How Does the Film Industry Actually Make Money

Adam Davidson takes a look at the strange industry that is the Hollywood Studio and how their business model works.

I’ve been trying to come to terms with two seemingly irreconcilable facts. First, “Men in Black 3” has made more than $550 million worldwide. Second, while a representative from the parent company of Columbia Pictures told me that the movie is now “in the win column,” it seemed until recently as if Columbia might actually lose money on it. How could that be? It’s not so complicated. Its production costs were close to $250 million; worldwide marketing most likely added at least that much; and a big chunk of the ticket sales go to theaters and distributors.

There must be an easier way to make money. For the cost of “Men in Black 3,” for instance, the studio could have become one of the world’s largest venture-capital funds, thereby owning a piece of hundreds of promising start-ups. Instead, it purchased the rights to a piece of intellectual property, paid a fortune for a big star and has no definitive idea why its movie didn’t make a huge profit. Why is anyone in the film industry?

All business requires guessing, but future predilections of moviegoers are especially opaque. If a large company wants to introduce a new car, it can at least base its predictions, in part, on factors like where oil prices are headed. Movie executives, on the other hand, come up with a host of new theories each summer about what audiences want — 3-D tent poles, 2-D tent poles, vampires, comics, board games and so on — then, sometimes over the course of a weekend, ricochet toward a new theory. Will the tepid economics of “Men in Black 3” spell trouble for “The Amazing Spider-Man,” this holiday weekend’s big release? Who knows.

Unlike other decades-old industries, Hollywood not only has a hard time forecasting, but it also has difficulty analyzing past results. Why was “The Hunger Games” such a big hit? Because it had a built-in audience? Because it starred Jennifer Lawrence? Because it was released around spring break? The business is filled with analysts who claim to have predictive powers, but the fact that a vast majority of films fail to break even proves that nobody knows anything for sure.

The New York Times | Read the Full Article