Getting down to the money business of show…

shielfA few issues involving show business & money have been occupying my mind lately. They aren’t necessarily connected – but they kind of are, in that they all deal with the fundamental rule of show business: something has to be successful and make money to continue – and to be worth making in the first place. But a few things – the Zach Braff Kickstarter story, the Robert Downey contract renewal story and the television up fronts have got me thinking more about the financials of the movie and television industry than I normally would (for someone who works in a bank I am remarkably financial disinterested). But anyway, I thought these things were worthy enough to stretch my cranium over, and maybe you will too. So here goes…

1. Zach Braff and Kickstarter: A couple of weeks ago Scrubs star Zach Braff launched a Kickstarter effort to fund a new movie he wants to make – written, directed and starring him. He has good form with this kind of thing – with the critically acclaimed and cult flick Garden State being his debut outing. But that was almost ten years ago, and he hasn’t directed anything since. Now, he has something he wants to make – a film called Wish I was Here, which he co-wrote with his brother. Rather than going to a movie studio where studio execs would probably influence how he made the film and who he cast, he reached out to his massive internet fan base via Kickstarter to fund the film instead. And it worked – he raised his $2M (US) target in just a few days. He makes his case, and thanks Veronica Mars for the idea (as well he should), here. But Zach has copped significant flack for this. People have alleged that if he wanted to make the film he really wanted to make he should fund the movie himself. He is probably a multi-millionaire thanks to years on Scrubs and subsequent film roles, so why doesn’t he just pull out the cash himself rather than make his fans pay twice – once to get the film made and once to see the film?

So what do I think? Honestly, I don’t have a problem with this. People are voluntarily giving up their cash because they really want to see a Zach Braff film and they want to see the Zach Braff film the way Zach Braff would make it – not watered down by the needs and desires of the corporate suits. And they are getting something for their investment – whether it be just a chance to attend the premiere or an actual speaking part in the movie. As for the claims that people should be giving money to something more worthy – like charity – that is a worthy cause. But the logic doesn’t necessarily go so far as ‘oh I can’t put this $10 towards Zach’s movie so I will give it to UNICEF instead’. At the end of the day people who want to contribute to this kind of thing will do so – in the case of both charity and film funding. And crowd funding is something that is shaking up Hollywood – so I am all for it. Finally – I am well excited about a new Zach Braff film – especially since I heard Mandy ‘Inigo Montoya’ Patinkin and Anna ‘Awesome in Everything’ Kendrick will co-star. Bring it on.

2. Robert Downey Jr’s Avengers 2 potential pay day: with the success of Iron Man 3 (massive opening fortnight haul of around $700M (US)) Marvel are going into contract negotiations with Robert Downey Jr who plays the titular guy in the metallic suit. He was only contracted for the first three Iron Man films and agreed to The Avengers on the basis of a pay out of the film’s profits. Estimates are that he got upwards of $50M from that film. Not a bad haul for an ensemble piece where he shared the screen with a number of big name A and B listers. So now the suits at Marvel are no doubt prepared for some pretty tricky negotations – they will want to keep Robert as, really, he has brought serious charisma and humour to Iron Man. But, and it is a massive but, Downey has hinted that he will be asking for even more cashola this time around. And people are getting squirmy about just how much money is at stake here – for just one guy. Too much? Director and writer of the The Avengers films Joss Whedon has already come out stating there is no way even he is getting ‘Downey money’. But, the film will undoubtedly make truck loads of cash. So is it ok for Downey to drive away with a big wedge of that?

So what do I think: Massive amounts of money for one person have always made me uncomfortable. Soccer players always seem to contract for ridiculous amounts considering they just spend their time kicking a little rubber ball around (yeah, I am not a soccer fan). But I am a movie fan, so I should be more comfortable with actors getting this kind of cash, right? Wrong. I have the greatest respect for actors and I think the fact that they generate such massive profits for their studios warrants them financial success – sure. But that kind of money? No way. If, however, it was Whedon himself, who has to put the blood, sweat and tears into writing the script and directing a massive blockbuster, who was getting paid $100M – I would probably have less trouble with it. He is the creative heart of his enterprise. At the end of the day The Avengers wouldn’t have been The Avengers without his wit and cinematic prowess. Whereas, and some people will disagree with me here, The Avengers still would have been The Avengers if someone else was playing Iron Man. Sure, maybe a few of the scenes wouldn’t have been as entertaining and a few of the lines wouldn’t have been in there – but it still would have been a massive success. And really, at the end of the day, how much money does one guy need? It’s just silly money at that point.

3. The US television Up Fronts: Thanks to the fantastic show Studio Sixty on the Sunset Strip which was, ironically, cancelled after just one season, I know what Up Fronts are. They are the announcements that TV studios make in May about which new shows will be ‘picked up’ and which current shows are being renewed. I hadn’t appreciated until this year though just HOW MANY new shows there are each year. Thanks to the excellent Chris Philpott who blogs in an excellent fashion for Stuff, I was put onto this helpful little slideshow which gives a summary of all 51 (yes, I said 51) new shows coming out on US TV this year. That is a crazy number of shows. But they won’t all make it. I kind of liken it to them being cavalry in a war. Some won’t make it past the first barrage (they could get pulled after a few low rating episodes), some might make it further but then not make it to the next battle (get canned after one season – as has happened to the excellent Matthew Perry show Go On), and some will survive the battle and go on to greatness and glory (six series and a movie!). But, all in all, it can be a bit of a blood bath. Ultimately the financial question is – will this show rate well and therefore bring in advertising cash. Reliance is often placed on big name actors and/or formats that are popular (some new cop shows anyone? Oh sure, we don’t have nearly enough of them already!).

So what do I think? I have said before how much I don’t trust the ratings system and how the shows I like often don’t make it as far down the battlefield as I would like. But, at the end of the day, the slate of new shows contains some really good stuff – and stuff I am excited about. If even half of them make it to even two seasons I will be pretty pleased. And, as has been the trend lately, Hollywood is showing more originality and risk taking in the TV area than it is in the movie making business these days. Also, high profile movie stars are recognising the allure of the small screen – so many of the shows coming out this year contain big names – like Robin Williams in ‘The Crazy Ones‘ and our own Karl Urban in ‘Almost Human’.  But the most exciting prospect for me: ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D‘ – yep, The Avengers gets it’s own TV show, Agent Coulson is somehow alive, and his car is named after my niece. Woop woop! So let’s just hope one of the New Zealand TV networks decides to show this instead of My Kitchen Chef Dangerous Location Police Bachelor 😉


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