Panel: Focus on ‘horse race’ is misguided

Media should scrutinize profitablity, budgets more than initial B.O.

When it comes to how bizzers judge a film’s success, participants in a Tuesday panel on the state of the film industry had a few choice words for entertainment journos.

“The media focuses on the weekend box office way too dramatically,” said Rick Nicita, co-chairman and COO of Morgan Creek Prods. “A movie can be seen in many different ways. The initial one is theatrical.”

Nicita echoed the sentiment of other speakers at Variety’s Future of Film Summit on Tuesday, who lamented the intense media scrutiny of a film’s opening weekend box office irrespective of that pic’s costs and risks.

“It’s got to be about the profits, it’s not about this constant horse race,” said Endgame Entertainment CEO Jim Stern during the panel moderated by Variety editor in chief Tim Gray. “If you come into the film and you have a small exposure and the film does $30 million, you have an enormous success. We don’t measure the performance of Chrysler by gross revenue, we base it on profit.”

Stern and Nicita, along with panelists David Glasser, chief operating officer of the Weinstein Co., and Mark Sourian, co-prexy of production for DreamWorks Studios, argued that bizzers need to rethink the categorization of more “modest” performers — especially if they were made for a price.

“They did it with ‘Insidious” and ‘Paranormal’ … there have been some very smart price points,” Glasser said. “Dimension, for years, would make movies for $10 million or $12 million dollars and we do $30 million box office…we’re running around the office high-fiving each other.”

These smaller budgets, coupled with the current economic climate and new digital revenue streams, is contributing to an increased openness at the studios to the opportunity to finance smaller pics.

“Without those entities, studios are going to make fewer and fewer movies,” Sourian said.

Above all, with consumers facing so many entertainment options, moviemakers need to focus on the quality of the product to move the turnstiles.

“You really have to give people a reason to go to the movies,” Sourian said. “What I have to ask myself is, ‘Is there a compelling enough reason for somebody to get in their car, get a babysitter and get to the movie?’ That bar has been (raised) … by VOD, by social networking, by the economic climate.”

And while change can be scary for many business models, the panelists agreed that there’s a silver lining.

“One version of it is a burden, the other version is an opportunity to create … must-see movies,” Sourian said.