Sunday, 19 July 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #329: Musings on Movies, Money & Madness


The latest installment in the Harry Potter franchise raked in over $150+ million over the past 5 days, putting its studio Warner Bros. over the $1 billion mark in revenues this summer.

They're the second studio to hit that mark, right after Paramount, but unlike Paramount they don't have to contend with a massive debt with their parent company, and spending the last few years releasing films that made money for other people, but not them. They are also the only company that has consistently beat the billion for 10 of the past 11 years.

This is due to the success of Harry Potter's latest field trip from Hogwarts, but also the films that the media considered surprise moneymakers like The Hangover ($235 million domestic) and Gran Torino ($148 million).

I'm sure both were considered to have potential, or they wouldn't have been given the green light, but not that sort of potential. The Hangover was an R Rated comedy with no stars that didn't involve teenagers and pies, so the expectations of the studio were probably modest. Considering that they gleefully signed a profit participation deal with the director in lieu of an up front fee to save money they were probably very modest indeed. When it hit as big as it did, I'm sure Todd Phillips was dancing with glee.

Another film with modest expectations was Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino. Here is a film with a star that's pushing 80, playing a crusty prejudiced crank and the catchphrase of "Get off my lawn." That's not exactly what blockbusters are made from, yet that was Eastwood's strategy, one he had followed for years. Take a look at Clint's filmography, the great majority of his films had modest budgets, yet big ambitions. He deliberately followed that strategy knowing that if he proved himself a consistently profitable filmmaker and star, who didn't risk the studio's financial future with every picture, he could have the independence that he wanted even though he was a part of the studio system.

Both films succeeded, and helped push their studio over the top because the delivered what they promised, and did it at a reasonable price. If other studios followed that strategy and didn't put all their eggs in the proverbial cinematic basket of a tiny handful of overpriced, overwrought "blockbusters," and balanced them out with smaller films with broad appeal, they could reach a nice equilibrium of consistent profitability.

Sadly, too many companies are wrapped up in the "blockbuster or else" strategy to see that there's a better and cheaper way right under their noses.


The publicists for the film The Ugly Truth starring Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler, showed some grace under pressure when the hotel that was hosting their press junket got a bomb threat.

Now I could say that the only bomb in that hotel was a Katherine Heigl romantic comedy, but I won't, because I'm classy, and I already used that joke somewhere else.

What I would like to talk about is how the publicists simply moved the entire operation to a restaurant across the street, and got the job done.

Now those publicists deserve some kudos. They followed the old showbiz maxim that the show must go on to the letter. It showed a level of professionalism that's hard to find among the spoiled masses of Hollywood's elite. This is especially true in the field of movie publicity, when disaster strikes, you use it, and milk it for as much free coverage as you can.

So to publicity department of Sony Studios, you are my magnificent bastards of the week!*


I don't normally report of celebrity behavior, it's too damn repetitive, but I thought I must make a mention of reports that are burning up the gossip blogs about actress Mischa Barton. The reports, and I'm not making any claim as to their accuracy, say that she was committed to a period of psychiatric evaluation after an alleged 3 day cocaine and party binge.

I was not surprised by this report, what I am surprised is that it's not happening every day to Hollywood's current generation of starlets and wannabe starlets. We live in an age where a young actress can click with a successful TV show or movie, assume that it guarantees her a big-name A-List movie career, and flounders with a series of unseen films, missed opportunities, and dwindling finances.

Toss in the 24/7 bottomless chum bucket of gossip blogs, tabloid fish-wraps, celebrity magazines, and infotainment shows, with a nightclub culture willing to pay young actresses up to $100,000 a night to dance, drink, and do drugs in front of the paparazzi at their establishments, and an audience more interested in the schadenfreude achieved from seeing the young and attractive destroy themselves in public, and you've got a perfect recipe for self destruction.

I expect more young stars to hit bottom in the months to come. With overvalued mortgages due and no one willing to hire a neurotic addict who parties all night, every night, things are only going to get worse for a lot more of them.

*This I hope to make a regular feature where I will give kudos to deserving Hollywood folks who show professionalism, intelligence, guts, or guile.

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