Hollywood Production Deals Back On The Rise

March 14, 2011

Producers Guild of AmericaHollywood producers can all breathe a sigh of relief because harmful cost cutting by the major studios appears to have abated, albeit for the time being. In the past six months, production deals at the major studios have increased by 5% to a total of 152. Big names like Roy Lee, Darren Aronofsky, John Hamburg, Mary Parent and Steve Zaillian have all struck deals in the last six months. But producers are still facing tougher times than a decade ago, when studio deals were 48% greater than today. In 2000, 292 production deals were listed; in 2001 this fell to 241. That number remained consistent for about six years following 2001. Then in 2007-2008 they plummeted to 184, and then to a gloomy 133 in 2010.

The 2000 edition of Facts on Pacts tallied an eye-popping 79 production deals at three movie studios alone, these being Dreamworks, Miramax and New Line, which have since morphed into smaller versions of themselves. Today Miramax has zero deals, New Line has three, and Dreamworks only four. Needless to say, the slight increase in studio deals has been welcome news amongst producers in tinsel town. Twentieth Century Fox has increased its number of deals from 19-22, and Fox is considered to be one of the most cost conscious studios of the major six. These pacts included deals with such celebs as Jennifer Lopez, Bryan Singer and Simon Kinsburg. 

Another of the big six, Disney, has kept its number of deals consistent at 23, which has exceeded expectations. Warner Bros is in the lead though, achieving the largest number of producer deals at 33. Even though Warner dropped Johnny Depp, it still has the biggest clutch of actors in production deals. These included Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Steve Carell, Clint Eastwood, Leonardo DiCaprio, Zac Effron and Robert Downey Jr.

One of Hollywood’s biggest producers, Mark Gordon, feels the number of deals won’t decline anytime soon, even though studios are cutting back and focusing more on franchises and tent poles. Gordon said, “I really feel like things are moving again, it’s a very good time for producers.”

But Daniel Alter, an independent producer, has a different opinion to that of Mark Gordon. Alter said, “Producing has really become thankless, I grew up in L.A. worshipping producers like Robert Evans, but there’s really a squeeze on us now, particularly if you don’t have a studio deal. I can’t imagine starting out today as a producer.” Alter has produced independent films such as Hitman (2007) and The Apparition (post production). Alter went on to say, “When I’m out approaching videogame companies about rights, I’m the one who’s making the calls, not a development executive. But I don’t have that asterisk (of a studio deal) by my name, which would make my job so much easier. Plus, if I do get something set up with a studio, it’s always a concern that I’ll just be pushed aside in favor of a producer with a studio deal.”

One consequence of cost-cutting by the major studios has led to producers feeling increased pressure to shoot films on a much tighter schedule. The studios are now demanding that most mid-range movies are shot in less than 60 days. Unknown (2011) was shot in 46 days, Hall Pass (2011) in 48 days and Red Riding Hood (2011) in 42 days. Sources inside the Producers Guild of America have said that the downsizing of shooting days has occurred because technology’s speeding up the production process.

A co-prexy at the Producers Guild of America, Hawk Koch said, “It’s not just because of increased studio pressure to reduce costs wherever possible, but technology really is catching up at a time of belt tightening, so you can make films faster than most films are made.” Koch, who has produced such movies as Gorky Park (1983) and Heaven Can Wait (1978) added that, “You don’t need two months to make a good film. Black Swan (2010), got made in 23 days.”

Mark Gordon stated that smaller cameras and digital editing are accelerating the pace of production. He said, “You can get the dailies sent to your iPad, which takes a lot of the uncertainty out of the process, and you have to adjust, because there’s a major change in technology every six months that pushes the process forward and saves money that may get plowed back into production deals next year.”

Contact the Author: MikeStringer@ArtsandEntertainmentPlayground.com

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