How a Hollywood Art Director Does Money

"I work for an average of three shows a year. Last year I had a total of about eight weeks in between shows. Some people just collect unemployment between shows, but I am lucky enough to have a side gig that hires me back whenever I am available. It pays about $1,300 a week, so it’s way better than the $450 a week that you get in California for unemployment."

Chatting with a Writer-Producer of ’90s TV

Working with Dick was kind of surreal -- he kept asking me things on the set like “Is this funny?” and I’d nod like an idiot. I mean, who am I to tell Dick van Dyke something he came up with wasn’t funny?

Movie Investing for Those With Deep Pockets

Putting up capital isn’t usually how corn-fed, dreamy-eyed boys and girls across America hope to break into the Entertainment industry. As of this week, though, it might be the most accessible way for them to do it. The New York Times reports:

A start-up, Junction Investments, plans to open for business on Wednesday, allowing wealthy individuals to invest in movies alongside veteran film financiers.

At the start, the company will offer an online chance to back “A Hologram for the King,” an adaptation of the Dave Eggers novel that will star Tom Hanks. Soon after, would-be mini-moguls will be able to invest in “Triple Nine,” a thriller featuring Kate Winslet, the “12 Years a Slave” star Chiwetel Ejiofor and Woody Harrelson.

The Junction Investments-backed films are films that will be made anyway, with or without your cash. They are not Tinkerbells that will die if you don’t clap, like the Veronica Mars movie, which became a three-dimensional manifestation of an audience’s enthusiasm after its on-a-whim launching on Kickstarter.

The Gender Pay Gap Goes All The Way To the Top

Even Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams aren't immune from the 77-cents-on-the-dollar thing.

Melissa McCarthy is Saving Hollywood (You’re Welcome)

Melissa McCarthy meets very few of Hollywood’s usual specifications for stars. At 43, she is not young. Nor is she “hot” in that prototypical Polly Pocket kind of way. She is not even a novelty, since has been around doing solid TV work for decades. But now, suddenly, according to Vulture, she is making it rain, big time, on the big screen:

There is no other star in Hollywood delivering as consistently, and in such great numbers, and with so little assistance, as Melissa McCarthy. On July 2, McCarthy’s Tammy will arrive in theaters amid high expectations. Her five most recent movies have earned more than $650 million in the U.S., which is remarkable enough on its own. But even more impressive is what happens when you consider only the films in which she was a top-billed star, excluding the hits that had help from a brand name (The Hangover III) or an ensemble cast (BridesmaidsThis Is 40). Comedies Identity Thief and The Heat — which were rated R and had little to recommend them besides the appeal of McCarthy — made tons of money anyway ($135 million and $160 million domestic, respectively).

In other words, she is turning her work on the silver screen into solid gold.

Movies Make $2 Billion in 2014 So Far Thanks in Part to Women and Children

Writing checks, it is still remarkably easy to slip up and write “2013.” Winter continues its gleefully brutal assault on much of the United States. The new year seems to have hardly begun — and yet, in these mewling kitten days of 2014, Hollywood has already collected $2 billion, Box Office Mojo reports:

As of Sunday, total domestic box office earnings have surpassed $2 billion in 2014. To date, the box office is up around eight percent from last year. If that pattern continues, 2014 would come close to being the first $12 billion year.

When speaking of billions, two is a lot, twice the number of cars in the entire world, and twelve is a-LOT-a-lot, the age of the oldest star clusters. What is behind this tremendous success? Well, a couple of Oscar-season carryovers from 2013, including “Frozen,” which won Best Animated Film and Best Original Song AND is officially the fastest-selling digital release ever; and “American Hustle,” which was all flirting and no followthrough, awards-wise, but still an entertaining entry.

Three 2014 originals of varying quality round out the top five earners of the year so far: “The Lego Movie” (with a score of 82 on Metacritic), “Lone Survivor” (60), and “Ride Along” (41). That is to say, Hollywood had made an ocean liner full of cash in just a few months, primarily from the following: two “prestige” pictures, one about women and one co-starring women; one highly regarded children’s film; one gritty war drama; and one urban buddy cop comedy. Not one is a sequel, or based on a comic book, or a board game, or a ride at Disneyland.

Does it really matter, you may ask. Even if original stories, taking seriously the experiences and points of view of children, women, African-Americans, soldiers, and toys, are making bank, will Hollywood ever change?

Job of the Day: Stuntman, Best Boy, Gaffer, Grip

Asking you ever wanted to know about what film industry jobs pay, or don’t pay, as the case may be, you can find out in this fascinating Hollywood Reporter dissection of salaries. For instance, Jonah Hill only got paid $60K for his Oscar-nominated role in The Wolf of Wall Street. Leo, by contrast, made more than $25 million.

Lest you harbor any fantasies that it’s a meritocracy over there in Tinseltown, Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson made a mind-boggling $52 million this past year, and “Crystal the monkey earned $108,000 in 2012 for appearing in nine episodes of NBC’s Animal Practice.” Well, at least she earned it. 

Entertainment lawyers easily make $2m – $5m a year. Extras make $148 a day and more if have to abase themselves by wearing a hairpiece. The white dudes in charge of late night are doing fine. Did you know Colbert makes $15m at Comedy Central and is set to make even more when he moves to network TV? But that’s still chump change compared to some: “The Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart remains the top earner at $25 million to $30 million a year.” 

Producers do quite nicely. Publicists, not so much. And as for stunt men, well, that’s basically a labor of love:

Movies That Pass the Bechdel Test Do Well at the Box Office

To measure whether women had any depth in works of fiction, cartoonist Alison Bechdel came up with a test: there must be at least two named female characters who talk to each other, and the two women should have a conversation with each other about something other than a man.

How do films that pass the Bechdel test fare at the box office? FiveThirtyEight analyzed some data to find out:

Using Bechdel test data, we analyzed 1,615 films released from 1990 to 2013 to examine the relationship between the prominence of women in a film and that film’s budget and gross profits. We found that the median budget of movies that passed the test — those that featured a conversation between two women about something other than a man — was substantially lower than the median budget of all films in the sample. What’s more, we found that the data doesn’t appear to support the persistent Hollywood belief that films featuring women do worse at the box office. Instead, we found evidence that films that feature meaningful interactions between women may in fact have a better return on investment, overall, than films that don’t.

Are you listening Hollywood? As Ester pointed out recently movies featuring women have helped bring in $2 billion to the box office this year so far. It seems that Hollywood would rather invest in movies with lots of explosions above all else, though.

Can God Make It In Hollywood? Crunching the Numbers

Looking to the premiere of Darren Aronofsky’s upcoming epic film Noah, starring Russell Crowe and The Lord, possibly in that order, the New York Times asks, “Can God Make It In Hollywood?” Religious movies do not always make it past the gatekeepers, and even when they do, they often fall flat with audiences, since viewers would rather watch cars go vroom! and robots go pow! than somber, toga-wearing men in beards talk about sin. The Times reports:

Once, studios routinely made movies with overtly religious themes for the mainstream audience. Classics like “The Ten Commandments,” “Quo Vadis” and “A Man for All Seasons” — each of which was nominated for a best picture Oscar — were box-office winners with a wide range of viewers. But after years of neglect or occasional hostility, the question now is whether Hollywood can still find common ground with religious audiences.

So, is God box office poison? I decided to investigate, using sophisticated analytic measures: I typed “God” into the search engine at Box Office Mojo. Here is what I found:

• The highest-grossing movie with “God” in the title is Godzilla (1998) which has made $136,000,000 worldwide since its release. The wrathful, rampaging character of Godzilla is not that different from the world-destroying character of God in the Noah story, come to think of it.

• The next three highest-grossing movies with “God” in the title are The Godfather, The Godfather Part III, and The Godfather Part II, which is funny since if you ask an aficionado s/he will probably say that Part II is the best film, followed by the original. Also funny: The Godfather has made a whopping $135,000,000 which is more than its two sequels put together. (Sequels! Turns out they are not always the surest and most profitable bet.)

• Next comes a comedy from 1977 called Oh, God! that I’ve never heard of, and I was a Film major. It made $40,000,000 domestically, which is roughly the advertising budget of a movie like Transformers.

Perhaps the Times is right? Or perhaps I am going about this the wrong way.