Monday, 16 July 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #928: The Perks Of Being A Cheap Bastard.

A few months ago I wrote about how Michael Bay had signed on to do a movie called Pain & Gain, and that he was going to shoot the whole movie for $25 million, or the cost a studio spends on an actor who appears on the cover of People magazine more than twice in five years. 

I had predicted massive cost overruns, and so far, they haven't materialized, which is a pleasant surprise. Another surprise is that Bay has signed on with Paramount to do it again with an action thriller called The Rising.

Now I've been advocating what I call the perks of being a cheap bastard for years. The current Hollywood strategy of throwing money by the bucket load around like sailors on shore leave is not only bad for the bottom line it's bad for the creative side of film-making.

Let's look at these perks both financial and creative:


1. VOLUME: The less money that's spent per movie means that more movies can be made. This expanded output can potentially fill gaps in the schedules for theaters, broadcasters, as well as for video rental/sales outlets.

2. RISK: The smaller the budget, the smaller the risk, and the greater the potential for a wide margin of profit, especially when you include sales for TV, home video, and other outlets.

3. SIMPLICITY: The bigger the budget the more elaborate the accounting schemes, and the more likely business arrangements end with someone getting screwed out of their share of the profits.  It's a hell of a lot harder to deny that a $25 million movie made a profit when it pulled in $250 million at the box office. But jack the price up to beyond $100+ million, and the accountants and lawyers can have their way and perpetuate Hollywood's self-fulfilling idiocy.


1. IMAGINATION: Think back to time before Hollywood went all spend-crazy. Think about the great films of that time, and then think about the parts of the movie that made them great.

I'll bet dollars to donuts that those classic movie moments were probably born from the desire to tell the story and stay within budget. Low budgets require lots of imagination, they also force the filmmakers to engage in some actual--

2. PREPARATION: The chief thing a movie's budget buys you is time. When you have a low budget, you don't have that much time for shooting. That means you must prepare. That means rehearsals, planning, and working out as many details in advance as you can.  

There are far too many big money Hollywood productions where the director doesn't have a clue to what they want and are just going to take lots of time filming until they figure it out. That's a waste of precious financial and creative resources.

3. MEDDLING AVOIDANCE: All Hollywood movie studios have something I call the "Meddle Detector." The Meddle Detector only works when filmmakers are spending above certain amounts of money.

Spend below that amount, and the studio really doesn't care what you do. Spend above that amount and they're on you like stink on a buffalo and will nitpick your film into something you will never recognize.

So let's hope Bay starts a fad for directors and producers to start bringing a little fiscal sanity to the movie business.


  1. Rainforest Giant,

    What's the chances that the studios are going to try and screw them on the back end though?

    Sure they take less up front but you're always saying the system is set up to screw anyone they can. If they play straight with the money the movie makes and doesn't screw with the talent, I think it can start something but I don't think it will. Any system where David Prouse hasn't received residual check one from Return of the Jedi because it hasn't made a profit isn't going to be honest.

  2. How in the world will Hollywood handle Bay, their bad boy, doing a movie on the cheap which would normally net someone a lot of indie cred. The cognitive dissonance should sink California.

    Seriously though, do you think this, and the rise of cheaper, web-based fare will become the modern day shot in the arm Hollywood got with the indie boom of the 90s?

    Another question: With TV going through such a rena....rene... however you spell it, will movies end up going through a complete paradigm shift? Say where... a series is used to build up a fanbase, then release a movie into theaters that tie-in/deal with that series? (X-files, Firefly, and of course there's all kinds of TV movies like this; early harbingers?)