Saturday, 13 August 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #782: Penny Witless Pound Foolish

Today two stories about how Hollywood is penny witless and pound stupid. That clever turn of stomach phrase is my way of saying that no one in Hollywood knows squat about handling money. They pinch pennies in all the wrong ways, while also creating an atmosphere of indulgence that costs them even more dearly.


By now you've all heard about how AMC tried to make up for overspending on
Mad Men, including Executive Producer Matt Weiner's $10 million payday, by shit-canning Frank Darabont and trying to skin money out of their biggest hit The Walking Dead.

First they clawed back the tax break the show got for filming in Georgia and put in the network's coffers instead of plowing it back into the show like they did in the first season. Then they slashed a further $650,000 per episode from the budget. But they said that no one should worry because the brainiacs at AMC pitched some truly brilliant batshit cost-cutting ideas like:

1. Making the zombies "heard" and not "seen." You see visible zombies cost money because you need make-up. Zombies that are simply moans heard coming from the other room are, at least in the minds of AMC executives, a wonderful money saving device.

2. Dividing the shooting week half indoors and half outdoors. Now this is just fine if you're doing a domestic drama about a bunch of people who live in the same house. However, if you're doing a show about people forced into being refugees in their own country because civilization collapsed, you have a completely different kettle of fish. The characters have to be constantly on the move in order to survive. That's the whole basis of the show.

It's obvious that whoever made these sorts of decisions didn't base them on any rational or logical basis. Then they wouldn't have been so cavalier to jerk around two of their biggest shows
Walking Dead and Breaking Bad, to pay for keeping Mad Men, which fights with Breaking Bad for second place at the network. Ego, and a place in Hollywood's "Cool Kids Club" probably played a bigger role in this territorial pissing match which could have been avoided if it was really all about the money.


A while ago Disney announced that they were going to revive
The Lone Ranger franchise with their biggest star Johnny Depp playing Tonto, and Arm & Hammer Baking Soda playing the titular vigilante who is neither Lone, nor a Ranger.

Well you can forget about it. Disney has pulled the plug after Producer Jerry Bruckheimer and Director Gore Verbinski pitched a production budget that was almost $250 million.

That's right, Bruckheimer and Verbinski wanted a quarter of a billion dollars to make a Western.

If you know your movie history you will recall that in the Golden Age of Hollywood Westerns were considered reliable because the were CHEAP TO MAKE. You just had to go out in the hills with a few horses and some props, and away you go.

The fact that Bruckheimer and Verbinski wanted to make it for almost $250 million strikes me as some form of madness that needs immediate psychiatric treatment.

But I'm not letting Disney completely off the hook. You see Disney was perfectly will to make the film, if Bruckheimer-Verbinski & Co. could do it for $200 million or less.

Think about that for a second: The cheapskate Disney budget offer was $200 million for a Western.

Give me that money, I'll make at least them four westerns. None will star Johnny Depp unless he's willing to take a huge pay cut, and they'll be as violent as hell, but that's how you make a fun Western. At least in my book.

Basically, everyone's bedbug batshit in this story.

So how do you avoid both penny pinching, and indulgent extravagance?

Well, it's easy....

1. IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE ABOUT MONEY. When it comes to both penny pinching and over-spending it usually has little to do with money, and everything to do with ego and territorial pissing. Studio and network bosses want to show that they're in control, especially when they are feeling really insecure about their abilities and position, and start picking nits whether they need to or not. On the producer/filmmaker side, they're out to prove their importance, and nothing proves that better than spending oodles and oodles of other people's money on your baby.

Now both sides would get along much better if they just put aside such inanity, and realize that they have to make these things so that they can make a profit. That's how you get to make more movies and TV shows.

2. THINK ABOUT WHAT IT DOES TO YOUR CAREER. No one should want to be known as stupidly miserly when they're an executive, or as a profligate self-indulgent twat when they're a producer/filmmaker. When your the sort of penny pincher who fires a producer right after using him to promote the show at Comic-Con over the money grubbing you think you need to do after shilling out too much for too little, the creatives are going to think twice before getting into business with you.

If you're a creative with a reputation for tossing money by the handful whether you need to or not, you're putting your own career in danger. Sure, it's great when you have a string of hits under your belt, but lucky streaks end, franchises run out of steam, and then what? Sure, you might be able to get away with being careless with money while you're hot, but when the day happens when you're not hot, no one is going to want to take a risk on you.

3. LEARN WHAT THINGS REALLY COST. Both media executives and creatives really need to learn what things really cost when it comes to making movies. I'm talking about casting, renting equipment, travel, feeding and sheltering the cast & crew, locations... I'm talking everything. They need to know what things cost, down to the penny, look for competitive bids when they can, then they will know how to do things at the best price available.

Then, maybe then, you might be able to avoid the troubles caused by being penny witless and pound foolish.


  1. I think the box office tanking of Cowboys vs Aliens had something to do with Lone ranger getting the money hose shut off.

    Look at the score card in the past few years of these huge budget high concept westerns.

    Wild Wild West - A SFX laden 100mil+ Jon Peters Giant Spider fiasco. FLOP

    Last Years Jonah Hex - BIGGEST FLOP of summer 2010

    Cowboys vs Aliens- a huge budget SFX laden western. FLOP.

    If there was anymore let me know.

    Clint Eastwood made Unforgiven and it was a critical and BO success. Because Clint does not frak around when it comes to making films.

  2. Don't forget True Grit, a traditional, non-mash up, non-campy Western that made $250 million worldwide on a $38 million budget.

  3. Heck, C&A had a budge of 163 mil.

    It was STILL cheaper than Lone Ranger.

    And it would at least have had an excuse for the money.

  4. Dirty McDingus Sezs:
    Cowboy movies are forever! When done right, they will come~
    Tangent: It goes into another article you posted a few days ago in regards to that monkey movie, upon reading it and other reviews I put them together and have found the underhanded tale within! It's a Gay mans revenge story!!! The script writer based the events in SF of where in '86 the first buttbumper was diagnoses with some strange new disease that kill him quick~ it was later called AIDS and strange people declared that it was a C.I.A. MAN MADE bug that was aimed at fags only.
    That later mutated to just being a C.I.A. MAN MADE bug mistake that was killing everybody! I've never even seen this stupid arse movie and the tale is good enough to make sure I'll never see it willingly. Man's hubris is what will kill him off in this new retcon monkey movie~ eyahh~ "take that all you straight people!!!", wails the limp wrister.
    And people won't even notice it because it has monkeys in it, like Homer Simpson~ ehee~ it got monkeys~~~
    finally; a 50mm machine gun Vs. an gorilla~ SEriously lame for people to geek out on the gorilla winning here.

  5. Blast Hardcheese16/8/11 1:32 pm

    Here's a question for you, D.

    The world economy is still mired in a slump, at best. Even taking into account the glamor factor, people can't keep throwing money down a rathole forever. And I can't think of anything that screams 'rathole' more than spending $250M on a stupid Western.

    When is it going to end? When will the investors who pony up the money finally say 'this is ridiculous' and walk away from the business? Have they already started?

  6. jepressman17/8/11 3:50 am

    The budget for Lone Ranger was much too high but then again all those investors would have received a portion of the profits pie. Westerns are not so popular overseas as here so counting on make-up monies from an international market is not a sound idea.The Lone Ranger,really? I always preferred Maverick or Marshal Dillon or The Rifleman.TLR doesn't appeal to this western lover.Johnny Depp should do a sequel to Ed Wood maybe with some song and dance numbers or CGI monkies or both! The current financial picture is dubious and DVD sales are way down and the fact that the idea of a Lone Ranger/Tonto film is meh,well don't bloody well do the thing . Save the studio money and come up with a better idea.So what about Ed Wood?

  7. I just finished investing in a movie (The Whisperer in Darkness) which cost well under 500k. We managed to simulate the world of 1927, with vintage railroads, cars, radios, etc. We also showed a secret underground base, had a dogfight between a biplane and flying aliens, a cult ritual, and other features.

    It turned out pretty good in not just my opinion. It's true none of our actors got multimillion dollar payrolls, but they were honest-to-God SAG members and a credit to the biz.

    What Hollywood is spending 250 megabucks on in a western is beyond me. Who can score that much crack? I'd put my little cheap movie up against ANYTHING the SyFy channel puts out and they're considered to be inexpensive films.

  8. Sandy-

    Let me know when you have a trailer for the movie. I'll gladly post it.