The internet is all abuzz over something that doesn't involve Betty White, at least not yet. The Wachowksi siblings, Andy and Lana/Larry, have announced that their next project will be a "Hard-R" gay love story between an American GI and an Iraqi civilian. Now they say that the film will be a "cinema verite" project meaning that it will only cost $100 million to make, and they're looking for financing. So let's look at the facts of the case...
1. The sibs have handled gay related themes before. Their debut film Bound was a lesbians do a heist thriller.
2. Bound had a total box office take of $3 million.
3. The Wachowskis had enormous success with The Matrix, an explosion of visual and narrative daring, that was done on the now relatively tight budget of $63 million, and earned $463 million worldwide.
4. Denied their dream of doing a direct sequel to The Matrix, and a prequel with none of the original cast and a story centered on the machines turning people into batteries, they followed up their success by splitting their 1 planned sequel into the Matrix Reloaded and Matrix Revolutions.
5. Both films became famous for their increasing narrative incoherence and ballooning budgets. While they sold a lot of tickets, their sky-high production and marketing costs meant that any profits made, were minuscule.
6. Their follow up to The Matrix trilogy was Speed Racer, which crashed and burned with critics and audiences as an incoherent mess of candy-colored visuals and cost over $130 million to make, not counting the mega-millions spent on marketing the film.
7. While some gay themed films have made money, Brokeback Mountain being the biggest that I know of, with a total global take of $173 million, most haven't. Those that did make money haven't made the sort of profits that would justify the kind of budgets the Wachowskis are used to working with.
8. Iraq War themed movies are pure box office poison. While The Hurt Locker did win the Oscar for Best Picture, it only made $16 million domestic, and $25 million internationally, and it's considered a relative success story. (In the realm of indie financing the odds of the producers seeing any of that foreign B.O. cash are pretty slim.)
9. Despite the hoary old maxim of "sex sells," overtly sexually themed movies don't really sell, at least not in theaters. R-Rated movies don't do as well as PG or G Rated movies, and the "harder" the R, the lower the take. This holds true regardless of the sexual orientation of the characters. People don't want to go to theaters to see sexual topics, not when they have the internet ready to provide all they want in the comfort, a privacy, of their own homes.
Which brings me to my theory. The Wachowski Siblings aren't stupid, but they know that after the stink up of Speed Racer, they're going to need to do something drastic to get their careers back on track. However, doing a movie that's pretty much guaranteed to lose money is not the way to do it. What I think is that they are not really looking to make this movie.
They want all the attention that announcing the intent to make the movie will get them, but what I think they're really looking for is that question that people making pitches normally fear: "What else have you got?"
Then they shrug, and offer something a little less drastic, a little more commercial, but still something that a studio/financier normally may not be too eager to back, but in comparison with their first project, seems downright commercial. They'll go on like it's a sacrifice to the demands of commerce, and get to make their real intended project.
This is a common tactic in the civil service. When a government department has to put forth an unpopular policy, they would purposely leak info about doing an even more unpopular policy. Once the outrage over the leaked policy dies down, their real policy plan would seem relatively tame. It's all about perception, and in Hollywood, a business that is all perception, this is the sort of plan that might actually work.
That's my theory, I might be wrong, but if I am, I'll turn in my smug know-it-all union card.