How Does the Film Industry Actually Make Money?
I’ve been trying to come to terms with two seemingly irreconcilable facts. First, “Men in Black 3” has made more than $550 million worldwide. Second, while a representative from the parent company of Columbia Pictures told me that the movie is now “in the win column,” it seemed until recently as if Columbia might actually lose money on it. How could that be? It’s not so complicated. Its production costs were close to $250 million; worldwide marketing most likely added at least that much; and a big chunk of the ticket sales go to theaters and distributors.
我一直在努力理解两个看似矛盾的事实。第一，《黑衣人3》(Men in Black 3)在全球收入已过5.5亿美元。第二，当哥伦比亚电影公司母公司的一位代表告诉我，该片目前“正在赚钱”时，给人的感觉是哥伦比亚的这部片子直到不久前都在赔钱。这怎么可能呢?其实并不那么费解。该片的制作费将近2.5亿美元;全球推广很有可能至少也是这个数;还有大笔票房收入要分给院线跟发行商。
There must be an easier way to make money. For the cost of “Men in Black 3,” for instance, the studio could have become one of the world’s largest venture-capital funds, thereby owning a piece of hundreds of promising start-ups. Instead, it purchased the rights to a piece of intellectual property, paid a fortune for a big star and has no definitive idea why its movie didn’t make a huge profit. Why is anyone in the film industry?
All business requires guessing, but future predilections of moviegoers are especially opaque. If a large company wants to introduce a new car, it can at least base its predictions, in part, on factors like where oil prices are headed. Movie executives, on the other hand, come up with a host of new theories each summer about what audiences want — 3-D tent poles, 2-D tent poles, vampires, comics, board games and so on — then, sometimes over the course of a weekend, ricochet toward a new theory. Will the tepid economics of “Men in Black 3” spell trouble for “The Amazing Spider-Man,” this holiday weekend’s big release? Who knows.
做任何生意都需要猜测，但影迷的口味尤其难以捉摸。如果一家大公司想推出一款新车，它的预测起码可以建立在诸如油价趋势这类因素上。但是电影业的高管们每年夏天就只能凭空推想观众想要看什么——3D、2D，吸血鬼、动画、桌面游戏等等——结果就是一个周末的功夫，风向突然就转了。《黑衣人3》不温不火的成绩，是否预示着这个周末将要上映的《超凡蜘蛛侠》(The Amazing Spider-Man)前景堪虞?谁知道呢。
Unlike other decades-old industries, Hollywood not only has a hard time forecasting, but it also has difficulty analyzing past results. Why was “The Hunger Games” such a big hit? Because it had a built-in audience? Because it starred Jennifer Lawrence? Because it was released around spring break? The business is filled with analysts who claim to have predictive powers, but the fact that a vast majority of films fail to break even proves that nobody knows anything for sure.
好莱坞跟其他经营数十年的产业的不同之处在于，现在它不仅很难对前景做出预测，而且很难对已取得的成绩进行分析。为什么《饥饿游戏》(The Hunger Games)能一炮而红?是因为它有铁杆观众群?是因为由詹妮弗·劳伦斯(Jennifer Lawrence)担任主角?是因为它赶在春假期间上映?业界充斥着声称拥有预测能力的分析家，但大量电影赔钱的事实证明，没人能对任何事情打保票。
Making matters more complicated is that the industry is filled with professionals — starting with the lowliest junior agents — adept at explaining why they were responsible for a project’s success. This self-mythologizing has real economic impact. Most major brands spend lots of money ensuring that people have a positive association with them, but most people don’t even notice which studio made which movie. (Disney and its Pixar subsidiary are notable exceptions, “John Carter” notwithstanding.) In fact, movie studios are much better at helping brands they don’t own — certain stars, directors, producers and source material, like “The Hunger Games” — capture a huge chunk of the money.
The reason a majority of movie studios still turn a profit most years is that they have found ways to, as they say, monetize the ancillary stream by selling pay-TV and overseas rights, creating tie-in video games, amusement-park rides and so forth. And the big hits, rare as they may be, pay for a lot of flops. Still, the profits are not huge. Matthew Lieberman, a director at PricewaterhouseCoopers, expects growth over the coming years to be somewhere around 0.6 percent.
Hollywood is, somewhat surprisingly, a remarkably stable industry. Over the past 80 years or so, its basic model — in which financiers in New York lend money to creative people in Los Angeles — has been largely unaltered. Partly as a result, today’s biggest studios — Columbia, Disney, Paramount, Warner Brothers, Universal, 20th Century Fox — have been on top since at least the 1950s. This stability is initially puzzling because movie studios don’t have many assets. Worse, every one of their projects is a short-term collaboration between a bunch of independent agents.
A modern studio’s main asset, however, is its ability to put together these disparate elements. They know how to get Tom Cruise to do a film, how to get it into theaters around the country and whom to call to set up a junket in Doha. They also know the industry’s language of power, with its ever-changing rules about which stars, restaurants and scripts are cool and which are not. It’s the stuff of easy parody, but it’s worth billions.
Another reason these studios remain at the top is that for most entrepreneurs, taking them on isn’t worth the risks. (Even big hits often take years — sometimes a full decade — to break even.) “If I’m sitting on $2 billion, will I invest in a Hollywood studio?” asks Anita Elberse, a Harvard Business School professor who studies the entertainment industry. “Many other industries have a higher return on investment.” Billionaires like Anil Ambani, who is a partner in Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks Studios, presumably invest because the glamour helps them with their other businesses.
这些电影公司仍然独孤不败的另一个原因在于，对绝大多数企业家而言，拿它们开刀实在是得不偿失(即使是那些卖座电影，往往也需要花几年，有时是整整10年，这才能做到收支平衡)。“假如我有20亿美元，我会投资好莱坞的电影公司吗?”安妮塔·埃尔贝斯(Anita Elberse)是哈佛商学院教授，专门研究娱乐业，她说：“很多其他行业的投资回报率要更高。”一些亿万富翁，比如斯蒂文·斯皮尔伯格(Steven Spielberg)的梦工厂合伙人安尼尔·安巴尼(Anil Ambani)，他们之所以愿意投资这一行，推想起来大概是因为电影业的光环对他们的其他业务有帮助。
People have predicted the demise of the film industry since the dawn of TV and, later, the appearance of VHS, cable and digital piracy. But Fabrizio Perretti, a management professor at the Università Bocconi in Italy, says that Hollywood is now actually destroying itself. Because it’s harder to get financing and audiences, companies are competing to make bigger, costlier films while eliminating risk, which is why ever-more movies are based on existing intellectual property. Eighteen of the all-time 100 top-grossing movies (adjusted for inflation) were sequels, and more than half of those were released since 2000.
多年来人们一直在预测着电影业的覆灭。从电视出现开始，再到录像机、有线电视和数字盗版的涌现。但意大利博科尼大学(Università Bocconi)管理学教授法布里齐奥·佩莱蒂(Fabrizio Perretti)表示，好莱坞现在是在“自寻死路”。由于各家公司很难找到融资，争取到观众，于是在竞相拍摄耗资巨大的大片，同时，他们又在尽可能规避风险，所以现在越来越多的电影都是根据已有的知识产权内容拍摄的。在史上100部总收入最高(已根据通胀率进行调整)的电影中，有18部是续集，而且其中有超过半数是在2000年以后发行的。
Predictability might win the weekend, Perretti says, but it could eventually make people weary. Meanwhile, Lieberman, from PricewaterhouseCoopers, sees significant growth in another entertainment business that’s constantly experimenting with different models, distribution methods and ways of telling stories. Maybe TV is finally going to kill movies after all.