High-street Hollywood: UK supermarkets as movie studios

Paul Raven @ 11-08-2010

While Hollywood dithers about, lobbying governments and suing its customers in an effort to maintain its box office numbers (which, despite all the moaning about piracy from them and about crappy cookie-cutter movies from us, are riding higher than ever before), new players are looking to get a slice of the action. Enter UK supermarket Tesco, who have started producing straight-to-DVD films for sale in their own stores [via TechDirt].

It looks good on paper – lots of middlemen being cut out of the loop, for a start – but quality control will be an issue, not to mention the VHS-era stigma around films that skip a theatrical release. But whether it works isn’t really the point: the point is that you don’t have to be in the movie business to make and sell movies any more… and that should be much more worrying to Hollywood than piracy.


The Hollywood Stock Exchange, and bands with shareholders

Paul Raven @ 26-02-2010

If investment bankers can gamble on the success of big-money projects, why can’t the rest of us? Well, of course, we can – but those sort of big-money projects aren’t the sort of thing that get us normal folk excited, nor the sort of thing we understand (or think we understand) sufficiently to throw our money after.

But if you scratch a film buff, underneath you’ll find someone who thinks they can predict how well a movie will do once it gets released… and Hollywood reckons that’s an as-yet untapped source of funding for big-budget blockbusters. Hence HSX, the Hollywood Stock Exchange, is set to re-launch in April of this year as a real-money commodity exchange [via SlashDot]:

Since 1998, HSX has allowed just-for-fun traders to buy and sell valueless shares in Hollywood films based on forecasts of what the pics will ring up. Once launched, a new HSX site will list current and imminent movie releases with their projected four-week domestic grosses and allow exchange users to take long or short positions on the films.

A formal announcement about rules and guidelines for HSX users is expected closer to the launch. The exchange hopes to lure hobbyist investors as well as industry professionals, though the latter will be prohibited from improper insider activity.

For instance, distribution execs with access to early boxoffice data will be barred from making trades on the exchange after a film has opened. But film financiers will be allowed to invest in HSX an amount equal to a minority percentage of their total investment in a movie.

(Oh, man, you just know there’s gonna be some spectacular gaming of this system at some point, assuming it lasts long enough for gaming it to be worthwhile. It’s just too tempting, especially for such a historically desperate and greedy industry.)

Investors wishing to participate in the exchange will buy “contracts” priced at one one-millionth of a film’s projected boxoffice, with films to be listed on the exchange from the time productions are announced in the industry trade papers. Trading will begin six months before a movie’s anticipated wide release.

I make no claims to financial expertise of any kind, but I think I’d still assume that the safest way to gamble on the future of Hollywood properties would be to invest in something else entirely…

But a thought occurred to me while reading about HSX, namely that something like a stock purchasing model might act as a sort of bolt-on or extension to the crowdfunding models for creatives that we were discussing the other week. Say you’re in a band, you’ve done a few national tours, self-released an album, got some buzz going. How do you take things to the next step?

Systems like the newly-in-administration SellaBand are all well and good, but there’s still an intermediary middle-man involved, and the investment is conditional as well as project-specific; so why not just float your band (or your two-person animation studio, or yourself as a writer, or your guerrilla puppetry theatre mob or whatever) like a public company, offering shares to potential investors in exchange for their influence and input on what the band does? Product replaces dividends, tours and appearances are booked according to geographical distribution of fans, etc etc… it’s a bit like Kevin Kelly’s 1,000 True Fans idea, I guess, but much more formalised, with legally-binding obligations in both directions.

I’m pretty sure someone could knock up a software suite for managing all the paperwork necessary in order to make this happen, though I’ll confess that my knowledge of buisness law is sufficiently lacking that I have no idea whether or not it is legal (let alone practical, given the lack of a trusted and reliable micropayments platform and the morass if international business law). Can anyone in the audience shed a light on some of the details?

And more to the point, would anyone like to buy shares in Futurismic? We may not be profitable, but we’ve got a warehouse full of kudos… 😉


Robert J. Sawyer on SF and Hollywood

Jeremy Eades @ 11-02-2008

The Canadian TV show “Big Ideas” on TV Ontario had homegrown SF author

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on to talk about the effect Hollywood, and specifically the blockbuster concept of Star Wars, has had on the genre of science fiction – specifically how the social commentary edge to it has been dulled on the silver screen, which has extended to writing as well.

Sawyer gives a history of science fiction and how certain works have stood up over time, while others have not.  It’s quite interesting, at least for those of us who like to get meta about our reading genres.  In many past societies, direct criticism of rulers or social norms were ill-received, often ending in prison sentences or worse, while analogies and euphemisms thrived under plausible deniability.  But today, it’s not such a big deal.  Does this spell the end for disguised social critique?  Or do we still need to have our ideas challenged in surreptitious ways?  What say Futurismic readers?

Give the podcast a listen, and as a bonus, listen to Steven Pinker swear on the same page.

[Edit: Fixed the link, thanks to commenter Nancy Jane Moore]


Striking writers look to open new internet ventures

Tomas Martin @ 21-12-2007

Whilst I’ve talked in the past about the future of online content, it appears for some writers an internet based career is rapidy becoming present, not future. The LA Times reports that a number of the writers and creators involved in the Hollywood writer strike are in talks with venture capitalists and advertisers about creating their own content sites. It may be that if this strike continues long enough, some writers may not come back at all to the studios. It’s also interesting to note that the words quoted most by the writers invovled is ‘United Artists’, the organisation that structured good deals for creators way back in Hollywood history.

On the web, there’s also a good round table discussion featuring Tobias Buckell, Pyr editor Lou Anders and David Louis Edelman at SF Signal about the use of the internet to promote writers via community, rather than advertising. Charles Stross also had a good rant about the idiocy of the Kindle earlier in the month.


The writer as entrepreneur

Paul Raven @ 22-11-2007

Striking writers outside Disney studios The WGA writers’ strike rolls on, pitting the justifiable desire of creatives to be paid a fair deal for the fruits of their labour against the same sort of grasping tactics that are causing the music industry to eat itself like a cancer. [Image by NoHoDamon]

While I’m supportive of the writers’ position on this issue, I’m intrigued by the outsider opinions. Techdirt points us to an LA Times article discussing the rise of alternative financing models in the movie industry, and suggests that if the big studios stick to their guns they will actually hasten their own demise by creating an environment where smart and talented writers can bypass the traditional system and take their scripts straight to the market, funding their productions using a venture capital process similar to that used by technology startups.

Now, I’m not an economist or a script-writer (and nor do I play either of them on television), but I find the underlying logic of this idea appealing – it seems to be a business model that fits the internet age. But then TechDirt, as fascinating a read as it is, is very much biased toward the independent operator/startup philosophy (as demonstrated by its previous coverage of the WGA strike). Perhaps this idea places too much of a burden on the writer – whose job is, after all, to write. But then again, it’s an accepted truism that novelists must self-market if they hope to be successful, even with the support of a publisher.

I guess only time will tell. But from my personal point of view, a significant lessening of the corporate homogeneity of Hollywood could only be a good thing – it might result in a movie industry that produces more than one film every year that I can actually be bothered to go and see.

[tags]writers, Hollywood, strike, entrepreneurship, business[/tags]

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