Folks are speculating about the future of risk-taking movie producer Graham King and his GK Films after their latest film the 3D family spectacular Hugo, the company's biggest production to date, suffered a lukewarm reception at the box office, despite the good reception by critics and word of mouth, the failure of Johnny Depp's $45 million dream project The Rum Diary, and the near complete disappearance of their $25 million film London Blvd., starring Colin Farrell and Kiera Knightley.
Here are my theories behind the failure of these films...
1. HUGO: Was hurt badly by being a 3D movie, because so many times in the recent past 3D was used as the proverbial lipstick on the proverbial pig. The audience has been burned too many times, and decided to go see the Muppets instead.
2. THE RUM DIARY: The general public doesn't really worship at the altar of Hunter S. Thompson as much as Hollywood does. Where Thompson in prose comes across as a sardonic social commenter with a solid and imaginative control of the English language, in a visual media like film, he comes across as an obnoxious arrogant drunk and drugged out asshole.
3. LONDON BLVD.: Didn't even know it was a movie that was actually released into theaters.
But enough about those movies, let's talk about Mr. King and his situation.
He's an experienced producer with a reputation for upscale tastes in projects, and a partner with a couple of billion in oil bucks in the bank. That should be a recipe for doing the happy dance, but here we are with people publicly speculating about the future of his company.
The most prevalent theory is that King has shown an excess of taste in his projects, aiming for "classier" material, attached to big stars like Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie.
That's the root of his problem.
I'm not saying that he's wrong for doing trying to be classy, but it ignores the three noble truths you need to know if you're an independent movie mogul like Mr. King....
1. AN INDIE PRODUCER'S EXISTENCE IS PRECARIOUS. While it's nice to have a billionaire as a business partner, it's not the same as having a massive multinational media conglomerate with hundreds of billions of dollars, and the immense amount of clout with theaters and broadcasters that comes with it.
It doesn't matter how rich an individual your partner is, if things look like they'll make him go broke, they will back out. Then the dream is over and done with.
2. INSURANCE IS ESSENTIAL. When you're an independent mogul with their own company, you must protect yourself and your company from the inevitable vicissitudes of life in the movie business. I call it a form of insurance.
3. WHAT IS THIS INSURANCE? Well, the first thing an independent producer has to do to protect themselves is to not be so beholden to movie stars and their pet projects. Movie stars aren't worth what they're used to be, no matter what their agents say, and their "dream projects" are worth even less. If they were worth something, the major studios would be clamoring to do them.
If you are going to do a "dream project" for a movie star, then you must ask these two questions:
A. Is there actually an audience for this project, and does the film's budget reflect the size of that audience?
B. Can you afford to have the whole thing blow up in your face?
If the answer is no to either or both questions, then don't do it.
Then there are the "money projects."
Yes, you're going to have to do these, because movie companies need money, and these sorts of movies can make money with a minimal of investment and risk. I'm talking horror films, action/thriller films, and comedies that don't need big budgets, big stars, or big marketing, just a clever hook that gets fans of the genre interested.
These don't have to be bad movies, in fact, original, well done genre films tend to have longer shelf lives in theaters and in home video, and are, in the long run, better investments than just grinding out a forgettable knock off.
Once you have developed a firm enough cushion for your company, then you can afford to move on up the ladder to bigger and better things.