All this week, Film School Rejects presents a daily dose of our favorite articles from the archive. Originally published in September 2011, Ashe Cantrell pulls back the curtain on the Hollywood conspiracy machine…
You may already be a film industry cynic. Maybe you think Hollywood is a barren wasteland, devoid of creativity and originality. Maybe you’re sick of seeing talented people get ignored and vapid hacks get splashed all over the trades. Maybe you’re tired of 3D everything and having to re-buy your movies every five to ten years.
I’m not here to dissuade you of any of that. Hell no, I’m here to make it worse. Get ready, because this is some of the rottenest shit of which the film industry is capable. These are the things so terrible that Hollywood has to cover them up, lest God see their sin and smite them accordingly (and keep various government entities and lawyers off their backs, of course). If you still had any kind thoughts toward Hollywood, I suggest you prepare yourself for crushing disappointment.
And now back to the shit storm, already in progress:
6. Tricky Hollywood Accounting
Here’s a basic example of Hollywood Accounting: A studio makes a movie. The studio distributes the movie itself, and although the distributor is technically a separate company, they both belong to the same parent company. Also, the distribution arm sets whatever fees it wants. If they want to charge themselves eleventy quintillion dollars for distribution, they totally can. Then, even if the film earns billions of dollars in box office receipts, they’re still technically in debt (to themselves) and thus haven’t turned a profit.
Sound ridiculous? It happens all the freaking time. David Prowse, the guy who was in the Darth Vader costume in the original trilogy of Star Wars (before being ousted by that douche Hayden Christensen in the special edition) has never been paid for Return of the Jedi because it hasn’t turned a profit after nearly 30 years. That’s after dozens of home video and theatrical re-releases. (All the merchandising money goes to Lucas directly, of course.)
Similarly, someone leaked Warner Bros.’ accounting sheet for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix onto the internet, showing that the film that had grossed about $1 billion worldwide had lost $167 million on paper.
Winston Groom, the writer of Forrest Gump was told that the film based on his work wasn’t profitable. Of course, he got the last laugh when they came to him asking if they could turn the sequel, Gump and Co. into a film as well, and he reportedly told them, “I cannot, in good conscience, allow money to be wasted on a failure.” In other words, “Go fuck yourself.”
And then there’s Art Buchwald, whose spec script got stolen by Paramount (remember that, it’s going to come up later), and got turned into Coming to America. When he took them to court and sued for a percentage of the profit, Paramount was totally cool with it, because according to their books, it hadn’t made any kind of profit, so they didn’t owe him one red fucking cent. The judge later ruled that it was “unconscionable” for Paramount not to pay Buchwald something in a settlement. Otherwise, he’d have to ask Paramount to open their books for the courts to review. Paramount quickly backed down and settled with Buchwald instead.