Though many pretend they don’t exist, losing streaks have gripped both stars and studios. The trick is figuring out how to reverse them.
People in entertainment, unlike their confreres in sports, go into denial when you mention streaks. They don’t want to hold out the possibility of a losing streak; their careers are all on a steadily upward curve.
Until the curve plummets downward, that is.
A golfer or baseball player will readily admit to hot streaks and cold streaks. On the other hand, a well-known director recently informed me he doesn’t believe in streaks, then went on to confide that several of his rivals obviously were on a losing streak.
Studio production chiefs also tend to decry streaks because they suggest an admission that luck, not brilliant strategy, plays a role in their success or failure.
Study the fortunes of various film and TV companies, however, and it’s hard not to factor in streaks. At Revolution Films, for example, Joe Roth and his colleagues kept saying all year long that their very next release would refute the notion of a losing streak. Yet out they came — “Hollywood Homicide,” “Gigli,” “The Missing,” “Mona Lisa Smile,” “Peter Pan.” If that’s not a streak, it sure is bad karma.
If you don’t believe in streaks, how do you explain Paramount’s bad run? Any company that lists “Timeline” or “Beyond Borders” as its holiday releases is not exactly edging into the winners’ circle.
Then there’s DreamWorks. The company that gave us “American Beauty” and “Gladiator” now heralds “Win a Date With Tad Hamilton!” as its latest tentpole.
On the other side of the fence, consider New Line. After suffering through a streak of movies like “Little Nicky” and “Town and Country,” the company suddenly pops out “Elf,” “Freddy vs. Jason,” “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and finally, of course, the blockbuster to end all blockbusters — “The Return of the King,” the third iteration of “The Lord of the Rings.”
Streaks overtake actors as well. Eddie Murphy could do no wrong in “48 HRS.,” “Beverly Hills Cop” and “The Nutty Professor.” Check his box score lately? There’s “The Haunted Mansion,” “The Adventures of Pluto Nash” and “I Spy.”
The danger with denying the existence of streaks is that you don’t mobilize to combat them. Paramount, at least, has expressed its determination to make major changes in its production and marketing teams. The studio also insists it’s going to modify its “no risk” policy and take an occasional flier on more expensive and innovative pictures.
Revolution is more of an anomaly. From its inception two years ago, the company boasted that it represented the anti-studio. Since there were no layers of bureaucracy, the company could move quickly and decisively.
Revolution has made some good movies, like “Black Hawk Down,” and some less-than-good but profitable movies, like “Anger Management.” But given the high hopes that surrounded it, Revolution’s performance has been streaky. Bad streaky.
There were reasonable explanations for Revolution’s startup glitches.
Even with ample resources, it’s difficult to start a film company from scratch. Though Sony distributes its films, Revolution’s complex funding structure mandated it could not draw upon Sony’s material or development resources.
Devoid of sequels or franchises, Revolution set out to make an 18-picture slate over three years, nearly all of them falling into that high-risk category of “middling movies” — that is, not low-budget niche films but also not mega-budget tentpoles. This meant a major dependency on high-concepts like “Daddy Day Care” or on genre films that other studios backed away from, like “The Missing.”
This has proven to be a tough way to live. Vehicles from proven stars like Bruce Willis or Harrison Ford have tanked. Promising-sounding concepts like “Peter Pan” have failed to spark. Filmmakers with superb track records, like Ron Howard, have failed to produce.
With luck like this, “Gigli” seemed inevitable.
What will Revolution do to reverse its streak? Joe Roth himself is busy producing the Oscar show, so he’s been occupied. One source reports he’s determined to make fewer films and is farming out much of his development to new sets of eyes.
Still, the folks at Revolution are certain their luck will change. It’s a business of streaks, isn’t it?
That is, if you believe in streaks.