Hollywood Inc. takes you inside the dream factory that is the American film industry, and reveals the process that takes a film from concept, through production, to opening weekend - blockbuster… or bust. Box-office profits and lucrative spin-off have made Hollywood a £20 billion-a-year industry and inevitably everyone wants a piece ...
A Darlow Smithson production for BBC TWO.
Hollywood Inc. takes you inside the dream factory that is the American film industry, and reveals the process that takes a film from concept, through production, to opening weekend - blockbuster… or bust. Box-office profits and lucrative spin-off have made Hollywood a £20 billion-a-year industry and inevitably everyone wants a piece of the action. Hollywood Inc. explores the elusive recipe for success to discover why so many films fail.
This three-part series strips away the gloss of the opening night and exposes the struggles, infighting and determination required to see a film through to completion. Interlaced with film extracts are exclusive interviews with Hollywood’s major players, including Ridley Scott; Pierce Brosnan; Oliver Stone, Bill Mechanic, Fox Studio Chief 1996-2000; Bryan Singer, director of The Usual Suspects and X-Men; William Nicholson, writer of Gladiator and Shadowlands; Wes Craven; Denzel Washington; John Malkovich; Peter Guber, former Head of Sony and producer of Batman and Batman Returns; Dean Devlin, producer of Independence Day and Godzilla; Akiva Goldsman, writer of A Beautiful Mind; and Tim Burton.
Shut it Down
Shut it Down examines the nightmare of movie production, looking at the roles of the key players in the production process - the star, the writer, the producer, the director. Making movies is one of the most dangerous investments with only one film in ten succeeding, and it is in production that it is most likely to fail. If a studio has to close down a movie, then heads will roll. From Titanic to Charlie's Angels, Gladiator to Dr Dolittle, X-Men to Scream and Jurassic Park, Shut it Down explores the production process with exclusive first hand accounts by those who were there.
Many films march into production before they are ready - without a completed script as illustrated by Gladiator; or in the case of Bryan Singer's X-Men, without a leading actor. Once sets have been built and extras recruited, the juggernaut is on the road and the studio is losing hundreds of thousands of dollars by the day. The pressure is then on the director to work through and produce a hit. Ridley Scott, with the aid of writer William Nicholson, was able to do just that in the face of great adversity on the set of Gladiator.
The studios often use stars as insurance, they can mean the difference between a hit or a flop. Often it is the star's name that got the project green-lit in the first place. However their involvement can cause multiple problems. For the remake of Dr Dolittle with Eddie Murphy, Fox were presented with an unusual problem: "The first thing that we find out is that Eddie's afraid of animals… we have half this movie where he's in scenes with animals… so a lot of the animals that he interacts with aren't real, and there's a lot of cutaways," says Bill Mechanic, former-Head of Fox.
Behind the scenes difficulties arise with disagreements between the studios and directors; both sides threatening closure of the set in a war between box office certainty and artistic integrity. The hit movie Scream was not without its production problems: Bob Weinstein, Mirimax Studio Chief, objected to the use of the ghost face mask - now synonymous with the film's success - insisting that that Wes Craven re-shoot the opening scenes with seven different masks until he decided on the one he liked best.
"I just said how dare you be so disrespectful to the man who basically invented the (horror film) genre?… Here’s another idea. We cut together the first sequence of the movie and send it to you. And if you think we suck after that you can fire us all," says Cathy Konrad, Producer of Scream. On receiving the footage Weinstein was thrilled and gracious in his sanctioning of the production.
Lightning in a Bottle
"More and more now I’ll get the script before the filmmaker will get it or I'll be involved in hiring the filmmaker. I guess the more you move up the ladder the more they come to the actor first. I just got an offer last night on a film for Paramount, and there's no director attached and they want to sit down with me and see who I'm interested in," Denzel Washington.
The primary rule in Hollywood is that stars sell movies. The second part of Hollywood Inc examines the impact that big names can have. Producers reveal how their choices have shaped films, and how they discover the major league players of tomorrow.
Every year the studios pursue a handful of stars to front their major summer blockbusters. However, even with this firepower, success is not guaranteed. Columbia chanced its luck on Charlie's Angels which, in addition to a top cast, was a recognisable brand due to the iconic television series. The problems began in pre-production with the surprising appointment of an unknown pop-promo maker as director, McG, who had never before worked on this scale. Rumours abounded of squabbles on set amongst the leads, and with 18 writers added to the mix, the outlook was not good. That aside, Columbia threw money into the advertising campaign, and the movie was saved.
As author and journalist Kim Masters observes: "When you see that many writers you sort of go, woo, something's wrong. And yet they pulled it out, which only proves the point that Hollywood is an insane business which is completely unpredictable. I mean there's this goofy movie that sounded so dumb, and had so many problems and so many writers. And commercially it really worked."
When confronted with a failure, a studio will quietly release the movie and bury it a few weeks later. A notorious example of this is Town and Country with Warren Beatty. Failure, though rarely discussed, hits everyone in Hollywood. "It's a massive rejection and you do personalise it, especially guys like me who are very passionate, we’re suckers for that," says Oliver Stone.
Without a winning story, even a star cannot make a film shine brightly. To guard against this, film-makers tend to look for established source material - books, comics, video games, television shows - on which to base their scripts.
The second most successful animation film of all time, Shrek, was presented to John H. Williams at DreamWorks by his young son. It is at this stage, the pitch, that writers and producers have to persuade studios to part with millions of dollars to realise their dreams. There are occasions when the perfect script arrives at their door - Alan Ball’s script for American Beauty at DreamWorks; and yet other instances when even multiple writers cannot salvage the story - Paramount plumbed the depths of script hell with Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.
Bill Mechanic recounts the highs and lows of his time as Studio Chief at Fox when he oversaw some of the most successful movies of recent years, but this was to end with Fight Club. It began life as a low budget art movie, on which he and the producer Laura Ziskin took a risk - they knew if it were to fail that would spell the end of their time at the studio. A fight was on against budget, and their boss's disapproval of the subject matter. It proved a box office flop, and the writing was on the wall.
"It really made me conscious of the fact that every movie you make you may get sacked, so you may as well get sacked for something you believe in," says Bill Mechanic.
Battle of the Blockbusters
The measure of success of any Hollywood film is its opening weekend. Battle of the Blockbusters examines how careers can be lost, and fortunes made, in just two days. With so much at stake, millions of dollars are spent releasing each studio picture.
"You start to get numbers back from the East Coast about midday on Friday. And you know right then. It's crazy how early you know if you’re in good or bad shape. You spend two years writing, prepping, working, shooting, cutting, designing this film. And then it's a matter of two or three hours and you know if you have a hit or a turkey," says McG, director of Charlie's Angels.
It is the summer blockbusters where this pressure is most intense - these films are seen as funding for the rest of the studio's output each year, and failure is not an option.
"Hollywood is a very ruthless, competitive jungle and if you perform well and your film performs well everybody loves you, but the second you fail you are spat out like everybody else. It is a lot of pressure, but that's why I like it in a way - there's a kind of adrenaline about risking everything on a huge budget," says Simon West, director of Tomb Raider and Con Air.
The final programme explores the marketing campaign for these releases. Following the testing, star-studded premières, merchandising, and parties, Hollywood Inc illustrates the lengths that the studios will go to ensure that their movie hits number one at the box office.
"Marketing geniuses at the studios will tell you (that) you can absolutely buy an opening weekend if you’re willing to pay for it," says Charles Fleming, author.
Testing is a key part of the production process before a film emerges fully in the public domain. Ronald Bass, scriptwriter of Rain Man and Entrapment, acknowledges the benefits of this process, particularly in light of his experience with My Best Friend's Wedding: "A lot of writers are very hostile to the testing process - and I was for years. The older I get the more I like the testing process, because the more I learn how much smarter the audience is than the rest of us… (The results of the testing for the film) weren’t bad, but not like we were hoping for. We were hoping for this monster, fabulous movie that everybody would adore. My God, we had Julia Roberts, how could we hope for anything less?" The test audience reaction precipitated changes being made and scenes added, which led to My Best Friend's Wedding being a huge hit.
Once a film is ready for release, a glittering première is staged. With Pearl Harbor, Disney left nothing to chance… "So they’ll send you a first class ticket and invite you to go to Hawaii, Pearl Harbor… What did they spend on that? Was it $5m just on the publicity junket? I mean that used to be what you paid for a movie… It was outrageous. But they expect something back for it," says Mike Walker, columnist for The National Enquirer.
Other highlights of the final programme include Ridley Scott viewing the Hannibal posters for the first time; Robert Rodriguez explaining the benefits of a fast food chain backing for his film Spy Kids; what went wrong with the campaign for The Mexican starring Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts; and how films and stars weather the reviews.