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May 22, 1999


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Monarch Of The Box-Office Gurus

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Arthur J Pais

Gitesh Pandya with colleagues Gitesh Pandya is more than happy to talk to the likes of CNN, USA Today and Fox Television about the day to day box-office performance of Phantom -- The Menace. He loves nothing more than discussing movie hits and misses.

But the 27-year-old moviebuff, whose Boxofficeguru ( has been steadily garnering the attention of big networks and newspapers, says his website is more than a compilation of the box-office of the latest hits and misses.

"I put things in a context," he says. "For example, when I discuss the box-office potential of a movie, I also provide information on how other films in that category have done at the box-office."

Boxofficeguru gets advertisements from major studios, music retailers and booksellers, and has become a success far beyond Pandya's dreams.

In his latest edition where he predicts that The Phantom Menace will wound up with over $ 135 million in its first days and a mighty $ 475 million in all at the American box-office, he also discusses its potential abroad. Most big budget American films earn more money abroad than at home. But not the Star War movies.

Yet, Pandya offers a refreshing take.

"As for the film's overseas potential, arguments can be made for it reaching a sum either greater than or less than domestic. Historically, all Star Wars films have grossed less in the international marketplace than in the domestic one. Even the Special Editions released in 1997 performed much better stateside than overseas causing many to believe that Star Wars is not as popular around the world as it is in the United States.

"But numbers can mislead. The film industry's infrastructure across the globe was significantly less developed in the 1970s and 1980s when the original films were released so they could never bring in sales at the level of domestic. And the Special Editions were re-releases of movies that existed on video that all fans have seen already and cannot be compared to the worldwide lure of a brand new Star Wars story with today's level of special effects."

Another example of his well-argued analysis:

"The star power of Robert De Niro (who is hardly known for making audiences laugh) and Billy Crystal certainly was at the center of the successful launch of Analyze This. This decade, De Niro has now seen six of his films open at number one while Crystal has only hit the top with 1991's City Slickers.

"While De Niro has taken a wide range of leading and supporting roles in films with differing commercial success, Crystal has stalled at the box office for years until now. The opening performances for the previous films by the actors include $ 12.7 million last September for De Niro's action pic Ronin and a puny $ 3.1 million last April for Crystal's buddy comedy My Giant."

For most part his predictions are 10 per cent of the actual box-office. But he readily admits on the Web when he is caught off the mark completely.

Gitesh Pandya(in the middle)with his friends But sometimes he is in for real surprises. He predicted a $ 6 million three-day opening gross for the teen-comedy, She's All That but the movie grossed $ 16.1 million. Pandya shrugs off his miscalculations -- he knows that the even the producers of She's All That were indeed surprised by its powerhouse opening. Pandya thought Analyze This would open with $ 11 million; it grossed $ 18.4 million in three days.

"And while movies remain among the most unpredictable of businesses, one takes seriously the business of projecting the grosses," he says. "One weighs dozens of factors including name recognition, star power, how crowded the market place is."

"It is great fun but every week one learns something or the other," he says with a chuckle. "If nothing else a good dose of humility helps at times."

"This is very mercurial business and even the most experienced studio heads cannot exactly predict the outcome of a movie," he says.

Movies have fascinated Pandya from his childhood. And starting Boxofficeguru, he says, is one of the many things he wants to do with films including going into movie production with his older brother.

"I have been very clear what I wanted to do in life," he says. "Starting Boxofficeguru is just one of the many things I love to do about the film industry."

In less than two years since he started offering box-office projections, tracking box-office records and analyzing them, Pandya hit big time two months ago when Fox Channel invited him to discuss the year's hits and misses.

"You have not really made it until television and newspapers call you to seek your expertise," says Pandya who quit an executive position at CBS a year ago to work full time on Boxofficeguru. The site, which has been reviewed by over a dozen prominent magazines and newspapers, is updated thrice a week.

'Lots of websites offer information about movies new and old as well as lives of the stars. Boxofficeguru focuses on the business side of Hollywood, with a wealth of data on the performance of films at the box office,' wrote the influential BusinessWeek.

'A site of immediate interest to entertainment addicts,' declared Entertainment Weekly, while The Washington Post enthused last year: 'Pandya shares his comprehensive database of box office data from 1,400 movies released since 1989. It's a treasure trove of trivia.' Currently, Boxofficeguru offers data for over 1,600 films.

Pandya works over 50 hours a week.

"Sunday is the busiest day," he says. "That is when the studios give out their weekend estimates -- and I am continually on the telephone with studio heads and entertainment analysts."

During the initial months of Boxofficeguru getting a Hollywood honcho comment on a movie's box-office fate was anything but easy. "But soon everyone around knew I meant serious business," he says with a chuckle.

Cinema held his attention right from his teen years. But unlike many teens who were riveted by star power, Pandya was drawn more to the analytical.

"From my college days, I was fascinated by not just what happens on the big screen," Pandya who has an economics degree from Drew University in New Jersey, continues, "but also how a film is marketed, how it fares in America -- and its fate in other countries."

The site took off after six months he started it.

"Initially it was more of a hobby," Pandya says. "I thought I was one of the very few people who kept a tab on the box-office but when I started getting scores of visitors -- and not just from America or Europe, I knew this was going to be big.

"People in Japan wanted to know how an Arnold Schwarzenegger film was doing and from Italy, there were hits wanting to know how a Sharon Stone or Sylvester Stallone film was doing. I knew then there were thousands of movie buffs around the globe who kept a tab on the box-office week after week"

Pandya will keep a tab on his own film in about a year.

He is joining hands with older brother Piyush Dinker Pandya, 31, a writer and director, to make American Born Confused Desi. The movie, budgeted at $ 1.5 million (the average cost of a starless independent movie is $ 3 million), focuses on the humor, angst, anger, frustrations and fulfillment in young Indian Americans (ABCDs). It will start shooting in New York and New Jersey in about two months.

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