I know this is old news, but I’ve been away for a couple of weeks, and Steven Spielberg and George Lucas made their comments right as I was going on my vacation. The comment I’d most like to take issue with is the one that Lucas made about studios only making tent pole films that would play in a theater for a year, and customers would pay somewhere around $50 to see it, like going to see a Broadway show.
I think he might have had a couple too many cocktails.
Spielberg also mentioned that there was going to be a “big meltdown” and that more big flops would cause an “implosion” that would “change the paradigm”.
Would you like one more glass of wine, Mr. Spielberg?
Here’s what I think these two entertainment titans are missing, and I think it’s important to remember because in their massive success they’ve clearly forgotten that there are a lot of creative filmmakers and entrepreneurs out there who will continue to make movies that people will continue to want to see. And maybe these smaller budget films can teach the big studios something about profitability.
Last weekend the number 1 film at the US box office was The Conjuring. Its budget was $20 million and it made $41 million it’s opening weekend. It’s already shown a profit, and will end up making a ton of money for it’s filmmakers. But that doesn’t mean you have to go totally small either. Earlier this summer Fox released The Heat with A-listers Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. That film was made for $43 million and has grossed over $129 at the US box office alone. That film has made a good profit for its studio.
On the other side of the coin we have The Lone Ranger which Disney spent a whopping $215 million to produce, and it’s only made $81 million in three weeks at the box office. Their likely to take a huge write down on that picture. Then there are Pacific Rim and World War Z which both came in at $190 million budgets and have made $69 and $186 million respectively. Neither film will make a profit domestically with the former taking a huge write down. The latter will break $190 at the box office, but will not show a profit when the marketing and distribution costs are factored in.
So where does all of this leave us as filmmakers and story tellers? I think Spielberg was correct in predicting a paradigm shift may be coming, but I don’t think that Lucas was accurate. The studios are going to have to see that in order to remain profitable, they’re going to have to stop relying so much on tent pole properties. I understand that franchises like The Avengers and Pirates of the Caribbean aren’t going away. They’re far too lucrative when they hit. But they’re also a disaster if they miss. That being the case, it seems to me that studios are going to need to supplement the large tent pole franchises with more and more small to mid-size features that can, at the very least, turn a profit.
The film business is in perhaps the most challenging stage of its existence. It’s always had an answer for challenges in the past, but now there is more competition than ever just for an audience’s attention, let alone their dollars. It’s easy to see how cinema’s natural inclination towards bigger and louder would tempt studio executives that that’s the answer.
As a writer, all this means is that you need to keep writing good stories. It doesn’t matter what happens to the studios. Ultimately there will always be a hunger from the public for good stories that are well told. It’s in our DNA. We can’t help it.
Ultimately what I’m trying to say is don’t be discouraged by the words of a couple of modern day movie moguls who haven’t made a film that cost less than $100 million dollars in a couple of decades. Spielberg himself said that if he’d made Jaws today it wouldn’t have been nearly as good because the technology would have allowed him to show way more of the shark, and not showing the shark is what made that film resonate and become a classic. Spielberg and Lucas have forgotten the creativity that is sparked by a limited budget because their budgets for the last several years have essentially been without limits.
So keep writing your stories, be they big, medium or small. There will always be a market for them and the audience isn’t going away.