The terms “fiscal responsibility” and “movie biz” rarely appear in the same sentence. That’s why I’m thinking there might still be hope for Hollywood after reading Sharon Waxman’s story in Friday’s New York Times. It’s all about how 20th Century Fox and Sony Pictures pulled the plug on the movie Used Guys because the budget had crept up to $112 million even though “millions of dollars were spent, sets were ready in Santa Fe, and all was on track for production to start next month on what seemed to be a can’t-lose comedy from the reigning superstars Jim Carrey and Ben Stiller with Jay Roach of Austin Powers and Meet the Parents fame, as director.” At that price, she reports, “Used Guys stood to be one of the most expensive original comedies ever made. And in an industry with crushing marketing costs and top-shelf stars taking a huge chunk of every ticket sale, the studio decided the math didn’t add up, to the surprise of filmmakers who were on the verge of shooting.”
But here’s the meaty part: “The real problem, said executives at Fox and elsewhere, is the percentage of box office revenues that these stars now command. ‘At an over-$100 million budget, the talent is making $60 million before the studio can recoup its costs,’ said a senior Fox executive. ‘The economics on it make no sense.’ Mr. Roach and executives on the project noted that, to win the studio’s green light, Mr. Roach and the stars of Used Guys had already sharply cut both their upfront fees and their expected participation in revenue. Even so, executives said, the compromise meant that the three principals would take 27 percent of the studio’s gross box-office revenues.” Congrats, moguls, for finally growing big swingin’ cojones.
This seems a good time to repeat what I wrote last July in my LA Weekly column 12 Steps to Better Box Office: Make more and mostly comedies, but not costly comedies! “Let’s say I have a choice: I can make a $180 million movie based on a comic book, or I can make a $40 million original comedy. I say, no contest: Make the comedy. I don’t know about your life, but mine can always use a laugh that isn’t just based on a fart joke. Comedies are cheap to make, and hard to get right, but even the net-profit participants have been paid on Meet the Parents.”