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Formula for movie franchise magic

Marketplace Staff Nov 17, 2006

Formula for movie franchise magic

Marketplace Staff Nov 17, 2006


MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: This weekend, MGM re-imagines James Bond in the Film “Casino Royale.” Actor Daniel Craig takes over the role from Pierce Brosnan. The 007 series has lasted more than 40 years and has set the standard for a movie franchise in Hollywood. Franchises make a lot of money for studios. Not surprisingly companies are always looking for new ones. Mike Speier is the managing editor for Daily Variety. Some franchises work and some don’t. What magic has kept Bond around for so long?

MIKE SPEIER: If everyone knew the answer then everyone would be rich wouldn’t they? You just never know. Some of them die in the fourth film, some of ’em like Bond go into the 20s. So you just never know and that’s the magic of the movie business.

THOMAS: Yeah but there’s gotta be some formula. There’s gotta be something that makes it more likely to work than others.

SPEIER: Well the formula is, if every movie before it does reasonably well, that’s the formula. I mean Bond never bombs. Bond has its ups and downs, sometimes it does great, sometimes it does not-so-great but in the end, Bond, Star Trek, those movies, all of them made money. And so that’s the formula they look at, believe it or not. There’s no creative formula, there’s more of a financial formula.

THOMAS: Do studios try and put deals together in order to keep actors together if something’s going to work?

SPEIER: They certainly want to. They would love to bring everybody back for every kind of franchise. I mean that’s the point. Because once you have the pre-sold property off your plate, like they don’t have to market Pirates of the Caribbean anymore, everyone knows it, they would like to get Orlando Bloom and Johnny Depp and Keira Knightley back because everyone knows those actors. And while they get more expensive, they also know that they can sell them overseas, they can sell them to the public because they already know them. So those are two elements of marketing that they can get rid of because those are the hardest parts of marketing.

THOMAS: Seems like material for franchises can come from anywhere. We’ve had Godfather, we’ve had Ian Fleming and James Bond, we’ve got Narnia, where do studios look when they’re looking for franchises.

SPEIER: Studios look a lot of times at the book world. Nowadays because a lot of books are fantasy books, and with the success of course of Harry Potter and the success of Lord of the Rings, people are looking to books because they’re easily adaptable and once they get them in their fold, they think they can turn it into franchise. Whenever stories are written about book purchases, they always say with the hopes of making it a franchise for the studio because if they get a Harry Potter, something like that, and it succeeds, all of a sudden you can make five, six, seven of them because look, people know what the property is.

THOMAS: If studios know that they can count on franchises, does that make it easier for them to make smaller films?

SPEIER: They’re not in the business of making small films. They like when they click . . .

THOMAS: Small, profitable films.

SPEIER: Sure, exactly. When a Good Night, and Good Luck makes money for the little Warner Independent arm, or the March of the Penguins or Brokeback Mountain for Universal and Focus, it’s wonderful, because you invest . . . you know, what other great investment, you put in $15 million, you make $120 million. That’s wonderful. But in general, because you have shareholders and you have stock prices and you have tons of people working at the conglomerates, you can’t be in the business of small movies. You have to be in the business of Spiderman and Batman.

THOMAS: Mike Speier is managing editor for Daily Variety. And in Los Angeles, I’m Mark Austin Thomas. Thanks for joining us. Have a great weekend.

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