Monday, January 14, 2013

A Clear Precedent

There was a good piece in Sunday's LA Times newspaper this weekend referring to what the movie studios are looking for in the way of movies for this year and probably for many more. There's also some insight into who pays for those movies.

I'm borrowing from the article and adding my own thoughts about the subject.

What they're talking about are the Oscar contenders, or in other words, those artsy movies that most people don't really go to. If you look at some of this year's bunch, there's Zero Dark Thirty (my favorite), Beasts of the Southern Wild, Les Miserables, Django and Lincoln.

What these movies also have is a common thread; they were all done without studio money. Even Lincoln, a Spielberg movie, was financed outside of the studio. What's the reason? Because studios only want to make movies that "don't have a clear precedent".  So what's that mean?

It means that they want movies that have a recognizability to them. And what does that mean?

It means this for example ; Some years ago Tim Burton made Alice in Wonderland. It did big business, a lot of money. The studios saw gold. Not in Alice, but in every kind of fairy tale that they could find. 

Thus they made Little Red Riding Hood, twice actually, different actors. Followed by Abraham Lincoln/Vampire Killer, Hansel and Gretel/Witch Hunters and soon to come Jack the Giant Killer. And at least a handful of others to come.

That's the precedent, or in other words, the motivation as to what movies to make. 

And the problem with the movies mentioned above are traveling solo, they have no precedent, no history or familiarity, except for Les Miserables. The movie was based on the play which was based on the book by Victor Hugo in 1862.

And besides the fairy tale movies, we have a new Die Hard movie, another Arnold movie, The Last Stand and a handful of sequels including the Lone Ranger. The Avengers made tons of money. The studios aren't taking any chances with original material for the most part. But the studios still make money on these originals, although not as much.

For example, Lincoln, financed separately gave distribution rights to Disney and of the $150 million it's made, Disney gets around $10 million and Spielberg and his partners get the rest. Same with the other original movies above.

Same as Zero Dark Thirty which was made for $40 million, much lower than the big studio movies. A remake of The Lone Ranger with Johnny Depp is budgeted at $220 million. For a western?

But sometimes the studio movies crash and burn and make nothing. Take Battleship and John Carter. Remember them. Huge budgets and tiny earnings. 

What it means, is that original movies, of which the studios have made over the years, are slowly losing ground and that means less of them. On the other hand it means more sequels and movies based on fairy tales. So if you're a writer, I suggest you begin looking at any fairy tales that haven't been used yet.

And there's hundreds of those.

I have a few more words on Zero Dark Thirty, which I felt was the best movie, having not yet seen Lincoln.  Later this week.