Eduardo Porter and Geraldine Fabrikant have written a N.Y. Times piece titled called “A Big Star May Not a Profitable Movie Make.” And we all know that to be true, but what is the ultimate bottom-line rule of thumb that any producer needs to accept when he/she pays big bucks for a star to play the lead role in a film?
Here’s what you get, and I swear to Krishna this is as much of a basic and fundamental rule as William Goldman‘s “nobody knows anything.” Pay for a big star or two and you’ll get people to pay attention to your movie when they first hear about it for ten seconds or less. During which time they will perk up and say to themselves, “Oh…what’s this one about?” And that’s all you’ll get. Six, seven or eight seconds worth of attention.
Without a big star’s name, chances are the average would-be moviegoer won’t pay attention at all. It would be nice if detections of stellar quality in a film (as initially confirmed by general advance buzz or film-festival consensus) mattered to people but it doesn’t seem to, for the most part. But a star’s name will get you those ten seconds or less with Joe Schmoe. I think that’s a completely reliable assessment.
And then the movie will pretty much sink or swim on its own. If people want to see it based on their own criteria (and not Kenneth Turan‘s or Hollywood Elsewhere’s or Scott Rudin‘s or anyone else’s…the ticket buyer decides solely according to his or her wits and gut instincts), and if they like the teasers or trailers and if there’s any kind of buzz in the air about it, they might give it a shot. Maybe.
So to underline this one more time, I think it’s fair to say that spending $10 or $12 or $15 million for a name-level star or two will persuade many millions of people to consider the idea of seeing your film for seven or eight or nine seconds.
But don’t kid yourself into thinking it means that they’ll show up. Because people really don’t give that much of a damn about you or your movie or what you spent to put it together and have it sold. A certain portion of the online generation will absorb the buzz about a film (and then pass the word along to their friends via text messaging). A microscopic portion of the public will re-consider seeing your film when the opening-day reviews are published.
But most people out there, I believe, are indifferent and/or don’t give a shit. This isn’t 1939 and they’re not movie loyalists, and they’re not your family or your childhood friends, and they don’t really care if you live or die or suffer a heart attack on the street. What they care about is doing the thing that they want to do on the spur of the moment when Friday night rolls around, and that’s all.