Monday, 23 June 2008

Hard Times in Hollywood - or why more superhero films mean the downturn has hit tinsel town

oh and by the way that means that your marketing needs to work that much harder…

Last year saw a glut of sequels and cartoon ogres.
The reasons for which have been well known for years – essentially, it’s cheaper to guarantee a hit, if there’s been one very like it before.

This year we’ve got superheroes – and lots of them; so far we’ve been treated to Iron Man and The Hulk… Still to come we’ve got Hancock (which is the exception to my point), The Dark Hype (ho ho), Hell Boy 2 (Which looks blinding) and Bond (who is a bit like a super hero).

And the reason? According to Variety… it’s all about the downturn.

Here’s the theory:

Back in the day big film stars could demand lots of money for their roles. This came in the form of gross receipts – I take 20% of your gross receipts… nice and simple.

Now in these days of tightening belts and increasing costs, studios are having to find ways of minimising outgoings.
Marketing and production costs are rising (thanks to the writers strike etc)). Which leaves the studios with very few avenues to reduce costs. One of the avenues available is the stars themselves…

Increasingly stars are having to accept Cash Break deals.
Essentially you (as a star) get paid a little up front, but you only get your big payday after the film breaks even. So if a film needs to make $50m you get your 20% after it takes this amount.
All of which seems reasonable – if a bit harsh on the star’s bank accounts.

From the studio’s perspective there are of course two ways to minimise Big Star pay outs: 1 increase the number of cash breaks, 2 use fewer stars.

And the way to use fewer stars and to diminish their bargaining power, is to ensure that your films aren’t built around them. Which is why (so the argument goes), we’re seeing more pandas and superheroes and less big star vehicles.

All of which may or may not be the case, but the facts are. We are seeing more concept films and fewer star vehicles. Which of course has an impact on marketing.

When I was working on the launch of the Simpsons movie a while ago, one of the first things we noticed was that there was a massive hole in the coms plan – no star talent. Which necessitated a huge amount of work filling this hole with paid for coms. Hence the chalk Homer, hence the O2 premiere… hence loads of really great stuff.

The point here is that in a downturn, where we’re seeing loads more concept films and fewer star vehicles, we can no longer rely on the interviews, appearances and gossip which has always been the mainstay of Hollywood. We need instead to innovate, to do things differently and to generate our column inches in different, interesting ways.

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