Had lunch today with two veterans of the animation industry, one an artist, the other a producer. I've known both like forever. The producer, my age but far richer and now happily retired, mentioned this article about where Hollywood's money goes and observed:
Studios could probably pay the unions and guilds more, but they're already giving away millions to the talent. It's crazy, but nobody wants to go to the mat with the CAA or any of the other talent agencies and tell them "no." So they pay an actor or director first-dollar gross because if they don't, somebody else will..."
It's pretty much like two execs told me some years ago when they were in a breezy frame of mind: "Sure, the studios could afford to pay artists and writers residuals. But they've got the power to say no, so they don't."
Studios' spines may have stiffened toward labor unions, but they remain amazingly limber toward the heavy-hitting, "must-have" players. As the New York Times says:
...it turns out, the pot of money that the producers and writers are fighting over may have already been pocketed by the entertainment industry’s biggest talent ... Much of the income — past and future — that studios and writers have been fighting about has already gone to the biggest stars, directors and producers in the form of ballooning participation deals. A participation is a share in the gross revenue, not the profit, of a movie...
So it appears that the studios are digging in their heels ... now that the thoroughbred horses and high grade cows have left the barn.
It wasn't always like this. Clark Gable made $4,000-$5,0000 per week at his box office peak, no back end. And author Robert Birchard relates that Charlton Heston made a flat $50,000 playing Moses for Cecil B. DeMille over six months time, also with no profit participation. (DeMille had Heston's services at a cut-rate fee because Judah Ben-Hur owed C.B. another picture under an old contract. And so, Mr. Birchard says tongue half in cheek, "There was never any question that Charlton Heston was the actor born to play Moses.")
But Johnny Depp is not Charlton Heston. And 2007 is certainly not 1956:
Even Disney’s strong corporate performance in the last year does not necessarily bode well. The company’s studio unit, which was profitable for the year, had essentially flat revenue, at about $7.5 billion. Despite a huge hit in “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,”...
So what accounted for a lot of Disney's recent "strong performance?"
[M]uch profit, company executives said, came from the mining of its library with clever ploys like the “Little Mermaid” Platinum Release DVD, which sold nine million units without the burden of star participations ...
Maybe I'm a fuddy duddy, but it seems to me, if the entertainment conglomerates were not so busy throwing large chunks of the golden calf into the pockets of high-powered actors and directors who are already weighed down with bars of gold, maybe there would be more left over for the poor wretches further down the food chain. You know, those people working hard to get the picture ... or television show ... out?