Monday, October 21, 2013

Looking at How 'Instructions Not Included' is An Example of What Hollywood is Missing

Scott did some contemplating of the Hollywood model this weekend, and also looked at a small picture that may be an example of a more successful formula for the big studios.  The current mindset of big budget spectaculars may not be the license to print money that many believe, and a small Spanish picture could be the template for more consistent financial success.

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This past summer saw a lot of conversation appear and revolve around the big budget format of Hollywood. This dialogue was intensified by Steven Speilberg and George Lucas giving a warning that the high budget system of Hollywood could cause studios to implode. The reason being, a film with a budget of $15 million that is a flop is a lot different than a movie with a $300 million budget that flops. If a studio has too many films that end up losing tens of millions of dollars (and hundreds of millions in some cases) it could destroy the studio.

When I look at it, I see the root that is the exact same reason as to why you have Duck Dynasty on television. If one thing works in one instance, then instead of looking at all of the possible reasons why it was a success the common course of action seems to be to simply try and recreate it. Just look at how many similar reality television shows have spawned from Pawn Stars or Deadliest Catch. The reasoning is that if there is money for one, there will be money for a replicate.

Where I am heading with this is the billion dollar desire of studios. To catch a film that will hit ten digit numbers and turn into a franchise. The franchise could equal theme park rides, lunch boxes, video games and any other form of profit that you and I could think of. Of the top ten grossing movies of all time, eight of those movies are from established franchises, with another movie about to become a franchise (Avatar). This seems to lend to the clamour for Hollywood to find new franchises instead of exploring new material. Of the top ten movies, the average budget is $207 million with only two of the movies having a budget under $200 million, and only one of those being under $100 million (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King at $94 million).

I honestly believe that these statistics that I mentioned (as well as other analysis we could do as far as the top 25 movies of all time, but will not for the sake of getting to the point) have been the formula that Hollywood is trying to replicate. Instead of taking a look at perhaps what each of those movies meant to audiences, how it connected, and other root cause analysis, it is just a format of Established Material + High Budget + Special Effects = Billion Dollar Franchise. In the scrambling to do this there have been a number of major failures that have cost hundreds of millions of dollar. Disney, we are looking at you (thanks to John Carter and The Lone Ranger).

Why do I bring this all up? Well the answer lies with the Spanish/English language movie Instructions Not Included. This movie, directed by Eugenio Derbez, is the highest grossing limited release movie of the year, currently at a domestic tally of $43 million dollars. That is pretty amazing for a movie that has never been in more than 978 theatres at one time. This movie is relevant for two reasons, which I will now delve into.

Firstly, it is a reminder to Hollywood executives that there is a lot of money that could be had from lower budget movies, currently having grossed $84 million world-wide. At a time when only big explosive flicks seem to be greenlit for production, seeing this example of a movie that returns its $5 million investment sixteen times over is argument against the stringent application of the current high budget format. Creating movies with higher and higher budgets is keeping the kerosene closer and closer to an open flame. Sure, it is nice and handy when you need it, but it can also be disastrous.

R.I.P.D. may have lost $100 million dollars this summer. The Lone Ranger may have lost well over $100 million as well. If one company suffers multiple losses like that over a short period of time, it could spell the end. So why would they devote themselves to a format that could bring about their demise instead of focusing on lower budget movies that could bring in a much higher percentage of profit?

The answer is for that billion dollar franchise. Common thought never seems to be about innovation, but about replication. What has been done successfully could be successfully re-created, appears to be the driving force. This leads me into the second reason for this article, and the more relevant reason, which is a recognition of the success of Instructions Not Included and attempted replication. The replication I am referring to here is not the modest and logical approach to budget and profit, but to the mining of the Latino audience for profit.

The Hispanic population currently makes up approximately 20% of the American population, with a projection to hit over thirty percent by 2060. Tapping into that market is something that media already has on its radar, and Instructions Not Included may have brought even more attention to the money piles that Hollywood can sense are just waiting to be found. Blumhouse Productions (Insidious, The Purge, Paranormal Activity) are about to release a Hispanic spin-off of Paranormal Activity called, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones. This represents the problem that I see on the horizon, which is not understanding that people just want to see quality movies and instead packaging standard fare that merely boasts the skin colour of the demographic they are trying to hit.

The movie may end up being a success, but I am doubtful. At the core it is just following a formula and trying to recapture success, the same root cause behind the nauseating amount of disastrous blockbusters this past summer. Swap the actors out from previous Paranormal Activity movies (which are all quite white and in rich suburban neighbourhoods) for Hispanic actors (which appear to be poor and surrounded by gangs, representing just an understanding of stereotypes and not a real sense of the people group) and that is seen as enough. I doubt that Hollywood understands that people may want more than stereotypes, that they may just want quality material that they can relate to (a financially successful example of that being Instructions Not Included). I also doubt that they understand that original scripts are something to really invest in (the two highest grossing movies of all time, and the only two movies to break $2 billion world-wide, are original scripts).

The article is over… what follows are just some fun numbers

- Instructions Not Included beat out movies starring big Hollywood names such as Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Vin Diesel, Robert DeNiro, Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, and Jim Carey (twice)

- it was able to out-perform new franchise attempts in The Host, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, and Beautiful Creatures

- it beat out established franchises in Texas Chainsaw 3D, Kick-Ass 2, and Scary Movie 5

- it’s world-wide total is only $2 million behind Michael Bay’s Pain and Gain starring Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson

- it looks to be more profitable than high budget blockbusters The Lone Ranger, Oblivion, R.I.P.D., White House Down, Jack the Giant Slayer, After Earth, and possibly Pacific Rim

- low budget movies The Purge, Insidious Chapter 2, and Instructions Not Included have a combined domestic gross of $186 million, a combined world-wide gross of $287 million on a combined budget of $13 million

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