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David Poland

By David Poland

How NOT To Make Any Money On A Hollywood Blockbuster

Slate has apparently assigned Edward Jay Epstein the Hot Button beat. And this piece on German tax breaks is interesting. It’s not really accurate, but it is interesting.
The impression of the piece is that other countries essentially pay for the entire production of films budgets over $80 million out of vanity. The reality, which he forces you to unearth in his “lead with what sounds cool” writing is that $65 million on Tomb Raider was, according to him, pre-sold to the six largest action markets outside of the U.S. and Australia. According to his numbers, $10 million came from the German tax deal and another $12 million for shooting in the U.K. That left Paramount’s bill at $7 million, which they covered by pre-selling to Showtime… a cable network owned by Viacom and in the case of a huge success, a win that could make production partners angry to the point of litigation (see: Lord of the Rings).
What Epstein fails to mention in all this is that this strategy put, in some part, the last regime at Paramount on the street. More than half of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

8 Responses to “How NOT To Make Any Money On A Hollywood Blockbuster”

  1. hatchling says:

    Reading about the financing complications makes my head hurt. All I know is, last night Tomb Raider was on cable. I hadn’t seen it, so watched it for a bit. I absolutely hated it, turned it off and felt much relieved.
    I bet the studios wish they could hand off a dog like that so easily.
    Instead of forcing myself to endure the pneumantic lips of Jolie [which seem to be a screen character all to themselves], I put my DVD of Sideways into the player and listened to the accompanying commentary by the stars. It was a hoot. Terrific, entertaining film. I hope everyone involved with Sideways made a lot of money and will decide to put more money into films of it’s quality and originality. It’s so simple when you look at financing in those terms.

  2. teambanzai says:

    I know this is probably a simplistic and stupid point, but it seems to me that if they actually put some effort into the script and made a good action movie that people want to see over and over then they wouldn’t have to play these games. Both TombRaider movies were crap, and Paramount must have smelled it since they didn’t bother putting much of their own money into it. It just seems to me that this type of financial mess is a bigger gamble then risking their own money on a solid script.

  3. Christopher Brooks says:

    Excellent, excellent piece. Epstein’s piece explains how the detestable “Lara Croft” could produced by a big studio, and the post explains why it wasn’t nearly as successful as Epstein’s dated numbers might make it appear. (This is a big problem with books purporting to give an insider perspective on Hollywood: By the time they appear, they’re usually passe.) But one note of caution should be injected: yes, “The Day After Tomorrow” can be compared with “Lara Croft” in that they were both big, bad movies that played well overseas. But “The Day After Tomorrow,” although lousy, was a different kettle of fish: not based on a pre-existing property, and not built on star casting. The special effects were terrific, yes, but maybe too this was a story people actually wanted to see. Imagine how big it could have been if it had actually been a good movie.

  4. JJ says:

    “But for one thing, he should have used a case that wasn

  5. David Poland says:

    I celebrate smart blog readers.

  6. Mark says:

    I still believe there is a really good movie in the Lara Croft story somewhere. Maybe when they actually write a coherent script and take a chance on a good director.

  7. Dan R% says:

    I hated the first Lara Croft movie. I wanted my money back, my time back and my dignity back.
    The second I watched because…I have no idea actually. I must have seen it for free. I didn’t mind it though. Which I guess is because the first had set my expectations so low. I’ll never watch either again though. That’s for sure.
    I’d be curious to know where this really good movie would come from though. I haven’t played much of the game but it does seem pretty simplistic.

  8. KamikazeCamel says:

    …”and my dignity back”
    My god, hyperbole runs rampant in the replies of this blog, doesn’t it.

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This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.

“One of the fun things about seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film three months early in Cannes (did I mention this?) is that I know exactly why it’s going to make some people furious, and thus I have time to steel myself for the takes.

Back in July 2017, when it was revealed that Tarantino’s next project was connected to the Manson Family murders, it was condemned in some quarters as an insulting and exploitative stunt. We usually require at least a fig-leaf of compassion for the victims in true-crime adaptations, and even Tarantino partisans like myself – I don’t think he’s made a bad film yet – found ourselves wondering how he might square his more outré stylistic impulses with the depiction of a real mass murder in which five people and one unborn child lost their lives.

After all, it’s one thing to slice off with gusto a fictional policeman’s ear; it’s quite another to linger over the gory details of a massacre that took place within living memory, and which still carries a dread historical significance.

In her essay The White Album, Joan Didion wrote: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

Early in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters drive up the hill towards Leo’s bachelor pad, the camera cranes up gently to reveal a street sign: Cielo Drive. Tarantino understands how charged that name is; he can hear the Molotov cocktails clinking as he shoulders the crate.

As you may have read in the reviews from Cannes, much of the film is taken up with following DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters – a fading TV actor and his long-serving stunt double – as they amusingly go about their lives in Los Angeles, while Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a relatively minor presence. But the spectre of the murders is just over the horizon, and when the night of the 9th finally arrives, you feel the mood in the cinema shift.

No spoilers whatsoever about what transpires on screen. But in the audience, as it became clear how Tarantino was going to handle this extraordinarily loaded moment, the room soured and split, like a pan of cream left too long on the hob. I craned in, amazed, but felt the person beside me recoil in either dismay or disgust.

Two weeks on, I’m convinced that the scene is the boldest and most graphically violent of Tarantino’s career – I had to shield my eyes at one point, found myself involuntarily groaning “oh no” at another – and a dead cert for the most controversial. People will be outraged by it, and with good reason. But in a strange and brilliant way, it takes Didion’s death-of-the-Sixties observation and pushes it through a hellfire-hot catharsis.

Hollywood summoned up this horror, the film seems to be saying, and now it’s Hollywood’s turn to exorcise it. I can’t wait until the release in August, when we can finally talk about why.

~ Robbie Collin