The State Of Hollywood, 2001

I don’t know if any of you have seen, but New Line has already penciled in December 20, 2002, as the official release date for the second installment of the new Lord of the Rings trilogy. This despite news reports that LotR director Peter Jackson needs to bring in outside FX houses to help complete the needed footage for the first movie, which has had its release date set in stone for almost two years now.

This is not an anomaly within the studio system. More often than not, a film has its release date scheduled before the film begins shooting. Or take the once unusual case of Lethal Weapon 4. Warner Brothers chose to set the film’s release date first, then started shooting without a completed script. And just what did Warners end up getting in returnr A beached whale of a film. An exercise in futility with none of the spark, wit, verve, drive, humor, pathos or charm which made the first film a minor modern miracle. It’s as if Terry Semel was thinking “We don’t need a coherent story. We’re paying Mel Gibson FORTY FIVE MILLION DOLLARS!!! Of course it’s going to be good. We’re paying Richard Donner TEN MILLION DOLLARS!!! We’ve got Mel and Danny AND Rene AND Joe back! And we’re bringing in Chris Rock for the street cred! And JET MOTHERFUCKING LI for those Hong Kong film fans. Shit, we have every base covered.”

But despite not even coming remotely close to earning its cost (over $175M once prints and advertising are factored in) back in rental fees (studios typically get only 55% of the gross back from the theatres over any film’s theatrical run), more and more studios are rushing films through, in hopes of hitting that elusive home run.

Look at 2001 so far… the #1 film of the year is an CG animated film which started production five years earlier. A film which underwent some serious tweaking when original Shrek vocal actor Chris Farley died unexpectedly, pushing the expected release date back at least a year. Dreamworks and production partner Pacific Data left themselves open to make changes to the film on the fly to test ideas out. Meanwhile, expected big dog Pearl Harbor (which had to make its preset Memorial Day weekend release date at all costs) sits on the bench like Albert Belle, flaming out far too quickly, knowing you did good at the start but you just weren’t worth the big bucks somebody shelled out for your fat bloated ass.

Not that every film rushed into production with an accelerated schedule in order to make a pre-ordained release date suffers from a lack of quality. I was watching Ghostbusters on DVD a couple of nights ago, listening to Harold Ramis and Ivan Reitman talk about how the film went from pitching the studio the idea to release in about ten months. Of course, Dan Aykroyd had been working on the treatment and storyline for several years as a potential vehicle for himself and John Belushi.

So what exactly are we trying to say herer

That it’s high time studios get back into show part of show business.

The FilmJerk, sitting alone at his computer, staring at the blinking cursor on the blank part of page 35 of the screenplay he was supposed to have delivered a month ago, contemplates the market which scares him so badly, he is reticent of ever finish the script, even if it means giving up a guaranteed six figure payday…

Ever since the Warner Brothers Festival of Classics in 1998, I have devised a plan to make going to the movies interesting again. And since the studios will pay MBAs who don’t know shit about film hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, maybe they’ll be willing to listen to a couple of minor league filmmakers who do know something about film and are giving advice away for free. In order of importance:

1. Get Robert Evans back to Paramount Pictures as head of production. The studio has its best streak when the man was running the running the show. Evans is well liked, knowledgeable and brings something to the table no one else can… history. This isn’t a knock against the current regime at Paramou… actually, yes it is. Robert Evans never would have allowed Tomb Raider to go into theatres in the shape it was released in. Which leads us to…

2. Never again schedule a release date until a film is locked. Is a film really hurt if you spend a couple extra months fine tuning and possibly doing a little reshooting until everything is just rightr I don’t know. Ask James Cameron.

3. When a film is locked and ready, just release the fucking thing! In addition to setting a release date for LotR 2, New Line also moved Knockaround Guys completely off the 2001 schedule. The film was originally supposed to be released this past January. Then New Line moved it to April, then August and now to sometime in 2002. The film is ready to go out today. It’s got a number of young studlies like Seth Green in the cast. Directed by the writers of Rounders. There are no reshoots planned. No extra looping booked. No time in the editing bays scheduled. This puppy is done. Let the dog out and see how the fleas react already.

4. Fire every fucking MBA in Hollywood. Right now. These Wall Street worshipping yuppie scum fucks have ruined the film industry. If these assholes were in place in the 1960s, we never would have had challenging works like Five Easy Pieces, 2001, The Graduate, Midnight Cowboy or Carnal Knowledge. There never would have been Network or Rocky or The Deer Hunter. These weren’t safe bets, guaranteed to bring in more in merchandising than rentals. You can’t sell the kids a Viet-Cong Russian Roulette action playset. There is no market for Playstation Howard Beals video games or Lego Monoliths.

5. Put Savant and I in charge of MGM. The professionals and market raiders have ruined the once glorious name of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Why not let a couple of young turks with real world production experience and marketing know-how take a stabr I guarantee you the two of us, with a stripped down staff and no fucking MBAs on staff will come up with better shit than Rollerball and Original Sin. Kirk Kerkorian has fucked the company 87 ways. Francis Coppola is a good filmmaker when he wants to be, but letting him fidget with other people’s works has not helped any.

Savant and I don’t need $750K each a year to run the place. We’re not in this to buy a fucking mansion on Mullholland Drive with a big pool in the back replete with a little island in the middle containing a nude bronze statue of Bronson Pinchot squirting his love juices amongst the revelers. We don’t need Range Rovers with gold plated rims. And we know where to get better drugs at a better price than anyone in The Biz. Throwing money around will not get us results. Creating a lean mean production machine will. Just the two of us, two development execs, two in legal, four in marketing and a handful in distribution will cut studio overhead about 95%, freeing up tens of millions to do what studios needs to do… make some fucking movies!

Meanwhile, Savant sits in a corner with his houka, alone with his thoughts of how Hollywood could be better…

1. Give directors final cut. They call them ‘filmmakers’ for a reason. Creative and business synergy only work when the two ends stay the hell out of each other’s way… or would you like me to point to Rick Berman, Viacom, and the current Star Trek plummetr A director knows his film, and knows his market better than you do… just because he doesn’t have an MBA doesn’t mean you can’t ‘muscle’ them into making their film commercially viable.

2. Limit the amount of writers on a project. Too many cooks fuck up the cream-of-mushroom soup. Learn from sports: drafting already-proven free agents will get you better results than developing a draft pick. If you need a fix, right now, give someone like Joss Whedon a call and let him develop the damn vision. The more writers you hire, the more filtered the vision becomes… and possibly your profits as well.

3. Budget down! Hey, we all know about soft dollars… at least, The FilmJerk and I do. Sorry, but paying $20 million dollars for a star is completely rediculous. Start shelling out a ton of pictures in the $20-$40 million range, using theatrically-trained character actors and hip-pocketed scripts. Play the numbers… 20 films at $20 million who gross a median average of $60-$80 worldwide then add in your soft dollars and your auxiliary returns, and you’ve got happy stockholders.

4. Do to your company as you would do to your film: Reduce the chain of command. Again, too many levels, too many cooks, too many business-school graduates who think they’re Warren fucking Buffett and have never heard of Jay Abraham. What the fuck is wrong with this picturer Sorry, if you have a DEGREE to show that you’re good in marketing, you deserve to be shot. Will someone please hire Jay Abraham or Seth Godinr Pleaser Will someone start thinking OUTSIDE THE BOXr The best way to ensure this sort of CALCULATED risk-taking (because stagnating is a certainty for short term success and long term disaster) is done right, you need to let the company run under a small, tight vision. Eliminate the middlemen, and you’ll have a lot of prime rib to go around.

5. Hire more insane people, like myself and The FilmJerk. Hey, you know what, you’ve tried it your way. Time to hire some guys who have minds of their own. You can continue to control things with an iron grip, and you can continue to flounder… or, you can start taking some risks, a la Robert Evans, and get some real minds back behind the curtain. If your company ceases to grow, it dies. Some of you are almost 5 feet under. Hey, I know, we could go make a remake of The Player!

Studios, we highly suggest you consider these options. Contact us if you like, we’ll be more than happy to consult for you for much less than any wannabe would. Or, you can just continue to fuck things up, just like always. It’s your call. See you at the movies, or rather, at the Chapter 7 hearings.