movies matter | criticism by maryann johanson
Sat Aug 13 2016, 02:06pm | 10 comments
That’s a barnstormer! And I love, love, love that the byline is “Gracie Law.”
Eh, I dunno, I’ve got a feeling a lot of “under the line” show biz vets will read this, roll their eyes, and say, “What, until now you never got fired off a production, or had a production unceremoniously canceled, due to the bizarre actions of some studio suit? You sweet summer child. Suck it up and start looking for a new gig.”
I also don’t think the she’s got the source of the problem right. WB’s head may be greenlighting some questionable productions, but he’s also greenlighting a lot of movies. Consistently, significantly more than the other major studios. He’s likely spreading his studio too thin. He shoudl probably be more selective with scripts, produce fewer films per year, and devote more resources to those individual projects. But these things don’t really scale linearly. That is, even if he does increase each productions’ resources, he’s not going to make fewer movies with the same number of people on the payroll. Folks would still lose their jobs, regardless of whether or not the movies got better. But that’s show biz, kid.
See the section MaryAnn quoted. The problem isn’t that he’s greenlighting some questionable projects. The problem is that he isn’t greenlighting many good ones, and he’s botching the few that have potential. And the questionable projects are big, tentpole movies; he’s betting the success of years’ worth of super-hero films on movies that are, to put it bluntly, terrible. That isn’t a reason for confidence. It’s a reason to abandon ship.
You know, Daniel, I can read. ;)
She listed 8 films, all from 2015. WB released 26 films that year. “Pan” was the only one of those 8 that didn’t earn out it’s budget in box office grosses (the official line of “not a flop” these days). Yes, even “Jupiter Ascending”, god help us all.
I don’t know anyone who uses that definition any more – normally it’s at least twice budget as box office gross to be considered a success, and many people are now using three times (given that marketing is never included in the nominal budget).
Ghostbusters and the DC movies seem to be part of a trend—as many people have pointed out here—where a movie no longer has to make money to make money. A film is now an opportunity to sell toys and clothes and TV series. But I wonder if that attitude does damage to the studio’s reputation in the long term. If audiences take for granted that a DC super-hero film is going to be terrible, there may be no more movies and no more merchandise.
Back in the ’80s and ’90s, NBC got high ratings because of Must See TV on Thursday nights. Then someone at the network said: You know, not every show needs to be great. If every other series we broadcast on Thursday is a huge hit, we can fill the slots in between with middling sitcoms. They’ll still be hits, and we can move the really good shows to other nights.
Pretty soon, audiences drifted away from Must See TV, and NBC is no longer the top-rated network.
Yeah, and when there are cast and crew with profit-share arrangements it’s quite usual for a film to make no money on paper at all, but still to get a sequel later. The “2-3× budget as box office gross” rule is only there as a very rough guide at best.
DC and Ghostbusters? Dude, where have you been since, you know, Star Wars. That shit’s been SOP for 40 years.
That’s how it has to work in retail, too — your gross doesn’t pay for your overhead, and it doesn’t even pay for itself, because you have to take the cost of manufacturing/shipping/advertising your product out of it.
Twenty years ago, a 200% markup was standard in retail, except in the book and music selling business (which is a part of why it’s almost impossible to find a shop still selling CDs, and why bookstores are in trouble) but it’s gone up since as cost of living has risen without corresponding rise in pay for most people.
And movies have the added problem that there is a lot of variation in how much of the ticket price is the studio’s profit, between differences between US theatres and those outside, to the wide variation of matinee and evening and discount and 3-D showing prices.
Finally, a tentpole, by definition, is going to be a failure if it only manages to attain ‘barely breaks even’ status — that’s a big top that is barely clearing the ringmaster’s head! So even if that’s a smashing success for ‘obscure arthouse pic that will get a lot of praise and maybe awards and hopefully doesn’t lose money’ it is a flop for the film that’s supposed to generate enough income to carry the rest of the studio AND enough inertia to propel the series for another few installments.
Then – I’ll come in again — there’s the problem that we’re grading on a curve: a brand new IP, or one that’s been long forgotten, has a much steeper slope to conquer in order to GET an audience established, and WB especially is VERY unwilling to do that work now — so a new story and set of characters, or one that’s obscure, that manages to attain break-even popularity on its first outing, has done MASSIVELY better than a film based on one of the most recognizeable name brands in the whole world, with characters who in some cases haven’t been out of the public eye for GENERATIONS, others newer but massively promoted in multiple media, that makes only a small profit!
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