Friday, 30 July 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #566: Billionaire Boys Club

Welcome to the show folks...

The fat cats are strutting their stuff this week, so to speak. Two billionaires, Ron Tutor, and Richard Branson are both jumping head first into the movie business this week. Ron Tutor finalized his purchase of Miramax from Disney, costing around $600 million and having his picture stitched onto a voodoo doll in Harvey Weinstein's basement. Richard Branson has opened a new production company called Virgin Produced , and has tapped former child star turned producer Justin Berfield and his business partner Jason Felts to run it.

They're not the first. Clothing magnate Sidney
Kimmel's been in the racket for years backing indie darlings like Lars & the Real Girl.

Ah, to have a few billion to toss around. Now you're probably wondering why would these normally shrewd businessmen get involved in a business as crazy as the movies.

Well, there are several reasons.

1. Glamor. There's rich, and then there's MOVIE RICH. Being rich and in the movie business adds a whole other dimension to the ego stroking a rich man gets. The most beautiful people in the world will line up to kiss your ass, sometimes literally, and that's a hell of a lot more exciting than sitting in a room full of accountants, engineers and lawyers discussing oil leases, or shipping schedules for your widget vendors.

2. Money. Despite the risks, which are great, the potential for rewards are greater too if you nail a few big hits. This appeals to those who love...

3. Excitement. The movie biz is a feast or famine roller coaster ride. It's the ultimate thrill for those with a gambler's soul. Big risks, big rewards, and a chance to play the artist.

Okay, now we know the reasons why they would get involved, what should they know if they get involved?

That's a good question, if I say so myself. Well there are many things they should know:

1. If you want loyalty in Hollywood, get a dog. The great philosopher Confucius once told me during a poker game that when it comes to Hollywood and money, you should trust no one farther than you can throw them. Confucius then cleaned me out with a straight flush.

But my old friend makes a good point.

A common mistake of the billionaire turned movie-maker is that they usually partner themselves with a large, major studio to handle their distribution and marketing. That's not healthy. Because a lot of the major studios see a billionaire and they see a sucker. The majors can easily trap a self-financed producer who spent tens of millions of dollars to make their movie into a situation where they either have to eat the studio's dirt and accept a smaller piece of the profits, if any, or spend tens of millions of dollars more of their own money to get what they think is their fair share.

Most just make a couple of movies, get frustrated and walk away, bitter at how they were treated and muttering that Hollywood is not run like a proper business.

Branson however is doing his deal in partnership with Relativity Media and their Rogue Pictures imprint, most likely to be distributed through their recent purchase of the Overture Films marketing and distribution department. In this partnership Branson is the alpha dog, able to crush his partners out of sheer bulk if push comes to shove. Or as my pal Confucius would say: He can throw Relativity pretty far if he has too. In fact, with reports that Relativity is going to go public, Branson's Virgin Empire could own a sizable chunk of Relativity as well.

2. Watch your spending. When you're a billionaire playing movie mogul there are going to be forces trying to get you to spend your money wildly. That's because you'll be spending that money on them, their clients, and their buddies. They'll stroke your ego, and any other part they can get their hands on, promising you riches, awards, critical praise, or just a snog with that hot starlet you met at Sundance. Don't let that happen. When it comes to making movies, be penny wise and pound wise. Learn what your money can really get you.

Maximize your company's potential by minimizing overhead. Only have the staff you absolutely need. Only offer the salaries and perks you need to keep them. And remember, you don't need the biggest office in Hollywood, or the biggest yacht at Cannes. That's your ego talking and messing with you. You just need the best movies that make the best profits.

3. Stars don't shine the way they used to. Stars are famous, glamorous, and sexy. They also don't sell tickets like they used to. Check the top moneymaking movies of the past 40 years and you'll find that a bulk of the record breakers made stars instead of being carried by stars. Look into what any 'name' actor can bring in at the box office and the home video market before you blindly sign a check for more than they can deliver.

4. Be passionate about movies. If you're a billionaire getting into movies, you need to love what you do. You must love the hustle, the histrionics, the hype and the hysteria. If you don't have this passion for the game, you might as well be selling widgets to the other billionaires. Because if you don't love what you're doing, it will drive you mad. If you love it, it might still drive you mad, but at least you'll be enjoying the ride.

5. Trust your gut. When you're a billionaire in the movie biz, there are going to be dozens, if not hundreds, of people who will present themselves as experts on the movie biz. They will offer their advice, and their guidance whether you want it or not. Well here are the simple facts about that kind of expert advice:

A. At best it's no better than your own gut instinct. There are no hard and fast scientific rules guiding success in Hollywood. Most of the time success is based on instinct, that chill down the back of your neck that tells you that this is the sort of movie you want to pay money to make just so you can see the finished product.

B. At worst such advice is dictated by agendas that center around the giver's own attitudes, prejudices, ego, or schemes, rather than the success or failure of the advice receiver. Remember, if it doesn't feel right, it isn't right, and move onto to something that does.

6. Don't let them get to you. That's pretty self explanatory.

If any billionaires are reading this, and if it helps them navigate the tricky waters of Hollywood, I require 5% of all the profits they make fas a result of this advice. I'm not greedy, and I need the work. I applied to replace both Simon Cowell and Ellen Degeneres as the main judge on American Idol. I told Fox TV I was viciously acid tongued and horrendously unqualified, and they turned me down.

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