Not exactly a rosy picture at Paramount

Michael Speier, news editor for TheWrap.com

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

STEVE CHIOTAKIS: The movie "Transformers" just keeps making money. The mega-hit's raked in more than $200 million since its release, and all told, it's a big hit for one Hollywood studio.
All part of the ebbs and flows of movie-making in a town that thrives or dies by the all-powerful movie ticket.

This morning, we're talking with Michael Speier, news editor for TheWrap.com. And Michael, this is the summer movie season, we're supposed to be talking about how rosy the picture is for studios, but that's not necessarily the case.

MICHAEL SPEIER: Right, and especially for the studio that made "Transformers," which is Paramount. Paramount specifically is a very, very unique studio because they might have two of the three biggest movies of the summer in "Transformers" and "Star Trek," yet they're having major problems.

CHIOTAKIS: So I mean they have these huge franchises, right? I mean "Star Trek" and "Transformers." I mean, what's the problem?

SPEIER: Well, the biggest problem could be summed up in one movie star's name, and that's Eddie Murphy. Because he was in a movie also this summer for Paramount called "Imagine That," which was such a huge disaster. I think it opened with only $5 million. Now, people might say, 'well they still have major, major franchises and making 'em tons of money.' That's true on some of their movies, but they put a lot of stock in summer. And there's five Paramount summer movies. Two of them are huge, which we just mentioned. The other three -- "Imagine That," "Dance Flick," and the upcoming buzz killer, "G.I. Joe," -- might not be so huge. And that's going to bring the profits down.

CHIOTAKIS: But I thought in these days of economic recession, this was an escape outlet. That Hollywood was sort of recession-proof. That people want to get out and not think about how much money they don't have, and you know, spend $10-$12 bucks and go see a movie.

SPEIER: That's absolutely true. And the Box Office us up. The whole year's Box Office is up. It's the one industry that people are looking to and saying, 'look, it's doing well.' So when a movie clicks, it's wonderful. The problem is not every movie clicks. And if it's expensive, and it doesn't click, it can wipe out an entire studio. It can certainly wipe out a lot of jobs, which recently happened to Paramount because the head of Paramount, John Lesher, got replaced, and they had a production, Brad Weston got replaced.

CHIOTAKIS: So what does a movie studio do then, besides replacing these high-level guys. Do they scale back? Do they not spend as much money on movies?

SPEIER: Well that's a very interesting quandary they're in, and it's something that they've been looking towards. I mean Disney last year decided to cut the amount of movie that they were going to make. They were going to specifically stick with things that were almost slam dunks. Of course they can't predict what's going to hit and miss. But if they make fewer movies, but make them bigger movies, there's almost a guarantee that they can have at least management over how they do.

CHIOTAKIS: So what do we know that's coming down the pike from Paramount?

SPEIER: Well Paramount is lucky enough to have two huge directors coming down the pike. Martin Scorsese with "Shutter Island," which stars Leonardo DiCaprio, sounds wonderful. And Peter Jackson, who hasn't been heard from in a while, and he has "The Lovely Bones," which is based on a best-selling book. So it sounds great. The problem is if one of them misses, they don't have anything else in the hopper until 2010.

CHIOTAKIS: All right. News editor Michael Speier for TheWrap.com. Michael, thanks.

SPEIER: Pleasure.

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