Thursday, 27 October 2011

You Have Questions I Have The Answers!! Part 1

Since I got a really big response to my call for questions I'm going to answer in instalments instead of frying my brain trying to answer all of them at once.  Even my immense intellect has its limits. 

So let's get this ball rolling...
Fuloydo asked... I learned through a random factoid encountere on the interwebs today that an actress who caused strange yearnings for me as a lad is 81.  Does this make me old?  

(For the record, I'm talking about Grace Lee Whitney, Yeoman Rand from the original Star Trek)
No, that little factoid does not make you old. Your grey hair, balding head, busted hip, and tendency to yell "Damn kids, get off my lawn!" at random intervals whether or not there are any "damn kids" or a lawn, and your fond memories of the Hoover administration makes you old.

Besides, no red-blooded young lad can say no to that little red uniform.

Next question...
Sandy Petersen asked... Where does the money come from for a big Hollywood movie? If film companies can invest 215 million in a cowboy movie, then how does a single film bomb do so much damage? I understand that Heaven's Gate, Ishtar, and Slither all threatened to or caused companies to go bankrupt. What is going on here? Do companies live close to the bone?
Now this is a complex question, because anything and everything about money and Hollywood is needlessly complicated.

Most movie studios prefer to bring in outside investment for projects, especially the really big budget movies, because the first rule of producing is "never use your own money if you can avoid it."  So you'll often see independent financiers like Canal+, Legendary Pictures, Village Roadshow, Spyglass Entertainment, and others in the credits of your favorite movies.

There are two kinds of outside investors. There are foreign film distributors and/or TV broadcasters buying the theatrical and/or TV rights to the film in their home market with their investment. The other kind represents large investment groups, like brokerage houses and hedge funds.  These investors are either looking for a return on their investment, or they're looking for some sort of domestic or foreign tax dodge.

One particularly notorious piece of convoluted tax code in Germany actually made it more profitable for German investors to lose money on a big budget movie.  Hence you got Uwe Boll getting $70 million to play with.  (That law was dropped a few years ago.)

Now you ask if companies really live close to the bone.

That too is a tad complicated.

The mega-bomb Heaven's Gate was considered the film that sunk United Artists, even though the $40+ million loss was just a minor blip compared the billions its parent company Transamerica Insurance dealt in, and its lucrative James Bond and Pink Panther franchises.

What killed United Artists was that the whole Heaven's Gate boondoggle soured Transamerica on the whole concept of being in the movie business.  Unlike the big conglomerates who own movie studios, TV channels, and other outlets that need something to pump out content and don't sweat the occasional bump, Transamerica was just in it for the immediate quarterly profit. Hassles and losses soured the milk for them, so they sold it to the already sinking MGM studios as soon as they could.

Now having big parent companies dependent on a steady flow of fresh content may cushion the blow when a movie bombs. However, that's not going to stop the studios from something my grandfather called "poor mouthing."  That's when you make a big deal to declaring to the world how your financial situation is as tight as Yeoman Rand's uniform, when in fact, you're pretty flush.

They have a very good reason for poor mouthing on such an epic scale.

Studio A pleads poverty, so in order to make your big budget movie they go to Parent Company B, and "borrow" the money to make the film.  If the film is a big hit, the terms of this "loan" pretty much make sure that any real profits end up going to Parent Company B to pay the interest on the "loan."
ILDC asked... Do you think the new Muppet movie will be DOA?
Can't really say.  The previews look cute and funny, but then again, the previews may contain every decent joke in the entire movie.  So we're going to have to wait and see.
ILDC asked... Also, how are movies based on still-running TV shows made?
Usually if the studio and the network that produce the show think they can make big money and boost the show's popularity they'll go for it.  It was done quite a bit in the 1960-1970s with big screen versions of Batman, Dark Shadows, and other shows popping up while the shows were still running.

It's not done all that much today, the last one I remember was the first X Files movie.  Most of the time it's done with cancelled shows in the hope of creating the next Star Trek movie franchise.
Ken Begg asked... Now that diminishing home video revenues are failing to paper over the industry's poor business model, how do the Hollywood film studios as presently constituted keep going?
I think the answer is found in my answer to Sandy's question, but I'll give the Reader's Digest condensed version for you: "The studios are owned by big conglomerates that own multiple platforms, theatrical, TV video, and now digital platforms, that need a steady stream of content."
This model can't keep going because pumping out stuff people don't want to watch, regardless of the "platform" you're showing it on.
Ken Begg asked... On a related note, given commercial 'zapping' and continuing audience fragmentation, how do the broadcast networks continue while relying upon a business model developed back in the days when 90% of America watched but three networks?
Because they have no idea what to do instead of that model and any concept of reform scares the piss out of them, because the reformed model will probably not required 15 vice-presidents in charge of sitcoms.
Darren asked... One quick question ‘what advice would you give to Mel Gibson on making a comeback.
Bring about world peace while rescuing baskets of kittens from a burning building.

Okay that's all of my wisdom for now.  I'll do more questions and answers next time!


  1. Ummmm, I asked "how", not why.

  2. The answer's still pretty much the same. If the studio producing the show thinks they can make money, they'll go for it.

    The actual mechanics of the deal depend on a case by case basis.

  3. I love that uniform.

    My favorite DS9 episode is "Trials and Tribble-ations" just for the line by Dax: "And women wore less".

  4. Bring about world peace while rescuing baskets of kittens from a burning building.

    So in other words'fugetaboutit. lol

  5. I own the book about heaven's gate, the reason transamerica sold off UA was HG got so much bad press that it threatened to soften their total stock value. TA bought UA to basically pad their stock, other companies did it as well buying up studios thinking the glitz and glamour would make their stock prices inflate.

    HG was getting bad press all the way until Vincent Camby called it a "Unmitigated Disaster" in his NYt review.

    Under this plan we had Gulf-Oil owning paramount, Coca-Cola owning Columbia. To see how well that worked out for them, Paramount is part of the Viacom empire and Columbia is owned by Sony. The plan fell apart did not work when these parent companies had no clue how the entertainment business runs.

    This era led ot some really BAD movies to get greenlight, Coca-Cola let Jon Peters run columbia and almost run it into the ground and let Leonard part 6 get made. appointed

    While Heavens gate was a bloated ego driven indulgant mess, that was not UA's most expensive film. Moonraker was. That film, even as bad of a Star Wars exploitation piece it was at least made money.

  6. If I may presume, I'd strongly urge anyone who hasn't yet to read Julie Salamon's The Devil's Candy, a book which painstakingly details every miscalculation and misstep that turned the film adaptation of Bonfire of the Vanities into a complete fiasco. You won't find a better book on why Hollywood so often blows a seeming sure thing. Used copies can be found on Amazon basically for the cost of shipping.