How Stanley Kubrick Invented the Modern Box-Office Report (By Accident)
by Mike Kaplan
Stanley Kubrick believed that “filmmaking is an exercise in problem solving.” He meant that to include the distribution and marketing of his films as well as their production, and he devoted more time and effort to managing the release of his films than any other director. In my view, it’s one of the reasons he made only 13 films in 46 years. He relished the problem-solving.
I spent two years overseeing the marketing of Kubrick’s 1968 masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey, devising its successful 70-mm. relaunch strategy, before joining him in England to handle the release of A Clockwork Orange. Our collaboration began shortly after Clockwork wrapped and lasted through its December 1971 premiere, its official U.S. release date of February 2, 1972, and throughout its extended rollout. With Stanley’s rare combination of meticulousness and creativity, we achieved what we set out to accomplish — but the most influential result of our collaboration was unexpected.
Stanley had a computerized system to track theaters and grosses based on technical information he had acquired while developing HAL 9000, the all-knowing computer in 2001. For months these stories persisted in the trades as the roster of Clockwork cinemas was refined. They were neither confirmed nor denied.
In March 1972, after the first 25 Clockwork engagements had established new house records, I was in my Burbank office at Warner Bros. when Stanley called, sounding serious.
“Mike, I just got a call from Abel Green.”
Abel Green was the legendary editor of Variety and the most respected and important figure in the trade press.
“What did he want?,” I asked, nervously.
“He asked about the computer system because he wants to adapt it for Variety.” Trade stories of Stanley hoodwinking the studio raced through my mind.
“What did you say?,” I replied, already planning damage control.
His tone changed; there was a twinkle in his voice. “I told him how we had done it, how necessary the information was for the business and what computers could do the job. He was very appreciative.”
Stanley was in top form.
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