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.


Michael Ecker said...

Hey Parker I really liked your post, I'm sure it's pretty crazy being a producer these days and comparing the cost of shooting in California or New York where the qualified production staff already live vs. bringing them all to new places which includes transportation, feeding, lodging, etc. A movie financier who spoke in one of my classes last week told us that Michigan may be the newest spot to shoot films, they are offering 40% tax cuts to shoot there. I think it has something to do with the rising of the Canadian dollar, and the decline of the American Auto industry's dollars being brought into Michigan. I found this article that outlines the incentives that were passed: http://www.mlive.com/news/index.ssf/2008/03/tax_break_goal_more_movie_maki.html

Anonymous said...

Your post was both enjoyable and informative. The way in which you began with a specific film as an introduction to a larger occurrence in Hollywood at the moment was quite impressive. The title of your blog is very ambiguous, but I realized as I read your entry that the concept of “An Unfamiliar Hollywood” can be interpreted in various ways, and actually does mold itself to the message of your first entry. As such, I tried to keep the concept in mind as I read your post.

In terms of Hollywood, I feel as if the current situation is simply a predictable tendency in the film industry that follows a pattern that has existed since the 1950s. To reduce production costs has always been a constant desire in Hollywood, and location shooting has always been one of the most common ways to produce that result. As for loss of revenue for Hollywood, most of the money made back from a film occurs in distribution. And as long as the major studios hold the power of worldwide distribution in their hands, I don’t really see Hollywood becoming vulnerable anytime soon. In response to your comment of the loss of “America” in American films, I feel as if Hollywood has since World War I dominated the film industry and market. I don’t think that an influx of “non-American” films into America would be too harmful to our country. The film industry might be more hesitant, but I feel as if enough money has been made, and the time for other voices besides “Max Payne” to be heard.

As for the major success of “Max Payne,” I feel extremely doubtful. As you wrote, the film appeals precisely to a “built-in” audience who are already well-acquainted with the game. Adaptations usually leave viewers feeling betrayed or angry. And as for the style and genre of the film, just as “Doom,” “Resident Evil,” and “The Devils Rejects,” the limited demographic the film appeals to will probably lead to its downfall. Style over substance seems to becoming less and less acceptable within Hollywood these days.

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