Thursday, 8 May 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #91: Death and Taxes

It's an old cliche that the only inevitable things in life are death and taxes. Well, that's what we're going to talk about today at Hollywood Babble On & On.


...from over-exposure that is.

And yes, I'm looking at you Marvel Comics.

I know the company has to strike while the proverbial Iron Man is hot, but I think they run the risk of a serious shark jumping with Ant-Man.

I'm sure Ant-Man is a wonderful character and all that, but he's not exactly part of the Marvel A-List. Especially since the closest thing to a cinematic Nick Fury: Agent of Shield movie was David Hasselhoff with an eye-patch in an unsold campy TV-pilot.

And this is where the concept of death by over-exposure comes in.

For the next couple of years we're looking at a Marvel superhero movie opening about every second day. You got Iron Man sequels, Wolverine, X-Men 4, Avengers, Thor, yadda, yadda, yadda, until we get Ant Man: The Musical starring Ben Stiller in the title role and Jack Black as the voice of Nibbles, the hyperactive sarcastic talking ant.

I can understand trying to maximize the movie-franchise possibilities the Marvel Universe, in all its permutations, provides, but there's the risk of killing the golden goose. For years Marvel laboured under what was known as the "Marvel Movie Curse" where the few cinematic versions of their beloved properties that made it to completion were low rent, often campy, often poorly made and decidedly pale imitations of the DC Comics mega-blockbusters like the Superman and Batman movies.

I mean they made a movie of The Punisher and not only did they treat it like a low rent Stallone knock-off they got rid of both the skull on his body armour and the body armour. While fans can accept some changes, even drastic ones, but removing the one thing that defines the character from every other action B-Movie vigilante is a very bad idea.

The success of Iron Man shows that Marvel characters whose comics aren't as
popular or iconic as Spider-Man, could still have legs as movies.

However, a constant and never-ending onslaught of Marvel movies could turn audience reactions from: "Oh boy, a Marvel movie!" to "Oh god no, it's another Marvel movie!"

That's why my only advice to Marvel is to pace themselves.

They don't want to see what happened to the comic book market in the 90s happen to the superhero movie market. That would be bad for businessmen and fans alike.

Now onto...


...or the lack thereof.

Over 300 employees of the TV show Ugly Betty have lost their jobs due to the show moving from Los Angeles to New York City, where it's actually set, and these employees are blaming it all on Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger for not doing enough to stop "runaway productions."

To those who aren't as hip and in the know as I am, namely a certain Kazakhstan goat-herd name Ugash who won't upgrade to a high speed internet connection, runaway productions are movies shot outside of the greater Los Angeles area.

Now you're probably wondering what is the difference between a runaway production and a film that's just shot on location.

Well, it's motive.

Films shot on location are shot outside Los Angeles because it would be too expensive to recreate their specific sights, sounds, and smells in a sound-stage at Universal.

If your script calls for a chase on the Eiffel Tower, you can either rebuild the entire thing, and its relative environs in L.A., either digitally, or physically, or you can just fly your cast to Paris, hire local technicians and shoot it there.

Runaway productions are films that can be shot in the Greater L.A. area, but are lured away by cheaper salaries and production costs, a myriad of state sponsored incentives, and what made New York so appealing to Ugly Betty's producers, sweetheart tax breaks.

State business taxes in California are among the nation's highest, causing many corporations to move out to greener pastures, and while their corporate HQs are in LA, the moguls will send productions wherever they can squeeze a fresh buck.

It's the nature of the beast that these companies look out for their own self-interests, and the Guvernator is being pilloried for letting them without creating tax incentives for California.

Now some are saying that a big conspiracy is behind Arnold's inability to deliver on these incentives. I don't really believe that since having incentives in California means eliminating the possibility of a mogul being forced to give up his Malibu beach house in order to move to Alabama with his studio. Studio moguls are like cats, effort is their enemy.

A little research shows that the issue is a wee bit more complicated. You see Californians have a tendency to elect state legislators who react vehemently against the possibility of any tax being cut, claiming that it's somehow a treat for the rich.

They forget two of the basic laws of economics.

1. Taxes are toxic. The more taxes the less business. Less business means lower revenues. Fewer taxes means more business, more business means more revenues to the state coffers.

2. The rich stay rich for a reason. They have the means to avoid taxes wherever and whenever they can thanks to their lawyers and accountants manipulating overly complicated tax-codes and being able to afford to send their business elsewhere.

So, someone proposes a tax incentive for productions to stay in California, they get branded as "corporate toadies" and a whole slew of other slanders by the "Eat the Rich" populists, businesses move out, people lose their jobs, revenue plummets, populist grand-standers win more elections on promises the state can't afford to pay for, thus raising and complicating taxes even further, costing more jobs and more revenue... etc...etc...

It's the "self-fulfilling idiocy" of economics.

My advice, California needs to put away the Marx and pick up some Milton Friedman. They need to simplify the system, reduce the taxes, and attract business back to the state.

New York did it, and they just got 300+ new taxpayers on their rolls.


  1. Seriously, I am a massive comic book geek, I grew up with X-Men, Teen Titans, Spider Man, etc. Even I am getting tired of Comic Book movies. Hollywood tends to overdo everything to the point you just get sick of it then they never do it again.

  2. ArchiCrash8/5/08 8:28 pm

    The only reason Antman is getting a movie is because its going to tie into the Avengers movie. But even still, he shouldn't be getting a movie. The Wasp, his girlfirend, should be getting the movie, and he should just be a co-star...

  3. Well said on the tax issue! I'm fed up with the fools who don't seem to understand that the private sector provides jobs and revenues for the state. If someone were to drop a nuke on Sacramento, it would be doing everyone a favor.

  4. prisoner1059/5/08 2:56 am

    D --

    Site is STILL loading like molasses in January in Green Bay. Using Firefox 2.

    Anyways Marvel has to make more movies. They get about 80% of their revenue from movies, about 11% comes from publishing, without movies to drive merchandizing and licensing they have nothing. They can't make enough money to cover costs obviously just by making comic books.

    There is a huge market gap caused by Time-Warner unable to get their act together and make comic book films, which are the only kind of Action movies that work now. Because the directors/writers can use the work done decades ago as a template. Most of our creative class could not make anything good if their lives depended on it.

    Characters such as Dr. Strange, or another Daredevil movie would work well. But you're right the list of lesser Marvel Characters including Alpha Flight, Sleepwalker, Moon Knight, Terror, Speedball, Night Thrasher, Nova, Namorita, Captain Britain, etc. are not particularly appealing or strong.

    Marvel does have another solution though. They bought Malibu Comics in the 1990's, and could quite credibly make movies out of some of the characters if the rights were theirs (I don't know if they are).

    We're talking: Firearm (tough Brit exile, ex-Special Boat Services PI in LA overrun by super-types, both heroes and villains); Prime (little kid becomes a Captain Marvel type superhero); HardCase (washed up movie star becomes a Superhero sort of Superman); Nightman (aimless slacker gets marginal superpowers, power to hear "evil thoughts" and no ability to sleep, uses technology and skill to become more formidable every enemy).

    These are all good characters, are fun and some are original, their emphasis is on character, not powers, and have place settings as well.