Hollywood Still Resisting The Idea That Cheaper, Better Films Is The Way To Beat TV

from the horror-of-horrors dept

Over the weekend, the NY Times had an article about how the movie industry is struggling to remain relevant as a bunch of “culturally relevant” content seems to be moving to TV, where some of the top hit series have taken their place in the cultural landscape the way movies used to. Apparently “film people” are particularly ticked off that Seth MacFarlane will host the Oscars this year since his biggest claim to fame is from TV, rather than movies (even though his movie Ted recently became the highest grossing R-rated comedy ever). Of course, what’s ignored in the article is that the movie industry isn’t really suffering that much economically.

What did strike me as interesting, however, is that the article highlights a key point that many of us have been making. The industry really only has itself to blame for continuing to churn out expensive remakes and sequels, rather than investing in quality — the continued quest for “$100 million films” rather than figuring out how to make good movies for less money. The article makes that point, referring to critic David Denby:

“They feel puzzled,” said the critic David Denby. “They’re a little baffled.” He was referring to those who have applauded his argument — made both in a New Republic essay “Has Hollywood Murdered the Movies?” and in a new book, “Do the Movies Have a Future?” — that the enduring strength of film will depend on whether studios return to modestly budgeted but culturally powerful movies.

“If they don’t build their own future, they’re digging their own graves,” Mr. Denby said.

This seems like such common sense advice… and yet, it’s not what we see. We see Hollywood being more timid, but rarely actually translating that timidity into focusing on more products with lower budgets and compelling storytelling. It’s all just about rebooting old stories with bigger special effects.

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Comments on “Hollywood Still Resisting The Idea That Cheaper, Better Films Is The Way To Beat TV”

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ComicGuy89 (profile) says:

What about certain genres?

I fully agree with the claim that Hollywood movies are over-budgeted and often much of that budget doesn’t show.

I was just wondering if, in a future focused more on lower budgets and better storytelling in films, there is a place for movie genres that traditionally rely on special effects, namely fantasy and sci-fi. I remember reading an article recently that TV studios are afraid of experimenting with sci-fi shows such as Star Trek because costs are prohibitive. That’s why we see lots of sitcoms because they’re cheaper to produce.

Are there any examples of good fantasy or sci-fi movies/TV shows made on smaller budgets?

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: What about certain genres?

It’s hard to really compare TV/movie budgets in the same sentence.

Game of Thrones is a “big budget” fantasy TV show — first season estimated at $60-million or so.

But compare that to film. GoT season 1 is nearly ten hours of content for $60-million. The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, extended edition, clocks in at around 11 hours — and it cost $260-million. Avatar cost nearly that much for less than 3 hours. A single Harry Potter film has a budget in the same vicinity. The Hobbit trilogy is costing $150-million per film.

Now, it’s not hard to see why those movies cost more — Game of Thrones includes some epic sets and some clearly expensive large-scale scenes, but nothing like the battles in LotR, or even a Quidditch game. Nevertheless, it’s a very immersive and transporting fantasy — because it uses the budget smartly, and puts a lot of focus on more traditional costume/set design, while spacing out the expensive scenes through the seasons.

So in that sense, I’d point to GoT as an example of “low budget” fantasy, because it hits a Hollywood level of immersion on about a fifth of the budget hour-for-hour. Maybe “medium budget” is more appropriate, since I suspect a really good filmmaker could make an engaging fantasy/sci-fi world with even fewer resources.

Walking Dead is an interesting show to watch, budget-wise — though not strictly fantasy/sci-fi, it faces the same challenges, and AMC has been doing a lot of budget-meddling over the course of the show. It’s interesting to see how it changed when it lost a significant chunk of cash between seasons 1 and 2 — it got less ambitious, and in some ways improved drastically, but also developed some annoying habits that irritated many viewers. And it continued to break ratings records.

fogbugzd (profile) says:

Re: What about certain genres?

Actually, they used to know how to make Sci-fi cheaply.

“Lost in Space” was very cheap. It was intentionally set on an earth-like planet so they could just use ordinary settings. Building the sets for the inside of a space ship isn’t all that much different than building a set for inside of a house, and outside the spaceship on an earth-like planet isn’t that much different than building any other outdoor set. They had to build the robot and create something that looked like space clothing, but that was about it.

The original “Star Trek” learned from Lost In Space. They only visited Class-M planets which were by definition earth-like. The sets looked elaborate, but they were incredibly cheaply made for the first season. Their clothing was simply and cheaply made (and it didn’t take a lot of fabric for a lot of the female costumes!). For Star Trek they did have to make some models, but that was a one-time expense.

The basic problem that both movie and TV have now is that they think that good SciFi depends on CGI and special effects. It doesn’t, and it never has. It is the storytelling and acting that make good sci-fi. Too many special effects interfere with both.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 What about certain genres?

That is actually Hollywood quality CGI and the level of detail they can make is incredible. The short films they have made is probably enough CGI for a Hollywood film to be a wow experience. If you want to be that elaborate on all of your films, you are in for a very expensive film no matter what. You can make CGI with far less moving objects and still make it the highlight of the movie in a convincing matter!

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 What about certain genres?

You’re right in a lot of ways — today, you can accomplish some impressive stuff with low-budget CGI, and if you incorporate it in a film smartly, it can have a huge impact.

But, other AC is also right in that some types of CGI require a *lot* of time. There are lots of things that CGI is still just not great at, especially when it comes to animating living things — so doing it really well involves lots of people, each specializing in different aspects of the finished product. And each one of them is spending hours, making tiny adjustments and perfecting everything polygon by polygon, motion by motion, frame by frame. CGI that pushes the tech forwards means writing improved algorithms, and can involve programmers, mathematicians, physicists, engineers… not to mention equipment to study objects and motion. Keep in mind there are still lots of simple, everyday motions we can’t fully understand from a physical standpoint (nobody can fully explain the unique splash of a raindrop on water, and there are multiple competing theories of aerodynamics, none of which has fully explained how planes stay in the air) let alone replicate.

E. Zachary Knight (profile) says:

Re: What about certain genres?

I would look at the movie Willow as a good example of a “low-budget” fantasy movie. At the time, it cost $35million to make. $65million adjusted for inflation. However, when you look at the actual special effects used in the film, they could be done for quite a lot less money now than they did then due to technological advances.

Another recent example is the film Monsters which reportedly had a $500,000 budget and had some really good monster effects.

Using both those as examples along with Leigh’s GoT example, I would say that you could easily make a good 2 hour fantasy movie on a $20million or less budget.

Colin (user link) says:

Re: Re: What about certain genres?

Damn it!! I was going to suggest Monsters. Such a good film.

Also, Trollhunter clocked in at somewhere around 3-4 million USD – much more than Monsters but still way cheaper than most things in Hollywood (it’s a Norwegian film).

Even something like Pan’s Labyrinth had a budget of under $20 million – not cheap, but again, relatively speaking, kind of a steal.

E. Zachary Knight (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: What about certain genres?

A couple of other examples that come to mind:

Dark Crystal: $15million in 1982 ($35million adjusted)

Labyrinth: $25million in 1986 ($50million adjusted)

Star Wars: $11million in 1977 ($40million adjusted)

I guess my point is, you don’t need $100million to make an iconic long lasting film.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 What about certain genres?

Shit, if you guys want to talk about great movies with a low budget, you must check out Primer.

++ on this. A little more science fiction then many people were looking for when compared to Star Wars, but well worth the rent for those who like gritty science fiction. I ended up buying it, because I wanted to watch it a couple times (to get all the stuff I missed when I rented it, and you will miss a ton of stuff.) Of course, with Netflix, I do a lot less of that since I can watch the movie over again whenever I want to (although the studios keep screwing around with that.)

Not an Electronic Rodent says:

Re: What about certain genres?

I remember reading an article recently that TV studios are afraid of experimenting with sci-fi shows such as Star Trek because costs are prohibitive.

I’m not convinced that’s really true – I’d say it’s more a lack of imagination on the part of the makers thinking “ooh it’s got to have super real whooshey bangy bits or no-one will watch”.

Are there any examples of good fantasy or sci-fi movies/TV shows made on smaller budgets?

Well for TV IIRC, “Babylon 5” and “Star Trek The Next Generation” were approximately contempories and a series of Bab5 clocked in at about 1.5 episodes of TNG. Certainly Bab5 was way cheaper and, though I liked both, to my mind a far more compelling watch.

Then of course there was the BBC radiophonic workshop – responsible for BBC special effects in the 70’s and 80’s and probably most famous for Dr Who among many others – which has to demonstrate the possibility of compelling sci-fi for the cost of some drink bottles, paint and an old quarry.

Film is trickier as there probably is less willingness of the audience to forgoe the flashy visuals, but that may well be more to do with most film Sci-Fi plots being short on plot. Hmm I’ll think about that one…

Not an Electronic Rodent says:

Re: Re: What about certain genres?

Hmm I’ll think about that one…

Found the example I was looking for… 1981 seems a good year to look at with Excalibur on an $11M budget and the (original) Clash of the Titans on $15M – the former especially is a great film. Vs the other 2 “biggies” of the year, Raiders of the Lost Ark on $18M and Superman II on a whopping $54M by comparison.
Oh and just for the hell of it chuck in Time Bandits on $5M vs James Bond For Your Eyes Only on $28M

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Maybe cheaper doesn't lead to better?

I’ve seen this “$100 million movies don’t make sense” argument brought up a bunch of times on here over the past few months. But consider this: the last few years have given us some really incredible movies, including a few true masterpieces, and they were all really expensive to make.

Production values count for something. In fact, they count for a whole lot. Would Avatar have been anywhere near as good if they’d only had a $10M budget? What about Toy Story 3? Inception? The Avengers? You get the idea…


Re: Re: Maybe cheaper doesn't lead to better?

George Lucas has earned himself a lot of derision but there was one thing he was good at: controlling costs. Even as he was pushing the tech of making movies he was spending far less than his contemporaries. Without his tendency for penny pinching, each of the original trilogy films could have easily cost 2x or 3x what they did.

“Production values” is not a good enough excuse to completely ignore economy and efficiency.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Maybe cheaper doesn't lead to better?

They are arguing that higher production values if the rest of the movie were the same is better. What they don’t take into account is that often times production values come at the expense of everything else.

Getting into a competition of production values just makes your costs skyrocket.

cpt kangarooski says:

Re: Maybe cheaper doesn't lead to better?

Well the thing is that production values, or any sort of quality at all, really, don’t count for anything. Copyright policy has to do with quantity, not quality. After all, Congress and any bureaucracy they set up are not people we want making decisions about which works deserve protection based on quality, which is purely subjective. And copyright is equally available to and equally protects works whether they’re quick scrawls of minimal creativity and value or delicate, amazing works that took ages to make.

Copyright basically follows Sturgeon’s Law: 90% of anything is crap. And therefore the best way to get more good works is to get more works period.

You don’t need a lot of money to make a great movie. You can make a great movie on a smaller budget (as has been done) and you can make bad movies on a big budget (as has also been done). Budgets might constrain what happens in the movie, but it’s not a big deal. Shakespeare had no sets, minimal props, minimal costumes, few enough actors that they had to double up on parts a lot, and still did excellent work. I suggest you go watch Dogville to see how much you can strip away without compromising quality.

Not an Electronic Rodent says:

Re: Maybe cheaper doesn't lead to better?

the last few years have given us some really incredible movies

Really? Could you name some then? I’m struggling to think of any memorable ones much less “incredible”. I can think of lots of “pretty” ones, but that’s hardly the same thing.

Production values count for something.

Oh god yes! I don’t think people are suggesting that films should necessarily be done on a shoe-string, just that lavish production budgets to make things look prettier is not necesarily the be-all and end-all.

Would Avatar have been anywhere near as good if they’d only had a $10M budget?

Bad example. A/ Avatar pretty not good. B/ Avatar had exactly nothing other than special effects – take those away and the “story” left would have had trouble engaging anyone with an attention span north of 2 minutes.

Try Starwars as an example. How much of actual value was added to the film when it was “re-imagined” with a lavish effects budget?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Maybe cheaper doesn't lead to better?

Fern Gully was an animated version of Dances with Wolves, and came out two years later. Of course some would say the same thing about Avatar.

I’m sure the story concept predates even Dances with Wolves. But I walked out thinking Dances with Wolves in Spaaace! Furn Gully in Spaaace! works too.

jsf (profile) says:

Re: Maybe cheaper doesn't lead to better?

Regarding Toy Story 3, you should compare it to the original Toy Story.

Toy Story(1) released 1995 had a budget of $30 million, about $42 million in 2010 dollars. It took in about $362 million, about $518 million in 2010 dollars.

Toy Story 3 released in 2010 had a budget of $200 million. It took in about $1.063 billion dollars.

Is Toy Story 3 really 5 times better than Toy Story(1)? Particularly considering it on took in twice the money at the box office?

TWKArtist (profile) says:

Best of Both Worlds....

I am all for smaller, cheaper, more powerfully written and directed culturally relevant films..! But I also want “Avengers 2” as well..!

There’s no need to be exclusive — let Hollywood work on both types of projects.

ComicGuy89 asked about fantasy or sci-fi TV on a budget — I’m not sure about currently, but in the ’90’s we had “Babylon 5,” an excellent science fiction saga with very high production values and great storytelling and acting — and it was made for far less money than any of the ‘Star Trek’ iterations. Proves that it can be done if someone makes it happen….

E. Zachary Knight (profile) says:

Re: Best of Both Worlds....

There was a time when movies like the Avengers were the Hollywood tentpole flicks while the smaller fare were the bread and butter of a movie studio.

I could easily see a studio doing 1 or 2 Avengers a year while doing a dozen or so 500 Days of Summer to really cash in. It is all about balance. You don’t want to put all your money on an Avengers just to have it bomb horribly and cost the studio its shirt.

Anonymous Coward says:

It also doesn’t help that the movie industry seems to be stuck in a cycle of re-hashing old stuff (comics, cartoons, books…) into movies lately.

That, in itself, is already pretty bad. But what is worse is that those seem to be the only movies that actually bring in some profit.

It seems that Hollywood just can’t create anything original any more, and is forced to leech off successful franchises to stay afloat.

fogbugzd (profile) says:

Re: Re:

>>It also doesn’t help that the movie industry seems to be stuck in a cycle of re-hashing old stuff (comics, cartoons, books…) into movies lately.

When you are spending in the hundreds of millions to make a movie you cannot risk failure. One way to avoid failure, so the thinking goes, is to use a “proven” property.

Another problem they have is that a comic book or a book like The Grinch that Stole Christmas is meant to be read in 15 minutes, but they need to make it into a two-hour movie. So they have to fill in, and they use expensive sets, CGI, and special effects as filler.

Nastybutler77 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It also doesn’t help that the movie industry seems to be stuck in a cycle of re-hashing old stuff (comics, cartoons, books…) into movies lately.

What I find funny is that 15 years ago or so, comic book and video game movies were panned and criticized by the majority of the public and studios. Then Spider Man came out and all of a sudden they were the new action movie taking over for aging Stallone, Swarzenegger, Van Damm, etc. The studios went from “We don’t invest our resourses in comic book movies” to “A Judge Dredd reboot? Yes please!”

sehlat (profile) says:

Hollywood Lost Track Long Ago

They’ve spent a lot of time spending $100 million on special effects and $0.10 on script and story, when the best movies are all about STORY, not flash-bang-boom-zoom.

Sure, Avatar, Toy Story(123), etc. had good production values, but all of them started with an engaging story and characters and then used the film to bring the story and characters to life. Nothing more, but nothing less, either.

Let’s not forget that people STILL go to see Shakespeare. Live. For nothing more, and nothing less, than story.

When Hollywood rediscovers storytelling, they’ll have a shot at recovery, and not one moment before.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Hollywood Lost Track Long Ago

Which BTW is partly why the videogame industry is going to have the same problem since some game makers follow the special effects model.

For example Sony Liverpool didn’t even get a chance to show off their PS4 game before they were shut down.


They’ll have to rely further and further on the biggest game franchises and anything that’s not big enough will just be canceled.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Hollywood Lost Track Long Ago

Except the indie gaming scene is healthier than ever. The gaming industry as a whole isn’t suffering through what the movie industry is, just the big budget AAA titles with archaic business models and draconian DRM schemes attached to them.

Anything Sony related is a bad example though, as they are doing terribly in every sector, not just gaming.

Jeff Rife says:

Re: Hollywood Lost Track Long Ago

They’ve spent a lot of time spending $100 million on special effects and $0.10 on script and story, when the best movies are all about STORY, not flash-bang-boom-zoom.

Part of the reason for spending money on effects is that a medium-budget film rarely makes enough to be worth greenlighting.

Take a classic like “Beverly Hills Cop”, with a $14M budget in 1984, this would today be a $35M or so movie, and it would likely flop horribly, based on the results of similar “crime/comedy” films in the past few years.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: The Other Problem

I disagree. They could (and do) charge different amounts for more comfy, bigger screens, 3D rooms though. The other problem is that I’m quite tired of paying over $10 to watch a movie. When I actually feel like facing the talkative kids, texting teens and other cinema annoyances I often find myself with no option but to watch the 3D more expensive version that I dislike due to it being uncomfortable to the eyes or dubbed which I don’t like unless it’s animated.

Yeah. Cheaper tickets please.

Chosen Reject (profile) says:

Re: The Other Problem

Because cost of production has little to do with sale price. Sale price is the intersection of supply and demand though it does get wonky when monopolies are involved (oh hey, hi copyright). But still, if the Avengers tickets cost twice as much as whatever else movie was around at that time then I probably would have gone to that movie or just not bought a ticket at all. I don’t care how much it costs the producer to make the good, I care about how much value the good brings to me. If the producer of the good can’t get his costs below what people are willing to pay for, then they should get out of that business.

Hollywood might have a problem with one-size-fits-all ticket prices, but that would have more to do with the demand for a particular movie, not with how much that particular movie cost to make.

DannyB (profile) says:

The problem is too many problems

The real problem is so much creative genius. Just consider the vast creative genius brain trust required to even conceive of the following top movie genres:
1. Remakes of old movies?
2. Remakes of old TV shows?
3. Sequels of old movies?
4. Sequels of old remakes?
5. Remakes of old sequels?
6. Sequels of remakes of old sequels
7. Sequels of remakes of old remakes
8. Remakes of sequels of remakes of old sequels
9. Sequels of remakes of sequels of remakes of old sequels
etc. etc.

So one thing that could be fixed would be to have fewer genres. How about just: Seq-makes?

Then we have other genres such as
10. Pure Wall To Wall Billion Dollar Special Effects

If you’ve ever been privileged to see one of these, then you’ve seen them all. Each one requires vast talent of its actors and from its script writers to tweak the dialog to be just right.

Maybe modern movies are just so creative that us poor dumb slobs who pay to see them just don’t get it. We are too uncultured to appreciate these wonderful genres of outstanding movies that we are being treated to.

No wonder that exploding theater attendance is packing auditoriums and forcing owners to expand their cinema complexes to dizzyingly larger sizes.

This brings me to the convenience of the modern MetroSooperUltraMoviePlex-42. Parking is a breeze. Convenient trams and buss service can bring you from outlying areas where you are parked right to the front door. The lines aren’t very long because there are such vast numbers of lines. And the number of concession stands offering goodies at prices you just won’t believe if I were to tell you here.

What? Stay at home and watch Netflix? Who would stay at home when you could pay to hear babies crying, cell phone conversations and ringing, and the bright flashes of people texting?

Consider the security of the theater vs the security of your easily broken into home. At the theater you pass through security that is the envy of the TSA — because, if you want to watch movies — you must be a pirate!

Anonymous Coward says:

something i find so worrying is, with all the disasters, all the suffering and all the hardship there is in the world today, the most important thing is copyright. the EU and the US are in talks to try to come to sensible agreements on the best way to proceed on copyright without impacting too much on human rights (if you believe that, you’ll believe anything!) the only thing that will come out of any talks such as these will be the EU bending over and being shafted by the US after receiving instructions from the entertainment industries on what to demand. there will definitely be no negotiations! and, as per usual, the public will suffer, the government will gain and the industries will stand still for longer, refusing to adapt and accept the inevitable!

out_of_the_blue says:

Hmm, beat TV? Are those the same market?

Rest of my position seems same as the former “Marcus Carab”.

I read that the latest “James Bombed” epic topped all prior records last weekend (or at least I think it was that: some movie in the same series called “Quantum of Stupidity” was mentioned). So what’s with the notion that Hollywood will every display common sense? Why should it when re-making Saturday morning fare is adequate? They might improve story-telling besides special effects, but the TV audience is dumbening even faster than Hollywood (sports contests are adequate, or anything so long as images change every ten seconds), so why bother?

As was lately mentioned elsewhere, if you reward “bad” behavior, you get more of it. That basic tenet of “capitalism” cuts both ways, people. So only way to cure Hollywood spending too much to make crap is to take money off the top with high taxes.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Hmm, beat TV? Are those the same market?

So only way to cure Hollywood spending too much to make crap is to take money off the top with high taxes.

I was reading this comment like yeah, yeah, yeah, wait what? The way to cure Hollywood making crap is to stop spending money on the crap, not to have the government take away some of the money we gave them for making crap.

bob (profile) says:

If only this were true...

It would be nice story — if it were true. The fact is that Hollywood cranks out plenty of low-budget and mid-budget movies too. If you include independent film makers, there are thousands of perfectly good, 90-180 minute long movies for people to buy, rent or whatever.

In other words, Hollywood has been doing just what you claim they should do and — this is key– they’re failing to make money. The real challenge is publicity and that’s increasingly expensive. The only movies that seem to pick up much buzz are the outrageously expensive ones with outrageously expensive special effects.

It’s also not fair to say that TV is doing better. The more accurate thing to say is that subscription paywalls are doing better. Broadcast TV is turning into a reality show cesspool with little scripted drama around.

Note that I said “subscription paywalls”. This is key. Once you get someone signed up for HBO, they tend to stay signed up. Once you get someone getting the premium tier, they tend to stick there. And then you can generate enough revenue to pay the talent without being too diluted by the pirate cheapskates.

Think back a few days to when you were lionizing the Humble Bundle. Bundling is what cable does well. They were doing the Humble Bundle long before these guys dreamed it up. Oh sure, they didn’t let you pay what you want, but they also didn’t force you to pay more than the average to get everything.

Subscription, paywalled bundles are the key. Everything else is having trouble competing because people don’t have time to make microdecisions about whether to pay for something. And ad don’t generate the revenue any longer.

jupiterkansas (profile) says:

Re: If only this were true...

Most of the low to mid budget films are

– independently produced, and then bought for distribution by the big studios

– or they are developed by studio owned indie arms that have largely decimated independent filmmaking

– or they are gifts to their top talent for making them so much money in the past.

The general studio focus is on the biggest budget films possible, and that’s where they put their marketing money. If a little film doesn’t have buzz it’s because the studio isn’t giving it any (and oddly enough there are plenty of low budget films getting lots of buzz right now just for being good movies).

The only “subscription paywall” I pay for is Netflix. I get all my HBO from the public library, what little there is that interests me.

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: If only this were true...

“They were doing the Humble Bundle long before these guys dreamed it up. Oh sure, they didn’t let you pay what you want, but they also didn’t force you to pay more than the average to get everything. “

So in other words, they were doing the Humble Bundling…except they weren’t, they were doing a completely different type of bundling.

Here’s the first line from Humble Bundle’s Wikipedia page

“The Humble Indie Bundles or Humble Bundles are a series of collections (“bundles”) of video games, music albums or eBooks that are sold and distributed online at a price determined by the purchaser, but of at least 1 cent. The games are multi-platform, DRM-free, and independently developed, and buyers can set the revenue split between the developers, charities and humble bundle organizers.”

Read that and tell me how television networks did any of that. They didn’t. The only similarities is that both TV networks and Humble Bundle are well…a bundle of media. That’s it.

Guy says:

Personally I much prefer the big budget movies to the cheap ones, mostly because there is much more action/scifi/fantasy elements. I don’t want to see romantic comedies or drama even though they are cheap and get great ROI. I want to see something fun and fast paced. Yes, we might have 1000 Spiderman movies, but they still get me excited to see him swing around a city fighting crime. Someone talking about how much their husband doesn’t love them and is cheating… not as much fun to watch. It still is a lot more fun watching two gigantic robots fight each other (Transformers) on the big screen than watch some old guy complain about aging backwards (Benjamin Button), even if the Transformers movie has a terrible plot/writing/dialog.

Seriously if I wanted to hear people talk about drama I’d listen more to my girlfriend.

Anonymous Coward says:


Hollywood has got to the stage where the people making the decisions as to which films to make are not film makers but ‘managers’ and financiers. Naturally they want a new film to be safe, that is similar to what has succeeded before. This makes it very difficult for a director to sell an original film to the studios, as s/he has no previous example film to point to and say like that one. The film maker also have to use big stars in the films, which ups the budget.

artistrights (profile) says:

I completely agree that studios should focus on making good movies for less money in addition to the blockbusters that audiences clearly enjoy. However, I disagree that “it’s not what we see. We see Hollywood being more timid, but rarely actually translating that timidity into focusing on more products with lower budgets and compelling storytelling.” That generalization is overly broad, and provably false.

Paramount Pictures, for instance, has invested roughly $1-$2 million per year to produce 20-30 micro-budget films each year (compared to the 10 or so big-budget movies they release each year). The budgets for the films often don’t exceed $100,000, and the films are not always slated for traditional theatrical distribution. If they are released, Paramount has rethought how they can be marketed and distributed inexpensively using digital distribution, grass-roots marketing campaigns, and midnight screenings, among other strategies. The head of Paramount’s film group had this to say of the endeavor: “This gives us the ability to find new voices, new ideas, and potentially new movies to foster the most outrageous kinds of thinking.” Paramount’s CEO reaffirmed this new way of thinking: “This is about fostering new talent and finding filmmakers around the world.”

I think it’s important to give credit where it’s due, and to not make hasty generalizations. Paramount started this effort in 2009 and has since continued to make blockbusters at the same time. To say that major studios won’t/haven’t focused on making good movies for less money is to ignore the real and ongoing efforts of major studios like Paramount.

Source: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704193004574588583589732034.html


Ed C. says:

Shift in perspective

Hollywood has for the large part become risk adverse, constantly trying to play it safe. They’re either chasing “safe” franchises for sequels or “safe” audiences with disposable incomes and no taste–people who will watch movies just for the sake of it, no matter what’s playing. Sequels aren’t inherently bad, though the feeling of deja vu can be a turn off. “Safe” audiences, however, can be toxic. Focusing singularly upon them can make a movie so closely tuned to the taste of the target audience that no one else can palate it.

What Hollywood needs is a shift in perspective, from effects driven and focus grouped plots back to character driven plots that most people can enjoy. Filmmakers and scriptwriters who do that are abandoning the big screen for the small screen, largely due to the “that’s how it’s done” and “to big to fail” mentality of the studios. If Hollywood doesn’t change “how it’s done” then it will fail.

Ninja (profile) says:

Cheaper doesn’t always mean of poor quality. The comments here are very enlightening in that matter. There are effects that can be achieved cheaply with a powerful desktop. Save the large, eye-candy ones where they will impact more.

I think Battleship is a good example of a movie that abused those super expensive scenes and special effects but in the end has close to nothing that you can call quality (other than the effects themselves).

gorehound (profile) says:

One thing I do know is I will never buy a MAFIAA Film, will never go to a theater for a MAFIAA Film, and will in fact do my part in never allowing the MAFIAA a way into my wallet.
MAFIAA Are Censored from my Wallet for life.

That being said for now I will Buy and Support Indie and Local Art but am watching SCOTUS Case on Ownership and Reselling stuff Used.If it is Ruled that I do not own my physical possessions then my appropriate action will be to never buy a product again and to make myself into a thief.

PaulT (profile) says:

Maybe cheaper doesn't lead to better?

“Would Avatar have been anywhere near as good if they’d only had a $10M budget? What about Toy Story 3? Inception? The Avengers? You get the idea…”

That’s one perspective. Although Avatar is always a red herring since a lot of its budget went into creating new technology and rendering techniques, not the film itself. It’s true that something like Inception might require the effects budget, or that major Pixar productions require top dollar, but films that are actually improved by this are few and far between.

But then you have the other side of things – John Carter and Battleship didn’t exactly benefit from having money thrown at the screen, creatively or at the box office. In fact, Chronicle and Looper both made around the same domestically as Battleship, but cost a total of $43 million *combined* compared to that film’s $130 million. Fincher’s version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is extremely similar to the original Norwegian version but cost $90 million vs. the original’s $13 million.

No-one’s really saying that there shouldn’t be $100+ million films, or that the money doesn’t help improve the film in some cases (I loved Prometheus, for example, and I doubt it would have done as well for me on a far lower budget). What’s being said is that simply throwing money at the screen isn’t always the best way to make money, and perhaps they should be choosing smarter projects rather than whining about not making back ridiculous amounts of money on projects that seemed stupid to begin with. The amount of money spent is irrelevant if the film sucks, or it’s not attractive to viewers in the first place (again, Battleship, where nobody I’ve ever talked to though “ooh that sounds good”, as opposed to “what the hell are they doing that for?”).

PaulT (profile) says:


“The studios went from “We don’t invest our resourses in comic book movies” to “A Judge Dredd reboot? Yes please!””

While I agree with the sentiment, the new Dredd movie was actually an independent British production, not a Hollywood studio movie. With a budget of just $45 million, it probably doesn’t deserve to be in this conversation.

Also, unlike the Stallone version, it was actually a good film (though it suffers a little if you’re seen the excellent The Raid, which was filmed at around the same time and has a very similar plot unbeknown to either production team).

PaulT (profile) says:

Hollywood Lost Track Long Ago

“Take a classic like “Beverly Hills Cop”, with a $14M budget in 1984, this would today be a $35M or so movie, and it would likely flop horribly, based on the results of similar “crime/comedy” films in the past few years.”

No, if it was of a similar quality then it would be successful. The problem with most recent crime/comedy movies (Tower Heist and Cop Out come immediately to mind) is not just that they were crap (or at least mediocre), but often are trying to copy Beverly Hills Cop’s style in the first place. Not to mention that film was originally conceived as a straight Stallone vehicle but was rewritten for Eddie Murphy (a hot property at the time) to fit his comedy style, with a number of original touches. That’s possibly why it made over $200 million.

That’s part of the problem with Hollywood thinking. They try to put things in neat boxes and say “oh, genre X isn’t going well because crappy ripoff sequel Y isn’t a blockbuster hit, we shouldn’t greenlight any more”. No, you need to start making *good* films for people to see, give them a reason to come, and they’ll do so. People don’t go “oh, I don’t want to see a crime comedy because I didn’t like the last crime comedy”. They say “that looks crap/good, let’s watch/avoid it”…


Re: The Other Problem

Yet 2nd run movie houses seem to thrive. This probably has to do with the fact that they actually get to keep the proceeds. They aren’t stuck in a situation where the studio gets all of it.

The way movie studios screw over first run movie theaters should be a massive embarrassment to the entire industry.

The movie ticket doesn’t even help pay for the seat. That overpriced tub of popcorn does.

PaulT (profile) says:

If only this were true...

It’s like his “paywall” ramblings. He’s cottoned on to the idea that there’s some vague passing resemblance between the bundles offered by the Humble guys and cable companies. He ignores all the major differences and corrections. He’s decided they are the same, so he calls them that, even though every fact and facet of the English language proves him wrong.

PaulT (profile) says:


“It still is a lot more fun watching two gigantic robots fight each other (Transformers) on the big screen than watch some old guy complain about aging backwards (Benjamin Button), even if the Transformers movie has a terrible plot/writing/dialog.”

Benjamin Button cost $150 million, which was exactly the same production budget as the first Transformers movie. Bad examples.

What are your thoughts on recent sci-fi movies that cost nowhere near as much such as District 9, Looper, Dredd, Iron Sky, Lockout, Source Code, Skyline and Super 8 (all of which cost $50 million or less)?

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