by Michael Lowrey
In a nutshell, we’re in a time with few medium-sized film productions. The big Hollywood studios are busy making big buck blockbusters, which can make them a ton of money. Then there’s an increasing mass of indie productions, filmed for a couple of million dollars at most, fighting in whatever scrap of the market they can get.
Some slightly-dated reading material:
• “The Birdcage” from the much-missed Grantland. Sample quote:
In 2014, franchises are not a big part of the movie business. They are not the biggest part of the movie business. They are the movie business. Period. Twelve of the year’s 14 highest grossers are, or will spawn, sequels… Almost everything else that comes out of Hollywood is either an accident, a penance (people who run the studios do like to have a reason to go to the Oscars), a modestly budgeted bone thrown to an audience perceived as niche (black people, women, adults), an appeasement (movie stars are still important and they must occasionally be placated with something interesting to do so they’ll be cooperative about doing the big stuff), or a necessity (sometimes, unfortunately, it is required that a studio take a chance on something new in order to initiate a franchise). A successful franchise is no longer used to finance the rest of a studio’s lineup; a studio’s lineup is brands and franchises, and that’s it.
• “How the Death of Mid-Budget Cinema Left a Generation of Iconic Filmmakers MIA” by Flavorwire. Sample quote:
It’s important to understand what we’re talking about when we talk about movie budgets. The numbers you hear about are the costs of making the film, and only those: pre-production, cast and crew salaries, sets and equipment and props and costumes, special effects and post-production. What it doesn’t include is the cost of marketing the movie. And hashtags on posters aside, studios are still remarkably old-fashioned when it comes to marketing, relying primarily on print and television ad buys. But in the modern, crowded multimedia landscape, the kind of saturation that makes them feel comfortable — even when it’s promoting a giant tentpole blockbuster that everyone is fully aware of — is very, very expensive. Sometimes it’s 50 percent of the production budget, and sometimes it’s even more.
And that high price tag — which, unlike a production budget, doesn’t have much wiggle room on a major release — is why, counter-intuitive though it might seem, a studio would rather make a $60 million movie than, say, a $10 million one. Studios are no longer interested in small investments with small return, which aren’t worth the time or the money. They want the big enchilada.
Keep all this in mind when the debate about film incentives comes up again.