By John Evan Frook Los Angeles Daily News LOS ANGELES _ To get
an idea of how movie production strategies are changing these days,
consider "Night Ride Down."
Long in development at Paramount Pictures Corp., "Night Ride
is an action-adventure screenplay that at one time was
considered a perfect vehicle for A-list star Harrison Ford.
Yet Paramount jettisoned the movie last month because its
budget was "headed north of $46 million" and "could have ended up
as a huge write-off," said new studio chairman Brandon Tartikoff.
No wonder there was concern. Paramount Communications Inc. took
$35.4 million in second quarter write-offs, including charges from
"Godfather Part III" and "He Said, She Said."
Paramount's decision to pull the plug on "Night Ride Down" is
viewed as a harbinger of Hollywood's new conservatism, as the
studios come to grips with 1992 production plans against the
backdrop of a weak economy.
"Companies may be a bit more tentative in what they decide to
produce," said Marc Platt, president of production for Orion
Pictures Corp. "They are more cost conscious, striving to produce
only those films they are sure will be highly successful in the
domestic theatrical market."
The studios have been talking about holding down production
costs for at least a year. But after months of posturing, the
concept of cost containment appears to be catching on.
It's being handled, though, in various ways. Some studios are
holding down on the number of movies produced, while others are
trying to mount smaller movies that steer away from star salaries.
Attorneys from the studios confirmed that talent brokers such
as International Creative Management and Creative Artists Agency
Inc. have been put on notice _ expect fewer movies in development
and production during 1992 and forget about raises for writers,
directors, actors and actresses until they are involved in major
Universal Pictures and 20th Century Fox are expected to
downscale production next year, while Walt Disney Co.'s Hollywood
Pictures and Touchstone Pictures continue to aggressively trim the
bottom line. Orion and MGM-Pathe Communications Co., both cash
strapped because of financial problems, have scrapped most of their
production plans in 1992.
Entertainment attorney Peter Dekom said it is a function of the
"Each studio has a different financial problem," Dekom said,
"just as cash flow (diminishes) and financing tightens."
David Davis, an analyst with Paul Kagan Associates Inc., said
the studio's conservative production plans are a result of the
recession coming home to roost in Hollywood.
According to the trade publication Daily Variety, box-office
revenues were $3.18 billion through Aug. 26, compared with $3.32
billion for the like period a year ago.
David Londoner, a movie analyst at Wertheim Schroder & Co.,
estimated that in 1989, the eight major studios took in $1.2
billion in operating profits. He said he believed that that figure
dropped to $1 billion in 1990 and could fall another 15 percent
this year, although Londoner said he expected that industry efforts
control costs might bear fruit.
In 1990 the average film budget was $26.8 million, according to
the Motion Picture Association of America, up from $23.5 million in
1989 and million in 1988.
Marketing costs rose to $11.6 million in 1990 from $9.2 million
in 1989 and $8.5 million in 1988. Costs are expected to rise again
this year, according to one executive at a major studio who
declined to be named.
At the same time, ticket sales dropped to 1.06 billion in 1990
from 1.13 billion in 1989. And this year is down a bit from last
Even home video sales _ a mighty contributor to a studio's
bottom line _ are off 6 percent, Davis said.
But Frank Price, chairman of Columbia Pictures Inc. …