Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Hollywood Babble On & On #1018: Will A Legendary Partnership End?

I think I should start this post with a little history.

Back in 2000 financial whiz kid and nerd culture aficionado Thomas Tull set up Legendary Pictures a film finance and production company with $500 million in financing from various investors. In 2005 Legendary signed a deal to exclusively co-produce/finance 40 movies with venerable mega-studio Warner Brothers Pictures.

It didn't take Legendary long to become a major player in the field of big budget blockbusters. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find a hit coming out of Warner Bros. outside the Harry Potter franchise that didn't have the distinctive Legendary logo at the beginning. They succeeded in getting Warner/DC's top superhero characters out of their studio imposed hell with Batman Begins, and the upcoming Man of Steel, with Christopher Nolan and his merry band of cinematic tricksters.

Now you would think that with the contract coming due very soon that there would be no doubt that Tull and Legendary will sign on the dotted line to renew such a lucrative relationship, and that Warner Brothers would be eager for him to sign.

According to reports that's not the case. Tull hasn't yet decided if Legendary will re-up, and the folks running Warner Brothers don't appear to be too bothered if he does or not.


Seriously though, I know their record hasn't been perfect, no company's output is, but there have been more aces than jokers in the deck that Legendary and Warner Brothers have been dealing.

So why aren't both sides eager to keep this boat going full steam ahead?
Now if this was an isolated incident, I'd probably just chalk it up to personality clashes between the management of Warner Brothers and the folks at Legendary Pictures. They do have very different management styles, especially when it comes to developing projects. (Legendary actually finishes developing properties within the lifespan of a Galapagos turtle.)

However, this is not an isolated incident.

In fact, I have a hard time remembering any time a studio and an outside co-producer and financier had a healthy business relationship. Most end with resentment at the best, and expensive litigation at the second best, and the complete financial collapse of the financier at worst, no matter how many hits they produce.

Now I can go on again about studio bookkeeping, the self-fulfilling idiocy, but instead I'll dip into movie history for a little parable.

Let's a take a moment to consider Hyman Roth, as portrayed by Lee Strasberg in the classic gangster epic The Godfather Part 2.

Now much is made about how Roth is an old man in a profession, organized crime, that is not known for its long life spans. He is also rich and powerful far beyond his humble appearance, even bragging that he and his partners are "bigger than US Steel."

What's his secret, is it because he's tougher than all the other mobsters?

No, he succeeded because he's smarter. Because he follows the dictum that he always makes money for his partners.

When he forgets, and lets his desire for revenge on Michael Corleone for the death of Moe Green get the better of him, and not only does he lose almost everything, he ends up dead in the arrivals section of an airport.

Before he was blinded by ulterior motives he operated as a proper capitalist, making sure everyone he did business with was happy. But when his ulterior motive got the better of him, he ended up ruined, indicted, and leaking blood onto a thin synthetic airport carpet instead of being retired in Miami with a million bucks under his mattress.

Working with the studios is like working with Hyman Roth with the ulterior motive. Studio management almost never looks solely at the profitability of a partnership. They usually have some ulterior motive, usually involving their own aggrandizement (rather than Roth's desire for revenge), that ultimately sours the relationship between the partners.

That's why successful partnerships between financiers and studios usually end badly. The people running the studio like the success, but they hate having to share money and credit, and do everything they can to end that partnership, preferably with the partners destroyed so the studio can claim all the money and praise.

I wish this stupidity would stop, because if it doesn't the movie business could face...

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