LOS ANGELES ― For this awards season, Hollywood came through with a bumper crop of movies that were critical and fan favorites. But in many cases, the big studios themselves can’t take much of the credit.
Among the films basking in Oscar nominations ― and bragging rights for the studios that released them ― are “Lincoln,” “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”
In a growing trend, the distributors of those three movies didn’t pay to make them. Walt Disney Studios, Sony Pictures and Fox Searchlight essentially outsourced the productions, allowing others to invest the money and take the risk. Other award-contending films, including “The Master,” followed the same pattern.
|A scene from “Zero Dark Thirty,” Oscar-nominated for Best Motion Picture (Sony Pictures/MCT)|
At a time when media conglomerates are in thrall to the mega-profits that can be made from superhero movies and sequels, studio executives have a hard time risking money on pictures aimed at a more sophisticated adult audience. So they’re increasingly relying on outsiders to do so.
“Studios are tentative about adventurous movies that don’t have a clear precedent,” said Roman Coppola, a writer on the Oscar-nominated “Moonrise Kingdom,” which was released by Universal Pictures-owned Focus Features but financed by Indian Paintbrush, an independent company founded by venture capitalist Steven Rales. “So you sometimes have to go outside the system to make the most interesting movies.”
For moviegoers who prefer sophistication over spandex, it’s mostly good news. Some of 2012’s most acclaimed films, like “Zero Dark” and “Beasts,” might not have gotten the green light from a Hollywood studio boss in a corner office.
For the studios, however, there can be a downside: When the outsourced films become box-office successes, the studios don’t keep as large a share of the profits. The Steven Spielberg-directed “Lincoln,” for instance, has grossed nearly $150 million in the U.S. and Canada. But Disney will collect less than $10 million of that because it was simply the distributor. DreamWorks, which financed “Lincoln” with three other partners, stands to make far more.
In ego-driven Hollywood, the outsourced film can also create tension between a financier and a studio over who can receive champagne toasts at parties and be included among the thank-yous from the awards show dais. In 2011, financier Ryan Kavanaugh petitioned the motion picture academy to credit him as a producer on the Oscar-nominated “The Fighter” along with the producers credited by distributor Paramount Pictures. He was declined.
By Steven Zeitchik and Ben Fritz
(Los Angeles Times)
(MCT Information Services)