Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Sean Paul Murphy, Writer
Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Sunday, January 24, 2010


I liked "Avatar."

Despite my HD television, my Blu-Ray player and the comforts of my sofa, I knew it was a film I had to see in the theater. Not just any theater. An Imax Theater. And in 3-D. And I wasn't disappointed. It provided too much spectacle to fit on my home theater.

I am glad that it is on its way to becoming the most successful film of all time. In fact, let me tell you a little secret: I want ALL films to be successful. The more money films make, the more films they will make. A rising tide lifts all ships.

That said, isn't it just a little insane, or possibly arrogant, to produce a film whose budget and P&A costs demands that it return a billion dollars in order to be profitable? Who would want to take that gamble when there are so many ways that a film can fail. For every "Avatar" there are two "Land of the Lost." This, of course, has been a common complaint since "Jaws," "The Godfather," or "The Sound of Music," (depending on your point of view) initiated the modern Blockbuster era. Since the budgets have gotten so large that the North American market alone can no longer support them, the plots have become simplified and driven more and more by special effects. I have no problem with simple plots or special effects, but the high costs of these films result in fewer films being made by the major studios overall. Leaving fewer opportunities for yours truly.

Back in the olden days when I had an agent, I was being positioned as a writer of amiable dramas. Character-driven star vehicles with some humor. I was assured that was the best place to be as a writer. Once I managed to sell a spec script or two, I would be able to get re-writes and adaptations. That's how a writer makes money in Hollywood. The only problem with the plan was that, despite some close calls, my agent never managed to sell any of those spec scripts. I don't blame him. I was lucky to have him. Now, being a little further down the road, I can see why those scripts didn't sell. I should fix them. Some of them might sell now, but the odds are reduced because Hollywood isn't making as many of those films as they once did.

Look at "Crazy Heart," or the version of it that came out last year, "The Wrestler." Both were compelling character studies that have won their leading men acting kudos. They were also both independent films. Twenty years ago they would have been studio films. Now the studio can't afford to make them because they have committed the bulk of their resources to films like "Transformers" and "G.I. Joe" that can translate more easily to the foreign market. Personally, I would rather make 10 films for 30 million dollars apiece than one film for 300 million, but that's just me.

Years ago, I was trying to make a film with Lee Bonner and David Butler. We were thinking of trying to put together a package which would be attractive enough to sell off foreign territories in order to finance the production. David had an interesting conversation with a producer/financier who made a living doing exactly that. But he wasn't interested in our project. Why? Because he thought it was a bad idea? No. He liked the idea enough. I think his actual words were: "Offer Jeff Goldblum a million dollars to play the lead and you have a movie." His problem with the film was that it was too small. We were only looking for around five million dollars. Here's the way he put it (more or less): "Look, you can only hope to make three or four times your budget back on a movie, so why waste your time making one for five million dollars when you can make one for a hundred million dollars." That makes sense. If you're only looking at the upside.

So I'm glad "Avatar" is on its way to make two billion dollars.

I'm delighted that "Paranormal Activity" made a hundred million on its seventeen thousand dollar budget.

But I'm especially happy that a nice, studio picture like "The Blind Side" made a ton of money.

'Cause that's not a bad place to be.

Maybe I should give some of my amiable old dramas another look.

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