Q: But if the movie doesn't make money, the actors and director can't be pleased if they're not getting paid for their efforts.
All those movies that go to Sundance, it works the same way — the famous people work for free and they get the back end. But with those films, they have a 1 in 50 shot at seeing back end. A pilot is 1 in 10. And I'm 1 in 2.
Q: It seems like this model is best suited for horror movies because you don't need a complicated shoot or a big cast. You don't need expensive CGI. You can scare people with good editing and loud sound effects.
A: You're totally right. I'm going to reverse-engineer this for you. I don't ever say I'm looking for horror — I'm looking for low budget, wide-release movies. How do I define that? Well, the head of marketing at any studio is looking for the same thing: When they read the script, they want to say, "I know what the poster is, I know that the trailer is, I know what the TV spot is." In other words, "Can I release this movie wide?" So it has to be a high concept.
On the low budget side: No too many locations. Not too long. Not too many speaking parts. Super simple. When you combine that (with the studio's marketing metrics), 80 percent of the time it's going to be a horror movie. It doesn't always have to be.
But it doesn't work for everything. Like, it could never work with comedy.
Q: How come?
A: We actually tried one and it didn't work (2012's "The Babymakers" directed by Jay Chandrasekhar which made less than $8,000). I think about this endlessly. In the last 10 years, what comedy under $5 million has been widely released? "Napoleon Dynamite" — total anomaly, a complete outlier. Never repeated again.
Q: And that was more of a quirky comedy than a mainstream comedy.
A: Right. And a movie that has a commercial studio comedy feel, but it's low budget? It doesn't exist. My feeling is, those movies don't work without massive movie stars. I think there are 10 super famous comedians that need to anchor those movies to get people to go and to really enjoy those movies.
But I think my model will also work for, we tried an erotic thriller with (director) Catherine Hardwicke ("Plush," which has not yet been released), and I think it can work with a thriller. What it definitively does not work for is comedy or drama. A $3 million drama is not getting a release.
Q: The quintessential Sundance indie.
A: Right, exactly.
What we're doing is really fun and really creatively satisfying for me. It allows me and the filmmakers that I work with to try weird stuff in commercial moviemaking. People try weird stuff in independent moviemaking all the time, but the American public — me being part of it — has complaints about the studios churning out all the same stuff, all the time. I'd like to think the movies we make at the very least are not that.
I'm 44 years old. I spent 10 years doing independent movies that nobody saw. I worked for Miramax from 1995-2000. And from 2000 to 2004 or 2005 I produced eight movies — seven of which you've never heard of. Probably all eight, unless you saw "Hysterical Blindness." Did you ever see that? No.
Q: Yes! It was an HBO film.
A: OK, so you saw one. But I got really frustrated with making movies that no one saw.
It's easy to get a theatrical release that shows in one theater for a week. But there's no advertising, and no one sees the movie. It's hard to get a real theatrical release. The distribution of independent films is, to me, extraordinarily frustrating.
And then I did make my one big studio movie. I made "The Tooth Fairy" for Fox, a $60 million goofy, silly family movie — and I hated the experience of producing that movie. I thought it would be my dream to produce expensive movies. And it was awful. Awful! Because everything I just described goes away, and that's not particular to Fox. It's what happens when you're producing big movies with other people's money.
Q: And you're able to keep everyone's ego in check?
A: Here's what I saw on the big movie that I did: Everyone can pretend that you're great and you're a family, but that's not actually true if one person is standing eight feet from you making $10 million dollars — so, what is that, $10,000 an hour? — and you're (on the crew) making $25, which is good by normal standards. Everyone can pretend that they're all great friends, but I think that's very corrosive to the creative process. That's another reason why I'm not a fan of big-budget filmmaking. It twists everyone's head. People pretend it doesn't, but I think it does.
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