There have been occasional reports in the trades about falling star power, and declining star salaries, perks, and participations. Going back to the 80s, star power was the undisputed driver of foreign sales and presales, and big stars commanded huge salaries and massive perk packages from over zealous indie “studios.”
Star power is based on predictability. In the 80s, agents molded their star clients into massive sure-things, and viciously protected their trajectories. Moviegoers and film buyers both loved it because they knew what they were paying for.
But as stars have spread their creative wings beyond the shackles of their established genres, they’ve become inconsistent, and this unpredictability has the unintended effect of making buyers uncertain about a star’s value.
PRODUCER: This is a George Clooney movie so I expect top dollar!
FOREIGN BUYER: Which George Clooney am I buying?
PRODUCER: (puzzled) “THE” George Clooney
FOREIGN BUYER: Yeah, well, the Leatherheads Clooney tanker or the Oceans 11 Clooney blockbuster?
PRODUCER: Well, I don’t know. But, I can promise it’s not “The Facts of Life” Clooney
Still, the impression (more like resentment) persists among producers that a movie can’t get made without big stars.
With the extinction of super gap, the continuing decline of senior lenders, and the overall scarcity of equity, more and more dependence is being placed on foreign presales (and the credit-strapped buyers that back them). Since films are still being sold and deals are still being made, somebody, somewhere is putting a value on projects that everybody can live with. If stars are no longer the #1 factor, who is? It’s not the director. It’s not the producer. It’s the writer.
In an uncertain world, certitude is king, so unless it’s a genre star doing what they’re known for (Vin Diesel with a gun, Van Damme kicking butt, or Cameron Diaz in a romantic comedy), the only thing certain in filmmaking is the script. Everything else is performance risk.
Buyers have been burned repeatedly by stars no longer being a sure thing, and over the past five years, they’ve placed the quality and marketability of the script into the #1 indicator of a film’s commercial potential.
How far have stars fallen? Well, the producer is now the #2 indicator. Again, it all goes back to predictability. Producers tend to be more consistent in the production level of the movies they create than actors and directors. High budget indie producers ($20m+ budgets) don’t generally stray to the $4m space without a compelling reason. Producers
tend to stay within certain budgetary strata, hopefully with a steady incline.
If the script tells a buyer what story he can expect, and the producer is the best indicator for production value, where do stars and the director fit in? (After all, a big star’s big salary is supposedly predicated on the reasonable assurance they can deliver the crucial opening weekend box office.) They are certainly critical factors in the valuation of a film package, but their importance only tends to increase if confidence in the script decreases.
I can’t speak for studios, but in the indie marketplace, this fundamental shift could be good news for producers. A solid script and a proven producer might be a bigger value to buyers than a star’s name.
What do you think?