This week at the Women in Film Crystal + Lucy Awards in Beverly Hills, Meryl Streep slammed “Hollywood’s big tentpole failures” like John Carter and Battleship, then added:
“In this room, we are very familiar with these dreadful statistics that detail the shocking under-representation of women in our business. Seven to ten percent of directors, producers, writers, and cinematographers [are women] in any given year. This in spite of the fact that in the last five years, five little movies aimed at women have earned over $1.6 billion: The Help, The Iron Lady believe it or not, Bridesmaids, Mamma Mia!, and The Devil Wears Prada.”
She continued: “As you can see, their problems were significant because they cost a fraction of what the big tent-pole failures cost. . . . Let’s talk about The Iron Lady. It cost $14 million to make it and brought in $114 million. Pure profit! So why? Why? Don’t they want the money?”
On the face of it, a perfectly logical question: “Don’t they want the money?” But what about merchandise? What about the growing international market which loves big Hollywood spectacle movies? What about potential franchises, clearly one of the motivators for Disney and Universal greenlighting Carter and Battleship respectively? Those concerns seem to trump all movie discussions in this day and age.
It used to be that the studios had a line-up of movies on their development slates they thought of in baseball terms:
Singles: Small movies that would generate small profits.
Doubles: Mid-budget movies that would generate moderate profits.
Triples: Bigger budget movies that would generate substantial profits.
Home Runs: Big budget movies that would generate big profits.
Grand Slams: Huge budget movies that would generate huge profits.
I should note, the size of the budgets really wasn’t the determining factor in calling a movie a “double” or a “home run,” it boiled down to revenues generated. So a small budget movie resulting in huge profits, like Paranormal Activity would be a Grand Slam.
My point is, I don’t know if the studios think like this anymore, as they seem to be increasingly focused on Triples and above: Big budgets, huge profits. Some like Paramount with its Insurge microbudget division, pay attention to low-risk, high-reward type movies, but it’s just really, really hard to get a low to mid-budget movie produced nowadays.
And that is precisely the type of movies Streep is talking about. So yes, even though they can make money, and women are a huge demo group, the studios just don’t seem to be tracking that very much at all [with the occasional exception like The Help, which had the benefit of a huge pre-brand due to the book sales, and a movie every year or two by Nancy Meyers].
Once again, I contend if an independent production company had the guts to focus its attention on making movies for Baby Boomers and above, and especially women, moderately budgeted films in the $5-20M range, assuming they developed and produced quality product, that would be a profitable business model.
But perhaps without toys or franchises, the color of that money isn’t green enough for the major studios.
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