The 2013 summer box office hasn’t been too kind when talking about Hollywood movie blockbusters. The major studios collectively will write down nearly a billion dollar total lost on “wiz-bang movies”. After they’re rejections, these titles and associated talent seem to fade into the shadows of a black hole only to be seen on home DVD’s or streaming formats with little to no hype.
What message does this summer’s enormous box office loss convey?
One could speculate, Hollywood studio management have been so focused on stockholders gains, they’ve taken their ‘eyes’ off the mainline business. Others might say, new studio formulas don’t work. Maybe one could ask, is its time to re-evaluate big names, big paydays for talent or getting back to basics with good storytelling minus the CGI? Other suggestions indicate audience tastes have changed and Hollywood execs didn’t get the memo.
Whatever the reasons, Hollywood studios have made it a lot harder for Independent Filmmakers to find investor support. Keep in mind big studios are on the big board, making recent losses uncomfortable but manageable. When you have a known brand, whether its good or mediocre, money still attracts money or so it seems.
Productions take a longtime to reach the screen. Once a production gets a “Green Light” the development process begins (pre-pro), then the story elements are be broken down to match budgetary evaluations, talent and crews are signed, locations firmed up, production begins, then the task of editing, promotion kicks off and two years later we might see it on the screen. If you’re talking animation, it could be four years or more. A studio project started today won’t be seen until 2015 (if then). So, the process is long and often arduous.
Studios can withstand this expense, but Independent productions must move much faster once funds are secured. Often, by the time an Independent project is pitched to investors, the project is mostly complete on paper. However, most likely, the Independent studio or producer has been working on the project for years striving to find the money. Once money is secured, it could take as little as two months to begin shooting on the set or principal photography. What takes an Independent production the longest is securing a big screen schedule, competing with studio releases. Independents must either rely on a good buddy in the studio system or attend many film festivals to get their production shown to distributors.
Most Independent project never exceeds $70M and the majority of projects settle around $30M including the press and publicity. Just to clarify the formula in a simplistic way, if the production is budgeted at $10M, add $10M for post production including editing in various release formats, then $10M for marketing. If a studio takes on the distribution and marketing costs it still is add into the overall budget. That production must turn at least a cost plus 15%-17% (or more) profit to claim some order of success. It’s a very difficult path if dealing on a ‘shoestring’ budget.
With a dismal box office take this summer, investors who may be interested in funding film projects do read the articles on ‘losers’. Naturally, most investors lump Independent film projects with the big 6 studios. We know it’s not fair, but who said it would be? Smaller projects don’t have the marketing resources early on to hype their projects as the big guys do. When it comes to a billion dollar loss, investors take note and shy away from great storytelling.
Pointing a finger at the studio system doesn’t do anyone any good, but there is merit how convoluted the system actually is, while painting a dismal picture for the Independent Filmmaker. If an Independent Filmmaker can get a worldwide distribution deal, the film should make a decent score back for the investor. If a film is designed to a niche audience with strong domestic appeal and a good production management company (like MPCI) keeping their ‘eye’ on the budget and performance, it can also make a decent payday for an investor. However, if an investor only looks at the surface of the industry (studio releases), then the little guy is ‘dead in the water’ when it comes down to financial support.
Disney knew it was in trouble well over a year ago on the “Lone Ranger” project, they tried to reel it back, but the creative control in the contracts hung them out to dry. Sony did a favor for Wil Smith in the ‘Earth’ feature, Universal was living in the past, and 20th Century…well, enough said. Independents still need the strengths of the studios for distribution, but can’t buy into the hype about China.
Bottom line, investors need to look at the projects, if the stats or numbers tell you it will be a success, it most likely will, but with that said, it all gets down to a good story and historically, audiences have always supported good storytelling, big name talent and special effects have become ‘icing on the cake’. And that’s…the REEL STORY!