Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #230: When You A Little Guy

Yesterday I commented on the troubles Lionsgate Entertainment is going through, a string of expensive bombs, a stumbling stock price, unhappy shareholders, and the possibility of a major management shake up.

Well, I'd like to take this post to offer something a little different than my usual sarcasm and try to be positive, and offer advice to what a smaller company can do to survive, and hopefully thrive in these times.

1. Know your limits. This should be self-explanatory, but a lot of people in show-biz need to be reminded. Every company has limits to what it can afford to do, and what it can afford to lose. Learn them, know them, and figure out the best way to expand them and turn them into strengths.

2. Study what the majors are doing, and do the opposite. Okay, maybe I'm being a bit glib here, but there is some truth in it. The majors are going through a production contraction, reducing their production slates, and centering mostly on big blockbusters like comic book adaptations and Oscar bait. Look where there are gaps in the market that need filling, and respond accordingly.

3. Land a horror franchise. Horror franchises are bread and butter to a small company. They're usually cheap, sell well, and make a decent profit. However, they can also be a trap if you get lazy, so you must also...

4. Know when to end a horror franchise. Horror films usually enter the realm of self-parody around the 4th movie, and then you're just flogging an undead horse. Plan ahead with the creators to see how long you can play that pony, and when to send it to the glue factory. This goes hand in hand with having at least two or three potential replacement franchises waiting in the wings. (Note: never let any two franchises running at the same time be too similar. Divide them between supernatural thrillers, sci-fi monster flicks, and traditional crowd pleasing slasher flicks.)

5. Maintain good relations with talent. When the talent gets pissy, prices go up. It's a fact of life in the movie biz, and as a smaller company you can't really afford to pay those kinds of prices. Be fair, be open, be honest, and you'll find that people will be more willing to take less money up front. It's the first rule of tre capitalism, when both sides of a deal are happy, then many more happy-making deals are in the offing.

6. Getting big is good, but pace yourself. As your film company succeeds, the temptation will come to "go big" and make expensive blockbusters like the big boys in an attempt to find "legitimacy." And while blockbusters do have the potential for great reward, they also come with humongous risks. Which is why you have to pace yourself, never letting your movies get too big too fast, or you might just burst something and start hemorrhaging more money than you can afford. This goes hand in hand with knowing your limits.

7. Never let ego or money drive alone. I've said before that the two driving forces behind decision making in Hollywood is the Money Drive and the Ego Drive. The Money Drive craves commercial success, the Ego Drive craves awards, prestige, and personal glory. Alone, they can quickly destroy a company, but together, in the proper balance, they can make a company succeed.

I'll end with a cautionary note. There was a company, it had a profitable niche, made a lot of money, and even made an Oscar winning blockbuster trilogy. However, they didn't follow my advice, and...

...we all know what happened to them in the end.

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