HOW MUCH IS THAT MOVIE IN THE THEATER?
As an aspiring movie producer, I’ve been recently considering the question that baffles all aspiring motion picture creators. How the #^&% are you supposed to make any money in this business? Everyone knows of the rich movie producers with the house in the hills, the Bentley and the blonde bombshell, but for every one of these there are probably a dozen aspiring producers out there begging for a loan from family members to pay off the debt they racked up maxing out their credit cards making one measly movie. The most intriguing example of this phenomenon was the story of Cathy Schulman, the producer of the Oscar winning Crash, who after winning the naked gold guy, could not pay her rent. She successfully convinced investors to fork over millions of dollars to make five pictures, the highest powered actors and directors and cinematographers followed her on a mission to create pieces of art that people loved, paid for and someone profited from. But not her.
There have been dozens of books written about the movie business, and they are fun, fascinating reads. I’ll give the short version of the process:
Anyone with an idea is a movie producer- that’s right- even you. Then comes the hard part of your job- getting enough money, approximately $200,000-$200,000,000 depending on your idea, to put your idea on film, let people know what you did, and distribute it to these people so they can pay to enjoy it. Simple, but not so easy. And how do you make money in the process? See the opening paragraph…
Movies have widely varying budgets based on talent involved, special effects, locations, etc. The finished products vary wildly in entertainment value and marketability, often, but not always, based on their budgets. But with the wide variety of talent and dollars poured into these products of various end quality, movie producers must try to entice consumers to pay to see these movies with absolutely no say on how much that will cost.
Tickets for the “Police” reunion tour cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, while you can go see a local band for under $10. Less popular product, lower price. The Metropolitan Opera tickets- $120, the same tickets for the Sparrowfart, Arkansas Performing Arts Society’s rendition of Carmen- $3. Filet Mignon costs $30, Quarter Pounder- $5. A Lambourghini- $200,000 a Kia- $15,000. So why on earth are consumers expected to pay the same price for “Lord of the Rings” as “The Hottie and the Nottie”?
The former made hundreds of millions of dollars while the latter made $25,000 for reasons too obvious to dwell on. The question is this, while few people with firing synapses will plop down 10-15 dollars to see Paris Hilton carry a story for 2 hours, how many would cough up $3? And let’s be honest, anyone considering attending a Paris Hilton flick probably doesn’t have 10 expendable dollars, but they might have 3.
Capitalism is all about producers creating products for consumers at varying qualities and prices to satisfy the varying tastes and spending practices of the public. Why are movie producers not given this basic economic right? You’ve got a couple hundred grand and an idea for a cute comedy starring Carrot Top and Gary Busey, go ahead and make it, but you have to charge the same price to the consumer as “Mission Impossible 5” to see it. It just doesn’t make sense.
Picture this- you look in the local paper for the weekend’s flicks and not only do they come with reviews and taglines, but prices. The new Tom Hanks courtroom drama is $15, the Keira Knightly period piece is $10, a small experimental project done from the perspective of a blind monkey is $4.25, and “I Still Know Who Killed Me”, is $2.50. A veritable cinematic buffet. More consumers will pay for a product because the price makes it more enticing. Sound odd? It’s known as basic economics, and apparently some mysterious relationship between the studios and the movie theatres disregards the laws of supply and demand, making the business of movie making truly weird.
I’m not calling the powers that be out on greed- I’m calling them on bad business. As far as I know, theatres make all of their money on $15 popcorn and $7 Cokes- so they shouldn’t care what tickets cost. Wouldn’t things be a whole lot easier for producers, studios, distributors, marketing and promotional entities and all involved in the movie making business, if, as they undertook that new Andy Dick vehicle you knew you were making it in an effort to pry $3 out of the hands of the stingy masses rather than $15? If Andy can’t put asses in the seats, maybe his cheap asking price will. Greenlight!!
Anyone who thinks this will lead to lower quality movies has not browsed a VOD playlist lately. Did you know Alec Baldwin and Michelle Pfieffer made multi-million dollar movies that were so poorly produced they went straight to video recently? Were you aware Paris Hilton has been in FIFTEEN features (not counting “home videos”)? The present system as is, is clearly not a conduit for quality. I dare say it can’t get any worse. For every “No Country for Old Men” there are 20 “Blonde Ambition”s. Because we are expected to shell out 15 or more dollars for every piece of garbage produced, movie makers are lately circumventing the current distribution system and looking to DVDs and the internet to bring their visions to the people.
Variable movie pricing will make the job of producing movies a whole lot easier, as the producers can price their product based on quality and projected marketability. If we get really good, prices can change AS movies are in theatres due to reviews, buzz, etc. Imagine” Juno” being released as a $7 movie and jumping to $15 as it gained popularity. Would this upset the public? Probably not as much as paying $15 to see “Norbit.”
A shift in the current paradigm would require one simple thing- ensuring that all involved in movie making, distributing and showing business, would make more money. If that can happen, I anticipate a higher level of enjoyment all around for the movie viewing public, that will hopefully lead to a closer, fairer relationship and synergy between the movie makers and the movie viewers. The public will come to appreciate the fact that when they take a chance on the new Jessica Simpson - Jean Claude Van Damme romantic comedy, they will be getting exactly what they paid for.