Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #387: Tighten That Belt!

Welcome to the show folks...

It looks like the big studios are going to have to tighten their belts after a pretty harsh year of big budget turkeys. Production costs have been going up steadily for decades beyond the rate of inflation, and a lot of major films, ranging from $75 million to $100+ million spent on just production, and mega-millions spent on prints and advertising sank like stones. It was also the year where underdogs exceeded expectations, with films like
District 9 making mucho dinars, and the rampant buzz over the $15,000 ghost story, Paranormal Activity putting the film already in profit, solely with midnight shows and word of mouth over marketing.

What does this tell us?

It tells us that Hollywood spends too much money, creating too much risk, for too little reward. Margins are wafer thin, with most major studio releases needing to exceed anywhere from $200-$300 million just to break even.

I mean they spent $70 million of Judd Apatow's
Funny People. Now I admired Apatow's ability to deliver hits at reasonable rates, but he broke the first rule you're supposed to follow when you aim to wallow in directorial self-indulgence: DO IT CHEAP SO IT CAN EVENTUALLY MAKE MONEY & YOU DON'T LOOK LIKE AN ASS!

Since the film was essentially people walking around and talking, the main cause of its bloated budget has to lie at the feet of the cast, most of whom were cheap relative unknowns just a couple of years ago, but it looked like each one cashed in their chips for the big payday, and pretty much cashed out their box office cachet with this film. Completely ruining Apatow's business model of doing productions on the cheap, reducing the financial risks, while cushioning their creative risks.

But I digress.

One thing the studios are talking about are chopping star salaries, specifically the "20 & 20" deals, which means $20 million up front, plus 20% of the gross from dollar one. I don't like seeing anyone getting screwed over when a film's a big hit, but if I was running the studio it would be:
You can have one, or the other, but you can't have both, and even then it would only be the select few whose audience appeal is guaranteed beyond the ability of any member of the dim constellation orbiting Hollywood these days.

But here's the money quote so to speak, that sums up modern Hollywood.
Top talent will continue to command a premium price, according to Barry Katz, president of New Wave Entertainment, which represents stars such as Dane Cook.

“I can guarantee you that the big stars aren’t going to take a pay cut,” he says. “Studios need them to bring in the audiences.”
Think about it for a second.




What did you glean from that quote?

Well, I'll tell you what I gleaned.

I gleaned that Hollywood in general doesn't know what sells to the general audience.

Who is the client, the brightest star in his firmament, that the article, probably at the Mr. Katz's insistence, mentioned?

Dane Cook.
Dane Fucking Cook

Yes, I'm talking about one of the most over-hyped box-office toxins in Hollywood. His box office record is so poor, he doesn't even rate a page at Box Office Mojo.

Yet he's the prime example of stardom that they seemed fit to mention. Sure, he does well enough at stand up for his brother to steal $10 million bucks from him, and I won't bring up the other incidents of theft associated with his career, but he's the box office equivalent of mustard gas. He's the male Nicole Kidman!

Right now, it's never been cheaper to make a professional quality looking movie, thanks to buckets of new technology. But the studios are spending too much on "stars" and too little on actually trying to connect with the general audience in a meaningful way.

It's a repeat of the malaise that affected the industry in the 1960s, where the studios were driven to near bankruptcy by overpriced bombs, cast with has-beens and never-weres, and an all over inability to make anything that connects to the audience in any meaningful way.

Marx did have a point when he said that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce.


  1. What were all the films that made money. The small modest films with unknown cast members. The only blockbuster that did make money was transformers 2 and that barely broke even.

    Two big winners this summer were The Hangover and District 9. One was a witty original comedy about a weekend in Vegas that went wrong. Another was a modest budget sci0fi that had far more substance than Transformers and GI Joe could dream of.

  2. I did mention how the star-less underdogs outperformed most of the big budget "blockbusters."

    You don't need stars anymore, the concept of stardom is as dead as the dodo.