Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #858: Rated "I" For Irrational!


First Harvey Weinstein threatened to pull out of the MPAA because they gave the documentary about bullying, aptly titled Bully, an R-Rating due to some "F-Bombs." That inspired me to question the whole role of the MPAA, especially it's erratic and capricious ratings system.

Well, now it's getting weird.

The National Association of Theater Owners (NATO) is now saying that if the Weinstein Company releases the Bully unrated they will treat it as if it's an NC-17 film.  For those who don't know the intricacies of the ratings system it's the replacement for the old X rating, and it means that no one under the age of 17 will be allowed in to see the movie, no newspapers or TV stations will carry ads or showtimes, and you can be sure to lose all the money put into the movie.

All this over the film's use of the word "Fuck."

Has the whole movie world lost its fucking mind?

This is exactly what I mean where there seems to be no rationality or logic when managing the ratings system. It's becoming as  irrational and erratic as the old production code that did things like ban the word "pregnant" and said that you could only show married couples in bed if they were in separate beds.

It wasn't always that way.

I recently saw, thanks to a free preview of a movie channel, a bunch of movies that were released during my childhood.  Now most of these movies had PG or PG-13 ratings when they were initially released, and it slowly sank in while I was watching them, that if they hit theaters now, they'd all be rated R.

So I have to ask....
Ratings can affect a film's performance at the box office.  An R-Rating can potentially slash a mainstream film's box office take in half. An NC-17 rating takes a film almost completely out of the mainstream, and can potentially cripple its box office performance and home video sales.

This makes logic and rationality extremely important. I think the ratings system needs to be reformed, if not completely gutted, and whatever takes it place, the people deciding the ratings need to ask themselves these questions about the films they rate:

1. What is the intended audience of the film?

Let's admit it, the ratings system is supposed to ease kids into being exposed to varying levels of coarse language, nudity, and violence as they grow into adulthood.  That means that the ratings minions have to consider if kids would be remotely tempted to see the movie in question.  Giving The King's Speech an R Rating over a scene full of "F-bombs" was inane, because what kid would go, on their own, to see the fucking King's Speech.  Give it a PG, or even a PG-13, with a notice that there will be some language, and be done with it, because no kid will be going WITHOUT any parental guidance.

2. Why is the offensive or inappropriate material in the film?

Is the language, violence, and nudity essential to transmit the film's theme or central arguments, or is the filmmaker just doing it for cheap attention or to cover up their own creative shortcomings. There's a tendency with the MPAA ratings board to punish films for having mature material, no matter why said material is in the film. Intent is very important in criminal law, why not in rating movies?

Then maybe they can create a rating system that isn't a complete embarrassment.

At least for a while.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #857: How To ... Develop A Movie

Developing a movie is one of the toughest stages of the whole film-making process.  No I'm not talking about actually developing the film, that's done in a lab, and while pricey, isn't all that stressful, and hardly anyone uses film anymore anyway.

What I'm talking about the development of the script, a process that's supposed to take a raw first draft with a good idea at its core, into a sleek, professional quality movie that's worthy of the big screen.

Of course that's what happens in a perfect world.  A world where unicorns frolic in the fields while Zooey Deschanel feeds me pieces of a Cadbury Dairy Milk bar while lounging poolside at my villa in Tuscany.

This is not a perfect world.  

This is a far from perfect world.

In this unpleasantly odorous real world the whole development process is known as "development hell."  This "hell" can take a perfectly good script and bastardize it to the point where even the good idea that made it appealing in the first place is lost forever.  Lot's of money, often millions, can be spent on a script, and have absolutely nothing to show for it in the end.

The most obvious story of development run amok was when Jon Peters was put in charge of putting together a new Superman movie franchise. He spent fifteen years and $50,000,000 before a single frame of film was shot, and the final product was the overpriced and underwhelming Superman Returns.

This is why Hollywood needs this post, which I like to call:
This is because script development needn't be the long and painful process that Hollywood has made it into.  In fact, during the Golden Age of movies the development was incredibly fast.  A book could hit the best-seller list in January, the movie rights bought by February, and a movie version could be out by the fall.

Even Gone With The Wind, a massive novel that had been tried on and rejected by almost every major studio until independent producer David O. Selznick joined forces with MGM still spent less than 3 years between the release of the book, and the release of the film.

Think about it. A 1000+ page historical epic, took less than three years to go from book to screen, and it was considered a troubled and chaotic development process by the standards of the time. Nowadays if it takes less than three years to develop an original screenplay for a modestly budgeted contemporary movie you're considered a model of efficiency.

So, how can someone running a studio/production company streamline the process?

Follow these simple rules....

1. REMEMBER THAT THIS IS NOT YOUR STORY.

Every screenwriter in Hollywood has a story of taking a script to a development executive, only to have the executive try to turn it into their own movie in a conversation like this...
WRITER: "It's about a loose cannon cop who plays by his own rules, and he's out to avenge the death of his partner."

EXEC: "Does he have to be a cop?"

WRITER: "What?"

EXEC: "Cops have been done. Could he be an archaeologist?"

WRITER: "An archaeologist whose partner was killed by drug lords?"

EXEC: "Do they have to be drug lords?  Could they be time traveling aliens who are coming to make the 2012 doomsday prophecy come true with their crystal skulls, and the key to saving the planet is exposing the identity of the man who really wrote Shakespeare's plays?"

WRITER: "That's a different movie."

EXEC: "It's a guaranteed hit movie!"
That's an executive who has their own idea for a movie, and is trying to find someone else to write it for him.

If you have a movie script in you, go write the damn thing yourself.

2. UNDERSTAND THE MECHANICS OF TELLING A STORY. 


Now while it's not your job to write the story, a solid knowledge of the art of storytelling is essential.  Structure, plot, character, and the natures thereof must be second nature to you.  Remember, your job is to pick a good story, and help the writer(s) smooth out the rough patches.  

Think of it as like the making of a sculpture. You're the guy who has to look around it for cracks to fill and rough patches to smooth.  It is not your job to take a hammer to it.

3. REMEMBER WHY YOU BOUGHT IT IN THE FIRST PLACE.

Always start with a good story, and always keep in mind that you bought it because it was a good story.  Too many times you see a studio buy a story, and grind it through the machine to the point where it has nothing to do with the material that was originally purchased.


That's because the person who bought the story forgot the reason why they bought it, panicked, and then had people slap together something new.

4. LIMIT THE NUMBER OF CHEFS IN THE KITCHEN.

While it's nice to get "fresh eyes" on a script the temptation to pass the buck by passing the script on to someone else to do a rewrite.


However, it can easily become ridiculous, with literally everyone who sees the script, from you, other executives, the secretaries, the janitor, your maid, and her cousin, giving notes. 

And you don't even have to ask most of these people to give notes.  Everyone in Hollywood thinks they can write better than the people who actually dedicate their lives to writing.  They want to be the one who can point to a hit movie and say: "It was my idea to give him a sass-talking monkey as a sidekick." And they'll also be the first to disown a bomb and put all on you.


A good executive knows when to set limits, in both time spent, and in the number of "fresh eyes" put on the project. Instead of just passing it around like a doobie at a pot party, keep a select, small, and elite group of people whose judgement and taste you can trust. Go to them, use them, and take their material back to the original writer for a chance to bring it all together. Why? Because their talent was the reason why you bought the damn thing in the first place. Don't you remember rule number three?

When it comes to rewrites you need to be like Kenny Rogers' Gambler, you have to know when to fold'em, know when to hold'em, know when to walk away, and know when to run.  Because the secret of successful rewriting is knowing when to stop.

5.  DON'T BE AFRAID TO MAKE A DECISION. 

There is a very simple reason why an executive brings in everyone and their cousin to give notes on a script.

FEAR

They're afraid that if they make a decision they might have to take responsibility for it if it blows up in their face.  That's a next to impossible way to do business in a business that has been, and always will be, a crap-shoot when it comes to success and failure.


There is no magic panacea to create a sure-fire hit movie.  Sometimes classics sink, while shit floats.  It's the nature of the beast, and the only thing that's even remotely close to being occasionally accurate when it comes to determining a hit or a miss is gut instinct.

Then, you might have a chance to turn development hell into movie heaven.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #856: What About The MPAA?

RUN!

HARVEY'S HAVING A HISSY FIT!!

Yep, Harvey Weinstein is running around yelling at the top of his lungs that he's going to pull his company out of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) because they gave TWC's documentary on bullying, appropriately titled Bully, was given an R Rating, when Weinstein was hoping for a PG-13.

Now yes, The Weinstein Company is not exactly a member of the MPAA, but let's not let technicalities like quitting a club you don't belong to fog our minds, and get to the meat of the issue.

The meat of this issue is that Harvey actually has a point, especially when it comes to the simple fact that the MPAA is an irrelevant organization that becomes more and more irrelevant as time goes on.

Let's look at the two main functions of the MPAA:

1. LOBBYIST:  As a lobbyist it's supposed to look out for the interests of the Hollywood studios in its dealings with the US government, and governments around the world.

It's obviously a complete failure in that regard.

As a lobbyist with the US government it's literally put all of its eggs in one basket, namely the Democratic Party.  Under its longest running chief Jack Valenti, himself a former Democratic official, it at least showed the common sense ability to play both sides of the political aisle.

Since his retirement and demise, the MPAA has shifted to almost entirely dealing with Democrats, while either ignoring, or actively working against Republicans.  They even hired former Democratic Senator Chris Dodd to take over the MPAA, who became well known in recent years for his total inability to work with Republicans.

The first rule of the lobbyist is to accept the fact that ruling parties change, and that the lobbyist must be able to go with the flow to protect the interests of their clients. Putting an obviously partisan and divisive figure like Dodd in the driver's seat was not a good move.

Then there's how it deals with international markets, especially with the issue of piracy.

Piracy is a problem.  The exact extent and cost of that problem can be debated until the cows call and tell you that they're coming home, should they pick up some milk on the way.  However, the MPAA is caught in a form of schizophrenia about the issue.'

They want to crack down, but a lot of the piracy comes out of China. They don't want to push China too hard to do something about it, because it's still basically a dictatorship. The odds are pretty good that someone high up in that dictatorship profits from the piracy, and will punish anyone who threatens those profits.

So you get the MPAA setting up legislative boondoggles like SOPA and PIPA. Those two intellectual abortions were basically yelling: "We don't want to risk losing the Chinese market, so here's a bill that will make it impossible to fart online without our permission."

Then Dodd had the temerity to threaten the congress-people who let the bill die with the loss of MPAA support.

First, a good lobbyist doesn't get their fingerprints all over something as badly constructed as SOPA and PIPA, and second, you don't go threatening those who let the bill die. Especially when over half of them get nothing but scorn from you anyway, and the other half knows you'll support them blindly, no matter what.

That's not good lobbying, that's bad strategy.

2. MORAL WATCHDOG:  One of the essential roles of the MPAA is to be the movie industry's self-policing agency when it comes to sex and violence on screen. 

During the 1920s Hollywood had been rocked by sex scandals, and people were banging the drum demanding the government step in and regulate the morality of the movie industry. Considering the bang up job the government was doing at the time regulating the country's morality in regards to alcohol the movie industry decided they would police themselves.

First they started the Production Code, which tried to keep the movies family entertainment, and it staved off the specter of government censorship.  Now the Production Code was very capricious, and overreacted to just about everything that came across its desk, and it got worse as time went by.

When TV came along the movies didn't have to be all things to all people, and filmmakers were looking to delve into more adult subject matter, but the old Code just wouldn't let them.  So a new system was created, and after a few iterations, settled on the ratings we know and are annoyed at today.  Family films were rated G for General, PG and PG-13 denoted films that required some parental guidance, R meant that the film was Restricted to people over 17 being allowed to see it without parental guidance, and NC-17 (formerly known as X) was for films that allowed no one under 17 into the theater with or without parental guidance.

For a long time this system sort of worked.  There were occasional controversies, but for the most part it ran along pretty smooth.


Then things started to change.

The rationale behind the ratings grew more and more opaque, and the ratings themselves became as erratic and capricious as the old production code.  

Filmmakers became frustrated as films they thought would rate PG/PG-13, were suddenly slapped with R-Ratings, limiting their potential audience.  The appeals system had more to do with how much you annoyed the board than any logic behind the case.

What does all this tell you?

That the MPAA, in its present form, has outlived its usefulness.

There's no logic or common sense behind it anymore.  There is a place for such an organization, but the one that exists now is failing at its two key missions.  They need to either gut the MPAA and reform it right down to its roots, or completely tear it down and build something new.

Because right now, it's just a disaster in the making.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #855: All About The Residuals

Today, I'm going to take a moment to talk about a part of the business we call show that is extremely important if you are working in it.

I'm talking about residuals.

"What are residuals?" you ask, furrowing your brow in a feeble attempt to understand.  Well the answer is simple.

These are residuals.
Yep, residuals are money.

However, it is not a share of the box office gross. Let's get that misconception out of the way right up front.  That sort of thing has to be negotiated by your agent.
Residuals are fees paid to the people involved in the making of a film or TV show when said film or TV show is sold to a secondary market.  These residuals are negotiated by the various unions, SAG, WGA, DGA etc., and they also manage their collection and disbursement.

Screenings on airplanes are not included for some reason, having been defined as part of the movie/TV show's original release.  That little tid-bit says a lot because everything involved in residuals depends on how the terms are defined. 

Things differ slightly between movies and television residuals, so I'll try to explain them to the best of my ability.
MOVIE RESIDUALS: Come from sales of films to television, and home video markets. These include pay cable, basic cable, and broadcast television, as well as DVD and online sales and rentals.  

Now you'd think that it's a license to print money.

Well, yes and no, and it all hinges on how the terms of the residuals contract are defined and how the rights to the movies in questions are sold.

Take writers for example. The contract between the WGA says that the credited writer(s) of a feature film deserve somewhere around 1.2% of the film's gross receipts from TV/home video sales and rentals.  Sounds good right, especially when sales and rentals can add up to the tens of millions of dollars.

Not really.

You see the studios define the film's gross receipts that actually pay residuals as the Producer's Gross Receipts from these sales. The Producer's Gross Receipts are 20% of the total of those sales.

So when you buy a DVD, the store gets a cut of the sales price, the studio gets the rest. The studio then pockets 80% of that sales price, and toss 20% to the producers to dole out to everyone else.

That means that our example, the ink-stained wretch who wrote the damn thing, only gets about 1.2% of the 20% the studios decided to let them have.

Then there's how the movie studios sell their films, especially to cable outlets.  Basically, they put a whole bunch of movies, both blockbusters and turkeys, into a big fat package, and sells the whole damn thing to a broadcaster for one fee. Thus the big hit, which should be worth more, gets the same amount in residuals that the bomb that no one wants to see.  So, unless there's some sort of bidding war for a specific film we're basically talking the scraps of scraps.

It is different for writers when it comes to internet sales and rentals.  Thanks to a contract negotiated by the WGA when the internet was still rather nascent, that 1.2% residual paid to the writer comes from the full 100% of the share collected by the studio.

So download like a bastard, because it will make the writers happy.
TV RESIDUALS: Follow a slightly different structure.  They are primarily built around reruns, but the most important things are how the show is rerun, and where.

If the network reruns an episode of a TV series, like they used to do every summer, they paid full fees to the people who made it and starred in it.  Pretty sweet money.

However, nowadays the networks try to avoid doing these "full reruns" and try to play games with what constitutes a rerun and such.

Then there are the reruns in both syndication and cable.  If you are the studio/producer who owns the show, you're golden, it's all gravy.  If you're a writer and actor, it can become problematic, especially if you have a deal where a cable channel buys all the reruns to your show.

Ever notice that when a basic cable channel airs reruns of a series, they play living shit out of it.

There's two reasons for that. 

1. It fills up air time without buying or producing original content. 

2. The more a certain show is aired, the smaller the residuals paid to contributors become.

So it's very possible to be a writer, director, or star of a successful and long running series get a residual check for 5¢ for all their work while the network and the cable channel, who are often part of the same conglomerate, continue to make millions.

And let's not forget that residuals count as income, so you have to pay taxes on them too.

However, all is not bleak.

If you have a prolific career, with a wide range of material, it can all add up, and can make the difference between making a living, and destitution.

Now this all a very glib and superficial explanation of an extremely, and needlessly, complex issue.  If you want to learn the specifics, please check with the various creative unions, like SAG, WGA, and DGA, who make available a lot of information on the issue on their websites.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #854: Good For You...

It's not often that I get to say something nice about a movie company, so relish the moment folks.

Hammer Films, the recently resurrected genre studio, has donated its archives of film & TV scripts and related production ephemera to the Cinema And Television History (CATH) Research Centre at the UK’s Leicester De Montfort University.  

The center will curate, catalog, and make available the scripts and materials for researchers and film history buffs alike.  Hopefully this will include an online component so the whole world can dip their toes into the world of Hammer.

How mighty nice of them.

Now if all this is just gibberish to you, shame on you. I should tell you to go to the woodshed and cut me a switch, no thicker than my thumb, but since I'm a nice guy, I will save you from your own ignorance.

Hammer Film Productions was started in the early 1930s by a popular music hall comedian name William Hinds who worked under the stage name Will Hammer.  For the first 20 years it produced a variety of films in various genres, but it wasn't until the 1950s that it forged the identity that genre film fans know and love to this day.

I'm talking about horror.

In the mid-1950s conventional wisdom said that Gothic horror set in historical periods were passe, and that films of that ilk had to be shot in black and white.  
Hammer broke with conventional wisdom, with the first of their classic horror films The Curse of Frankenstein, starring Hammer's signature star tag team of Peter Cushing as the titular mad scientist and Christopher Lee as the tragic monster.  The film was a revelation for its time, a period Gothic horror film shot in glorious technicolor, peppered with sexuality of the "heaving cleavage" school, and a soupcon of gore, which would be considered gentle today, but was horrifying for its time.

What followed was the company's Golden Age of the late 1950s through the 1960s. However, times changed, and Hammer stopped being a trend-setter, and tried to cash in on trends started by others. The films suffered, and so did the company, slowly fading away into obscurity, and then becoming completely moribund.

Time passed, and in 2007 new owners gained control of the company, and the process of reconstruction began.  When I heard that Hammer had been bought I wondered what it would mean, fearing that someone just wanted "the brand" for tacky purposes, but my fears were soon allayed.

What calmed my troubled waters was news that the new owners were finally draining the copyright swamp that had overtaken the company's library. 

That told me that the new owners appeared to have an appreciation of its history, and the commercial possibilities that it held. An appreciation that continues with the donation of their archive, and in the resurrected company's first serious hit film.

The Woman In Black has so far made over $60 million worldwide, and is still chugging along, is a throwback to the company's golden age.  A Gothic style haunted house period film that breaks from the whole torture-porn, and found footage fads that dominate the American horror market.  It's following what I've been preaching that independent companies should do: It found a gap in the market, and it's exploiting it.

So kudos to Hammer, not just for the donation, but for coming back from the dead, and I wish them all the luck.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #853: We Got Oscars Give Us Money!

The Weinstein Company is looking for money, $150 million in financing to make more movies, keep up their operations, and retire some debt, to be precise.

The often financially troubled Weinstein Company is touting the critical/commercial success of last year's Best Picture Winner The King's Speech, and their current crop of Oscar contender The Artist, My Week With Marilyn, and The Iron Lady.

What do I think?

Well, I wouldn't invest if I had the millions to do it, and it's not because of the Weinstein Company's history of soured partnerships, litigation, and other problems like buying movies and sitting on them for years and years.

It's because of their business plan as illustrated in this picture...
The Artist is an excellent example of my point.  It's a silent movie, shot in black and white, and it comes from France.  Now normally you would think making a bit more than $25 million in limited release would be a success.

Well, if the words of critics, and audiences who actually saw the film are anything to go by, I think it might be losing an opportunity to make so much more.  Everyone I've talked to who have seen the film have nothing but praise for it. They love its energy, its lack of trendy cynicism, and most of all, they love its actually sincere heart.

So why isn't it doing better?

Because the Weinstein Company is putting all of its eggs into a little basket called the Academy Awards. They're hoping that some little golden men will create a much needed boost at the box office.

Except that the once inevitable Oscar bump just isn't guaranteed anymore. Then there's the schism.

What schism? you might ask.

The schism between the audience and the Academy Award winning movies.  Look at most of the recent winners and you'll see that many of them came out in limited Oscar qualifying releases, right at the very end of the nominating period, so they're fresh in Academy voter's minds, and pretty much all advertising and publicity is aimed towards those same Academy voters.

This little plan forgets one key fact:

ACADEMY VOTERS DON'T PAY TO SEE MOVIES

They watch them at home on "screener" discs. They don't drop real money at theaters.

Meanwhile, those who do pay to see movies, hear about the nominated films, but only in the context of awards shows. There's nothing happening that tells them that this film is there to entertain them. In fact, everything tells them that these films are not for their entertainment, but to make Hollywood feel better about itself.

Now they could have hyped films like The Artist, The Iron Lady, and My Week With Marilyn to the wider audience. They all have elements that could have been used to connect with the wider public, but the Weinstein Company wants Oscar to do all that heavy lifting for them.

However, depending on Oscar only serves to perpetuate the concept that "awards movies" are a genre onto themselves. A genre which acts like it doesn't need the general ticket buying public.  This makes the ticket buying public ignore "awards movies" and makes successes like The King's Speech more of the exception rather than the rule.

Now can you see why I would be circumspect about giving them money?

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #852: China Opens The Gate Just A Crack...

The movie studios and the White House are giving themselves some hearty pats on the back because they just finagled a new deal for releasing Hollywood movies in the Peoples Republic Of China.

The new deal keeps the quota of 20 Hollywood movies being released in China per year, but exempts up to 14 "premium format" films like Imax and 3D from that quota.  It also bumps up the piece of the action the studios get from the Chinese box office from 13% to 25%.

It all sounds like it's going to be all sugar and unicorns, right?

Well, maybe not.

Let's look at the Pros and Cons.

PROS.

MONEY: China is a massive movie market, and has been the Holy Grail of money for the big studios for decades. It has a growing economy, and over a billion people who belong to a movie-loving culture that goes to theaters in numbers and frequency not seen in North America since the 1930s. There is a lot of money to be made in China.

CONS.

DEMOGRAPHICS: China's population is aging, has a terrible shortage of women, and its new-found wealth is leaving large swaths of its massive population behind in an almost semi-medieval limbo. This means that China could face massive social and economic upheaval, and a lot sooner than you would think. 

GOVERNMENT: China's market, though more open than it was in the past, is still nowhere near being a truly free market. To participate you need the blessings of the ruling elite in the Chinese Communist Party.

CORRUPTION: The need for the blessings of the political elite breeds corruption like plague bacilli in a rat's gullet. Corruption makes business even harder and more costly to do, until it reaches a saturation point where it stops being worth the effort to even try.

CREATIVE: Then there are the creative aspects of this new market paradigm, in both quality, and the censorship of Hollywood movies.

1. QUALITY:  The exemption is specifically for Imax and 3D movies. That means the studios are going to start scrambling for those spots with even more shitty 3D movies. 

Why do I say "shitty" because the studios fear, probably irrationally, that things like story, characters, and dialogue, won't fly in foreign markets, and with one of the biggest foreign language markets opening slightly they're going to go for even more special effects, explosions, and empty posturing in the vain hope that what doesn't fly as well over here will make money in China.

2. CENSORSHIP: Then there's the unseemly issue of censorship. The government of China is notoriously touchy about its image and will censor or actively ban anything that it may interpret as making it lose face.

But that's not the insidious part. No, the really insidious part is the self-censorship the studios will do to filmmakers in the name of keeping their spot in the precious quota. You can forget anyone doing anything about the situation in Tibet in the foreseeable future, or human rights that don't somehow put the blame all on the CIA. It could even go as far as dropping scripts that involve the overthrowing of fictional dictators, because they fear it might hurt the feelings of real dictators.

So while they are some short terms gains to be made from this deal, ultimately, those gains could easily turn into an...
The lesson here? Tread carefully.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Who Does What?: The Distributor/The Exhibitor

Two of the most important entities in the movie business are the distributor and the exhibitor.

As I always say, any idiot can make a movie, but what's a movie worth if no one can see it?  To get a movie seen you need a distributor and an exhibitor.  These two entities have a strange form of symbiosis.  They need each other, but they are often in conflict, which I will try to explain here.

DISTRIBUTOR: It is the job of the distributor to take your film and put it in theaters.  A little trick of Hollywood is that the major studios are, in fact, two technically separate entities.

One wing handles production of films. Once the film is finished it then goes to a independently incorporated company that handles distribution. Now most of the time they have the same name with maybe a little variation, except for Disney, where the distribution of movies used to be handled by their Buena Vista Distribution company until they retired the brand 2007 and renamed it The Walt Disney Motion Picture Company.

Now this is so the distribution company part of the studio can charge the production company part of the studio a fee for the privilege of releasing their movies. This amount can be whatever they damn well feel like, and usually is more than enough to ensure that nothing gets anywhere near a net profit.

Okay, I just explained how the distributor is used to screw up Hollywood's finances, let me explain what they do.

It's the job of the distributor to handle the release of movies. They book screen time with the exhibitors, they then have to pay for all the marketing and the advertising. 

This means TV/radio ads, billboards, web ads, and even newspaper and magazine spreads.  Then there are the costs of transporting and housing celebrities for overseas premieres and publicity events.

It's expensive, and time consuming, and a distributor really has to know what they're doing to avoid just wasting money and time.


Once the movie is screened, the distributor then has to collect the money from the exhibitors.  This money is called the "rental" and is technically the fee the exhibitor has to pay to rent the movie for the screening. The actual amount can vary widely, depending on the agreement between the distributor and exhibitor.  The rental can be anywhere between 40% to 50% of the ticket price.

EXHIBITOR:  "Exhibitor" is basically a fancy two dollar word for theater owner.
Before 1947 the studios owned the theaters that showed their movies. However, that changed when the federal government decided that studios owning theaters was a monopoly and had the court order them to break up.

Now there's a case to be made that the court was wrong, and vertical integration is the way to go, but that's a topic for another day.
 
Since the 1947 the studios have had to deal with a new partner, the exhibitor. This partnership is often strained due to frequent conflicts.
Distributors want nothing but the best when it comes to exhibiting their movies. They want the best quality projection, the loudest and clearest sound, and even the comfiest seats. However, these things cost the exhibitors money, and since they depend on box office to cover their overhead or "nut" and sales of popcorn and soda for their profit margin, they don't want to pay for them.

Exhibitors say that if the distributors want everything upgraded then they should be able to raise the ticket price to pay for it.  Distributors don't want ticket prices raised if they're not getting the money, because, well, they're not getting the money, and if the price goes too high, there will be fewer bums in seats.

Another stress in the relationship comes from the whole booking process.  In the old days the studios used to engage in what was known as "block booking." If your theater chain wanted the sure fire hit with Cary Grant, you had open up some screens for the less sure-fire movie starring some chick the studio head is scoring with.

However things have changed. There is now no longer such a thing as a guaranteed hit. Big, heavily promoted films with top stars can sink like stones, while small, poorly promoted little movies with no stars can soar like rockets to blockbuster sales.

Neither side knows what's going to sell and what doesn't. They try to hedge their bets, but the old paradigms they used to rely on so much, are crumbling. Both sides are looking out for their own best interests, and while they should be copacetic, in the confusing and convoluted world of movies, they are often in conflict.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Sorry...

No post today. Been a really busy, bordering on crappy day, despite the up-tick in the weather from Witch's Teat to Well Digger's Bum.

So here's the openings of all 22 James Bond movies all at once.  It's sort of hypnotic to watch.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #851: Is This Even Possible?

I guess the Mayans were right after all.

The world must be coming to an end because there are signs and portents in the winds.  Strange events and mysterious happenings are occurring all over the world. 

Hollywood's equivalent of the two headed goat is a report that Michael Bay, the master blaster of overwrought bombast, is directing a new crime movie for Paramount called Pain & Gain for only $25 million.

That's not Bay's salary, that's supposed to be the entire budget for the movie, which is slated to star Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, and Mark Wahlberg. It's based on an article that chronicled the true story of a group of bodybuilders who went on a violent crime spree in Miami.

Now I just have to ask this question:

IS THIS EVEN POSSIBLE?

Now I have mixed feelings toward Michael Bay.  As a filmmaker he's not so much a storyteller than a composer of images for ad campaigns. His movies make my eyes bleed.  
 
However, I do respect Bay's status as the bug up Hollywood's ass.

He not only doesn't hold to the fashionable cultural and political shibboleths and prejudices of his show-biz colleagues, he actively opposes them in his films. 

His movies may insult your intelligence, but they're not going to insult you, or your beliefs, just so he could get invited to party with the cool kids.

The one thing I can't wrap my head around is him doing a movie, any movie for somewhere between 1/5 to 1/8 of what he normally works with.

I applaud him for wanting to try, and for him and his stars being willing to pass on their usual up front money for a piece of the back end.

How Hollywood normally treats money.
I just don't know if they can pull it off.  If you do too many films for serious mega-money, you can lose the ability to operate for amounts that are normally spent on a trailer capable of sheltering Will Smith's entourage.

Which is why I think every filmmaker, especially the ones known for making big blockbusters, should take a break. Not time off, but a break from the overflowing teat of other people's money, and make a film for a what would be considered a small budget by Hollywood standards.

It's a win-win for all involved. The producers get a film by a director with a track record at a low cost. The filmmaker gets to exercise creative muscles that can often become flabby when they have the option of just throwing money at the situation.

When those muscles get toned, they tend to get used on larger projects as well. This means the potential for saving money on the bigger projects.

So I wish Michael Bay luck with this, but I see the specter of massive budget overruns hanging over this project.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Discount Bin Film Club: The Godfather Part 3.

I first saw The Godfather Part 3 in the early 1990s.  I had missed its theatrical run since I lived in a town without a theater, but since I was a huge fan of the first two movies, and even liked the "novel for television" edit when I was a kid, I rented it the moment it first showed up at the old VHS rental shop.

That was also the last time I saw The Godfather Part 3, until this week.

Now that's saying something for someone who has been a big fan of the Godfather saga since I was a little kid and my parents let me watch it on TV during a moment of questionable parental judgement. When the first two movies were running in a theater during my time in Toronto, I went and caught both shows. When it came to be Part 3's turn, I stayed home.

Why?
Because ever since I first saw it, I had this nagging sense of disappointment over the film.

Then I got a gift card last Xmas, and in January I took that card to my local retailer, and got two things, a box set of Community Season 1, that ironically, didn't contain any DVDs, and the Coppola Restoration of the Godfather Trilogy.

I watched the first two, and decided that I should grit my teeth, and watch Part 3, to see if my nagging sense of disappointment was right.

It was.

But this time I realized what caused my sense of disappointment.
"The sin is that the movie is incomplete."

The movie was unfinished on every level.

The screenplay just reeks of a first draft, with little or no polishing. Important plot points and characters are just glossed over, while trivialities are dwelt upon to an unseemly length.  

The dialogue also seems strictly first draft, with dialogue put in it because at some point the writers (Puzo and Coppola) thought that they were the sort of things that should be in a Godfather movie without any of the sort of deep analysis needed to see if they really did belong in a Godfather movie.

Now it was popular at the time to put the blame on Sophia Coppola for her wooden performance as Mary Corleone.  While her "Valley Girl" accent stuck out like a sore thumb, she is also a victim of the film's incomplete nature. She was a last minute replacement for Winona Ryder, who had collapsed from exhaustion on the first day of filming, and her lack of preparation shows.  Now while the first two movies had so much story going on, there was room to edit around any shortcomings, the bare bones nature of Part 3, meant that there was no cover for Sophia, and her shortcomings as an actress. It was probably ego on Coppola's part that he thought she could do it with so little because he was the man who made the first two Godfathers, and who had the right to question his decisions. 

Then there's the whole "incesty" romance between Mary Corleone and her cousin Vincent.... that needed a rewrite. Ewww....

Now let's look at how the film itself is constructed, and how that just reeks "first draft." Look at this clip of one of Part 3's major action scenes.  If you haven't seen it, Michael Corleone's announcing his retirement to the Mafia's commission, and his refusal to share his largesse with small time thug Joey Zaza (Joe Mantegna) has cause Zaza to storm out in a huff, followed by Don Altobello (Eli Wallach) who pleads with Joey to come back.  The meeting goes on without them, and things take a turn...


Now this is supposed to be the film's centerpiece action moment, its equivalent to the assassination of Sonny at the tollbooth in Part 1, but it's a complete failure in my opinion.

Why?

Because like the script they have the core of a good idea, but no polish, no follow through.  First, there's no research into what sort of weapon would create the effect they wanted. Inside the room's being torn apart as if by a heavy machine gun, but all we're shown is an Uzi sub-machine gun, which though a deadly weapon, doesn't strike the audience as capable of dropping 100+ bullets down range like that.

Then there's the movement within the scene.  It is slow, both on camera, and in the editing.  We're supposed to be shocked with the speed and horror, yet everything is ponderous and lingering.

What's with that guy and his lucky coat?  Okay, it's his lucky coat, and he doesn't want to leave without it, so why is he just lingering there hugging it? It can't be stuck on the hook for the love of all that's cinematic, that would be stupid.  So is standing there hugging a coat while bullets fly all around you until you're killed.

The first two Godfather movies featured violence / action scenes that matched in style the nature of the act of violence being performed.  Sudden ambushes come out of nowhere, targeted assassinations carefully stalk their prey, then strike with brutal efficiency, anarchic shootouts are pure chaos, but you still know what's going on.

The helicopter attack scene in Part 3 matches not the nature of the attack, but the nature of the film itself. Overwrought, under-thought, sloppily constructed, and ultimately disappointing.

To sum it up, a first draft.