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Sunday, December 19, 2010


"Tron: Legacy," a costly 3D sci-fi movie

that Walt Disney Co has promoted for more than three years,

took the top spot at the North American box office,

but with a disappointing weekend haul of $43.6 million, according to estimates issued by the company on Sunday.

How do movies like TRON go wrong? Nick, my co-worker and Mr. EveryMan movie audience, scratched his head and asked that question of TRON.

"I mean, Roland, it had great actors, access to the best special effects around, and you know it cost millions upon millions to make.

And with all that, they made crap? How does stuff like this happen?"

Lucy Lawless, siren of XENA and SPARTACUS, is reported to have said,

"If it ain't on the page,

it dies on the stage."

Amen, Xena.

Industry observers had been expecting a three-day start in the $50 million range for TRON.

As openings go this year, the massively hyped sequel to an obscure 1982 movie failed to crack the top-10,

and observers have said it will need to rely on strong overseas business to break even.

Slapping the name Tron on a movie, loading it with 3D effects, and putting some woman in spandex in it, does not make me want to see the movie.

(Well, Olivia Wilde in spandex makes me want to rent the DVD.)

Also new was "Yogi Bear," a live-action/animated update of the old television cartoon.

It came in at No. 2 with $16.7 million, a few million dollars short of the expectations of its studio, Warner Bros.

It was also short the innocence and witty humor of the cartoon.

"How Do You Know," a comedy featuring a high-priced lineup headed by Jack Nicholson and Reese Witherspoon, was a major flop.

So who's to blame?

1.) The Four Quadrants.

And no, that is not the Cajun branch of the Illuminati.

It's how Hollywood grades movies :

The four quadrants :

Males : Above and Below the age of 25

Females : Above and Below the age of 25

The best quadrant?

Males below the age of 25.

They will go alone to movies they like.

They are more apt to take friends to said movie, making an event of it.

The next best?

Females below the age of 25.

They won't go alone. But often drag their boyfriends after going to two of their action movies in a row
So the best film to make obviously is a chick flick with guns.

Don't laugh. That's why we had the duds, KILLERS with Katherine Heigl and Ashton Kutcher, along with the movie, KNIGHT & DAY, with Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz.

Hollywood is a business.

And on date night, you've got to go see something. And Hollywood still believes the pipe dream that the Four Quadrants will make studios money. So story is secondary.

But not to us writers.

And the shame of it is that a good story costs just as much as a bad one. And the repeat viewings of a great film makes more money in the long run.

2.) HOLLYWOOD PMS is also to blame :

P ... politics

Studios, like heat-seeking missiles,

tend to follow the popularity of an actor or a director,

whether or not is based on anything close to quality.

Funny enough, it is called following the "heat."

At least that was the phrase several years ago.

Politics is more than following the heat however. It is about personalities, their flaws, their prejudices, their ego's.

Studio politics is office politics on steroids.

M ... money :

Hollywood loves its pre-sold franchises. Sometimes they work. Most times they don't.

I shudder when I remember what the movie A-TEAM looked like on the screen.

But the studio executives know that people reading their computer headlines will know the answer to that most important question : "What is it about?"

Franchises gives the reader of the movie ad a clear mental image of what the movie promises.

If the story is lousy or the film veers too far off the historical image. Low traffic. Sink hole where ticket sales should be.

Domestic ticket sales used to account for 60% of a movie's overall profits. Now, it's down to 40%. Worldwide ticket sales are now the make or break aspect of a movie.

The movie must be readily understood universally. Franchises are ideal for that.

Also killer titles : Legally Blonde, Crazies, 4 Christmases, and FRENCH QUARTER NOCTURNE {the title for my book -- hey, I can dream, can't I?}

Hollywood is not about art or about quality. It is about profits.

showBUSINESS it is called for a reason.

If on top of the 4 quadrants, your movie script is medium-budget, filmed entirely in one location --

and you are the screen writer, you may have to run out of the exec's office to keep him from giving you a wet kiss. Which leads us to ...

S ... Sex

Sex behind the camera ... the infamous casting couch.

Sex in front of the camera ... which is how we got Angelina Jolie in the lifeless THE TOURIST and Olivia Wilde poured into spandex for eye candy in TRON.

Well, that's it for my thoughts on Hollywood's deficiencies.

How about yours?

What recent movie had you asking, "What were they thinking of? --

How did this happen? -- They spent millions of dollars on this?"

Please tell me. I'm interested.


  1. Amen, brother. My husband and I discuss this sort of thing all of the time. Being "married" to the Biz makes it even more bitter. Clark is directing a film this summer and has put a lot of thought into his responsibility- especially in reguards to budget. You really should get what you pay for--and flashy FX can't take the place of a good story. (ie, old Star Wars vs. new Star Wars--etc)
    And while he is going low budget and "just for fun" with the story, he intends to craft it well in all aspects. And when he's done-- hopefully we will have an entertaining and well made film...well at least he won't have to justify the bazillions of dollars spent. (=

  2. Was I the only one who liked Tron?

    I thought it was fine, fun even. I had a good time watching bits of lights explode on screen. It didn't have any thought-provoking questions nor did it steal my breath with it's groundbreaking cinematography, but I enjoyed it. I don't think every movie needs to be stunning. Sometimes I just want to be mindlessly entertained.

  3. Well the review I heard of Tron was pretty good, though my friend is a self admitted comic geek who was a teen when the 82 version came out... he took his kids and they loved it. I think the biggest problme with it was the high cost of making it, because the sales were pretty good--they just didn't match the COST. Son will surely see it during break (possibly with me).

    I am not the ideal target audience--female over 25, i really only go to the theater with my kids--anything else waits for DVD, but i think you nailed part of the problem.

    I think I suggest a reasonable solution... lower budget movies can still claim success with smaller audiences because it doesn't take nearly as much to pass break-even, and then a greater variety of people can be pleased with the options.

  4. Hart : I believe you're right. CASABLANCA had a small budget was a classic, re-watched over the decades. TRON was good enough -- but $20 is a lot for me to spend on good enough.

    Stephanie : I have loved so many movies that others loathed. It's all a matter of taste -- as I try to tell myself when I receive an agent's rejection!

    Jo : I will pray that Clark's movie hits a chord with the movie audience and become another STAR WARS, which was also made on a shoestring budget. It is hard to get anything made with quality these days. The studio's have their formulas and will not usually budge -- unless it saves them money somehow! I wish you a magical Christmas -- wish me some magic on my full manuscript that is out with an agent, too! Roland

  5. Haven't seen Tron yet, but I agree that the four quadrants have killed many a good story. In fact, I rarely go to any adult movies because they are usually a disappointment...stretched beyond what a story should be just to hit a demographic.

  6. When you're right, you're right!

    I was so looking forward to TRON - now; meh.

    I really hate to be disappointed by a movie. Especially at the exorbident costs the theater are charging these days.

    Excellent PMS points Roland. This was such a fabulous post.


  7. Thanks, Donna. I hear TRON is great eye candy, especially in 3D.

    But I wanted a little more substance and more inter-connectedness with the first one.

    Have a great staycation and a magical Christmas week, Roland