Monday, 4 August 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #140: Thoughts on Money, & Things That Cost Money....


Nikki Finke reports that Harry Sloan, chairman and CEO of MGM, has had his contract renewed for another 3 years. Now Nikki's wondering, like a lot of showbiz-biz watchers, just where MGM is going to get the money to revive the once nearly dead studio.

I have some suggestions.

A. Rebrand MGM as the company that does not screw equity investors. Outside money-men are casting a hairy eyeball askance at the major studios and their habit of having equity investors getting paid last, usually with the table scraps. Any business that not only pays real dividends, but doesn't treat them like short-bus rejects, could do a lot to woo them.

B. Don't try to go big time right away. Set up some bread and butter productions to get revenue moving quickly. I'm talking low-budget, high-concept flicks in the profitable genres of horror, action-adventure, and intelligently handled but low-brow comedies. If you don't want these films to be the "brand" of MGM, don't fear. MGM owns several moribund companies that pretty much exist in name only like Orion, American International, Filmways, Cannon and others, and can set those up to be the "B" movie division with "distributed by MGM" in small print at the end of the credits. Don't just use these companies for their libraries, exploit them, make them your legion of undead movie studios!

C. Break up with The Weinstein Company and find a way out of the Tom Cruise-United Artists deal. The Weinstein's magical ability to woo and mollify investors seems burnt out from over-use, and the bad buzz over the oft delayed Valkyrie, has reached swarm of killer bees level. Rebrand United Artists as a prestige "indie" label, probably the only one left soon, and carefully market and distribute smaller independent films. Basically, make deals like the Weinsteins, but actually release those movies.


Horror hounds are howling at more than the moon tonight. They're howling in rage at the recent decision of Lionsgate Pictures to dump the phantasmagoric Clive Barker's Midnight Meat Train. And it's not just horror fans howling like a hirsute Lon Chaney jr. in the middle of a roid rage, investors in the $15 million production are wondering how they'll get their money back if no one is allowed to pay to see the movie.

Now Lionsgate's defenders have some points to make:

1. Summer is a tough market, especially with the comic book movies being so dominant.

2. According to some reviews the film is extremely scary, violent, and gory, and is a tough sell to all but the most hard-core gore-hounds.

3. Lionsgate expects to make their money back on DVD sales and rentals, not in the theatres.

Well, here's what I think about those points:

1. Why does it have to come out in summer. A pre-Halloween release, with a tension building ad campaign, as well as selling it as counter-programming to the often tedious fall-winter Oscar bait might be just the ticket.

2. Back in the grand old days of exploitation cinema, they use to sell such flicks with taglines like: "Cover Your Eyes & Repeat: IT'S ONLY A MOVIE! IT'S ONLY A MOVIE!" and having ticket buyers sign a waiver that they won't sue if they die of fright. It's called "showmanship" and it used to be part of show-business before the MBA's made it all about accounting and not bums in seats.

3. The casual renter-buyer, not the raging fanboy, is what will make a movie profitable in DVD. The film already has a very strange name, and the bad vibe associated with its non-release will not motivate people to put it in their Netflix queue or to pick it off the shelf of the local Target. There has to be at least an attempt to sell it.

Of course those points are pretty much moot, since the prevalent theory is that Meat Train, and several other flicks are being shuffled off into the great unknown because they were all green-lit by Lionsgate's old boss, who used such films as bread and butter money-earners, while the new boss wants to move the company away from its low budget horror roots and make it into a major mainstream studio making major mainstream films.

Now while some decisions, like signing a deal with the cost effective and highly profitable Tyler Perry media mini-empire, are fairly shrewd, this disdain for the foundation of the company reminds me ofwhat happened to New Line. They tried becoming a mainstream major player, and now the company's a piece of paper taped to the door of a Warner Bros. studio supply closet with NEW LINE CINEMA written on it in crayon.

I'm all for growing, but a company, but like a tree, a company can't grow very far when it chops out its own roots.

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