10 MILLION FOR $9-MILLION MOVIE

Focus Features has shelled out $10 million at the Sundance Film Festival for the comedy Hamlet 2, starring Steve Coogan, about a high-school drama coach who attempts to save the school's theater department with a sequel to the Shakespeare play. The film reportedly cost $9 million to produce. Reports said that the deal represented one of the biggest sales in the history of the festival and that the figure was clearly the most paid for any film at this year's edition. Today's (Wednesday) Wall Street Journal said that an all-night bidding war broke out following enthusiastic audience reaction at the film's screening. Focus CEO James Schamus told the newspaper that ordinarily his company likes to make its own films and has not bought a film at Sundance in three years. However, he said, "When our senior team walked out of that screening, every single one of them believed that it was a film that we needed to have."

Cinemark Movie Club
Brian B.