Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #830: Has Fox Been Outfoxed By Fox?

Things aren't rosy at the venerable 20th Century Fox studio, and it has nothing to do with the hacking troubles afflicting the newspaper wing of its parent company.  

It's hemorrhaging executives, and despite some hits at the box office has come in behind Universal Pictures in overall box-office take.

Behind Universal Pictures.
Think about that for a second.

So we have to ask...
While industry folks say that indie division Fox Searchlight is chugging along pretty healthily, the main studio is suffering because of what insiders describe as the studio's "corporate culture."

You see every company has a certain way of doing things that is unique to that company.

According to reports, with 20th Century Fox it's all about sequels, remakes, and reboots, making greenlight decisions around preordained release schedules, and if you want to work with them, getting a decent payday from them is like getting blood from a particularly parsimonious stone, one that's from Scotland.  This means that "A-List" stars and filmmakers, especially the ones that are actually worth the money, are wary of working with the studio. 

What can Fox do to get out of this creative, and now financial trough they find themselves in?

Well, they could...
What? I haven't done one of these gags in a long time.
Okay, I'll be serious and talk about what they can do to improve things.


I'm all about being cost effective.  There is way too much waste going on in Hollywood.  But there is a fine line between being cost-effective and being a cheap bastard.

A truly cost-effective operation finds solutions that keep budgets under control. They look for waste, and ways to eliminate them.  This means careful planning, and organization with people that can be trusted to help root out potential problems before they become real problems.  Managers who don't do this run the risk of becoming "cheap bastard" operations, and that's bad because...

Cheap bastard operations cause problems with penny pinching demands, that are usually made as a move in a game of "Cover My Ass" caused by poor spending choices made in other areas.  Picking on Movie A, because you spent too much on Will Smith's trailer while making Movie B, is not being cost effective, or problem solving.  Prevent the waste in the first place.


I coined the term "self-fulfilling idiocy," to describe how the "cheap bastard" policies of the Hollywood studios have given their budgets an inflation problem on par with Zimbabwe.  They make deals offering a piece of the profits, then claim that the $60 million film that grossed $250 million at the box office lost money, mostly through shady accounting tricks.

This means that anyone with the slightest bit of clout expects to be screwed over, so they make very strict deals with massive up front payments, accompanied by "dollar 1" box-office revenue deals that can suck a successful movie's profit margin into the depths of oblivion.

Now I'm not saying that Fox should start paying out "net."  I'm not expecting miracles yet, but I am saying that if money and credit is owed, make sure that money and credit is paid.  Preferably on time.


20th Century Fox is locked into the mindset of pumping out big budget movie franchises. 

Most studios are these days.  However with Fox they recognize that big budget films have risk involved, so they try to mitigate that risk by making every blockbuster they try either a sequel, a remake, or a reboot of a preexisting franchise.

That flops more often than it hits, and that's why the studio is running behind Universal.

Familiarity is all well and good, but if there isn't an amount of novelty and originality, the audience is going to stay away.  Also, franchises burn out and lose their value and then what are you going to do?

Fox needs to build a cadre of new young filmmakers, trained to be cost-effective, create new ideas and hopefully new potential franchises.

Now this is where I suggest that Fox repeat a mistake.

A while back Fox shuttered Fox Atomic, which was supposed to be its low budget youth-oriented genre film division.  The project had been one big fizzle with a handful of mostly forgotten films, including a remake of The Hills Have Eyes.

The fundamental idea behind the creation of the division was a good one.  You can use it to bring in fresh talent with fresh ideas, etc..., etc...

But the big problem with the idea was the name they gave it.
Calling it Fox Atomic may have sounded like a great idea to those marketing gurus who insist that "brand" is everything and should be slapped onto everything.

However there are times when branding can backfire and bite you on the ass like a badly mangled metaphor.  Calling it Fox Atomic was the equivalent of calling it "Not Good Enough For Regular Fox, But You Kids Are Idiots Anyway So You'll Buy It."  Kids are media and marketing savvy, and while they may not be able to articulate that feeling, they can sense when someone is trying to jerk them around.

What Fox needs to do is revive the good idea of a low budget genre subdivision, but ditch the bad idea of "branding" it as a repository for a big studio's table scraps.

They need to make this division look like a company that runs completely independently of the mother-studio.  It needs its own name, one that is separate from Fox, and the great irony is that Fox/New Corporation already owns a "brand" that not only looks and sounds independent, but has a historical association with youth oriented low budget genre fare, and a mandate to develop new talent.

The company was founded by Roger Corman in the 70s, where it was the launching pad for dozens of successful filmmakers.  Roger Corman sold it in the 1980s, ended up being revamped as the owner of TV stations, which was swallowed up by the creation of the Fox TV network.

They can take this preexisting, long moribund entity, and revive it as a training ground for new filmmakers, and if these same filmmakers are treated right by the company, they will be loyal to that company.

The fact that nobody there thought of it while the whole Fox Atomic cluster-fuck shows that not enough people there know enough about the company they work for, or cares enough to take a stand against the marketing gurus.

So basically I'm suggesting that the company shake up just about everything about how it does business until everything crumbles down to nothing.  Then rebuild a whole new corporate culture.


  1. How does "Fox Searchlight" get a pass but not "Fox Atomic"?

  2. It's all about the brand message.

    The brand message of Fox Searchlight is "We use the vast resources of Fox to go find the best indie movies from all over the world & bring them to you." A very different message from the message I said lay under Fox Atomic.

    Selling to teens is different from selling to mature indie film fans, you have to make it seem that it is only for them and no one else. Slap a name that screams substandard subdivision, and they get turned off.