No seriously, manage your expectations

Dear studio execs, production presidents, film investors and bean counters:

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. You people need to manage your expectations. When I open a newspaper log onto Deadline and read that a movie opens at number one with a $90 million take, and that people are calling this “soft”, or worse, “disappointing”, I get stabby. In what universe is earning NINETY MILLION DOLLARS in THREE DAYS “disappointing”?

A huge part of what I love about the movie industry is that, as a business model, it’s completely insane. There is no other manufacturing process that could, or would, sustain this kind of development. I mean, can you see this happening in the real world:

Manufacturing boss: A toaster that’s big enough to fit your whole hand inside? That’s brilliant! People don’t enjoy prying their toast out of the toaster with forks and knives, of course we should make a toaster big enough to put your hand in! What’s the fail-safe? Oh there isn’t one? You haven’t figured out how to make sure people don’t burn their hands off while reaching in for fresh hot toast? That’s okay! We don’t need a failsafe! It’s not like there’s anything that could wrong in this scenario! Here’s $200 million—crank out as many of those suckers as you can!

Would that ever really happen in the toaster industry? No, of course not. Yet it happens in movies all the time and I love it. It’s totally fascinating to see how these decisions get made, who makes them, and how they decide to spend their money. My problem lately, though, has been that there is no reason involved in this process at all. Someone, somewhere has to be reasonable. Personally I don’t think any of you people should be allowed to make a decision without one regular Joe (or Jane) in the room to go, “Hey, that’s actually a horrible idea and you shouldn’t do it.” (I also think the government should be run this way.)

Here’s what it comes down to guys. You are spending too much money on your movies. Your expectations continue to be unrealistic because you’ve spent so much money getting your project out there that you have to bring in eleventy billion dollars on opening weekend or else you’re going to get fired. Take Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (or don’t, because it was horrible), which had that $90 million #1 opening weekend that was so disappointing to Disney. For any other movie that’s a win. A big win, even. But for you people at Disney it wasn’t enough. Why?

Because you spent TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY MILLION DOLLARS making the movie. And I don’t even want to know what you spent on marketing. I’m guessing enough to rival the GDP of several small nations. So what’s the solution? Whine about how $90 million wasn’t enough? No, that’s never the right decision. Whining about $90 million not being enough makes me want to poke you in the eye.

The solution is to stop spending $250 million on a movie. There is no movie on this planet that should cost that much. If you’re pondering a greenlight and the bean counters tell you it will cost $250 million to make that movie, you know what you do? You don’t that make that movie. Or you ask the filmmaker to do more with less. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince cost $250 million and you know what? That was too much. If the Lord of the Rings movies could be made for around $100 million a pop, there’s no reason any of the HP movies should cost more than $150 million (the five previous installments cost between $100-150 million). It’s really easy guys.


And that $150 million price tag is reserved for stuff like HP, Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, etc. I hear you Disney—filming on water is a bitch and the Pirates movies have elaborate sets and expensive casts. Still shouldn’t cost you more than $150 million. Think about it. How much better does that $90 million opening look against a $150 million budget? It looks a lot better, right? You’re still spending an insane amount of money for grown up adults to put on fancy dress clothes and pretend to be Not Themselves, but at least you aren’t like, insulting the manufacturing output of Guam by complaining when your huge box office take isn’t enough because you spent too much making your product.

Take it from a regular Jane, guys. You’re spending way too much money and it’s throwing your perspective out of whack. You’ve got to learn to manage your expectations, and that means learning to manage your budget.

5 thoughts on “No seriously, manage your expectations

  1. Lula

    My usual comment is my constant refrain, where you’re concerned…
    WHY aren’t you writing for a major publication? And for big bucks? ‘Cause…obviously.

  2. Sarah

    You’re awesome and i couldn’t agree more with you: 250 million is slap in the face also considering the situation of the economy.

    And i wonder like someone else here: what’s your job? ’cause if you’re not writing for a publication then your talent is wasted!

  3. Kaylie

    Completely agree. I don’t know where their heads are when they make some of these budget decisions. My favorite example from last year was the God-awful “How Do You Know,” that made me want to die while watching it. Just so I wouldn’t have to watch it anymore. That movie cost a reported $120 MILLION to make!! Can you believe that? There are huge blockbusters being made for that kind of cash, and this little romantic/comedy/drama is costing that much? It was reported that $50 million of that went to the actors alone. Something like $20 million for Reese Witherspoon, $15 million for Owen Wilson, $15 million for Jack Nicholson, and a couple million for Paul Rudd. That, in an of itself, is ridiculous. No actor is worth that much. This movie could have been made for $10 million, easy. For God’s sake, as you said, The Lord of the Rings movies were made for a cheaper amount! And if they would’ve made it for $10 million, it would’ve been a huge hit! It grossed about $30 million domestically and $48 million worldwide.

    I don’t understand the benefit of actors demanding this much money and driving up budgets either. (other than, obviously, getting rich). But if you look at it, this movie was considered a huge failure and a huge blow to Reese Witherspoon’s career. “Can she still carry a movie?” I don’t understand why they would want to take such huge risks with their career.

    But like you said, it is executives agreeing to give them this money in the first place, so it’s their fault too. And if $50 million came from paying actors and say like $20 million went to James L Brooks, that leaves $50 million to actually make the movie. Which in my opinion, is still too high. They made True Grit for $38 million, which was one of my favorite movies from last year. So clearly it can be done.

    Somebody just needs to smack some sense into these people.

  4. Annie

    Surely part of the reason why they spend so much money is that with movies, as a general rule, the more you spend, the more you get. Audiences respond to huge spectacular event-movies, especially international audiences. It’s an insurance against failure.

    Case in point: Pirates may have cost 250M, but internationally, the movie has already made 625M, in 12 days only. Add in two more weeks/the merchandise/dvd sales/tv rights? You can criticize their budget all you want, but Disney is laughing all the way to the bank. As long as these huge budget movies continue to bring in the cash, they will continue to happen. Simple as that.

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