June 12th, 2009
If you get to chat to a film producer, particularly in the UK, you’ll discover their two main whinges are, not being able to find money to make their films and the price of a latte. If you get to talk to Harvey Weinstein, you’ll discover his two main whinges are, not being able to find the money to show his films, and the price of lunch at Cipriani. Similar problems, big guy Weinstein just has a little more class. But soon, his table may go to someone else.
It’s easy to forget that making the movie isn’t the end of it, it still has to be shown and that too costs $$m. I’m sure you’ve heard about the marketing budgets for big movies being around the same as their production budgets, well the average summer movie costs around $36m to market worldwide with blockbusters like Angels and Demons costing around $70m. This is the P&A budget, for prints of the movie to go to the theatres and advertising.
It’s the distributors, like Universal and The Weinstein Company, who have to put up the P&A cash, which is fair enough as they stand to make the most money from ticket sales, they get half, approximately. Producers don’t get the other half sadly, unless they’re a Bollywood producer who, as you’ll know from our recent reports, were on strike and holding back their films to get a better deal from distributors. So distribution is where the money is, but it’s also where it goes.
Of course the downturn has hit the marketing budgets and studios are trying to cut back, honestly. Universal are reducing the number of prints they make at $1500 a time, so they’ll be getting grubbier by the time they reach the minima’s, but they’re saving millions on a US nationwide, 4000 print release. They’re still spending up to $3m for a 30sec prime time tv spot to promote a blockbuster. How can they afford it??!!
Which brings me, back to Harvey Weinstein. He can’t. Neither it appears can another indie distributor, Senator. Like producers, they have to get their money from somewhere, generally banks, and in the downturn…
Until a few days ago Harvey was looking forward to a great summer with Tarrantino’s, Brad Pitt starrer, Inglorious Basterds, but it’s recently been revealed, he doesn’t have the $30m for the P&A. He’s already postponed the release of some other films to, ‘..another date in the distant future’ to allow him to get Basterds out. But what’ll happen if they don’t raise the cash? Universal are distributing worldwide excluding US, will they pick it up? Can a Brad Pitt/Tarrantino movie, really be left on the shelf? Will Harvey end up drinking latte? Word is, by August, it may all be over for Harvey. But it’s not just The Weinstein Company.
Senator, is also unable to raise P&A funds for a number of films including Samuel L Jackson’s, Unthinkable, and in the last few days has scaled down it’s distribution business and let go the President of its distribution arm. The fate of a number of films including Pierce Brosnan’s, The Greatest, remains to be seen…or not.
In the UK, there’s help for distributors from the UK Film Council. They contribute to the P&A of British and foreign films, as they’re keen to give audiences the opportunity to see films that may otherwise only have a small release. Films they’ve supported include Mike Leigh’s, Happy Go Lucky, Scorsese’s Rolling Stones doc. Shine A Light, and German hit, The Lives Of Others.
But the one thing all distributors are eagerly awaiting, is the world domination of digital cinema. No prints. No more transportation of large, heavy, $1500 rolls of film. Instead, films can be distributed on a $70 hard drive, on a disc, or by satellite or fibre optic to a projection box server, as is already being done by India’s Big Cinema group, when sending films from Mumbai to Chicago. Indeed, of the eight new films being released in the UK today, June 12, six are being shown digitally in suitably equipped cinemas, including, Looking For Eric, The Hangover and Last House On The Left.
Which brings me to Bruno, Sasha Baron Cohen’s follow-up to the 2006, mega-grossing, Borat. Bruno opens on July 10 in the US but Universal have been remarkably low key on its marketing. Preferring YouTube, virals and box office posters to the usual $$m campaign expected for a summer comedy. Is this a money saving plan, or a cunning strategy to create a mystique and a buzz which the target market will seek out.
Whichever, it’s cheap!