Magazine article Variety

No Country for Gold Men?

Magazine article Variety

No Country for Gold Men?

Article excerpt

If you think making an Oscarwinning picture is tough, consider the difficulties in recouping on

The number of prestige pics produced by the majors has declined. Traditional adult audiences flock to cable. Ancillary revenue streams remain uncertain. All of which means that the always-challenging Oscar film market is more challenging than ever.

When questioned by Variety's co-editor-in-chief Claudia Eller about the future of low-cost, prestige dramas like "Million Dollar Arm" at the Dec. 10 at Variety's annual Dealmakers Breakfast, Disney chief Bob Iger said, "You can quickly lose $40 million on a $10 million film these days." That's a potent explanation for Sony Pictures Classics co-prexy Tom Bernard's observation to Variety's Steven Gaydos at the Whistler Summit's Dec. 5 View From the Top panel, "the studios do not want to be in the Oscar business."

The majors' divestment in specialty films, dramatically evidenced by the shuttering of divisions like Warner Independent and Picturehouse, can be seen in subtler ways this season. After closing Paramount Classics in 2006, it scaled back offshoot Paramount Vantage to one or two annual films, most recently this year's $12 million best pic nominee "Nebraska."

But Paramount is now pushing its $20 million drama "Selma" (a Globes nominee for best drama) under its own logo, dropping the Vantage tag altogether.

And even for the top Oscar-winning divsions who've made smart, low-cost acquisitions, the increasing number of lowbudget films flooding the marketplace presents bigger hurdles. "It's a new age where our entire job is to make our film distinctive enough so enough people notice it," says SPC coprexy Michael Barker, who's nabbed several best pic noms in recent years. "It just gets tougher and tougher."

Top indie filmmakers like production/management outfit Anonymous Content are shifting their focus from such films as "The Fifth Estate" to TV projects like "True Detective."

"The movie business just sucks, especially for dramas," says CEO Steve Golin."There's lots of downward pressure on budgets and producers' fees. If you make a movie for $5 million, $6 million, $7 million and get $3 million for domestic after the fact - and that's a good number right now - it's a pretty scary way to try to make a buck."

Kleinberg Lange Cuddy & Carlo entertainment attorney Robert M. Lange says it's not only tougher to get distribution, "it's harder to get the money to spend on distribution, and when a small film spends a lot, it's very hard to get a return on it."

So with indie and studio specialty pickups taking up a bigger share of top Oscar nominations since the Academy upped the top slots to as many as 10 in 2009 - and each fighting harder for a shrinking slice of the pie - what impact will their slate's economic future have on the Oscars?

"There are certain films that outperform expectations - you look at 'Birdman,' 'Foxcatcher' or 'The Theory of Everything' and say, 'Wow, we're a very healthy business,' but the dropoff gets to be very dramatic after a few hundred films out of the thousands that get released," says TYibeca Enterprises chief creative officer Geoffrey Gilmore, who oversees the compressed window distrib Tribeca Film.

While he can't release proprietary VOD numbers (another issue that clouds the picture, amidst some selective VOD success story disclosures), he says that despite a long-held belief that theatrical drives ancillary revenue, "when you look at films that have made $1 million-plus at the box office and do less than 30,000 downloads, you start to realize there's a disconnect between how successful films are in the theatrical world and in the VOD and digital world. …

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