You may already be a film industry cynic. Maybe you think Hollywood is a barren wasteland, devoid of creativity and originality. Maybe you’re sick of seeing talented people get ignored and vapid hacks get splashed all over the trades. Maybe you’re tired of 3D everything and having to re-buy your movies every five to ten years.
I’m not here to dissuade you of any of that. Hell no, I’m here to make it worse. Get ready, because this is some of the rottenest shit of which the film industry is capable. These are the things so terrible that Hollywood has to cover them up, lest God see their sin and smite them accordingly (and keep various government entities and lawyers off their backs, of course). If you still had any kind thoughts toward Hollywood, I suggest you prepare yourself for crushing disappointment.
But first, I’d like to give a very huge shout out and thank you to writers C. Coville and Maxwell Yezpitelok for their help on this article. You guys are great!
And now back to the shit storm, already in progress:
6. Tricky Hollywood Accounting
Here’s a basic example of Hollywood Accounting: A studio makes a movie. The studio distributes the movie itself, and although the distributor is technically a separate company, they both belong to the same parent company. Also, the distribution arm sets whatever fees it wants. If they want to charge themselves eleventy quintillion dollars for distribution, they totally can. Then, even if the film earns billions of dollars in box office receipts, they’re still technically in debt (to themselves) and thus haven’t turned a profit.
Sound ridiculous? It happens all the freaking time. David Prowse, the guy who was in the Darth Vader costume in the original trilogy of Star Wars (before being ousted by that douche Hayden Christensen in the special edition) has never been paid for Return of the Jedi because it hasn’t turned a profit after nearly 30 years. That’s after dozens of home video and theatrical re-releases. (All the merchandising money goes to Lucas directly, of course.)
Similarly, someone leaked Warner Bros.’ accounting sheet for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix onto the internet, showing that the film that had grossed about $1 billion worldwide had lost $167 million on paper.
Winston Groom, the writer of Forrest Gump was told that the film based on his work wasn’t profitable. Of course, he got the last laugh when they came to him asking if they could turn the sequel, Gump and Co. into a film as well, and he reportedly told them, ”I cannot, in good conscience, allow money to be wasted on a failure.” In other words, “Go fuck yourself.”
And then there’s Art Buchwald, whose spec script got stolen by Paramount (remember that, it’s going to come up later), and got turned into Coming to America. When he took them to court and sued for a percentage of the profit, Paramount was totally cool with it, because according to their books, it hadn’t made any kind of profit, so they didn’t owe him one red fucking cent. The judge later ruled that it was “unconscionable” for Paramount not to pay Buchwald something in a settlement. Otherwise, he’d have to ask Paramount to open their books for the courts to review. Paramount quickly backed down and settled with Buchwald instead.
5. Extorting Theaters
Ever wondered why popcorn, something that costs $.25 a bag on Planet Earth, costs $7 at the movies? Here’s a hint: it’s not because of the reconstituted pig flesh that they call butter.
Movie theaters have had to look for more and more ways to increase revenue, like jacking up the prices of things at the concessions stand and adding a dozen ads to the beginning of each film. Why, when new releases are constantly breaking records and making obscene amounts of money? Because film studios don’t like the theaters getting their beak wet.
Movie theaters operate on a kind of sliding scale. The first weekend of a movie’s release, the profit is split heavily in the studio’s favor, typically around an 80/20 split. The second weekend, it may change to a 70/30 scale, and so on. It’s even rumored that some major blockbuster films like Avatar are released with 90/10 or even 95/5 splits. Now keep in mind that exceptionally few films do very well after the first week of their release.
So why do the theaters take these awful deals? Because if they don’t, the studio is under no obligation to lease their films to that theater, so they can just totally bounce if they want to. If that happens, the theater has no films to show at all, and then what have they got to draw people in? Overpriced hot dogs?
4. Fake Reviews
Have you ever seen a trailer for a shitty movie on TV and it has one of those blurbs that’s like “…stunning…,” and maybe a soothing voice reads it aloud? You may joke with your friends that the rest of that quote is “a stunning pile of horse shit.” Turns out, that actually happens. It’s not a joke at all. Marketing departments just plain don’t give a fuck. For example, one critic’s review of Live Free or Die Hard got shortened from “hysterically overproduced and surprisingly entertaining” to “hysterically… entertaining.” Sometimes they’ll even take the blurb from parts of the review where the critic was referring to a different movie entirely or the genre as a whole, like when a blurb used for Definitely, Maybe turned out to be from the critic’s description of the romantic comedy genre as a whole and not his actual thoughts on the film.
Another fun trick Hollywood likes to use is trying to woo critics with free screenings, food, set visits, and other goodies. The people who take the bait are called quote whores. If your film needs a good review, they’re there to give it. One of the most infamous is a critic named Earl Dittman, who is the film critic for a publication called Wireless Magazine. You’ve probably never heard of Wireless, and that’s because they apparently have zero subscribers and no web presence, and yet that doesn’t stop film studio marketing departments from using his blurbs like they’re gold. In fact, Dittman was the center of a lot of controversy when an e-mail he sent to Fox contained not one, but ten different blurbs for the movie Robots and instructions for the studio to pick and use whichever one they liked best. But at least Earl Dittman’s a real guy.
David Manning, however, is a different story. In 2000, Sony Pictures created the fictitious Manning and claimed that he worked for The Ridgefield Press, a real newspaper. Unfortunately, they didn’t foresee someone actually asking the paper if they’d ever heard of the guy, because, you know, they hadn’t. All of his blurbs were concocted by Sony Pictures’ marketing department. Fox pulled similar shit, using footage of employees pretending to be ordinary movie-goers for promotional material.
In the spirit of Hollywood review tactics, I’m going to build a review of my most recent articles from an e-mail that the Film School Rejects editors sent me.
“Ashe, we’re getting really sick of telling you this, but if you… don’t… keep… posting these ridiculous[ly wonderful]… articles, we’re going to have to let you go.” -Cole Abaius, Film School Rejects
It gets darker (and shittier) further down the rabbit hole…