Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Big Studios and little movies

Here's a fascinating look at Paramount's acquisition of DreamWorks. It's the latest in the Slate series on Hollywood Economics and is an instructive look at what drives the movie business. It is not, in case you wondered, creativity.

Preston Johnson wonders what impact this acquisition might have on "Black Snake Moan." "If Paramount had a skimpy slate of films for the next year or so," he says, "and if BSM was one of them, and if they thus bought DreamWorks in order to have more product, does this mean BSM (a relatively inexpensive film) will be more likely to get lost in the shuffle, ignored in favor of other, higher-profile releases?"

What do you think?

1 comment:

Preston said...

There's related news in today's Hollywood Reporter, specifically about changes (and layoffs) at Paramount Classics, the arthouse division that is shepherding BSM:

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1001700908

Note that the article mentions that 6 people are being let go, and that this represents "more than one-third of the... staff." So that means the whole arthouse operation is less than 18 people (<12 after layoffs). Which is, what, about that of a medium-sized ad agency in Memphis?

Also note that Paramount Classics will soon be getting a new name.

So what does all this mean for BSM? Here's some pure "on-the-other-hand" speculation:

If Paramount isn't short of marketing cash due to the DreamWorks deal -- and the need to market the expanded slate of films -- and if they intend to fully support the new regime at Para Classics (or whatever it's called), then this latest news could prove very beneficial for BSM.

Remember the sequence of events -- Brad Grey took over Paramount early in 2005, and his first big move was the astounding Hustle & Flow deal at Sundance. People said this bold action was Grey's way of announcing his presence. It also means that Grey has at least a small part of his reputation tied in with the success of H&F's director, Craig Brewer.

He has a need to prove to Hollywood that this was a smart move. Particularly since H&F subsequently did only OK box office (about $23 million worldwide), but didn't really break out like they hoped it would.

(I've heard folks say, "well, $23 million is pretty good for a $3 million movie." Which is true, but to Paramount's eyes, it's a $9 million movie -- that's what they paid at Sundance. And then they put about $15 million into marketing it, making a total $24 million outlay. And you only get roughly half of the B.O. as income, so for the moment, it's a loss. But of course with the upcoming DVD release, they can conceivably double or even triple the theatrical income, making it a possibly moderate success -- hopefully with a little help from the Oscars!)

It took several months, but all along everyone expected Grey to replace the top brass at Paramount Classics too. Now that's accomplished, and the new chief there, John Lesher, will want to make his own mark, bring in his own people, etc. Like the article says, they're even going to change the name of the division!

It also means they can blame any problems with H&F's performance on the old regime & its marketing efforts -- and not on Craig!

And don't be surprised if Lesher does a little big game hunting himself at Sundance next month (Jan. 19-29). Which will remind people of Grey's big deal there in 2005.

Before that is the DVD release of H&F on Jan. 10th. Which comes three weeks before the Oscar nominations are announced on Jan. 31st (nominations ballots go out Dec. 29th, nominations polls close Jan. 21st). Good timing for the DVD & its marketing to be hitting retail. Best bet for a nomination is Terrence Howard, but it's not a lock. A nomination for Craig would be fabulous, but I'd say highly unlikely.

Still, all this attention could prove beneficial for BSM, which I'm guessing is heading for a spring or early summer release (I have no special info, just idle speculation). The DVD, Sundance, the new chief, the new name -- maybe even some Oscar attention! -- it could all come together and lead up to a big push for BSM. I wouldn't be surprised, in fact, if it was THE first release under the new company name, and was their flagship arthouse film for the early summer (Memorial Day?)

Of course I could be completely wrong, but it's fun to guess.