Posted at 4:24 PM on December 12, 2005
by Euan Kerr
Interesting piece in the New York Times yesterday about the financial health of the movie biz. For much of the second half of the year Hollywood has been whining about the low box office takings. It looks as though 2005 takings will be about 6 percent below 2004. But as the Times points out, once you add in all the other revenue streams, including the still buoyant DVD sales, and the expanding overseas market, Hollywood is making more dough than ever. All in the total comes close to $50 billion for 2005.
Of course the business is changing, with more people choosing to watch things on tape or DVD in the comfort of their own homes. Also people seem to be a little more selective. There are fewer mega-blockbusters, that is those films pulling in more than $300 million. And there are far fewer mid-level blockbusters, those pulling in between $100 and $200 million.
So what does this all mean? If I knew I suppose I'd be in the movie business. I do hope it means the executives who make the big decisions will green-light a few more risk-taking films in the hope of producing more of those mid-level block-busters. But I am not holding my breath.
This may be semi-revolutionary, but if studios held tighter to their budgets and maybe made more 25-40 million dollar movies (or cheaper) then perhaps they could view profit differently. Why does not having a record year mean that the movie business is down? Did the movie make money? Did the studio make money? Yes? Then it shouldn't be a concern that the studio or the business didn't have 200% increase over 2004...because they made money.
Am I looking at this wrong? Spending vs Money Earned?
Sadly the industry can't think in those terms, at least in the US. I spent an evening a couple of months back talking with a very successful producer who explained how the people who green-light films are extremely conservative and are attracted to primarily to formulas which have worked before. And given that the audience member Hollywood prizes above all others for some reason is the 15 year old boy, the formulas are simplistic and as rutted as corduroy. So, he said, huge amounts of money get spent on movies that are very similar to all the other Hollywood movies.
The interesting films are being made outside the system, and usually for a tiny budget. (The Robert Altman Prairie Home Companion movie is believed to have had a budget of about $15 million for example.) It's sad, but almost every independant director and producer who I have talked to in recent years, at least the one's making interesting films, say they have to struggle for years and go into incredible debt to get their movies made. There is rarely any guarantee they will actually make any money.
I chatted with Duncan Tucker the writer and director behind "Transamerica" last week. We got on to the subject of financing and he said he had funded his film "the traditional way." His mother mortgaged her house, and he maxed out every credit card he could lay his hands on. He's ended up with a very interesting film, but it's a strange way to run an industry.