Monday, September 22, 2014

The cost of movies then and now.

A bunch of my friends and I have breakfast on Venice Beach every Sunday since 1994 and our conversation goes from politics to movies to world news. But mostly movies and TV.

There's a lot of things that have changed since 1994 (I chose this year because it started a lot of business for me) and among the biggest was the cost of the average TV movie or MOW as we used to call it.

I worked for Paramount, ABC-TV, Hallmark, Lifetime and a dozen independent films some of which were features and some MOW's. The average budget then was around $3 million dollars and going up to around $8 million.

Around 2005 the MOW was slowly dying, reality TV took over, much cheaper and still good ratings. Survivor killed the MOW in out minds. In fact we (writers and producers) even had two parties at the Roosevelt Hotel on Hollywood Boulevard, famous for hosting the first Academy Awards in 1929. 

We, meaning about a hundred or so, named these parties "The End Of The TV Movie" and we joked and laughed although we all knew it was the death of a lot of our careers. There were no more parties after the second one.

The only producers who were still making movies was Hallmark and Lifetime and, to some extent, ABC Family. And everyone of us were knocking on their doors. But nobody was making movies for $3 million anymore. And the networks could tell us how much they would pay for a movie, take it or leave it.

Then something else began to happen.


New rules were beginning to appear in the form of digital video. VHS was always bad and DVDs were pretty good but basically producers found out that they could make movies for far less with all the new toys. Need a storm in an ocean? Go to CGI.

My last movie was in 2010 for Hallmark and it beat any cost that I had expected before. 

It cost under $1 million.

And it looked great. Just as good as the MOW's I did in the 90's.

So now we had Hallmark and Lifetime to sell to but it got even better for the networks because they wanted movies even less expensive.  A friend of mine just finished a movie for one of the networks for $750,000.

What should the movie cost, using 1994 figures?

How about $4,814,817.00

So what you're saying is "then how do you make them for $750k?

Two things; first digital allows you to use CGI to put in a whole street for a fraction of the cost doing it in real life. My friend created Rockefeller Center with CGI and didn't have to actually go there with a crew and parking and all that.

The other thing is controversial; Unions and non-union.

Unions are still used by the networks and studios but if someone makes a non-union movie with non-union crews (or union people who need the money) the networks are only too happy to buy it.

As for screenplays, we writers still get union wages although we're giving lower fees to lower budget movies as are directors. 

So right now the markets for TV movies is almost the same as 2010, Hallmark, Lifetime, SyFy and occasional other markets.

So here we are, years later and lots more writers and directors flowing from universities with hopes of movies or tv movies or anything.

But the problem is that there's fewer jobs.

And there's going to be even less jobs the way digital is going. And more film students looking for jobs anywhere.

At least I can continue to play with my software and make little docs that give me something to do between screenplay gigs.

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