Friday, 20 September 2013

Hollywood Babble On & On #1072: Dear Jerry...


Dear Jerry.

I can call you Jerry right?

Okay, Mister Bruckheimer it is.

In case you might have amnesia due to a freak accident involving a cast iron skillet and a misplaced roller skate I'll do a little explaining. A 'first look' deal is between a major producer, like yourself and a major studio, like Disney, and basically involves you taking projects to Disney first. If Disney passes, you're then free to take those projects to other studios.

It was a sweet deal, giving you a home with the Disney media empire while also giving you the freedom to do projects with other studios.

But now it's over.

Need a hug?

Okay, I'll keep my distance. All the better to give this situation a little dispassionate analysis.

Let's begin with the reasons Disney is giving for dropping you like a hot potato.

Disney says that your projects don't fit in with their new strategy of sucking the life out of the franchises they can squeeze from Star Wars, Marvel Comics, and Pixar. And that you want to do more "mature" projects that don't fit the Disney brand.

Ain't that just a nice little plate of horse-shit.

We both know the real reason Disney dropped you.

It's money.

Or to be more specific the fact that you spend WAY TOO MUCH MONEY.

You spent $300 million to make the last Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Sure, it made over a billion at the box office, but once you deduct the theatre's nut, the back end shares, and the costs of marketing and distribution, the film would have broken even only if Disney was very lucky.

And that's your problem.

You've been making big blockbuster movies since the 1980s, and a lot of them have broken records.

But not all of them have broken records, and with your budgets having a rate of inflation not seen outside of Weimar Germany, they increasingly need to break records just to break even.

That's not a good business model.

A business needs profits so it can stay in business.

The bigger the profits the better. Because bigger profits means happy shareholders and happy shareholders means a healthy and growing company.

Even when your films do "make money" the margins are usually so thin, you can see through them.

Yes, the movies do get revenues from home video and television releases. But it takes years for that money to come in, especially in the amounts needed to cover the mega-losses that flicks like The Lone Ranger racked up. Plus, you can't rely on people wanting see a movie on TV or on home video, especially when the film has so much negativity attached to it.

All that risk and loss can be mitigated if you had practised a wee bit of self control when it came to the spending.

You know, the sort of thing a producer is supposed to be doing.

Do you see what I'm getting at?

Even your former go-to guy Michael Bay has shown the ability to operate within a reasonable budget as he did with Pain & Gain. Sure, it didn't break any records at the box office, but it didn't have to.

Can you do something like that?

Because you might have to. Studios might be a little hesitant making the sort of deal you had with Disney if they're going to see a lot more money going out than going in. The days of easy cash and a complacent audience is long gone. This may be the age of the blockbuster, but it's also the age of the shrinking audience.

People are staying at home enjoying a golden age of television storytelling. They're becoming more and more selective of the movies they choose to pay money to see, and even family movies can't rely on the repetitive viewing habits of children. Money's a lot tighter in the real world, and you're going to have to show that you can be tighter than two coats of paint to survive in this environment.

I hope you find this helpful.

Sincerely  --  
Furious D.


  1. Maybe I'm a moron, but I don't understand why Disney doesn't just keep the arrangement. Or better, exert some producer or budgetary control over those projects it does accept. A first look seems like a call option, right? Disney is obliged to take (and pay for) nothing- just a first look and review at each project, with teh right to refuse with no penalty. Bruckheimer might not optimally benefit, if he has to show every project to Disney first, and he would rather work with some other studio or finance/distribute something independently. (He's richer than God and has a huge, longtime reputation as a major success in both movies and TV. One of the very few.)

    So why would Disney cancel this if it has literally no obligations (other than the time the execs would take to review each project) and possible , even likely, continued upside?

  2. Maurice- Most deals like that come with an "overhead" arrangement which means that Disney pays for, or provides office space, as well as staff, & often development costs, like options on books & scripts & hiring writers whether they green light the movie or not. (Sometimes paying options on material that another studio makes into a movie.)

    Which means that even if he makes no movies for them, he still costs them buckets of money. A lot of studios are dropping such arrangements to save money.

  3. very nice article,