Thursday, 7 February 2013

OPINION: The Expense-ables by Russell Ford

The Expense-ables
By Russell Ford

Love cinema? Good at spending other people’s money? Ever wanted to be a Hollywood film producer? Excellent, you’re hired. Welcome to the Expense-ables.
The year is 2011; you have just been handed a cinematic menu and given a blockbuster budget of two-hundred and thirty million dollars. You’re responsible for the expenses of any productions you wish to finance for release in 2012. Your budget must include the costs of story rights, screenplays, cast and crew, all production totals, visual effects and of course a soundtrack. Don’t forget, you also need to market your productions to a paying cinema going audience. Any movies you green-light must justify the expense and be worth the price of admission. Additionally, please be sure to make a box-office profit on any movie you produce. 
Are you sure you still want the job? Brilliant; you better get started!
So for $230 million you can produce 1 Amazing Spider-Man, nearly 6 Les Miserables, almost 8 Looper’s or indeed 32 Magic Mikes. Alternatively, you could produce The Avengers Assemble or Skyfall and have still have enough change to produce End of Watch, Lawless or Silver Linings Playbook. Equally, if you spend wisely you could produce 2 Life of Pi’s, 3 Rock of Ages, 5 Argo’s or 23 Best Exotic Marigold Hotels.
So what’s it to be? A year of unforgettable indies? A season of moving dramas? Or a summer of super superhero blockbusters? Ideally, we all create masterful productions that are adored and applauded by both the popcorn-kids and critics. However, the truth is there is a vast distance between opinions of the movie reviewers of Cannes and movie revellers of Camden. From prep to premiere your decisions will determine whether you become an award winning or money spinning producer. Perhaps you can be both?
So you fancy setting the art houses of Sundance alight; backing an award winning director’s passion project may be a brave, bold and brilliant move. For $100 million you could produce both Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master and Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln or conversely champion Robert Zemeckis and Denzel Washington’s Flight with Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty. However, for all of the Academy Award and BAFTA nominations you may receive, the box-office proceeds still needs to equate and excess the expenditure to be seen a cinematic success by the investors.
You may want to concentrate on the mint of the multiplex, so why not cash in on a name? $100 million for Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, $150 million Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows, $75 million for Kevin James’ Here Comes the Boom. All these movies are on the cinematic menu for you to consider. Perhaps you fancy rebooting an existing franchise or two? With a loyal following of fans this may be financially safe investment for your budget. For the expenditure of $230 million, together, Prometheus and The Bourne Legacy would earn you a profit of roughly $450 million. So what if the reviews aren’t as positive as their predecessors; you’re in profit, right? Maybe you’re determined to remake and improve a much criticised past production? Well, you may want to think again; sometimes the returns on a re-envisioning can also be Dredd-ful; even if the film is judged to do the source material justice.   
Now, sex sells and so do sequels; so why not produce a limited budget follow up to a well produced original. For less than half of your budget you can produce Taken 2, Piranha 3DD, American Reunion and Paranormal Activity 4 and generate a $700 million profit. A further $100 million would also see the return of Sly and The Expendables; another guaranteed money maker. Alternatively, you could invest the small, hairy fortune of $150 million to finance Peter Jackson’s unexpected and long awaited journey, The Hobbit.  The Lord of the Rings prequel will add precious pennies of over $750 million into your off-shire account. Failing that, for your whole budget you could get Will Smith to dust off his MIB suit for a third instalment in the forgotten series.  
Struggling for original ideas? Can’t get the rights to the latest Hunger Games or Twilight novel you want to bring to the silver screen? Then for over $200 million why not develop the much loved board-game of Battleship into a celluloid and CGI frenzy of cinematic hits and misses? Feeling geeky? Then release you’re inner child and produce a box office breaking animation; for $50 million you could generate the pot-smoking wise-joking, Ted. However, a world of complete CGI wizardry together with elite commando penguins or a ravishing red-haired princess will cost you between $145 million to a $185 million each.  
Those producers able to add an extra $20 million to the production budget could inevitably produce a $250 million blockbuster as brilliantly bold as The Dark Knight Rises or as disappointing and dull as John Carter. On the other hand, perhaps you fancy attempting to create a year of low budget hits? The minimal sum of $25 million would fund The Grey and Liam Neeson’s fight for survival. While an affordable $16 million would successfully finance Wes Anderson’s quirky cinematic scout-outing, Moonrise Kingdom.
So, you’ve tasted the wine, perused the menu and listened carefully to the waiter’s specials. The time has now come for you to make you order. So, what’s it to be?
If I were given a blockbuster budget of two-hundred and thirty million dollars I know what I would order. However, as Gordon Gekko once said, “It’s all about bucks, kid. The rest is just conversation.”
Now are you ready to take my order? Excellent, can I have one Skyfall, a side of Magic Mike and a serving of Piranha 3DD for dessert.