Thursday, 14 May 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #286: MGM-- Must Get Money

Pity poor MGM.

Once it was the grandest and most glamorous movie studio, boasting "more stars than in heaven," and a trademark gloss to everything it did.

Nowadays it's lucky to co-produce a Bond flick, or a remake that shouldn't be done, like the Pink Panther, and is currently trying to renegotiate the company's substantial debt. One of the plans being floated is to sell United Artists, but I can't see it earning much without the library, which MGM needs to stay afloat, and its deal with Tom Cruise is hemorrhaging epic amounts of cash on script rewrites alone without pulling in the green necessary to make the scene.

Now there are ways for MGM to survive financially, but it will take more than a cash infusion to keep the company running beyond the next quarter.

So let's have a little thought experiment, I want you to imagine that MGM has the financing necessary to keep themselves afloat for another year. Then you have to ask: "Now what?"

Well here's the plan, which I call Dump/Dump-Make/Make...

1. Dump Tom Cruise. He'll be happier back at Paramount, you'll be happier with him at Paramount, and Sumner Redstone's probably forgotten their split by now and will be grateful to have someone willing to work for them. Let him be their problem, and get him out of United Artists, because that's the next step of the plan.

2. Dump MGM. Not the whole company, just the name when it comes to new productions. The name Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer has a lot of history, but not much of a future. Back in the golden age it stood for films that were big, slick, glossy, glamorous, and often epic in scope. Nowadays it stands for films that want to be big, slick, glossy, etc...etc..., but just doesn't have the money to go big the way they used to. In branding a studio content truly is king, but in MGM's case their content is in conflict with their company's history.

The name United Artists, outside of the Tom Cruise boondoggle, is pretty much an unknown to modern moviegoers, being more or less moribund for years, if not decades. In a way it would be like starting a whole new company. One with a library of thousands of movies pulling in half a billion a year in revenue. Use MGM to sell the old films on DVD and television, use United Artists to sell the new one.

4. Make Friends. A lot of the independent film financing investment houses and indie producers aren't happy with a lot of the major studios. The majors screw them at every opportunity, which wasn't bad when times were good, and film investing could be a tax write-off, but those days are over, and folks want investments that pay off when the film's a hit. Don't screw them over, and keep them coming to you as the studio-distributor of choice.

5. Make Money. Do whatever it takes to bring in the cash. I'm talking low budget horror flicks, get someone from the Judd Apatow money factory to make a cheap but profitable comedy, I don't care. Forget winning awards, forget wooing critics, they don't pay the bills. I'm talking about pimping everything you've got to make the most money fast. If you don't want these films to taint your "brand" then take one of the moribund companies in the MGM vault like Orion and release it through them.

Just get the money coming in and keep it coming in. This is not about prestige, it's not about glamor, it's about survival.

Now get to work.


  1. Re: #2;
    The movies that made MGM's reputation for glamor have been in the hands of Warner Bros. (by way of Ted Turner) for over a decade. On the other hand, the current MGM library is mostly acquired movies/TV from dead companies, such as Orion. Given this, I think using the MGM identity to sell these movies would be severely misplaced, and thus MGM should sell the MGM name/trademark to Warners.

  2. I know about the loss of their golden age flicks to Warners, which is funny because for a brief time in the early 70s either MGM or UA owned some of the golden age Warner library. Of course Warners quickly bought them back when the economics reversed.

    Selling the MGM name could net them some quick cash. But does Warner want it?

    That's for their lawyers to figure out.

  3. It's brutal over there.
    They didn't even renew Pierce Brosnan's deal. After 15 years. Bastards. I had a series on Irish Dreamtime's slate.