When Profit Is Not Enough

The Witch still image

Wouldst thou profit… reasonably?

Lately I’ve been watching more films, a large portion of them horror (classic and modern), and some big budget tentpoles. Months after watching, they blend into the overall stew of stories, with some standing out more than others. Star Wars: the Force Awakens was a delight to watch, and I’m so glad to have seen it in the theater. It made me very happy to watch, but it wasn’t better than The Witch, which was tremendously effective, and about which I’m still thinking.

There are a number of articles going around lately about how profitable horror movies are, and it’s not news that horror is generally cheaper to produce than blockbusters. Unfortunately, however, solidly, reasonably, or even outstandingly profitable films are not particularly meaningful to studios if they don’t have the potential for shareholder-exciting, Star Wars-level success. This comes at the expense of thousands of lost opportunities for brave, exciting, new stories that are flushed down the toilet.

cover for paranormal activity

“That door! It cost 1/345 what a Star Wars door costs!”

The Witch, in spite of slow pacing that drove nimrods to wonder whether it could even be called a horror movie (“Bro, do you even scare?”), has made back its budget more than ten times over. The original Paranormal Activity made back its budget at roughly a zillion percent. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is in the ballpark of the same rate of return as The Witch, and will presumably pass that, if it hasn’t already. Those sexy, sexy returns are huge for Star Wars, though, in ways The Witch can’t match, but for every Star Wars there’s a dozen failed reboots or lackluster big movies.

This post could also be titled “What’s Wrong With America, Part [X],” given how widely this tiresome, destructive phenomenon repeats itself. Folks in the worlds of horror and speculative fiction publishing have been talking about the lawsuit Hachette has brought against the author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies for failing to deliver on his next novel. So many problems there, but in the theme of this post, consider how many books could have received modest advances, instead of millions of dollars pumped in the direction of a gimmick, in hopes of massive profits. I don’t begrudge the author his awesome contract, but as part of the general scheme of huge money driving out adventurous, or even modestly successful, money, it’s unfortunate.

There are workarounds, fortunately: sometimes it’s Indiegogo, sometimes self-publishing, sometimes Vimeo. I just wish the natural rate of have/have-not in the arts weren’t being exacerbated simply in order to placate shareholders. Lots of people hustle hard just to get the word out about projects so that they can see the light of day, let alone make a buck. To wit, congratulations to Orrin Grey, whose Kickstarter for a deluxe edition of Never Bet the Devil funded yesterday. Whatever the market looks like, art finds a way.

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