1. People Who Don’t Know Movies Are Picking Projects.
“The meetings have gotten pretty weird. There are fewer and fewer executives who are in the business because they love movies; there are fewer and fewer executives who know movies. So it can become a very strange situation. I mean, I know how to drive a car, but I wouldn’t presume to sit in a meeting with an engineer and tell him how to build one, and that’s kind of what you feel like when you’re in these meetings. You’ve got people who don’t know movies, don’t watch movies for pleasure, deciding what movie you’re going to be allowed to make. That’s one reason studio movies aren’t better than they are, and that’s one reason that cinema as I’m defining it is shrinking.”
2. Large, Global Cinema is Diluting What Studios Can Make
“How does a studio decide what movies get made? One thing they take into consideration is the foreign market. Obviously, it’s become very big. The things that travel best are going to be action-adventure, science-fiction, fantasy, spectacle, some animation thrown in there. Obviously the bigger the budget, the more people this thing is gonna have to appeal to, the more homogenized it’s gotta be, the more simplified it’s gotta be. So things like cultural specificity, narrative complexity, and, God forbid, ambiguity. Those become real obstacles to the success of the film here and abroad.
We had a test screening of Contagion once, and a guy in a focus group stood up and said, ‘I really hate the Jude Law character. I don’t know if he’s a hero or an asshole,’ and I thought, ‘Well, here we go.’”
3. Marketing Expenses Are Upside Down
“So then there’s the expense of putting a movie out, which is a big problem. Point of entry for a mainstream, wide-release movie: $30m. That’s where you start. Now you add another 30 for overseas. Now you’ve got to remember, the exhibitors pay half of the gross, so to make that 60 back you need to gross 120. So you don’t even know what your movie is yet, and you’re already looking at 120. That ended up being part of the reason why the Liberace movie didn’t happen at a studio. We only needed $5m from a domestic partner, but when you add the cost of putting a movie out, now you’ve got to gross $75m to get that 35 back, and the feeling amongst the studios was that this material was too [Laughs] “special” to gross $70m. So the obstacle here isn’t just that special subject matter, but that nobody has figured out how to reduce the cost of putting a movie out.
4. No One Learns From When They’re Wrong
“…on Magic Mike for instance, the movie opened to $38m, and the tracking said we were going to open to 19. So the tracking was 100% wrong. It’s really nice when the surprise goes in that direction, but it’s hard not to sit there and go ‘how did we miss that?’ If this is our tracking, how do you miss by that much? I know one person who works in marketing at a studio suggested, on a modestly budgeted film that had some sort of brand identity and some A-list talent attached, she suggested, ‘Look, why don’t we not do any tracking at all, and just spend 15, and we’ll just put it out.’ They wouldn’t do it. They were afraid it would fail, when they fail doing the other thing all the time. Maybe they were afraid it was going to work.”
5. Marketing for Sequels is Even Worse
“The other thing that mystifies me is that you would think, in terms of spending, if you have one of these big franchise sequels that you would say, ‘Oh, we don’t have to spend as much money because is there anyone in the galaxy that doesn’t know Iron Man’s opening on Friday?’ So you would think, ‘Oh, we can stop carpet-bombing with TV commercials.’ It’s exactly the opposite. They spend more. They spend more. Their attitude is ‘You know, it’s a sequel, and it’s the third one, and we really want to make sure people really want to go. We want to make sure that opening night number is big so there’s the perception of the movie is that it’s a huge success.’