Thursday, 25 August 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #791: Universal Needs My Advice

The axe is swinging at venerable but struggling Universal Pictures. They're cancelling projects left, right, and center, including several that were part of their 2008 mega-co-production deal with toy/game giant Hasbro.

The latest to get chopped is Ouija, which
was to be co-produced with Hasbro by Michael Bay and directed by McG. Now I can understand this decision, even though Universal had to shell out a $5 million penalty to Hasbro in order to cancel the production, and it boils down to money.

You see reports are saying that they were looking for a $140 million budget to make Ouija.

That's right, $140,000,000 for what would probably just end up a remake of 1986's $2,000,000 Witchboard.

That just shows how completely out of touch Hollywood has become when it comes to money, and I wouldn't be surprised if such orders aren't coming from their new corporate master, Philly based cable giant Comcast. With the way prices are skyrocketing, especially when it comes to marketing a film, a movie needs to more than double, and lately even triple its production budget to break even, let alone make a profit. The last
Fockers film made a couple of hundred million at the box office, but it cost so damn much to make, it still lost at least two king's ransoms for the company.

So what's a company to do?

They don't have the mega-rich comic book and SF/Fantasy franchises that Disney/Marvel and Warner/DC have. They don't even have a Planet of the Apes to suck money out of like 20th Century Fox.

But they aren't completely empty handed.

Now they almost completely bastardized their once classic monster franchises with the over-priced, non-scary, live-action-cartoon movies like The Mummy, Van Helsing, and The Wolf-Man, but the horror genre has traditionally been good to them and can become viable again if they do two things:

1. Do them cheap.

2. Make them scary.

Special effects and big set-pieces are all well and good but there is truth that there can be too much of a good thing, especially in horror films. Big budgets and big special effects have a tendency to drain horror films of what make them scary: mystery, and suspense. If you have multiple big events like fights, chases, and scares, all carefully timed out to Joel Silver's "Whammy Formula" then the audience is going to catch on, and everything will become predictable.

But I'm not saying that Universal should put all its eggs in the horror basket. No wa

There's also comedy. Work lowbrow, highbrow, leave no stone unturned and do it cheaply.

Now how can one do things cheaply in Hollywood's crazy economy?

First stars. Don't hire them, make them.

Hunt for new hungry talent. Groom them, treat them well, and make sure that they get every penny they're owed if they hit it big. Make working for any other studio seem like an ungodly hassle that just isn't worth it. The A-List is not worth the cash and profit shares that they demand, so do what was done in the old days and make your own.

If you do work with someone on the A-List make sure they can actually put bums in seats and then make them understand that they can get the big up front money, or the generous back end deal, they can't get both. If the movies do well, then pay them what's owed, without the silly ass accounting games that everyone in Hollywood plays.

Then, maybe then Universal might be able to get their house in order and start producing decent films with decent profit margins.


  1. I'm surprised we have not seen a $200 million, Michael bay produced John woo directed PAC-MAN film.

    Some of this is a good sign that someone on top with COMCAST is getting sick of this shit. After firing a exec who used company money to build himself a 200k bathroom.

  2. Universal could hire Uwe Boll (forget about the umlauts). Cheap fast and wow talk about great, well good, well, sort of sucking less... Talk about cheap.

    Seriously though, what is the deal with Boll? How the hell does he keep getting work?

    P.S. Just saw 'The Violent Kind' and while it is not everyone's cup of tea it was done cheap and mostly scary.

  3. Boll used to profit greatly from a German tax loophole that was really complicated, but made it more appealing to lose money making movies than to make money.

    That loophole was closed a couple of years ago, so he can't spend $75 million on one of his films the way he used to. How he manages to keep the money he does get is a mystery to me.

  4. It's still possible to do things right. Look at the cheapier horror indie ASWANG - no-name actors recruited from Wisconsin community theater for heaven's sake, no CGI to the point that the opening credits were literally shadow puppets, and 95% of the filming in one house.

    But it was a fun little movie. It's not going to change anyone's life, but a 200,000,000 buck OUIJA isn't, either.