Colleen's thoughts on writing, directing and coaching, and her unique take on life itself!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

H'wood Pooh-Bahs: no more residuals

Last month, some of Hollywood's most influential executives said they don't want to pay any more residuals.

Residuals are fees paid to actors, writers, directors and production companies when films and TV shows are shown again after their original viewing. This includes DVD, screenings outside the US, Internet, new media, or in some way resold.

Ancillary market (airplane viewing, music, lunch boxes, clothes, action figures) sharing would no longer exist, either. Some films make more money from their ancillary markets and products than the film itself.

This sets the stage as the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers to begin its bargaining with the Writers Guild of America unions on both coasts. What the AMPTP wants is to clear expenses and declare profits before they share any money with the people who created the film or TV project.

The WGA says no way, mostly because decades of experience shows that studios are notorious for under reporting profits to the participants. Now the residual is a flat fee.

I saw the producers of the indie "Alien" starring a then unknown Sigourney Weaver speak at a screenwriter's conference in H'wood, and they reported that years after its undeniable box office and ancillary success, they had yet to be paid what they were promised by the studio that bought it.

The makers of the indie flick "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," Rita Wilson, Tom Hanks and it's writer/star Nia Vardalos are currently suing Gold Circle Films for not sharing its legal share of the profits with them. Gold Circle says it has paid them $44 million so far.

I can't believe they'd want to mess with the Hanks Dynasty.

Mr. Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, are the good guys of the industry and responsible for billions upon billions of dollars in profits for studios from their work in film, television and other positive, influential projects.

Check this out: according to industry stats, Greek Wedding was the 5th highest grossing film in 2002. US receipts for that year alone totalled nearly $250 million, while doing unbelievable business overseas, which easily matched or exceeded US Box Office numbers.

The film has also been viewed in a number of ancillary markets, television, etc., further building its profits.

Vardalos' script received an Academy Award nomination for best original script written for the screen, which didn't hurt BO after the awards were presented. Often, Oscar nominated and winning films get a BO spike the year after the film is released, when the nominees are ballyhooed and then the award presented to winners. Word of a $500 million-plus profit for the indie that cost $5 million to make was widely accepted for 2002 in the industry.

The Writer's Guild of America contract expires this coming October 31, SAG (Screen Actor's Guild) and DGA (Director's Guild of America) contracts end June 30 2008.

Executives plead the cost of advertising is exorbitant so they want to stop paying residuals in order to boost advertising funds. It's expensive because their advertising is neither efficient nor effective - they don't understand how to sell a movie these days.

An average studio release costs between $15-25 million to advertise. Ridiculous.

The cost of advertising on the web is negligible. Word of mouth about a great film is *free.*

Between high ticket prices, bad films, poor advertising practices, the studio film industry comes across as desperate instead of confident about putting out great stuff that we'd love to see.

Films whose distribution start small, whose audiences swell with word of mouth, emails to our friends and coworkers, posted on our blogs, etc? Those films are experienced as confident about their content and appeal to their audiences. Greek Wedding is just one of them. In fact the film was hardly advertised at all until it appeared to be a bona fide hit; something for which audiences worldwide obviously hungered .

Too many people have been burned too often by paying big money for tickets and concession food only to have to sit through bad films.

It doesn't matter if a film like Rush Hour 3 tops the BO the first weekend of release with $50 million if the second week it falls off the audience radar because it's just plain awful.

The way the system works now, no matter how poorly the film does, the actors, directors and writers still get paid a certain amount with every incarnation of viewing medium.

But instead of insisting on producing great films - entertaining as well as challenging, that are well done, respecting diverse audiences instead of trying to get teenage boys to the theaters every weekend with oh, so familiar material, they get into the small-minded, locked-in-the-box, "only so many slices of the pie" mentality. It's one of fear and because they are afraid, they want to cut off the very people who are in the position to turn around the industry's economy.

Fear drives too many of these folks - they're afraid of losing their jobs, of selecting films that could lose money for any number of false notions, fading profits, the new media etc.

Man up, people. (Wo)man up. Work from passion, not fear. How many times do we have to learn that passion is what creates the finest work, the work that resonates with audiences?

Don't cheat people like Wilson, Hanks and Vardalos out of what they are fairly due. Good heavens, MBFGW enjoyed an astonishing boon of publicity about the little project that could! It's the heart and soul of why so many of us are driven to make films in the first place.

Not necessarily for the paycheck, but for the opportunity to get our work out for millions of people to experience.

Distribution power/authority is going to be lost by you if you don't understand how to relate to and advertise for your audiences - current and future - as well as how to create solid material that will resonate with those audiences for a long time to come.

God bless cable - especially those who are giving us some fantastic work enjoyed by our kids and us adults when the kids are asleep!

And for heaven's sake, learn to understand the concept of "the more there is, the more there is."

The pie isn't just 9 inches in diameter - it can grow - as large as your imagination allows it to.

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