Terry Huang is part of the Black List crew and one of his specialties is analytics. For example back in April, he took on the idea that has floated around Hollywood for several years — the highest budgeted movies are the ones which translate into the most reliable profits — and broke down some actual numbers in a Black List blog post to basically support that thesis.
Afterward I emailed Terry to see what he could dig up about mid-budget movies which have taken it on the chin relative to major Hollywood studios – the rise of behemoth blockbuster franchises has led to a precipitous drop in films in the $25-75M range.
So Terry went at it and came up with a post that provides what I believe analysts officially call a “shit-ton” of invaluable information. Here are some excerpts:
Why do we care about these mid-budget movies? Well, increasingly, studios have gravitated toward spending more money on fewer projects. These giant projects are largely, if not entirely, based on things like comic books, YA novels, or previous films. The mid/low budget space is pretty much the only place where original movies are being made. And this means that it’s the only space where original material is being bought.
Take a look at this graph that shows the breakdown of spend by different budget brackets over time:
As you can see, spend on $100 million plus movies has increased quite a bit over the last ten years. This has been particularly driven by $200 million plus movies, which has come to represent about 25% of total production spend.
It’s most noticeably the under $50 million space that has been declining over the past decade. This means that dollars are tighter and that there are fewer movies to split that cash. This also means to get a movie made in this space, it has to be a compelling proposition, even more so nowadays that a decade ago. A script needs to stand out in this space.
And this is just tip of the proverbial information iceberg Terry dug up like “Attributes of Very Successful Mid-Budget Films” including most common keywords in their loglines.
Here are three takeaways Terry came away with from his research:
These are scripts that are more likely to sell in this ultra-competitive space.
* Horror, comedy, romance, and sci-fi tend to do better
*Ignore MPAA rating. There’s little influence in return. And use of the F word is actually an attribute of successful movies.
*Women led movies will have a higher likelihood of financial return. Female protagonist is also a keyword that shows up in successful movies.
My takeaway: If you are writing a spec script for a mid-budget movie, you need to be smart. Really smart. Start with a strong story concept, one that has an undeniably evocative and compelling hook. Next, a roster of distinctive and fascinating characters, ones name actors would love to play. Also make choices in your plotting choices that put you more toward the $20-25M range rather than $70-75M. The more expensive your project’s budget, the less likely it gets bought or even repped.
That said, I honestly believe over the next 5-10 years, we’re going to see a renaissance of movies in the $20-25M budget range. Big enough to draw A list talent and have the sheen of a major motion picture, yet low enough in terms of cost so studios will have a decent chance to make a profit. Why do I think this? Three reasons.
* Audiences will grow weary of $200M franchise movies, especially superhero stories where the plot repeats ad nauseam the same damn threat: The potential end of the world. How many times can they keep dipping into that well? At some point, moviegoers will stop caring.
* There is a huge audience out there that yearns for mid-budget movies, namely Baby Boomers and Senior Citizens. I would argue even the 30+ crowd, depending on the specifics of the project. Movies that engage our hearts and minds, not just CGI eye candy.
* People want good stories. Shared universes, sequels, prequels, remakes, reboots and the like, they don’t lend themselves to quality storytelling. It’s more about servicing franchises. Moviegoers are smart enough to sniff that out. Over time, the wearying preponderance of those franchise films will feed the desire for original movies with great stories.
Five years ago, I started blogging that the cross genre Action Comedy would make a comeback… and it has. Now my crystal ball says mid-budget movies are primed to return to the stage.
Writers, if this is your area of interest, just be smart in your creative choices. You can start that education by reading Terry’s latest post in its entirety by going here.