“Keep the Budgets Low and the Quality High”: The Hollywood Economy for Adult-Oriented Dramas

     October 18, 2010


The Town, The Social Network, and Secretariat are not only performing well at the box office and touted as potential Best Picture nominees, but they also have Hollywood brass taking notice:  You don’t have to spend upwards of $100 million to make a great dramatic film anymore.  In fact, spending less is proving to be more beneficial to all those involved.  According to the LA Times these three movies mentioned above

“… have in common something beyond the fact that they are dramas driven by strong story lines, not by A-list actors.  They are examples of the new Hollywood Economics: If you want to make a drama, whether it’s a biopic or a crime thriller, your budget ceiling, with rare exception, is going to be 40 million.”

Hit the jump to learn more about recent dramatic film hits and misses, and what highly anticipated upcoming film is adhering to this new budget cap.  After you’ve digested all the facts and figures, let us know your thoughts on this economic epiphany.

SECRETARIAT movie posterThere’s no doubt and good reason why The Town, The Social Network and Secretariat are setting the new “40 million dollar” drama standard.  Look at this years Extraordinary Measures with Harrison Ford and Brendan Fraser; two A-list stars appearing in a film that’s based on a true story is usually enough for a studio to expect big returns, yet it didn’t even clear 13 million worldwide.  Think about Edge of Darkness, the supposed triumphant return of Mel Gibson to the big screen and how it was practically DOA.  So for every Dear John which features likable, less expensive actors Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried that is made for 25 million and clears 110 million worldwide, there’s a Duplicity which has big name actors Julia Roberts and Clive Owen that costs more than triple to make and barely even covers the production budget.  In short, Hollywood execs are learning from past mistakes, focusing on these solid, cost friendly hits and big, over priced misses, and their new “keep the budgets low and the quality high” recipe is working.

Let’s look at the ingredients of the Coen brother’s upcoming True Grit as an example of how to get the most bang for your buck.  First you blend in the Oscar winning writer/director team of the Coen brothers.  Then you add Jeff Bridges, fresh off his best actor Oscar win.  Mix that with the always reliable Matt Damon as Bridges’ sidekick.  And then to spice it up you have a mean-as-hell looking Josh Brolin as the villain.  How much did this dynamite line up cost?  100 million?  Absolutely not.  Paramount is all in at 40 million dollars.

I will be one of the first in line to see True Grit just as I was with The Town and The Social Network.   Do I care how much they spend on these movies?  Sure it’s interesting to know, but I’m not buying a 10-20 dollar ticket because they spent 200 million dollars or more on certain film.  What I pay money for and want to see on screen (recent box office numbers let me know I’m not alone) is a fully realized film with topnotch directing, writing and acting.  A film that you actually want to talk about after the closing credits have rolled.  Not just a quick conversation afterwards saying “yeah, that was pretty good.  Neat effects.  Wonder how much that explosion sequence cost?”  I’m talking about a movie that kind of blows your hair back and makes you wonder did Sean Parker really say, “A million dollars isn’t cool.”  After I saw The Town with my brother we talked about it for days.  I found myself bringing up the movie in conversations with friends when it had nothing to do with what we were talking about in the first place.  These kind of dramas out in theaters now remind me of the thought provoking films of the 40’s and 50’s where it was about the characters and the story.  And don’t get me wrong, I love me some big-budget spectacles, just give me layered characters and a deep story to care about too.  And finally, it’s quite interesting to note that in a time when the economy is down and most Americans are watching their spending, the film industry is too.

Okay, I’ll step off my soapbox now, let us know what you think of this much needed shift in Hollywood spending.

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