Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #157: Or Get Off The Pot


It's getting so you don't really know who's doing what anymore.

According to Nikki Finke, and in defiance of official denials, others are reporting that MGM/UA is still up for sale.

Now I don't know what's really going on in the heads of the people who own MGM/UA, I'm not a psychic, nor do I actually know any of the people involved, I'm just a face in the crowd, but I do have suspicions.

I feel that there's a certain amount of confusion over what to do with MGM/UA. Part of the consortium, of which Sony/Columbia Pictures is a major player, would like to see the company succeed, not only for the potential profits, but because having a healthy company, even a competitor, is a key ingredient in a healthy industry.

It's one of the immutable bylaws of business, competition
improves efficiency, profitability, and the quality of product. The whole concept of the world as a zero sum game where everyone has to grab their piece of the pie or starve is a lie, because we live in a world where you can always make more pies, that are often bigger, tastier, and definitely fresher.

But then there's the other part of their mind. The deep, dark, reptilian, irrational part that is repulsed by the very concept of competition. This part doesn't want to run a business, it wants to run a kingdom, with no other kingdoms taking a piece of the pie. It wants to stomp on all other pies, even the ones it can have a piece of, and sit in its meagre garret, sucking on its few remaining crumbs, and thinking it's the smartest dude in the world.

It's that conflict, which affects most business decisions in Hollywood, which is why the MGM/UA sale story keeps coming back like an 80s horror movie killer. Too many companies, especially movie companies, have been razed into the ground by that irrational reptilian brain, so it's not much of a stretch for folks to assume the worst.

But, as that old maxim goes:When you assume, you only make an ASS out of U and ME.

This time, I'm going to hope for the best, think positive, unlike that other time I assumed the worst, and believe that the better angels of their nature will prevail and make MGM/UA a going concern again. So I've prepared a few simple steps the owners of MGM/UA can follow to get the company rolling.

1. LEAVE MGM'S HISTORY TO THE DVD DIVISION: One of the few things that work really well for MGM/UA is their home video division, even in my dinky small town, the company is usually very well represented at local stores. Now there's the temptation to try to recreate the age when MGM was bigger than big, and boasted more stars than the heavens, but those days are gone, and they're not coming back. When it comes to selling the classics, the old MGM brand is just fine. However, when it comes to selling something new, they need to redefine the brand, (I know, I hate corporate buzz-speak too) and get people thinking of more than just old classics when they hear those fabled initials.

2. PAY EQUITY INVESTORS FIRST: One of the main problems plaguing Hollywood is the so-called "credit crunch." Despite what they may say it's not caused by all those bad, fraudulent, and poorly managed loans, it's caused by equity investors, the people who actually put up the money to make the movie, being the lowest on the totem pole, and the last to be paid, if they get paid at all.

So-called "A-List" stars and directors usually have deals giving them big pieces of the box office revenue, right from dollar one, and when the equity investors get their turn, there's usually not even the steam off the studio's pee left for them. Now I'm not saying that actors and directors be screwed over, in fact I don't want anyone to be screwed over, but they're also getting massive paydays up front in the tens of millions of dollars. Simply tell them, they can have one, or the other, not both, and even then, base their pay on their actual ability to draw an audience.

When it comes to investors, if you pay them, they will come.

3. BASE BUSINESS DECISIONS ON BUSINESS REASONS, NOT EGO: This shouldn't need explaining, but doing something that will cost the studio money, just to prove a point, or to make the boss feel good about themself is not the way to run a railroad. There is no better deodorant than success, and success always makes the top boss look good.

4. SIMPLIFY: Let this be your business plan, MAKE MOVIES THAT MAKE MONEY. You can't afford to blow millions on John Cusack's or Brian De Palma's latest anti-war screed, even though it's other people's money, and it'll score you a good table at the next Obama fundraiser. It's just not good to piss away money, and MGM can't afford it. Crass commercialism will have to be the buzzword, and I suggest you do it by trying to fill commercial niches the major studios seem to be ignoring, like non-comic book action/adventures, thrillers, horror, and modestly ambitious science-fiction/fantasy.

5. PROMOTE EFFICIENCY: The means of production are supposed to be cheaper, thanks to new technology, use that to your advantage. Big stars are superfluous when you have a good story, that's well told, and properly marketed to the right audience. Look for young and hungry filmmakers, foster their talent, promote loyalty to the company, and teach them that just tossing money at a movie is not the best way to make a movie, when a little imagination will do the trick.

6. DON'T BASE YOUR FORTUNES SOLELY ON BLOCKBUSTERS: Right now every studio seems stuck on the mindset that every film has to play on 4,000+ screens and break box-office records just to break even. However, if your films are well made, and done with some efficiency, they don't have to be blockbusters to be profitable. This way, the mega-hits become icing on the cake, allowing you to make more movies that make more money.

7. DON'T BASE YOUR FORTUNES SOLELY ON REMAKES: Sure, some remakes do catch on, but a lot don't, and there's always the desire to make the remake bigger, and way more expensive than the original. You can get a film done cheaper when it's something the filmmakers are passionate about, and they're willing to do what it takes to get their film made. And when they're loyal to the studio, because they're treated firmly, but with actual respect, they're less likely to go ape-shit on the budget.

I know I'm just a voice in the wilderness here, but I just gotta keep banging my drum, and mixing metaphors, because someday, somewhere, these lessons might actually sink in.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, you're absolutely right. Nothing to add.