Interesting article in today's NY Times on the alleged "superstar economics":
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/28/business/media/28cast.html

A heap of interesting points get made, but I don't buy the comparison of Tom Cruise to, say, Michael Jordan or Mick Jagger. During Michael Jordan's rein, I'd tune in to see him anytime I had the chance, even though I don't follow basketball as a rule, because he was just so amazing to watch. It was like having the Olympics on for 15 solid NBA seasons.

And the comparison of Cruise (or any film star) to Jagger (or any musical performer) doesn't hold any adult beverage for me either when you go to see a concert you're going for the express purpose of seeing The Stones or The White Stripes or Liberace or whoever. When you go to a film, you're generally expecting the whole package to hold together, and while the star might be the big draw, he or she is far from the exclusive reason for going.

As an example, would Tom Cruise as Willy Loman pull you in to see the hot new cinema version of "Death of a Salesman"? Me thinketh not. You don't buy the Rolls just for the chrome hood ornament (and although it's nice to have, you can order it without one...)
The NY Times article also contains this gem:
³If you pay a star a great deal of money for a film that people don¹t want to see, then it won¹t work,² said Sidney Sheinberg, the former president of MCA Universal.
Alan Brooks

A with an Underwood
Demonstrating, once again,
his firm grip on
the bleedin' obvious.
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Interesting article in today's NY Times on the alleged "superstar economics": http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/28/business/media/28cast.html A heap of interesting points get made, but ... with an Underwood Demonstrating, once again, his firm grip on the bleedin' obvious. MWSM FAQ: http://www.panix.com/~mwsm/faq.html Filtering Trolls: http://www.panix.com/~mwsm/trolls.html

I liked the cartoon from Time magazine.
http://www.time.com/time/cartoons/20060826/2.html
I liked the cartoon from Time magazine. http://www.time.com/time/cartoons/20060826/2.html

Heh heh heh...
I'm not a Cruise hater. I honestly liked him in "Rain Man", "The Firm", "Last Samurai" and "Magnolia" (haven't seen "Jerry Maguire", but people assure me I would like him...). He was okay in "Eyes Wide Shut", though I thought that film needed a more complex actor to turn the roll into something interesting.
Anyway, I think the star system is akin to the CEO system, and Cruise is our generation's Jack Welch You get a big franchise vehicle like the "Mission Impossible" series, and the shareholders or producers or whatever, feel they need a fancy figurehead even if the vehicle is going to be a money machine regardless. The star, of course, takes all the credit for positive rate of return, even though, within the secret confines of MWSM we know that it's all about the story.
Alan Brooks

A with an Underwood
"Put the Capra touch on that!"
Robert Riskin
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Interesting article in today's NY Times on the alleged "superstar economics": http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/28/business/media/28cast.html A heap of interesting points get made, but ... Universal. Alan Brooks A with an Underwood Demonstrating, once again, his firm grip on the bleedin' obvious.

I think the last few lines of the article put the finger on the issue a point that I've been saying for a long time.
Executives in this business are much less focused on achieving success, which comes unexpectedly, rarely, and can't be predicted (because if it could, then every movie would be successful), than on justifying failure and mediocrity which happens all the time.

It's all about risk aversion. Why remake something? Why buy a big bestseller which you're essentially going to throw away? Why do a sequel? Because it's a known quantity generally one that's already pre-sold that has, in some sense, "pre-succeeded."

Why the big name screenwriter, the big name director, the big star even if the match to the project is questionable?
It's not because those things necessarily add up to a hit. It's because those things add up to the most bullet-proof defense in the case of failure, which happens much more often.
If your movie flops and it was an original screenplay by a new screenwriter, directed by some guy out of filmschool with a no-name cast but you really felt passionate about it what are you going to say to your boss when he calls you in to explain what the *** happened? Certainly not something that begins with, "Well, you okayed it too."
On the other hand, if it starts off with, "Hey, it was based on a hit TV series, the numbers went through the roof, it was written by an Academy Award winning screenwriter, it was directed by a top director, huge top-of-the-line special effects, it starred a top star we did everything right. Look, sometimes these things happen. What could we possibly have done differently?"
And then it's a problem. Because if all of those things the sure fire pre-sold material, and the top writers, and the top directors, big special effects, and the big stars if those things don't permit you to reliably predict a hit then what will? What can?

It's all that these guys who spend hundreds of millions in the hope of earning billions have to hold onto it's their only equation do X, Y, and Z and you'll make a couple billion dollars.

To say something like, "Well, the story has to be be good" how do you quantify a good story what are the elements? Car crashes, dinosaurs, girls with large breasts, second act twists, redemption in the third act?
You can't do it. What makes a good story can't be quantified in those terms it can't be reduced down to a formula like "writer" + "director" + star = hit.
The fact that the formula doesn't really work, in the end, doesn't really matter.
It's all they have.
NMS
(Arg... Just read over my post and I guess I'd better preface this with a blither-warning. How I do gas on.)I think any industry with a measure of creativity at its core goes through a similar lifecycle that ends with mediocrity ruling the majority of the market: It's initiated by artists or craftsmen then, when it threatens to make serious folding money, the suits bubble to the top tier because the craftsmen/artists don't know ROI from shinola about money matters. Then as the public gets a clue that they're consuming ROI, the suits get all jiggy and artistic, trying to recapture that ol' magic.

And because they're not craftsmen of any sort, the only tool they have is mimicry. When that doesn't work, the suits reluctantly try to recapture the ol' magic by hiring the ol' magicians back (hopefully getting them to fall for the ol' net points ploy). The decadent latter days are marked by a thriving boutique industry catering to a fragmented market, with all the suits standing in a circle like Oompah-Loompahs pointing a finger at the next guy.

I know it's a crude summing-up, and there are big differences between heavy industry and entertainment, but I mean it seriously. Besides film, you've got the automotive industry, which started out with a bunch of craft builders, then Ford co-inventing the assembly line, and then various iterations of suits trying to convince the public that their cars hark back to the days of hand-built yore, with fine Corinthian leather and hand-polished burl walnut. Yeah, right. And now, for people with the cash, you can actually get a really expensive hand-built, boutique automobile from makers like Pagani Zonda, Bugatti, Spyker and others (and in a twist so ironic you couldn't invent it, the only people who can afford this sort of authenticity are those who mass-produce something inauthentic...). *1

The internet had a similar evolution, with a lot of interesting, quirky sites early on, then the pets.com era, then the era of pseudo-reality sites, with a bunch of sweaty 50-year-old geeks pounding out the blogs for invented girl teens, trying to make the internet seem like the wild ol' days again. *2.
On & on it goes. Many areas of software evolved this way, and we all know how music has gone from garage-bands to fat-cats, giving late-term birth to the boutiques that will press vinyl for you again if you're that hard-core. *3
Because there's so much cash and glamour in film, nobody's going to let go of their industry hold, but it's possible (certainly not inevitable) that popular taste will pull the dollars from big-star vehicles to the point where the studios do better by pursuing small artists, and taking their (assumedly very large) cut as project managers (okay, the fancy word is "producer") editors, marketeers and distributors.
The studios are not going away, and they're in a better position than anyone to keep a tight hold on the cash flow in the entertainment industry. But it doesn't mean they know what film the public wants to see next any more than GM knows what kind of car the public wants to drive. *5 People responsible for big dollar decisions see things through risk-averse-tinted glasses. *6
Alan Brooks

A with an Underwood
Notes:
1. The auto business didn't *have to evolve in this direction: it seemed in the early days that you'd buy your car from a "coach" builder who put his custom body on a frame that came from one of the frame/drivetrain manufacturers. Packard and Rolls Royces were often sold this way, and some of the current boutiques still do it. The Lotus Elise is built around a Toyota motor. It's the way the surfboard industry works... *4

*2. http://www.lonelygirl15.com /
*3. http://www.trutone.com/record pressing.html
http://www.recordpressing.com /
*4 The New Yorker just ran an article on this.
*5. www.mini.com
http://www.toyota.com/prius /
*6. Past returns are no predictor of future performance.

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I don't know. While the Scientology thing (never mind the sofa episode) raises doubts, I don't think it explains what I find to be Tom Cruise's Zombie-like demeanor. Maybe I'm imagining things, but he's always struck me as somehow vacuous (smart, yet hollow). If his Scientology were to explain my reaction, I would also see John Travolta in a similar light, but, on the contrary, I feel, whatever his calling, that has a great range as an actor. Lots of people with odd beliefs have a charismatic presence, including the great con-man L. Ron Hubbard himself.
Having worked at a variety of jobs that all offer significant challenges and even risk to life and limb, but without great financial compensation (including, I'm sad to say, film production), I'll be happy to see so-called A-list actors' heaping salaries fizzle down to manageable proportions.
"Alan Brooks" wrote..
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