Monday, 8 September 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #162: No Money For Old Men

A tip of my trail-worn cowboy hat to Nikki Finke for this story which illustrates another example of what I call the "self-fulfilling idiocy" and explains why the studio recently beefed up its litigation department.

For those too lazy to click the link venerable actor Tommy Lee Jones is suing Paramount Pictures for $10 million. His claim, Paramount's pseudo indie Paramount Vantage released the movie No Country for Old Men and then screwed him out of the filthy luchre owed him from the movie's box office take that he accepted in lieu of his regular up front fees.

The flick, unlike most recent Oscar nominees, apparently made money, raking in $74,283,625 domestic and $86,534,695 foreign for a grand international box office tally of $160,818,320. Now some sources put the production budget at about $20,000,000, which is about what the usual Hollywood production spends on one actor who made the cover of People and Us Weekly in the same month.

Using Hollywood's logic in determining if a film makes money, you take the production budget, double it, to cover the costs of marketing and distribution, and then put that amount against the box office rentals. By any stretch of the imagination, there should be somewhere around $100,000,000 in actual profits from this movie.

Now Paramount is claiming errors over the calculations of the "home video costs" and some-such, and Jones is demanding an outside auditor to dive into the snake-pit of studio bookkeeping and I'm not going to discuss these formulas and such. That's for lawyers and accountants to settle, and the whole thing will probably end with Paramount tossing a couple of million in Jones' direction to shut him up, but I will talk about how this relates to what I think is one the core problems Hollywood has.

I call it the Self Fulfilling Idiocy.

The Self Fulfilling Idiocy is where someone sees a what should be a regular facet of doing business as a problem, and their plan to solve this percieved problem, so obviously causes greater and real problem, only an idiot would do it.

Right now Paramount has a lot of problems. Dreamworks, the source of most of their recent hits, is bailing out on them, their biggest summer movie was owned by Marvel Studios, and they only got their distributor's fees from that, and own none of the other ancilliary rights.

And to top it all off, equity investors, the banks, hedge funds, and other sources of capital, the life's blood of the movie biz, are leery of getting involved with Paramount. Shenanigans like this are not helping Paramount's case either. The old days of tickets to the nose-bleed seats at the Oscars and a chance to shake hands with Angelina Jolie at the after-party aren't going to mollify investors anymore. They can't afford to piss away their capital, they want a return on their investment, and they don't want to do business with anyone who doesn't pay their goddamn bills.

They can understand that if a film doesn't sell tickets, it's not going to pay. There is always an element of risk when dealing with the fickle tastes of the general populace, and you roll the dice and take your chances. What they won't stand for is to see a film actually make a profit, only to not even get the steam off Paramount's piss, when it comes to distributing the winnings.

And it's not just Paramount, the entire industry is infected with this disease, and while the studios think they can get away with it, thanks to their legions of lawyers and accountants, they won't. Because how can you screw anyone out of a movie's profits, when you can't raise the money to make the movies in the first place?

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