A Behind the Scenes Look at the Making of ‘Kill the Hobbit Subsidies to Save Regular Earth’

The complete (and more concise) version appears on Bloomberg View.

So how much taxpayer money, would you guess, did Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. need to produce the films based on the J.R.R. Tolkien book? The answer is zero. The studios are investment companies, and the films are almost certain to be immensely profitable.

But now you aren’t thinking like a studio. The real question is: How much taxpayer money can Warner Bros. demand from the government of New Zealand to keep production there (rather than, say, in Australia or the Czech Republic)? That answer turns out to be about $120 million, plus the revision of New Zealand’s labor laws to forbid collective bargaining among film-production contractors, plus the passage of three-strikes Internet-disconnection laws for online copyright infringement, plus enthusiastic and, it turns out, illegal cooperation in the shutdown of the pirate-friendly digital storage site Megaupload and the arrest of its owner, Kim Dotcom.

For keeping Warner Bros. happy, Prime Minister John Key, a former Merrill Lynch currency trader, got a replica magic Hobbit sword from U.S. President Barack Obama and a chance to hang New Zealand’s fortunes on becoming the tourist destination for Middle Earth enthusiasts. What could go wrong?

For the KHS2SRE completists out there, we’ve assembled some outtakes and extras: Continue reading “A Behind the Scenes Look at the Making of ‘Kill the Hobbit Subsidies to Save Regular Earth’”

The Tree of Life Must Be Watered With the Money of Patriots

In support of The Tree of Life‘s Oscar campaign, and in an effort to explain the broader rent seeking practices behind SOPA/PIPA , and in recognition of all the new visitors to the site because of Meganomics, and finally in the hope that we can collectively beat back the the threat of a publicly-subsidized Warhorse sequel…

We are re-releasing the underappreciated The War Between the States (to Subsidize Hollywood) Tetralogy, featuring:

Followed by deeper explorations of the growth of public subsidies for Hollywood in:

Many consider The Revenge of Swamp Shark, starring Brad Pitt, to be the most moving of the series.

And for those looking for solutions (to the problem of public funding of blockbusters), a modest proposal from a prior trilogy:



The War Between the States (to Subsidize Hollywood), Part 4: Tower Heist Heist

A mini update: A.O. Scott has a nice review of Tower Heist in which he comments on the fake populism of a bunch of extremely rich guys standing to make a fortune by producing a movie about a bunch of blue collar guys scheming to steal $20 million from a Bernie Madoff stand-in.  And he’s right to note further that the $20 million is chump change in this league.

But unfortunately this isn’t just about symbolism.  Let’s put some numbers on it.

  • Tower Heist cost an estimated $85 million to make.
  • Ben Stiller was paid $15 million.
  • Eddie Murphy was paid $7.5 million.

New York City and state tax payers contributed $10 million, via (overlapping) tax credits.

To pick a totally random example for some perspective, New York City schools just laid off 777 staff, including 438 teacher’s aides.

Ben Stiller is a New Yorker by birth and is involved in a bunch of charitable causes–including  rebuilding Haiti and saving the dolphins.  I wonder how he feels about this? Continue reading “The War Between the States (to Subsidize Hollywood), Part 4: Tower Heist Heist”

The War Between the States (to Subsidize Hollywood), Part 3: The Revenge of Swamp Shark

I know you want to hear about Swamp Shark, but let’s stay highbrow for a minute. I promise a shocking revelation if you make it to the end.

A couple months ago I was leaving the wonderful State Theater in Traverse City after seeing Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life. And I was thinking, yes, Malick is a national treasure, but Brad Pitt is beginning to make a decent case for that too! His filmography is full of strong performances in good and/or ambitious movies–at least from the mid-1990s on. He has been in relatively few turkeys and a number of great films. And he’s now producing ambitious movies like The Tree of Life and the upcoming Twelve Years a Slave (and some zombie apocalypse thing).  He has also done a lot of charity work and taken on post-Katrina New Orleans as a personal cause.   All told, it’s not a bad answer to the question of what to do with fame and fortune.

So far so good.  But…. Continue reading “The War Between the States (to Subsidize Hollywood), Part 3: The Revenge of Swamp Shark”

The War Between the States (to Subsidize Hollywood), Part Two: Wisconsin’s Public Enemies

Expanding on the last post about the growth of US state subsidies for film production, this awesome 2009 powerpoint presentation from the Wisconsin Department of Commerce did not get the attention it deserved!  Here are some highlights:

The Wisconsin tax credit program for films went into effect in 2008. The Johnny Depp film Public Enemies was one of the first beneficiaries. Continue reading “The War Between the States (to Subsidize Hollywood), Part Two: Wisconsin’s Public Enemies”

The War Between the States (to Subsidize Hollywood)

In 2009, Governor Rick Perry announced Texas’ expanded state subsidies for film production at Robert Rodriguez’ Austin studio. In 2010, the Texas film board revoked a $1.75 million subsidy for Rodriguez’ Machete — a $10 million revenge film that took in $26 million at the box office (US). The problem?  Somehow, Machete’s portrayal of an “unholy trinity of rotten, greedy Americans,” including a racist Texas senator in league with the drug mafia, failed to portray Texas in a favorable light. Predictably, Rodriguez said that without the subsidy, he would have made the film somewhere else.

What’s this anachronistic censorship dispute actually about ?  It’s probably best to think of it as friction in a larger process of industry capture of state governments. The real question is: how does Machete rate a $1.75 million subsidy in the first place?

That’s the question I take up in a new piece at the Huffington Post.  Here’s the story in one chart: Continue reading “The War Between the States (to Subsidize Hollywood)”

The European Strategy Trilogy

Now gathered in one place for the first time, The European Strategy Trilogy is finally available in hi-definition HTML.

Why is the pan-European cinema, in effect, the American cinema?

Why do European leaders act as if piracy is a problem when almost nobody pirates European movies?

Why can’t the European Commission adopt policies to bring more French movies about the self-destructive alter-egos of French directors to wider audiences?

How many Yuanbucks will the UK Provisional Authority pay the WB-USA to keep it from moving production of the 2021 Harry Potter reboot to the Czech Hegemonic Zone?

Find the answers to these questions and more in:

The European Strategy: Send Money to the US (Part One)

In which we discuss the long list of current EU copyright enforcement initiatives and ask: does this make sense for Europe?

The European Strategy: Send Money to the US (Part Deux)

In which we deploy evidence, including World Bank data and a list of the top 100 pirated movies, to argue that it does not make sense!  And that the French position (that of our own peuple) makes the least sense of all!

The European Strategy: The Curse of Harry Potter (Part Three)

In which we discuss the dilemmas facing EU audiovisual policy and make some modest proposals to free European cinema from its obscurity and do away with the public financing of Hollywood blockbusters.

The European Strategy: The Curse of Harry Potter (Part 3)

When we last left the European Commission, it was continuing its pursuit of  SMUS (Send Money to the US) based IP policies.  We raised some questions about the wisdom of this strategy.  But there is also a different EC conversation underway about revision of the rules governing public film subsidies.  And this one is more genuinely vexed and interesting.

As I noted in the Send Money Pt.2 post a couple weeks ago, Europe produces a lot of movies–over 1100 in 2009–but very few that reach audiences beyond the national markets in which they are produced.  Because movies carry a lot of the burden of representing culture in Europe, this failure generates a lot of anxiety.  So what to do? Continue reading “The European Strategy: The Curse of Harry Potter (Part 3)”