Thursday, 19 June 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #118: Letting Your Ego Sell You & Your Films Short

A tip of my rain-soaked Sou'wester to the indomitable Nikki Finke for the stories I'm going to cast my cynical gimlet eye on today.

1- One thing I can definitely say about Robert Shaye is that he has a seemingly infinite capacity for instilling feelings of deep schadenfreude in the cockles and sub-cockle areas of people all over Hollywood.

It seems that Senor Shaye took a bit of a bath trying to sell Marvel stock short after the box-office success of Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk. Now to those of you who aren't as hep to the intricacies of high finance, unlike me who watched Traders on Canadian TV, selling short is a tricky way to make money on someone else's failure.

Let me explain it in a bare-bones fashion:

Selling Short is when Speculator A is certain that the stock price for Company B is going to go down further than a Hollywood starlet on a bender.

So Speculator A borrows some Company B stock from Shareholder C.

Speculator A then sells the borrowed stock at the current price, waits for it to plunge in value, buys the now cheaper shares, and returns them to Shareholder C, while keeping the extra cash.

However, if Company B's stock goes up, Speculator A has to buy back the more expensive stock, and henceforth loses a pretty packet of ye olde spondoolicks.

Which is what happened to Shaye.

Now if you didn't read Nikki's post, you might wonder why Shaye decided on what, in hindsight and to some in foresight, seems like a pretty foolhardy move.

Well the answer is ego.

Shaye had the rights for a big screen Iron Man, but had demanded changes to the character and his powers that didn't mesh with the comic book mythology Marvel's successfully carried for over 40 years. When Marvel went into self-financing their movies Shaye was so certain that they'd fail without his genius, he started his short-sell scheme, and when that didn't work, did it again with the Incredible Hulk.

Which brings me to the bare essence of what appears to be the problem with Shaye as a businessman and why so many people in his industry seem to revel in his every setback and petard hoisting: his ego.

He drove New Line into the ground by making business decisions based not on a business cost/benefit criteria, but on a desire to "stick it" to the people who were responsible for the company's successes, which he alienated in the first place. That's why The Hobbit was held up for so long, and might be still end up dead in the water due to the unending lawsuits over profit shares. It's why he squandered millions on The Last Mimzy, and hundreds of millions on The Golden Compass. There was no positive creative drive behind those projects, but a negative ego-based drive to show his own superiority over the people behind New Line's hit franchise The Lord of the Rings.

And it looks like he still hasn't learned his lesson, and it's starting to cost him his own money. My advice, is that Shaye should look up the definition of insanity, and then take some time to really think about how it applies to him. Then maybe he should take up gardening.

2. The second story delves into the realm of horror. It seems the current head of Lionsgate is looking to cast the horror movie Clive Barker's Midnight Meat Train into the outer darkness of direct to DVD oblivion. This has enraged horror fans who have been buzzing like caffeinated bees over this movie, and have been jonesing for some hard R-Rated horror with a pretty thin selection this summer.

Now let's look at the brass tacks of this situation. Meat Train cost $15m to make, it's already had millions in free promotion by online fans, thanks to the imprimatur of approval from source author Clive Barker, and has a decided lack of competition in the genre with only the relatively weak buzzing flicks The Strangers, and The Happening the only direct genre competition in theatres.

This situation is a perfect storm of making a quick buck in the movie business. So you must wonder why Lionsgate, which spent millions on Bratz: The Movie, won't even give this film the steam off its pee.

The answer is ego.

Meat Train got the green light by Lionsgate's old regime. The new regime doesn't want any of their projects to be a success, fearing that it would make themselves look bad in comparison.

Now I think that every studio should have a codicil in the contract of each and every major decision maker that any decision based on ego instead of money, would get that person fired, possibly out
a window, immediately without a traditional golden parachute.

And it's not just about having $15m pissed away upwind, and turning horror fans against your company as a whole, but it's about not seeing the opportunity this situation presents.

You release the film. If it's a hit, you take credit for your brilliant marketing and distribution plan. If it fails, you blame the whole debacle on the old regime and say you only released it on the slim chance of getting back your investment. Because one of the key ingredients for a good CEO is seeing beyond personal ego and agendas to see opportunities for profit and ways to exploit them.

Which is why I want the Lionsgate board to consider...

You can't blame me for trying. Do you see what those studio guys get paid these day?

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