Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Salt got busted at the box office

Just a quick little note here about Angelina Jolie's Salt. As you all know, I am the self-proclaimed Worlds Worst Angelina Jolie fan. I know this makes me a heretic, an apostate and an antichrist in the world of Hollywood, but I don't give a bloody damn about that.

At the moment I am rejoicing; gloating really. Mr. Nolan's Inception retained it's #1 status at the box office. Frankly, it wasn't all that close. The score was 42.7 to 36. Salt will burn out much faster than Inception. You watch, bitches. Inception will continue to crank out big bucks for at least two more weeks.

So why do I gloat? Several reasons really. I have heard enough about Inception to understand that this is a serious Sci-Fi movie. How fortunate we are to get two excellent sci-fi movies, in close proximity. That makes the summer of 2010 a remarkable one. For the record, the other great Sci-Fi movie was Splice. Without having seen it, my only fear about Inception is that it might be too much of a rip-off of a Japanese Anime called Paprika, a movie I greatly admire.

Anytime a serious Sci-Fi movie squashes a so-called "A-Lister Vehicle" we have reason to hold a formal celebration. Let's get together and hold a party. Second of all, the dastardly Jolie has been formally defeated at the box office. We have another excellent reason to have a formal celebration. Let's get together and party. I am doing the BBQ.

Frankly, it absolutely shocks me that Hollywood continues to make A-Lister Vehicles, at all, in any regard, for anyone. The entire concept of an A-Lister Vehicle is outdated, outmoded and obsolete. It belongs to a bygone era of Hollywood, and has little bearing on the present moment.

Right now, I can imagine an uninformed Hollywood moguel shocked out of his mind, screaming at the top of his lungs "What the fuck are you talking about?"

What am I talking about? What am I talking about? Have you not read the results of the research that you paid for? Do you not keep tabs on the market research your own corporations commission and pay for? Are you ignorant of the facts in this case?

Back in 2003-2004, things were not going well at all for the movie industry. It was a brier patch in the history of the box office. The internet was getting powerful. Hollywood was not prepared to play there. DVD had already peaked, and was now illegally copy-able. Profits were down. A number of unexpected and disconcerting flops had occurred at the box office.

The five major studios had reason to believe were living at an inflexion point in the movie-tastes of the United States and the world. They commissioned a massive study of box office numbers for the entire run of recorded history. All five major studios transmitted their data to Ernst and Young, one of the legendary accounting firms of this world, and asked for a report. They wanted to know what sells tickets and why.

Ernest & Young did a pretty incredible study. They climbed all over that data with sophisticated data mining tools. Experts performed thousands of ANOVA and ANCOVAR studies with this data. They came up with some good generalizations that fit the data well, and make a hell of a lot of sense. The findings were published in early 2005.

Ernst & Young discovered that there were two basic models for selling a lot of tickets:
  1. The classic Hollywood A-List model. In this approach, a casting director attempts to get a bunch of biggest names in Hollywood to sign-on for a movie. The presence of several attractive A-Listers sells massive numbers of tickets. Incidentally, an A-Lister is an individual who has been theoretically proven to draw large numbers of people to the box office. It doesn't mean you are sexy, and it doesn't mean you can act, but you bring people to the box office.
  2. The big visual effects bonanza model. In this approach, producers spend tens of millions of dollars on 3d visual effects, and other animations, to produce a ton of Hollywood movie magic. You create vistas, environments and battles so epic, everyone wants to see. No A-List talent is required. Indeed, you can make such movies with complete unknowns.
Ernst & Young discovered that the classic A-List model had been operational and effective between 1910 and 1977. The A-List model was the most effective strategy for making money during that epoch in film history.

However, things changed in 1977. A little movie called Star Wars came out, and played at the box office for almost 2.5 years before it closed. Star Wars had no A-List talent. With the exception of Alec Guinness, Peter Cushing, and James Earl Jones, no one in the movie was even known by Hollywood. Whilst all three of those actors were very respected, none of them were A-List box office magnets. Still, Star Wars shot the lights out of the score board.

After that moment, the Holywood A-List scheme became increasing unreliable, sketchy, and risky. The big effects movie continued to grow and grow in terms of power and reliability. Ernst & Young concluded that A-Listers ain't worth the millions you pay them. You are better off financially casting nobody-actors, and spending a ton of money on visual effects.

Like the earlier conclusion which stated that most money was made through DVD, not theater ticket sales, this finding touched off a ferocious debate. Producers didn't like the notion that DVD made most of the money. They loved the Silver Screen. Likewise, many in Hollywood hated the finding that effects rule and A-Listers drool. This flies in the face of the glamor and fame culture that utterly dominates Hollywood.

This is an example of artist think. You will have to pardon my Virgo-ass, all of you artistic types, but there is a serious distinction between fact, and value. There is a distinction between what is and what aught to be. What is is factual, what aught to be is subjective opinion. Emotional types are unable to deal in matters of fact. They are only interested in how they feel about a subject.

Ernst & Young made a statement of fact. Effects make the money. Just look at Avatar. Just look at Inception. A-Listers don't necessarily make that sort of money. Just look at Knight and Day. Just look at Benjamin Button. Just look at Salt.

In football, you still see outmoded and unemployed former head coaches decrying the Spread Offense, declaring that it can never be an NFL offense for one reason or another. Maybe it's hash marks this week, and quarterback durability the next. This is inspite of the fact that the Spread is one of the most effective and feared offensive schemes in the NFL right now, and has been for some three years.

You still hear these outdated romantics crying out, "Bring back the days of smash-mouth running, let offensive linemen play again, and let the elephants dominate the game". That is a romantic idea, it has nothing to do with serious military strategy. Whilst they decry the forward pass, it is the forward pass that wins Super Bowls, full stop, period. The run doesn't win it anymore.

A similar thing is happing in Hollywood right now. It involves the outdated and outmoded A-List model of movie making. Big Hollywood types cry and scream and wail over the loss of big Hollywood stars, and say things like "I don't want to play in universe without big Hollywood stars."

Then don't play! The facts remain the facts. Effects make the money. A-Listers don't necessarily make the money. It should be pointed out that in 2005, the very year the report was published, the top-5 grossing box office movies were all visual effects bonanzas. Only The War of the Worlds contained an A-Lister. That was Tom Cruise. It finished third in money for that year. Believe me, it would have done as well or better without him.

The idea of making A-Lister vehicle is no better founded than the NFL Draft philosophy that you should take a franchise QB with the #1 overall-pick. That theory is also fallacious, according to the empirical statistics. Still, like fools, we all keep trying.

Now for the thesis point: The notion of creating an vehicle for Angelina Jolie is preposterous. I am sorry the notion ever occurred in your brain. You may make your money back, but this will not be the bonanza that several visual effects movies will be. Salt will soon be forgotten, just like a pile of other A-List vehicles have been forgotten.

If a movie's only claim to fame is that it has a so-called A-Lister, that movie is a waste of money and film. A-Listers do not make a movie worth seeing. You should terminate this approach to film making.