Dear Hollywood: Let's Brainstorm Some Ways to Save Money
Recently, a few thought provoking articles addressed at-length the generally sad state of affairs at major film studios. To be fair, neither Mark Harris or Drew McWeeny put the blame squarely on the studios -- noting that audience turnout and demand is as much of a factor as anything -- but at the same time, there's one oft-repeated point that still resonates in both pieces: Most major studios simply cannot afford to take risks on original material. All right, then, Hollywood: let's talk about saving money.
I'll acknowledge up front that I do not have a business degree, and that none of the brainstorming suggestions below are fail-safe. But that's show business! Even films that seem like guaranteed blockbusters sometimes crash and burn, and generally, simply maintaining the status quo in a constantly changing industry is the surest way to expedite demise. So, for all studio execs who are genuinely interested in setting aside some extra money for riskier projects, I humbly suggest the following budget-cutting ideas. As always, feel free to chime in with your own.
Cut the salaries of major stars
Just as movie stars no longer guarantee huge openings (see: Knight and Day, The A-Team), other recent success stories prove that you don't need a huge star to open a film (see: Avatar, Paranormal Activity, How to Train Your Dragon). Admittedly, we are mostly out of the era of $20 million dollar up-front paychecks (though not all of the way), but I think it's now safe to start moving a little faster in this direction. Even a 10% cut on the highest salaries would start to add up. Of course, how you'd actually get movie stars to accept this is another matter entirely.
Cap the budget of non-tentpole genre films
Sure, I'd prefer that maybe we cap the budget on the absurdly expensive tent pole films, but execs have ignored this plea over and over. That said, a quick look at box-office figures suggests that studios are also overspending on throwaway genre-fare. I get that spending 30+ million on films like Season of the Witch ($40 million) and Repo Men ($32 million) might seem like a relatively safe gamble before seeing the finished film. But seriously, why even take that risk?
I don't think the extra money that went into these films honestly made their box-office chances any better than they would have been if the producers and filmmakers had used a third of the budgets more resourcefully. So I propose that studio heads go totally Roger Corman on these types of mid-budget genre films. The advantage is two-fold: First, even if the films turn out terrible, there's a better chance of recouping or breaking even because of the built-in audience for genre. Second, when younger filmmakers are faced with the prospect of using creativity instead of money to solve problems, we might actually start getting genre films as good as Corman in his golden age. Also, consider a somewhat more moderate cap on comedies like Grown Ups, even if they will be hits. I am pretty sure Grown Ups did not need to cost $80 million.
Stay ahead of the curve on marketing and don't be afraid to experiment
Recently, Hollywood has sort of started to get the hang of viral marketing and harnessing social media, but as usual, they were a bit behind the curve. It might take a little bit more of an upfront investment and some new blood, but please, stay on top of this. The internet and the way people gather and process information are both constantly changing, and at any given moment there are dozens of untapped, cost-effective marketing tactics waiting to be discovered. The more that these are utilized, the less studios will have to spend on print and TV advertising. On a related note: Consider capping the budget on movies like Killers, where the film's entire chance of success literally depends on spending millions on print and TV ads.
Know when to abort
Every year or two there's news about some film that goes absurdly over-budget, something like Evan Almighty that's destined to disappoint before it even opens. It's understandable, since if a studio has already put a huge amount of money into a project, it's embarrassing to just flush it all; and it's human nature to just throw in more and hope that it will turn out okay. But seriously, before sinking another $50 million into the budget plus God-knows-what into desperate marketing and PR, consider just cutting your losses early.
Another studio is making a similar project? Shut it down
I'm talking about the years where we get Dante's Peak and Volcano, Deep Impact and Armageddon and so on. I realize this sort of thing often does get nipped in the bud, and that sometimes both movies turn out to be profitable. All the same, making a movie is enough of a risk as it is. Can't one smart studio realize that the public probably does not need two volcano movies and just direct the remaining funds into something original? The latest culprits are the two competing hitman projects about "The Iceman." Also: Consider combining silly high-concept projects into one movie, just because that would be kinda awesome.