Gaffer for Hire: Hard Times Hit Hollywood as Moviemaking Costs Soar, Film Studios Are Cutting Back on Budgets,

By Daniel B. Wood, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, April 21, 1999 | Go to article overview
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Gaffer for Hire: Hard Times Hit Hollywood as Moviemaking Costs Soar, Film Studios Are Cutting Back on Budgets,


Daniel B. Wood, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


It's Tinsel Town's latest dilemma: hire a big star - or make an entire movie.

Increasingly, film executives are opting for the latter. Socked with soaring price tags on everything from box-office hits to duds, studios are scrambling to squeeze production costs, advertising and distribution outlays, and runaway star salaries.

And the effect of the cost-cutting measures they're putting in place will play out on the silver screen well into the next century, say industry analysts. For the next five to 10 years, they say, Hollywood will produce fewer movies with fewer big-name stars, lesser-known casts, fewer special effects, and more experimentation. "Hollywood's mantra for the millennium is reduced risk," says Martin Grove, cinema columnist for Hollywood Reporter. "Box-office income has been going up for years, but costs have been going up faster. As a matter of sheer survival, studios will be giving us far fewer megabuck blockbusters {that are} full of special effects and aimed at everyone, and more smaller films which rely on characters and stories and are aimed at specific age groups." Many moviegoers have already noticed the fallout as a spate of low-budget films aimed at teenagers has hit theaters - movies such as "She's All That," "Go," and "I Know What You Did Last Summer." Besides being aimed at the lucrative, largest-growing group of moviegoers - people age 12 to 25 - these films try to cash in on up- and-coming TV sitcom actors who cannot yet demand big Hollywood salaries. Among these stars are Neve Campbell and Jennifer Love Hewitt from "Party of Five" and Sarah Michelle Gellar of "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer." Entire budgets for many of these new lower-cost films are actually less than the $20 million price tag it would cost to hire one big- name star, such as Tom Cruise, John Travolta, or Tom Hanks. But star salaries is only one area where studios are cutting back. Some studios, such as Sony Pictures and Disney, are consolidating operations and pink-slipping high-paid executives. Others, such as Universal Studios and 20th Century Fox are cutting back on the number of scripts they put into development, and on the number of features that make it to the screen. Many will lean toward hiring second- tier screenwriters and casts. Still other studios will maintain the same output of movies but will rely on fewer special effects - which are very costly. "It's not like we won't still plan the occasional big-event picture, it's just that there will be two or three, not 10," says Barbara Dixon, senior vice president of publicity for Columbia Pictures Motion Picture Group. For Christmas this year, she says, Columbia is releasing "Stuart Little" based on the stories by by E.B. White. "We created this wonderful non-animated creature but when it came time for production, we found we needed a computer design for fur that cost a fortune. Because of these soaring costs, we have to pick and choose very carefully which films we can afford to sink that kind of money into.

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