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MPAA trips on math

Average marketing costs for specialty labels up 33%

If you think it’s hard to define independent film artistically, try doing it mathematically.

When the MPAA recently released its industry statistics for 2005, the org had a separate category for studio subsids, which it defined in small print as “studio ‘classics’ and specialty divisions.”

Average marketing costs for specialty labels apparently shot up 33%, vs. a 5% rise for big studios, the stats suggested. Production costs, meanwhile, were down 19%, while studios saw costs fall just 4%.

But it turns out the MPAA has a very loose definition of “specialty labels.” It included studios as big as New Line, which released such “specialty” movies as “Son of the Mask” and “Wedding Crashers” last year. Meanwhile, small movies released by big studios, like WB’s “Syriana,” were counted in the “member companies” category, not specialty.

Essentially, the org used the “specialty” category for every film it could get data on that wasn’t released by Disney, Sony, Fox, Universal, MGM, Paramount or Warner Bros. So the category includes independent labels like Par Classics and Fox Searchlight, genre divisions like Screen Gems and Rogue, and even New Line, which is a separate business unit from WB within Time Warner, but isn’t an MPAA member.

Also not taken into account: production money from outside financiers that provided sizable chunks of the budgets of tentpoles like “Batman Begins” and “The Chronicles of Narnia,” and that indies like Lionsgate that don’t belong to the MPAA didn’t provide data.

Add it all up and you’ve got a set of statistics that means … well, who knows?