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Overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out
March 6, 2010 4:30 AM   Subscribe

With only three of the ten nominated best pictures in this years Oscars having big name leads and last year's top five earners in the film business being directors, is this the end of the big name, big earning, Hollywood star actor?
posted by fearfulsymmetry (61 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Still, Mr. Asner, who spoke by phone last week, said he ultimately received much more because the Walt Disney Company’s Pixar unit, which produced “Up,” augmented his small front-end fee with bonuses that came with the film’s success: it took in more than $723 million in ticket sales around the world.

“If it does well, you do well,” Mr. Asner said.


I like this idea. Actors would be disinclined to choose crappy scripts if their income is at stake. (Then again, the Transformers movies have made a ton of money.)

Incidentally, this is exactly the reform needed for Wall Street brokers; as it stands now, if they choose bad investments it doesn't hurt their pay. Choosing bad investments should put them in the poorhouse.
posted by zardoz at 4:39 AM on March 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


What they really want to do is direct.
posted by Rhaomi at 4:40 AM on March 6, 2010


Ask Will Smith?
posted by Submiqent at 5:05 AM on March 6, 2010


Since when do they nominate ten films? I call nomination inflation.
posted by Mister_A at 5:34 AM on March 6, 2010


Since when do they nominate ten films? I call nomination inflation.

"The expansion is a throwback to the Academy's early years in the 1930s and '40s, when anywhere between eight and 12 films were shortlisted." W
posted by hal9k at 5:55 AM on March 6, 2010


The actor must be fed and, at some point, allowed to rest.

When you first get your actor, you’ll need to spend $35 for a cage. Food runs about $50 a year, plus $20 annually for toys and treats, and $220 each year for litter and bedding material. The ASPCA recommends that you get your actor from a responsible breeder or, better yet, adopt one from a shelter or actor rescue group.

Actors are big on exercise, so please make sure yours has a wheel for running. Actors also like to hide and sleep inside enclosed spaces, so you’ll need a small box with an entrance hole or a small flower pot for this purpose. And they love crawling through tubes, which can be homemade (empty cardboard tubes from paper towels and toilet paper!) or purchased from a pet supply store. And finally, you may notice that your actor is a major creature of comfort. Remember to regularly give him small pieces of paper towel or napkin to shred and make a nest with.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 6:08 AM on March 6, 2010 [11 favorites]


Cute title!
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:20 AM on March 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


If the Oscars Were Honest
posted by Rhomboid at 6:30 AM on March 6, 2010 [4 favorites]


Since only a small number of actors actually make those giant seven to eight digit salaries to begin with, I'm not really that concerned about a drop in payment. If the Guild rules state that they have to be paid at least $65k or so, and they can do just two movies a year, that's not a bad living. I agree with tying in the salary to movie performance.
posted by Atreides at 6:41 AM on March 6, 2010


Dammit, Rhomboid, for a moment I actually thought "Little-Town Blues" was a real movie and I tried to look it up on the IMDb. With that cast, it would probably be one of my all-time favorites if it were.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:46 AM on March 6, 2010


I think ten is too many films, now and then. Everybody gets a trophy!
posted by Mister_A at 6:59 AM on March 6, 2010


It would be cool if this same phenomenon started happening in the sports world too.
posted by octothorpe at 7:23 AM on March 6, 2010


Please god I hope so.
posted by spicynuts at 7:25 AM on March 6, 2010


It's been long-known that there is zero evidence that a star will actually have anything but negligible impact on box office. Brad Pitt is notoriously bad at opening a movie, and for a while Demi Moore was the highest paid actress in Hollywood -- about the same time as Striptease, The Juror, and GI Jane.

So why do stars still make so much money? Because nobody fucking knows why a film does well and another film fails. So Hollywood clutches to past successes like a talisman, hoping against hope that there is something about a celebrity that might push a movie over the top. And for every vastly overpaid star, it also means that genuine weirdos, like the husband-wife team who did Napoleon Dynamite, can coast on the success of that film for a little while, and real oddities like Gentlemen Broncos winds up getting made.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:44 AM on March 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


To expand on my last comment, I hate the "super star" economic model that's seems to have dominated so many industries in the last thirty or so years. In music, sports, finance, corporate executives, film, and a bunch of other fields, there's been this attitude that the top 5% percent of people in deserve %75 percent1 of the money and all the other people get shitty pay. So Russel Crowe and Carson Palmer and Robert Benmosche make tens of millions of dollars while the journeyman people under them get paid crap.


1. I made up those numbers but I'm sure they're something like that.
posted by octothorpe at 7:53 AM on March 6, 2010


Astro Zombie's correct for the most part, with the (themselves kind of waning) exceptions that a star can carry at least the opening weekend of a comedy, and used to be able to carry an action movie though I guess not really anymore.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:20 AM on March 6, 2010


If there's one thing there is plenty of historical evidence for, it is the wisdom of drawing a conclusion based on two data points.
posted by DU at 8:25 AM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


No.
posted by cgomez at 8:35 AM on March 6, 2010


It would be cool if this same phenomenon started happening in the sports world too.

It would be cool, but there are some problems. There are huge disincentives for athletes to tie their earnings to owners this way.

* Actors can act throughout their lives -- Ed Asner from above is a perfect example; he's 80 years old and has been acting professionally for more than 50 years. Athletes have a very narrow window in which they're competitive. The average span of an NFL career, for example, is about two years.

* Most athletes are not superstars. That NFL average? It's dragged down because there's more than 50 players on each team. Baseball will have 25 players per team, plus 100 or so players in each team's minor-league system.

* Athletes get injured. In other words, through no fault of their own, out of the blue, bam, their lifetime earning power can drop to zero. This literally happens to multiple people every season.

* In a team sport, most of a team's performance is out of an individual's control. Even Michael Jordan had four other players on the court with him. You can be the greatest defensive back the NFL has ever seen, but you're literally not even on the field for more than half the game.

All of this and more points people toward a system in which "get paid now" is the prevailing economic motivator.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:40 AM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


The ten films thing is a bit weird, and possibly a bit of a backfire in terms of making it exciting as everyone just goes and divides it into the ones that might win and the no hopers anyway.

Mainly the films I'm rooting for are in the no hoper category, District 9 for instance. Or Precious, which might be grim oscar baiting material but manages to get over that to be very good (though grim, very grim, and lets face it no other bugger saw it)

Still, I'm looking forwards to Avatar winning just because of the degree to which it will annoy the folks who freak out about it being the worst film ever and a rip off of Apocalypto or whatever it is this week.
posted by Artw at 8:50 AM on March 6, 2010


Because nobody fucking knows why a film does well and another film fails.

Can we take up a collection to have this phrase erected 20-foot letters right under the Hollywood sign?
posted by vibrotronica at 8:56 AM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


From the first link: And, of course, it has its own soap-opera style battle of the ex-spouses in the head-to-head competition between the two films' directors: James Cameron, the director of Avatar, and his former wife Kathryn Bigelow, who made The Hurt Locker.

Apparently they're on really good terms and have been very supportive of each other. I keep seeing this kind of language about Cameron and Bigelow, and it's pretty hilarious to see reporters scrambling so desperately for conflict.

(Kick his ass, Kathryn!)
posted by brundlefly at 9:00 AM on March 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


brundlefly: "Apparently they're on really good terms and have been very supportive of each other. I keep seeing this kind of language about Cameron and Bigelow, and it's pretty hilarious to see reporters scrambling so desperately for conflict."

Yeah, didn't Cameron write the script for Strange Days for Bigelow after they divorced? Although given Cameron's reputation in general, I guess it's not that strange that the media assumes an acrimonious divorce.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 9:10 AM on March 6, 2010


Because nobody fucking knows why a film does well and another film fails.

Can we take up a collection to have this phrase erected 20-foot letters right under the Hollywood sign?


William Goldman's "Nobody Knows Anything" is already pretty much enshrined in La-La Land.
posted by philip-random at 9:29 AM on March 6, 2010


Oh man, I just noticed the title. Awesome.
posted by DU at 9:30 AM on March 6, 2010


“If it does well, you do well,” Mr. Asner said.

This runs counter to pretty much everything I've ever heard about Hollywood accounting which is so notoriously labyrinthian and corrupt that pretty much all monies not paid up front are never seen, regardless of the box office success of the project in question.

I believe that the Lord Of The Rings trilogy is still "on the books" as having lost money.
posted by philip-random at 9:33 AM on March 6, 2010


Is there any chance that this is just a savvy recession-era dip in the star system? Considering the wide-ranging populism explosion over the past year, what if Hollywood--for once --had a clue and quietly (and temporarily) backed away from huge acting salaries to avoid bad press? It's paid off, in a sense, as box-office receipts hit a record high last year.*

If the Oscars Were Honest

(a) That is hilarious, and
(b) It's so nice to see someone not blaming the utterly delightful Milla Jovovich for being in crappy movies, but
(c) They had me up until the bit at the end claiming that the Riverses were the scourge of the red carpet, when anyone who's had the misfortune to accidentally watch E! knows that Giuliana Rancic and Ryan Seacrest are velvet hell.

*Good God, what a mixed bag that rightmost column of #1 movies is.
posted by kittyprecious at 9:35 AM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


If the Oscars Were Honest

Honest Movie Posters for 2010.
posted by philip-random at 9:39 AM on March 6, 2010 [7 favorites]


I much prefer the idea of "Is this the end of the pompous assumption of the folks at 620 8th Avenue that they decree and define trends before they happen," but of course that's a foolish mirage.
posted by blucevalo at 9:55 AM on March 6, 2010


philip-random: that college humor post made my day. thanks!
posted by liza at 9:57 AM on March 6, 2010


Bringing up sport is interesting in that the UK has just had the first premiership soccer team go bust, largely due to the ridiculous levels of wage inflation there has been in the last few years.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 10:01 AM on March 6, 2010


Since the two best actress front-runners appear, according to the New York Times itself, to be Meryl Streep (Hollywood star since 1977) and Sandra Bullock (Hollywood star since 1994) and the best actor front-runners appear to be Jeff Bridges (Hollywood star since 1971) and George Clooney (Hollywood star since 1996), I think the celebrity star-making machinery is safe for a while.
posted by blucevalo at 10:04 AM on March 6, 2010


Precious, which might be grim oscar baiting material but manages to get over that to be very good (though grim, very grim, and lets face it no other bugger saw it.

Well not many white people, perhaps. Precious has done $50m+ off a $10m budget and is in the top 20 for all time theatre averages.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 10:07 AM on March 6, 2010


Still, I'm looking forwards to Avatar winning just because of the degree to which it will annoy the folks who freak out about it being the worst film ever and a rip off of Apocalypto or whatever it is this week.

Actually, Avatar's (probably) not going to win, specifically because of the haters. The Academy Awards are using a weighted ballot for the first time this year, and it's expected that a significant number of people are going to rank it last out of spite. The smart money's on The Hurt Locker, which everyone pretty much at least liked a lot, though there is a minute chance (hopehopehope) that Inglourious Basterds could sneak in. It probably won't, though.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:11 AM on March 6, 2010


"is this the end of the big name, big earning, Hollywood star actor?"

No.

Outside of Pixar's films -- which are technically Northern Californian -- I have largely ignored Hollywood lately. Hands down, the best film I saw last year was Departures. (Yes, even better than 'Up'.)

It's a bit lame, perhaps, but the movies I am looking forward to most this year is Space Battleship Yamato.
posted by markkraft at 10:15 AM on March 6, 2010


So why do stars still make so much money? Because nobody fucking knows why a film does well and another film fails.

There was a good Gladwell piece in the New Yorker two years back about this very problem:

The Formula - What if you built a machine to predict hit movies?
posted by longdaysjourney at 10:26 AM on March 6, 2010


Sorry - that should have been "three and a half years back", not "two years".
posted by longdaysjourney at 10:28 AM on March 6, 2010


From longdaysjourney's link, a more complete examination of William Goldman's dictum:

The most famous dictum about Hollywood belongs to the screenwriter William Goldman. “Nobody knows anything,” Goldman wrote in “Adventures in the Screen Trade” a couple of decades ago. “Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work. Every time out it’s a guess.” One of the highest-grossing movies in history, “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” was offered to every studio in Hollywood, Goldman writes, and every one of them turned it down except Paramount: “Why did Paramount say yes? Because nobody knows anything. And why did all the other studios say no? Because nobody knows anything. And why did Universal, the mightiest studio of all, pass on Star Wars? . . . Because nobody, nobody—not now, not ever—knows the least goddamn thing about what is or isn’t going to work at the box office.”
posted by philip-random at 10:39 AM on March 6, 2010


It's a bit lame, perhaps, but the movies I am looking forward to most this year is Space Battleship Yamato.

Me too! That's not lame at all. Yamato blew my mind when I was a kid and I'm looking forward to the live action and battleships in space. Which is so brilliant and wonderfully visual I can't believe no one's revisited it since then. Sure it won't win an Oscar (or whatever the Japanese equivalent is) but...

Also, to answer the question in the post. No. There have always been vastly overpaid stars, there will probably always be vastly overpaid stars, at least until we replace them all with software.

Also, worth noting (and I say this as a video editor who just spent the last decade in Los Angeles) there's a lot of people from top to bottom of the Hollywood food chain who are vastly overpaid (including, formerly, me), just the stars are the most vastly overpaid.
posted by davros42 at 11:00 AM on March 6, 2010


Can someone explain why every critic wet themselves over The Hurt Locker? I finally got around to watching it a few days ago and was extremely underwhelmed. It felt extremely unrealistic, boring, tedious, and uninteresting. If I want to be reminded that war is hell, I'll go watch Full Metal Jacket or Hamburger Hill or Apocalypse Now or any of the other billion war films that already made that point many times over. I found myself hating the lead character of Hurt Locker for being irresponsible and out of control and just an all-around jackass. Seriously, why all the love for that film? I just don't get it.
posted by Rhomboid at 11:07 AM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


(I also hated Up and couldn't make it through without having to fast forward, but I just dismissed that as my having a lump of black coal where normal people have a heart.)
posted by Rhomboid at 11:08 AM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Rhomboid - I haven't gotten to see The Hurt Locker yet, but as I understand it the fact that the lead character is an irresponsible thrill-seeking jackass repeatedly putting the rest of his platoon at risk is kind of the whole point.
posted by Navelgazer at 11:43 AM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


If this is the end of the big name, big earning, Hollywood star actor, can we please see the end to the phenomenon of "Featuring George Clooney as the voice of the animated lemur on the pogo stick"?

Hire some true voice actors, you slavering studio cretins.
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:57 AM on March 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


Because nobody fucking knows why a film does well and another film fails.

While there's a lot of truth to that statment it's also not quite that simple. There's been a ton of research iunto cinema viewing habits, and the oddest statistic is that the majority of people decide they're going to go to the cinema before they decide what they're going to see.

It's hard to see that happening in any other artform in large numbers. When was the last time someone said 'hey, who wants to go to a gig / exhibition / play on friday night, let's see what's on?'. So given that the majority of cinema goers decide to go first (Screen Int did some research showing just this a few years back), the fact that this film has someone you've heard of in it does come in to play.

It also most certainly comes into play when selling a film to a distributor. Do you want to buy this slightly odd film with no one you've ever heard of, or do you want to buy this slightly odd film with Billy Zane in it? Most distributors will go for Billy every time, because they know so will a lot of cinema goers.

This is obviously no indication of the merit of these films, or the ability of stars to choose decent films to appear in, but the fact is if your film has Billy Zane in it it will open wider and have a certain take just because he's in it.
posted by ciderwoman at 7:18 PM on March 6, 2010


but the fact is if your film has Billy Zane in it it will open wider and have a certain take just because he's in it.

meant to say 'has a better chance of...'

Stupid editing.
posted by ciderwoman at 7:20 PM on March 6, 2010


I, too, am at a loss for why everyone puts up with the central charactr of The Hurt Locker.

Interestingly some guy is suing because he thinks it's based on him - that's really not something I'd want to make public.
posted by Artw at 12:01 AM on March 7, 2010


Sandra Bullock accepts her Razzie in person . I wish she'd done a Verhoeven re Showgirls and just accepted it, not tried to prove she should not have won. Still quite classy though, and I like the DVD stunt.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:55 AM on March 7, 2010


Yeah, I'm a bit sceptical about the 'nobody knows nothing'. Yes there are films with noted stars, solid scripts and decent crew that just bomb and there are films that come out of nowhere and do a lot better than expected but by and large.

And the phenomena of people just going to the cinema, as a group of friends, and seeing anything is interesting and how the studios have gotten wise to it. I remember posting something earlier on film marketing which was really depressing on just how targeted films are no, esp at the 'just going to the cinema' crowd who tend to be teens-20s bracket.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 4:14 AM on March 7, 2010


If this is the end of the big name, big earning, Hollywood star actor, can we please see the end to the phenomenon of "Featuring George Clooney as the voice of the animated lemur on the pogo stick"?

Hire some true voice actors, you slavering studio cretins.


Yes, yes, yes.

Partly because hell, the big-name actors you see in these are already getting a big enough piece of the pie, back off and let someone else have some, you greedy gits.

And mostly because my One True Talent In Life is being able to instantly recognise even the most obscure of voices, and the combining of this talent and the habit of animation studios lately to use very famous people is rendering me unable to watch Hollywood animation at all.

Ray Romano in Ice Age, for god's sake?! *shakes fists at the heavens*
posted by pseudonymph at 6:28 AM on March 7, 2010


If I want to be reminded that war is hell, I'll go watch Full Metal Jacket or Hamburger Hill or Apocalypse Now or any of the other billion war films that already made that point many times over.

That wasn't, from my perspective, the message that the movie was trying to impart. I thought it was trying to convey first, one facet of the Iraqi war concerning IEDs and the danger they posed, and second, the way that being in war (or any adrenaline pumping activity) can utterly consume a person. I was reminded of this when a local parachutist killed himself trying to climb to the top of a giant earth mover in the middle of the night for the sole purpose of attempting to do a base jump.

Moving away from the message, I thought the movie was very well crafted from the perspective that danger is lurking anywhere, and it doesn't have to be just a bomb buried in the road or set in the trunk of a car. It can be running down dark alleyways alone at night or driving through the desert and pausing to chat with someone seemingly in the middle of no where. Like a bomb, though, one could have been avoided or diffused if approached rationally, but also like an explosive, it simply happens (the sniper). I thought the movie did a fantastic job of keeping the tension of all this danger at the right level. I cared enough about the characters to worry for them in every dangerous situation, and when the movie ended, I felt somewhat exhausted but in a good way.
posted by Atreides at 7:17 AM on March 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Possible Hurt Locker spoilers ahoy...

It can be running down dark alleyways alone at night

I'm pretty certain that running down a dark alleyway alone at night in Iraq is a really fucking bad idea. I'm also pretty sure every single military person in Iraq would be of that opinion too. So the guy does it and predictably bad results ensue...

So he's an asshole, and a thrilljunky who will most likely get I guess we get that from the title card that says "War is a drug. PS, that's the subtext of the movie"

But his asshole nature is never really explored, or much commented upon, and there's never much consequence for it. I'm almost wondering if he's not enough of an asshole for the movie to really work for me, and if it would be better if it were Bad Lieutenant: Bomb Disposal, but I guess then it wouldn't be winning any oscars.
posted by Artw at 10:45 AM on March 8, 2010


(Which is not to say I didn't like it, or think it was good, but the shear level of praise it gets seems a little odd to me. )
posted by Artw at 10:49 AM on March 8, 2010


'm pretty certain that running down a dark alleyway alone at night in Iraq is a really fucking bad idea. I'm also pretty sure every single military person in Iraq would be of that opinion too. So the guy does it and predictably bad results ensue...

Yep. That's why he had to order his two guys with him. Going back to what I originally said, it was an example of him not approaching the situation with any type of rational thought.

But his asshole nature is never really explored, or much commented upon, and there's never much consequence for it. I'm almost wondering if he's not enough of an asshole for the movie to really work for me, and if it would be better if it were Bad Lieutenant: Bomb Disposal, but I guess then it wouldn't be winning any oscars.

The consequence is the fact the guy he ordered to go down a lonely alleyway is nearly kidnapped and shot in the leg. That's a pretty big deal. I suppose it'd have a greater impact if he had disappeared, but I don't mind when a movie decides not to go the extra mile to drive in the point. Outside of being killed, I'd expect being kidnapped/captured by insurgents to be on the top of the list for soldiers or marines deployed. And his behavior is commented upon by his sergeant several times through out the movie.

If it didn't work for you, it didn't work for you. There's been movies that won Best Oscar in the past that I was really "meh" about, so I understand the feeling.
posted by Atreides at 4:46 PM on March 8, 2010


Well, to be honest it's entirely I'm probably suffering from build-up syndrome a little... It'd be interesting to watch it again when all the hype has faded.
posted by Artw at 4:51 PM on March 8, 2010


Gah. Entirely POSSIBLE.
posted by Artw at 4:51 PM on March 8, 2010


For me the issue wasn't that the movie didn't make clear the staggering consequences of his assholishness -- that was abundantly clear. What vexed me was that it didn't offer any real explanation to the deeper meaning: was he an innate asshole who would have been just as reckless in civilian life who happened to be drawn to war as an outlet, or did the war create this huge asshole out of someone would would otherwise be more of a centered individual? All I got from the film was, "Here is this really brash and out of control solider. Isn't he zany and insane? Wouldn't you hate to serve with this jerk, AMIRITE? Those guys' lives sure did suck."
posted by Rhomboid at 4:55 PM on March 8, 2010


That and some sort of Black Hawk Down type stuff about how nasty and untrustworthy the locals are.
posted by Artw at 4:57 PM on March 8, 2010


If someone made a movie about the less nutty guy who wears the suit and uses the robot and which was actually more focused on the business of defusing bombs I think I'd be more interetsed in that as well, but i doubt that would be seeing much Oscar action either.
posted by Artw at 4:59 PM on March 8, 2010


Well yeah, although I found it to be more of a reflection of how shitty a situation can get when an occupied people fight dirty and ruthlessly against their invaders -- using children as body bombs, kidnapping innocents and padlocking explosive vests to them, and so on. But here I found the film had nothing new or noteworthy to say, it was just back to the same tired old refrain of, "when you invade a sovereign nation you should expect them to fight back tooth and nail no matter what excuse you give for being there."
posted by Rhomboid at 5:05 PM on March 8, 2010


You people and your high expectations. Pffft. ;)


In all seriousness, I've stated why I thought the film was great, but I understand the perspectives that you (artw / rhomboid) are coming from. Not all films are for everyone.
posted by Atreides at 9:14 AM on March 9, 2010


TBH It's not like I beleive in the sanctity of the best picture award or anything (I mean, Crash, for fucks sake), more than anything I just like to try and watch the pictures nominated each year to catch some interetsing and different movies that I wouldn't normally watch, and sometimes they'll actually be good movies too and sometimes the ones that I end up rooting for will get an award.

TBH The main thing I got from the Awards themselves is I ended up enormously happy for every award that Precious got, because it deserved those awards more than anything and it was deserving of more. That can't have been an easy to make or to be in, and they certainly did nothing to go out of their way to be popular or palatable.

Also, on teh subjetc of stars in movies, the "star" actors in Precious are kind of weird... it's all these bit parts by celebrities, and looking at the cast alone you could mistake it for an animated feature about talking animals who sing songs or something. And they're made almost unrecognisable in the movie because, well, mainly because they all look terrible in it, and not all made-up and shiny like they usually would be.
posted by Artw at 10:56 AM on March 9, 2010


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