As major studios increasingly rely on blockbusters to fill their coffers, big-ticket producers such as Joel Silver and Arnold Kopelson said no studio would bite if they pitched a low-budget picture.“If I say I want to make a ‘Joy Luck Club,’ they look at me and say, ‘What blows up?’ ” said Silver, producer of the “Lethal Weapon” and “Die Hard” films, at the Motion Picture & TV Program Finance conference Wednesday. While Silver defended the hit mentality — he said he’d be happy to figure out a way to make sequels without making the first pic — others worried about the perilous financial path it poses. With big-budget films, studios often operate on skimpy profit margins. “The real problem is, the system doesn’t work,” said entertainment lawyer Peter Dekom. “It’s a break-even business and a library business.” Only seven years ago, 17.4% of the domestic box office revenue came from movies that generated $ 100 million or more. This year, Paul Kagan, whose Kagan Seminars Inc. sponsored the conference, estimates that more than a third of domestic B.O. receipts will come from blockbusters. “The importance of the blockbuster is that they are what is driving the revenue and what is driving the business,” Kagan said. Even so, the fear that pressure to crank out more “Jurassic Park”-type movies will eliminate the ability to get a lower-budget film made is really much ado about nothing. In fact, the studios are recognizing that there is an audience for those films, turning out movies such as “Age of Innocence” and establishing separate units, such as Sony Pictures Classics. Samuel Goldwyn Co. prexy Meyer Gottlieb sees that ultimately as a boon for his studio, which recently produced indie hits “Much Ado About Nothing” and “The Wedding Banquet.” “Major studios are making product that used to be the domain of the independents,” Gottlieb said. “More money is being spent by the studios building my audience.” A challenge for indies, though, is securing screens and getting beyond the big cities as the major studios up their annual movie output to, in Disney’s case, as many as 60 films. “I think the independent’s window is now the third week of October and the first week of February,” said Gramercy Pictures prexy Russell Schwartz. “It has gotten vicious out there, certainly.”
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