Sunday, July 07, 2013

The Usual Hollywood Roller Coaster

A movie studio stages a turn-around.

A little over a year ago, Universal co-chairman Adam Fogelson sat alone at a table during the after-party for th premiere of Oliver Stone's “Savages” and somewhat plaintively asked a reporter from TheWrap when the abuse would end.

After years of costly flops including “The Wolfman," “Cowboy & Aliens” and, more recently, “Battleship,” Fogelson felt like the media's whipping post.

But a funny thing happened in the days after that premiere. A movie called “Ted” opened to more than $50 million domestically and went on to gross more than $500 million worldwide. Universal has been on a tear ever since

One thing you can count on: If an entertainment conglomerate has a sucky year, before long it will have a banner year.

Analysts often attribute the changes in fortune to inspired leadership at the top. But really? Universal might have been smart to greenlight Seth McFarlane's Ted, but Universal would never have had a shot at the teddy bear if the management of Fox/News Corp. hadn't passed on the movie.

So Universal execs got to look like geniuses because another studio -- which had first dibs -- decided not to back a talent that had already made them hundreds of millions of dollars.

Pure, twenty-four karat brilliance, wouldn't you say?

But Hollywood often (usually?) operates this way. Fox got Star Wars, one of the larger franchises of the modern era, because other studios turned the project down. ("Sci Fi? Doesn't make money!") Disney (via Miramax) held Lord of the Rings tight in its sweaty hands, but put the project in turnaround, enabling Time-Warner (via New Line Cinema) to make piles of money with the trilogy. More recently, Disney management thought it was wise to do a reboot of a hoary old Western about a masked man and his Native American Companion. ("It's got Jonny Depp! How can it miss?")

In the words of screenwriter William Goldman: "Nobody knows anything."

But here's a Tinsel Town rule: For one set of managers to be hailed as geniuses, another set has to make a decision that is dumb. And, as we can see, there are always plenty of dumb decisions to go around.


Roberto Severino said...

Good summary of what's going on, Mr. Hulett. I never realized how strong of a presence News Corp. has on entertainment.

I noticed that a lot of comedy shows I've been watching are either produced by News Corp. or air on either FOX, CBS, or FX. They are entertaining and hilarious for sure, but that's something that I noticed.

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