Archive for the ‘Hollywood’ Category

New Film Strategies Needed

26th August 2009 by Maura McHugh

The Washington Post has a long article analysing the current trends in the American box office, and what effect this might have on the production of new films in the coming years.

Two kinds of films are doing well: big budget blockbusters with visual impact (and often little else), and the low-budget indie film. One is making money by satisfying the desire in moviegoers for the visual spectacle, and the other is earning because of its low outlay.

The middle-range, well-made film with strong performances is suffering. One distributor in the USA is releasing such films in the theatres, and on its cable company simultaneously, so it can capitalise on the buzz of the film’s launch and yet reach those viewers who don’t want to leave their couches.

The usual Hollywood strategy of paying $20 million for a prominent actor and expecting that to translate into box office sales for a film is no longer working.

The marketing of the film is being deemed as critical:

Hollywood Reporter writer Carl DiOrio, who in April wrote about the struggles of adult-oriented dramas, says it all comes down to one thing: marketing. “It’s less about whether there will be actual motion pictures and more about whether they’re concepts that are easily marketed,” he says. “You need to let the viewer understand what their moviegoing experience is going to be like in a very simple TV message, and that’s not easily done unless you have something that can be boiled down to a [one-sentence synopsis]. And the [typical] modestly budgeted adult-oriented drama of the character-driven variety doesn’t really lend itself to a convenient marketing hook.”

(Last winter’s “Taken” and the current “Julie & Julia,” both adult-aimed movies that have done well, exemplify DiOrio’s point. One is a fast-moving action thriller about a retired CIA agent who must rescue his abducted daughter. The other features a beloved actress playing an equally beloved American icon, in a story set in romantic postwar France and full of delicious shots of food and cooking. What’s not to like?)

Bickford echoes DiOrio’s observation. “As long as you can figure out a way to market these movies without spending your entire profit, they’ll be made,” she says.

“The last 18 months have been just devastating,” she continues. “But in terms of audiences for these movies, they’re there. Look at how many people want to see Meryl Streep play Julia Child.”

A Familiar Story

11th August 2009 by Maura McHugh

The Writers Guild of America (West) has published the 2009 Hollywood Writers Report, called Rewriting an All-Too-Familiar Story?, which looks at the statistics regarding the employment of screenwriters in Hollywood broken down by gender, race and age.

What’s notable is that the percentage of women writing for film/television is not improving, and there is some evidence that their earnings are decreasing (these figures only go as far as 2007 before the current change in the economy). The situation among writers from a minority background has improved by a barest margin.

The following are some highlights from the report:

Women Writers’ Overall Employment Share Remains Largely Flat

Between 2003 and 2007, gains for women writers have not exceeded one percentage point in any of the employment areas. Women, who account for slightly more than 50 percent of the U.S. population, remain underrepresented in television employment by 2 to 1 and in film employment by nearly 3 to 1.

Earnings Gender Gap in TV

Women television writers earned about the same in 2007 ($82,604) as they did at the beginning of the five-year report period in 2003 ($82,000), despite spikes in earnings in 2005 and 2006. The television earnings of white male writers, by contrast, increased by nearly $4,000 over the report period (from $84,300 to $87,984), after peaking at $100,000 in 2005 and 2006.

Earnings Gender Gap in Film

The gender earnings gap in film for 2007 ($41,724) was the largest since at least 2003. Film earnings for women were down from the 2003 figure of $62,500 in 2005 ($50,000), 2006 ($55,500), and 2007 ($57,151). By contrast, the earnings of white male writers increased by more than $8,000 over the period, from $90,476 in 2003 to $98,875 in 2007.

White Males Continue to Dominate in Overall Earnings; Minority Earnings Approach Those for Women

Minority writers earned $87,652 in 2007, compared to $90,686 for women and $112,500 for white males. The $24,848 gap between minority earnings and white male earnings in 2007 represents nearly a $14,000 reduction in the $38,490 gap evident in 2005, the last year covered in the previous report. Meanwhile, the overall earnings gap between minority writers and women writers closed to its smallest point in 2007 ($3,034), which improved upon a much wider gap in 2005 ($12,868). Nonetheless, the overall earnings of white male writers significantly outpaced those of the other groups throughout the study period, reflecting the continuing dominance of white males in the industry

More Films More Profit

22nd July 2009 by Maura McHugh

A recent article on the L.A. Times suggests that movie studios should be considering making more films, not less, despite the current economic crisis.

The advice is based on industry research from SNL Kagan, which examined the 611 major studio releases between 2004 and 2008 to create imaginary slates of five, ten, and fifteen films broken down by genre. It then created three versions of each slate, using a variety of genres.

Without getting caught up in the nitty-gritty of the analysis (which is available for a fee here), the end result of their study was that the bigger the slate, the better the odds for profit. The five-film slate had a net loss of $94 million. The 10-film slate had almost $140 million in profit, while the 15-film slate had $466.4 million in profit. The study, which used a time frame of 12 years to determine the results, assumed 8% in distribution costs and 10% profit-participation and also included video and television revenues.

Agent Layoffs in Hollywood Shuffle

26th May 2009 by Maura McHugh

An article on The Independent discusses the latest shake-up in Hollywood, with the merger between two agencies — William Morris and Endeavour — to create a new “super-agency” called WME Entertainment.

The agents were the first casualty of this change, with over 100 employees at William Morris being made redundant.

“Tenpercenters”, as agents are known, are notoriously sharp-elbowed, and many small firms such as Gersh now hope to convince former Endeavour clients that the new firm, WME Entertainment, will no longer offer the “boutique” service they had enjoyed.

Kevin Spacey was among the first casualties of the new era. He announced this month that, after years with William Morris, he was joining CAA. This week, by way of response, WME announced its first new signing, stealing the Lost star Matthew Fox, inset below, from ICM.

The turmoil comes as agencies weigh the cost of the recession. Box-office revenues remain robust but DVD sales have slumped and fewer films and TV shows are getting the green light. Owing to difficulties securing finance, the once extortionate salaries offered to actors and writers are being slashed. “All you ever need, to do to know what’s happening in Hollywood, is to follow the money,” said an agent at a leading Beverly Hills firm, who was not authorised to speak publicly. “Look at this year’s box office: fewer hit films are star driven. People are buying into concept movies like Terminator and Transformers. The days when $20m-a-film deals happened each week are gone. Bluntly, that means fewer jobs for agents.”

Reality TV Lawsuit

23rd March 2009 by Maura McHugh

According to the L.A. Times three former employees of Fremantle Media, which produces hit reality TV shows such as American Idol, have launched a class-action lawsuit against the company.

In a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Thursday, the former employees — a music coordinator for “American Idol,” an associate producer for the reality-based TV series “Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency” and a producer for the game show “Temptation” — contend that the London-based company and its various subsidiaries exposed them to sweatshop conditions.

“Employees work ten, twelve and even twenty-hour days, six or seven days a week, without overtime compensation and are forced to forgo meal and rest breaks as required by law,” the suit states.

The workers further alleged that Fremantle engaged in a “fraudulent scheme” to conceal the hours they worked, forcing them to falsify their time cards so that they would not be paid overtime.

The Writers Guild of America, East and West, have been campaigning strongly for four years for better rights for writers on reality television shows in the USA. The Guild backed two similar lawsuits that made comparable allegations against reality TV producers and networks, and the suits were settled in January for $4 million.

In February the Guild continued its picket of the popular American Idol reality show.

“‘Fremantle is lowering standards for workers all across the entertainment industry,” said David N. Weiss, vice president of the Writers Guild of America, West. “American Idol is the top-rated show on television, and the fact that Fremantle does not compensate its writers and other workers fairly is unacceptable.”