Wouldn’t it be great if Hollywood just… chilled out for five minutes? Maybe a year?
Silence is supposed to be good for reflection. That’s why we all lie awake at night, thinking about things we have been actively avoiding because now there’s nothing to distract us.
Maybe we all need a moment…from all of Hollywood. Figure out these scandals, call the cops on a few skeevy producers, and not need to worry about what big-budget flick the bad person is starring in today.
‘Hollywood’ is more of a concept than a thing. It’s a district where lots of filmmaking studios grew up around each other, making their own films and eventually growing into the giant studios we know today. Places like Warner Brothers, Disney, Paramount, Lionsgate, and Metro-Goldwyn Mayer (the lion one).
And I guess when I say I want Hollywood to shut up for a second, those are the kinds of studios I’m thinking about. The big ones. 20th Century Fox. Disney. Weinstein. Columbia.
For most of Hollywood’s history, a film has been a balance between the vision and the budget. This meant that most studios couldn’t pull off massive sequel-spanning sagas or a massive animation gimmick like Avatar in 2009, whose $237 million budget is now similar to modern blockbuster budgets of between $200-$300 million, while movies like Spider-man 3 ($320 million) or Tangled ($318 million.) Most feature films are about half that, staying in the $100 million range.
With Hollywood Accounting, though, it’s hard to know exactly what’s going on with films and what the true costs are. ‘Hollywood Accounting’ is a way to describe the ‘creative’ reporting methods of expenditures—such as hiring a different branch of the same company for a job, so it’s put down as an expenditure, even though money did not, in fact, leave the company. It’s a way to reduce the amount of taxes films may have to pay, which is also why Hollywood keeps producing movies which ‘fail’ at the box office— they may have failed at the inflated cost reports, but the real cost may have been very different, and the studio actually still gained money on a ‘failure.’
It’s a big, complicated web of money, which of course makes it easy to throw around and hard to see straight, especially when the goal is even more money, rather than something like… being comfortable enough to make rent and art at the same time.
We are not going into the details of ‘what is art’ in this article. I am not going to argue one Superhero movie is more art than a Comedy Western, but we all agree that somewhere in there, films are sometimes pieces of art.
And much the same way I’d like to see the art world separate itself some from a bidding war, I would really like to see Hollywood maybe… chill a little bit on the cash flow. Not everything has to be a big-budget blockbuster.
Maybe it’s time to bring back the ‘B Movie.’
B Movies are named so because they are not A-listers. They are probably not the film you set out to go see, but the original B-movie would be shown after the A showing in the theater. Nowadays they usually refer to a movie made on a very cheap budget, and so tends to lack the polish usually seen with big movies now. They rarely won Oscars and were either ‘same old story all the time’ or a fistful of rainbow spaghetti hitting the wall whether it stuck or not.
The sort of memetic absurdity of B Movies tends to mean sometimes extremely expensive projects like Tommy Wiseau’s The Room get included in the category, along with other cult films, but that’s not really the type of B Movie I’m talking about.
I’m talking about the Dirt Cheap Stuff.
Halloween was made on a budget of $325,000–which sounds like a lot until you remember the lower range of most movies is $200,000,000, so, six hundred times as much. Friday the Thirteenth went down similarly, with a budget of $500,000, four hundred times under the average budget.
Lots of horror movies came out of B-movies, as horror is a genre that’s always trying to find a different angle to use. It’s not just horror, though. Little Miss Sunshine, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and Juno were all made under 10 mil. Napoleon Dynamite, the original Mad Max, and Rocky were less than a million to make, down to $200,000 even.
The Blair Witch Project was $60,000. You could go to college for about a year for that, or buy three reasonably priced cars. They hired amateur actors, bought a domain page and camera equipment, and harassed people for three days in the woods with rocks and twigs to make the terror authentic.
Paranormal Activity was made for $15,000. The price of a used car.
You don’t need to go that extreme to make a movie on a lower budget, though. As humorous as it’d be, we don’t need Hollywood to crank out a thousand 15k films for a year. But it would be nice to downsize and separate out a little bit. There are already lots of smaller, independent companies making films. Some you also might’ve heard of.
A24 helped bring us Moonlight, Swiss Army Man, and Midsomar.
LAIKA is a small animation studio that created Coraline, Corpse Bride, and Kubo and the Two Strings.
Blumhouse studios pride itself on small budgets and wide creative freedom for its directors— bringing us Get Out, The Purge, and the 2018 Halloween remake.
It’s been proven plenty of times: budget doesn’t make the movie. As much as everyone remembers Jame Cameron’s Avatar for being extremely expensive and cutting edge for its time, I’ve never really met anyone who liked the movie—including people who did like the blue cat people. That’s not to say people disliked it, but it just… slid off everyone’s cultural back. Meanwhile, the roughly equally expensive The Dark Knight is still resonating enough to get compared to every new Batman-universe film today.
It’s not that we don’t like some big-budget movies, or that they don’t make a splash, but we could at least take a little time off to make need the mother of invention again.
Not so much need that people starve, or that another Debbie Reynolds needs to dance until she’s bleeding, but maybe just enough to be comfortable taking some risks, because what you have is something you can afford to lose.