Business vs. Art: The Hollywood Release Date

The days when studios made hundreds of smaller, character-driven pictures each year for moderate budgets and respectable gains are long gone. Today’s business is all about big stars and big returns. The occasional international blockbuster smash hit has launched a Holy Grail-like pursuit for the next “Titanic” or “The Dark Knight”. Because of the skyrocketing costs associated with the ever-elusive blockbuster, Hollywood has become a creatively stifling industry with a limited slate of mediocre major studio films. Perhaps the people who suffer most are the members of the viewing audience, who find themselves flipping through the newspaper, struggling to find a decent film that may have some semblance of plot and character. As the quantity of films produced began to decrease, an emphasis on big releases and marketing campaigns targeting mass audiences took place.

The trouble now is that there are more summer blockbusters than there are summer weekends to open them. As the annual slate of blockbusters squeezes out competition from the bulk of lower-budget films, marketing executives go to battle for the increasingly coveted perfect release date. Blockbusters were once distributed to target the summer season, a time when teen audiences with plenty of pocket money traditionally spend extra time in the theaters. According to one journalist, “the trouble now is that there are more summer blockbusters than there are summer weekends to open them”. Studios hate clashing with each other for the same pie, so they go out of their way to schedule their release dates strategically. With studios averaging more than forty million dollars alone in marketing costs for the typical summer blockbuster, it comes as no surprise that they constantly bump release dates in the hopes of avoiding certain death at the box-office.

Earlier this week Nikki Fink a writer for the Deadline Hollywood examined how the Weinstein Company put pressure on Scott Rudin and Stephen Daldry to finish editing “The Reader”. The director had previously announced that the film would not be completed in time for the Holiday release date. After considerable deliberation the director agreed to have the film debut on schedule. This type of pressure from studios illustrates how quality of work has taken a back seat to the marketing of the film. Last month Warner Brothers announced that they were moving the November release date of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince back to July 17th the following year. Some have speculated that this move was made as a result of the writers strike however others like myself insist that since the film was already in the post production stage that movie was made purely to gain more summer box office dollars. Rodney, a blogger for the movieblog.com agrees that the move was made strictly to increase potential box-office profits. When the industry spends almost as much time and money marketing and promoting its seasonal blockbusters as it does making them how can we expect film quality to do anything but decline?

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince Delay Explained

Firstly I would like to thank you for your simple and to the point explanation of the Warner Brothers’ decision last month to push back the film release date of the sixth installment of the Harry Potter franchise. President and Chief Operating Officer Alan Horn’s announcement rocked the world for a large and loyal fan base. Due to the skyrocketing costs associated with producing blockbusters the marketing aspect of film production appears to be taking the front seat to film quality and consumer (viewer) delight. I agree with you, Warner Brothers is abusing fan loyalty in attempt to get more money. I don’t believe that the writers’ strike has anything to do with the delay, do you? At least the WB was brave enough and smart enough to admit that the change in release dates had less to do with the quality of the film and completion status than marketing and overall studio business. With the type of loyal built-in fan base that Harry Potter receives do you think that the box office numbers of July instead of those in November will be that different? Large studios heavily seek both release dates. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is expected to have a final budget of around $200 million. With $200 million at risk companies must do anything and everything to minimize costs and reduce risk as much as possible. Are loyal Harry Potter fans willing to have a film produced on a $30 million dollar non-studio budget in trade for not dealing with the business and marketing ploys of the large studios? Are we as consumers addicted to the high-octane special effects and major star power that drives up the production costs of films today? Is it too much to ask the large studios to be honest and great at making big-budget films?


Nikki Finke, thank you for your prompt and sensible post. It seems as though the business side of Hollywood and the artistic side have clashed yet again in the ongoing battle for importance and control over the life of a film. As you well know the days when studios made hundreds of smaller, character-driven pictures each year for moderate budgets and respectable gains are long gone. The skyrocketing costs associated with film production have allowed the marketing aspect of film production to gain more importance than the overall quality of the film. The time it takes for an artist to realize his/her vision is no longer as important as finishing the film on the agreed upon completion date.
As the annual slate of blockbusters squeezes out competition from the bulk of lower-budget films, marketing executives go to battle for the increasingly coveted perfect release date. How important is releasing the film on time for blockbuster success and academy award consideration? Is this type of disagreement typical for the industry or is this a response to the general dislike for Harvey Weinstein by the films producer and director? Daldry’s email to Weinstein illustrates the distaste towards the man and his business practices. Do you think Daldry may have been able to finish on time and choose not to in order to exercise the little power artists have over business executives in the film industry today?


Max Payne: Maximizing Canada's GDP

On October 17, 2008, "something wicked this way comes... Max Payne [is] at large". The film is based on the third person shooter video game developed by Remedy Entertainment with help from Take-Two Interactive and Rockstar Games. The game which originally was limited to PC platform discovered a cult following and as of March 12, 2008, The Max Payne franchise has sold over 7 million copies. Much of the attraction to the game derives from the dark and noir style that the game is presented. Max Payne tells the story of a rogue police officer seeking revenge on those responsible for the brutal murders of his partner and family. The aggressive pursuit leads Max on a nightmarish journey from a grim New York City to an even darker underworld where enemies appear to be beyond the natural world. With a built-in audience and an already acclaimed cinematic style, the video game is a prime choice for film adaptation.

Abandon Entertainment and Twentieth Century-Fox present another action film from the budding genre of films based on action video games. Examples of these films include Doom, Resident Evil and Mortal Kombat. Directed by John Moore, whose credits include Behind Enemy Lines and The Omen, Max Payne promises to be an action packed blockbuster appealing to the coveted 18-24 male demographic. The film's production team of Scott Faye and Julie Yorn are not the most seasoned producers, however they are very familiar with the horror genre. With titles such as The Exorcism of Emily Rose and The Devils Rejects under their belts viewers can expect to see some truly horrifying scenes. Unlike other video game adaptations the producers secured star power with Mark Wahlberg (Shooter) and Mila Kunis (Forgetting Sarah Marshall). Max Payne has stayed true to today’s typical Hollywood formula; find a story with a built in audience and following, attach major star power, produce the film for as little as possible then market the “hell” out of it.

The ability to produce a film for cheap is the element that threatens to drive away much of the low to mid level film production jobs. The Hollywood film business model places great importance on the strategy, design, problem solving, ownership and accountability jobs; very little loyalty and value are given to the below-the-line jobs. As a result, many of the core competencies are kept in Hollywood while the other jobs are outsourced. The loss of job opportunities for film crew employees has had a dramatic effect on many California residents. Countries such as Canada, Mexico and India have undercut the film worker unions of the U.S. and have enticed the big studios and small producers alike to bring them their business. The “American” produced film Max Payne was filmed and assembled in Canada. All of the film locations are in various parts of Toronto, including a New York subway scene that is filmed using the Toronto bay station. The director will use low-level shots in order to make the modest buildings of Toronto look like the giant skyscrapers of New York. The money saved by producing a film in Canada outweighs the director’s inconvenience and the lack of film location authenticity. Another issue is the use of Toronto based visual effects companies, Mr. X and Spin VFX. In a big budget action film with stylish fight scenes, the special effects budget can be enormous. For instance, in films like The Matrix and Spiderman 2, over $70 million or about 20% of their entire respective budgets was spent on the editing phase of production. The capital and wealth spent during this phase of production is now money that the U.S. is missing out on.

Some U.S. States, such as New Mexico, have caught on to the income potential that the filming industry offers. By offering numerous incentives New Mexico is quickly developing a mutually beneficial relationship with film producers and studios alike. New Mexico offers an exceptional and extensive crew base, the largest between Los Angeles and New York. The climate and geography of the state also makes it a perfect candidate for any film location. What is more important financially, New Mexico offers a 25% film production tax rebate combined with a film investment loan of up to $15 million per project. The incentives for filming in California are much more modest. California offers a 5% tax exemption on the purchase of California film equipment, no state hotel tax on occupancy, free access to state owned properties and the use of fire marshal and police officers. By not seriously competing for the attention of film producers and the major studios Hollywood and the rest of California is missing out on a successful industry and valuable job opportunities.

Since 1997 there has been a 40% decline in the number of filming days in the Los Angeles area. As California’s state budget crisis continues it would be a huge mistake for Sacramento to forget the problem with runaway production. Iron Man director Jon Favreau and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger have teamed up to push lawmakers into creating more tax breaks for entertainment production in California. In a reaction to this new fight for Los Angeles productions Marvel Studio executives have agreed to buy a studio lot in the Los Angeles area if a significant California filming incentive package is put into place. This new studio lot would bring in a guaranteed four upcoming Marvel films with combined budgets surpassing $600 million. Max Payne is an example of a typical Hollywood moving forward in production without the help of Los Angeles, California and the United States. If the level of outsourcing spreads "above-the-line" the industry and consumers can soon expect blockbuster films to be made entirely without Hollywood's influence and personnel.
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