What’s next for major studios

We’re nearly two months removed from Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm and all I can think about is what’s next for the major studios in Hollywood.

While many have been solely focused on the recent news of future Star Wars installments, and deservedly so, my attention has been fixated on the bigger picture. Disney is buying up properties left and right with their never-ending revenue stream, leaving everyone else to pick through the scraps. It could get ugly.

Disney CEO, Bob Iger, spoke candidly in a recent interview about his lack of confidence in the animation giant’s pursuit of original material, believing efforts are better spent in the purchasing of established brands, thus Marvel and Lucasfilm being bought. Sadly, Iger’s not alone in this line of thinking.

I asked Sony Pictures co-chairman, Amy Pascal, in a Q&A whether the studio had any interest in slightly diverting from their “tent-pole” strategy of big budget films for original small budget ideas, to which I got a genuine smile and emphatic, “No!”

As we’ve all come to learn, Hollywood for the last decade has shied away from green-lighting unknown source material. That’s why all of the talented writers have left the silver screen and flocked to television. Agents and studio execs practically have a coronary anytime an original spec lands on their desk because there’s no known money in them. If you don’t have a history, proven fan-base, a book, or even board game attached to your project, you can pretty much forget about it. One highly esteemed agent told me while I was in film school, “write a spec script to showcase your talent or because you’ve had this great story festering in your head for two years, but once you’re done just tuck it away in the bottom of your desk drawer because it’s never going to see the light of day ever again.” Encouraging, no?

I get it, it makes perfect sense when you look at the dollar signs. Why make a low budget original spec for $20 million and get a return of $30 mill, when you can spend $220 mill and get back over a billion? I’m looking at you, Avengers.

Disney’s purchases set off alarms around town because they’ll essentially be able to corner to the summer blockbuster market for the next decade with light sabers and super heroes. Everyone has to react, and react swiftly.

We could see some of the “Big Six” (Paramount, Warners, Sony, Disney, Universal, Fox) go after the mini-majors (Dreamworks, Dreamworks Animation, Lionsgate, Metro-Goldwyn Mayer, Relativity, The Weinstein Company). Although you could probably cross Dreamworks/Animation off that last since the big six each have their own animation studios, but that isn’t to say Dreamworks wouldn’t be a huge get. Lionsgate also becomes an attractive option and would make a lot of sense for Sony to bolster their demographic share, but that’s also just as unlikely

The problem for everyone is that there isn’t another Lucasfilm, Marvel, or DC just sitting around waiting to be poached. Well established IP’s don’t just fall out of the sky, and though few want to admit it, everyone is aware the “well” has run dry in Hollywood. However, there is a market that currently makes more money and has untapped potential, despite having a poor history on the big screen: video games. All the studios are paying attention to them, but few are doing anything about it. Instead of just sitting on their hands waiting for an arms race for rights they’d be wise to start locking up deals now even if they don’t plan to do anything with them immediately.

Luckily for us, Hollywood is just as reactionary as it is obstinate. I do imagine we’ll see a major change or two within the next three to five years, whether that’s with gaming as I just mentioned, or even possibly opening back up to original stories, but I’m going on the record as saying to keep an eye on an unexpected source: Amazon.

Just take a look at what they’ve done in the publishing industry with their ability to help unknown authors self-publish. They’ve also started CreateSpace so users can upload video, music and other content so tt isn’t absurd to think they couldn’t refine it and start their own motion-picture digital distribution division. The brand and trust is already established, and most of all, the need is perpetual. Indie and small budget films can circumvent the big studios or pandering at film festivals by digitally distributing and relying on customer/critic reviews to spread word of mouth. I know it may sound a little far reaching right now, but if I’m a studio exec, I’m taking a long hard look at partnering with Amazon because the payout could be huge.

So here’s to hoping for a return of the golden age in cinema, where story was king and Battleship was still just a game you played when it was raining outside.

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