Friday, 15 June 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #918: The Magic Formula?

I remember Justice Society / All-Star Squadron comics from my childhood that featured a character named Johnny Quick who was originally created in the 1940s. Quick, as the name implied, was a super-speedster like The Flash but what differentiated him from The Flash was he didn't get his super-speed from combining lightning and chemicals, he got his power from mathematics.  All he had to do was recite the mathematical formula "3X2(9YZ)4A" and ZOOM he could break the speed of sound without breaking a sweat.

Now you're probably wondering why I'm rambling about an obscure comic book superhero whose powers come from the creator's inability to divine the difference between mathematical formulas and magical spells.

Well, the answer is simple.

Because Hollywood can't tell the difference either and there's going to be a lot of money pissed away before bitter reality sets in.

You see some Japanese mathematicians took a look at some successful movies and formulated a formulaic formula that they claim will predict if a film will be successful or not.  It has to do with the length of time used to promote the film before its release, combined with online word of mouth, star power, and quality of story.

I won't get into the details, because it's all pure bunkum.

That's right BUNKUM I SAY!

History is littered with so-called experts claiming that they have used science to crack the secret to movie success. The most recent was Relativity Media, who frequently bragged about how their computers could spot a hit when it just a glint in the screenwriter's eye.

How did that work out for them?

Well, they sure as hell dropped a lot of overpriced bombs, alienated their partners, and had to be bailed out by billionaire Ron Burkle who bought a big chunk of the company to keep it afloat.

Those things wouldn't have been necessary if they were pumping out hit after hit.

All this talk reminds me of the time Sony bought Columbia Pictures. Legend has it that at the first meeting the executives from Sony's head office told the guys at Columbia that from now on they should only make hit movies.

Well, if there was a way to make only hit movies they would do it.

It's very rare for people to intentionally make movies that will bomb at the box office. I'm not saying that it doesn't happen, recent years has seen dozens of guaranteed box office failures being made and released, mostly because they made fashionable political statements, and their failure gets them pats on the back for "courage" at the more fashionable parties.

However, movies cost a lot of money to make, and you can only do so many of what I call "statement turkeys" before the spigot of Other People's Money gets cut off.

Outside of that, most movies are made with the intent of making money. They filmmakers may not be expecting their flick to be a blockbuster, but they're hoping to at least make enough scratch to make another movie.

The biggest problem I have with people claiming to have found the magic formula is that too many variables get missed.

The font of all these variables is THE AUDIENCE.

You can measure interest, and word of mouth via the social networks, but they don't really give the complete picture. Sure a given picture might be getting great buzz on Twitter, but that's a relatively narrow demographic consisting of Twitter users.

When it comes to the audience there are countless factors ranging from money, mood, access to theaters, and whether or not they give a tinker's damn about the commercials. The combination of these factors are different for every individual, and they're literally millions of these individuals out there.

The best any movie studio can do is to get good stories, make them into good films at a reasonable cost, and market them well to their target audience.  Even then it's still a crap shoot. Something might have all the right ingredients, follow the formula laid out by these mathemagicians, and still fail to click with ticket-buyers.

That's why I must put on my curmudgeon hat and declare all this supposed foolproof formula pure hokum. 

Of course it being hokum is not going to stop the studios from wasting fortunes trying to mash movies into this formula, but hey, they still think people go to movies to see stars.

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