The Success and Failure of Shared Franchises

By: Brandon T. McClure

Last week Marvel Studios released Avengers: Endgame, the culmination of an unprecedented 22 movie arc that paid off with the largest opening weekend box office gross of all time. By the end of the films first five days, it had grossed $1.2 billion world-wide and, as of the end of April, is the tenth highest grossing film ever. This franchise has seen unparalleled success, in no small part due to how the films have touched audiences around the world.

Arguably, Marvel is at the peak of its popularity. It remains to be seen what the next few years are going to look like, but, it’s clear that this time is one for the history books. When films succeed, studios try to capitalize on that success by trying to recreate it. Superhero films are often referred to as the westerns of this generation, since when the westerns were doing well, every studio was putting one out.

There have been a number of attempts to create another shared cinematic franchise from Sony, Universal Studios, Fox and Warner Bros, but they tend to miss a key equation in the Marvel formula. Just after the release of The Avengers, there were talks of studios developing various shared franchises. For example, Sony was developing a “Robin Hood shared universe” which would have focused on developing movies based on each of Robin Hood's Merry Men.

“Shared Universe” is a buzz term in the industry that means a franchise that is made up of different film franchises that crossover together. For example, if Sony had gone through with Robin Hood, then they would have developed a film based on Little John and a film on Robin Hood. After the two “origin” films, they would meet together and fight the Sheriff of Nottingham. In short, a larger franchise that is made up of smaller “shared” franchise.

Universal Studios tried twice to launch a shared franchise of monster films (called “The Dark Universe,”) once with Dracula: Untold, and then again with Tom Cruise The Mummy. Both of these films failed to resonate with critics and audiences, and were scrapped. Guillermo Del Toro talked about how he was approached by Universal to kick start this, but they couldn’t see eye to eye. That project ended up turning into The Shape of Water for Fox Searchlight. Now, Universal is poised to try again with next years’ The Invisible Man from Blumhouse. Third time's a charm, right?

The biggest competition for Marvel comes with Warner Bros. attempts. Since the end of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, they have been pursuing a comic book franchise with a lineup of films based on DC Comics. This started with Man of Steel and continues today. While financially successful, the films failed to connect with audiences like the Marvel films did. Ever since the release of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Warner Bros. was in some form of restructuring. After Justice League failed to perform at the box office, Warner Bros. decided to refocus on creative driven projects like Aquaman and Shazam; something that seems to have worked in their favor.

Sony and Fox both attempted to recreate the Marvel formula with their own Marvel properties, but they ended up disastrous for each company. Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was supposed to launch a large amount of villain centered spin-offs, but the failure of that film, and the now famous, “Sony Leaks” ended up forcing the company to make a deal with Disney to share the character of Spider-Man. Sony is still going forward with something they’re calling “Sony’s Universe of Marvel Characters” which seems to be focused on Spider-Man villains such as Venom and Morbius: The Living Vampire, which is currently filming with Jared Leto as the lead. This franchise is unconnected to the one that Marvel Studios/Disney puts out.

The common denominator for all the failed shared franchises seems to be studio mandate. James Dyer of the Empire Podcast said in his discussion of The Mummy that “audiences know that films are made for money. But they don’t like being reminded of it.” He was speaking of the idea that The Mummy was a clear attempt by the studio to launch, what they hoped to be, a billion dollar franchise. James Gunn, director of the Guardians of the Galaxy films chimed in on the influx of shared universes by saying that you need to lay the groundwork before you start building these franchises. If you don’t, then they’ll collapse.

Audiences identify with creator driven products. It’s why Marvel did so well. Before 2012, The Avengers was a pipe dream for Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige. He focused on one film at a time, in the hopes to someday make a film that crossed over the characters like Iron Man with Captain America. There was no studio mandate to make a billion-dollar franchise by including other characters, nor loose threads to be picked up in future films. The Mummy and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 both include plot threads that were meant to set up future spin-off films.

The Conjuring has done so well because they didn’t plan on creating spin-offs. They just focused on making one good film. Aquaman made $1 billion because it felt like a James Wan film. Conversely, Justice League did poorly because it felt like a studio mandated film, and not a film with a singular voice.

Marvel is not the only template to create a franchise like this, but, the key ingredient that everyone else was missing was a creator's voice. Going into the next year, it looks like Warner Bros. has found the missing ingredient and we can only hope that Universal has, as well. Success with properties like these doesn’t come from inherent crossover appeal. It comes from developing properties that people want to see crossover. It’s a small difference but it’s an important one. The Mummy was built to have crossover appeal with characters like Dracula, but Iron Man was built to develop a property that audiences would want to see crossover

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is successful, where all other attempts have failed. It’s a creator driven franchise, and not a studio driven one. The key to that same success isn’t to copy it. It’s to let the creators drive the content, not the studios.

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April: Favorite Work

By: Nicole Woods, President

  1. What makes up the perfect movie night to you?

 

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2. We dove into custom illustrations and graphics for Miss Bala.

 

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3. We custom built the 3D model of the gun for Miss Bala.

 

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4. Karate Kid got re-released for it's 35th anniversary!

 

5. Timeless Season Two Finale is coming out on Blu-ray!

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The Missing Link to Laika Films

By: Brandon T. McClure

Outside of few exceptions, stop motion animation has gone out of favor with the general movie going audience. Hollywood studios rarely want to invest the time and money on projects that won’t yield a high reward. But there’s one studio that is trying to bring the magic and beauty of the art form: Laika. This studio is probably best known for putting out Coraline, since that’s the film that did the best due to a number of factors.

As of mid-April 2019, Laika has released five stop motion animated films, and they keep progressively doing worse at the box office. All five of Laika’s films do well critically, with the lowest rotten tomatoes score being Boxtrolls with 76%, and the rest ranging between 88%-96%. Missing Link will be the first outright bomb for the studio. The question becomes, is there an audience for this kind of animation anymore?

As mentioned before, Coraline is their most successful financially with $124.6 million globally, but that’s probably do to how the film was marketed. In the time since its release, Disney/Touchstone’s A Nightmare Before Christmas has become a cult classic, playing at many venues every year to celebrate, both, the Halloween and Christmas seasons. When Coraline was being released, it was marketed as “from the director of A Nightmare Before Christmas”.

Most people, by this time have forgotten that Tim Burton had not directed the film he’s, arguably, best known for. Henry Selick was the director, but between Coraline’s Burtonesque aesthetic and the fact it came hot off the heels of Avatar’s game changing 3D (Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland had found great success for a similar reason), the film became a hit.

Laika developed a bit of goth esthetic that they would keep throughout their next three films, most critics have described it as “Hot Topic Goth”. The momentum of Coraline did help but the other films proved harder to market. The type of films they were making, didn’t look like they would appeal to a wider audience. Laika created new techniques with stop motion, they used CG to enhance environments but never characters, they even created the first ever fully 3D printed model for Kubo and the Two Strings. But why should the general audience care when all they see is something that looks a little worse than a Pixar movie?

With that point, it should be noted that Laika’s stop motion is very good, but it’s polished, it’s not as rough as a film that Wes Anderson would make. When you see a film like Isle of Dogs and Fantastic Mr. Fox, you know they’re stop motion, they have a rough texture to them. When Kubo and the Two Strings was coming out, most thought it was a computer animated film, and it’s hard to get audiences to care about a film specifically for its art form.

Missing Link is a massive departure for the company, it’s unlike any film the company has made. The art form is there but the tone is completely different. With this film, it looked like they were hoping to attract a wider audience by making a film with a larger appeal then a film like ParaNorman. Critics see it as another triumph, currently sitting at a nice 89% on rotten tomatoes but it failed to even meet it’s projected $40 million opening and has so far only made $20 million total.

When a film bombs for a studio like Laika, it’s difficult to bounce back from it. Pixar might not be here today if, say, Finding Nemo bombed at the box office. Some restructuring will have to be done if the studio is to continue. The films have quality, or so the critics think. Stop motion is unlike every other animated form, and it’s not cheap. With any luck, Laika will find the financial success it deserves so they can keep making quality films, it’s hard for any studio to keep making films on critical reception alone.

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The DOJ Makes a Move On the Academy

By: Brandon T. McClure

Director Steven Spielberg made headlines recently when it was announced that he would approach the board of governors for a change in the rules for which films could qualify for the Best Picture category at the Academy Awards. Currently the rule is that any film that plays for one week in a theatre in Los Angeles and New York can be considered for Best Picture.

Netflix has also been trying to change the rules but for something more in their favor; a campaign they have seemingly abandoned for the time being since they have, instead, been playing a few of their movies in theatres for limited engagements. Netflix has never hidden the fact that they feel the theatre system is outdated and should be replaced with a direct to consumer only market. Something many filmmakers such as Spielberg disagree with. Spielberg’s goal is to help the theatre industry succeed.

When Spielberg was questioned about why he was going to approach the board for a rule change, he responded: “I don’t believe that films that are just given token qualifications, in a couple of theaters for less than a week, should qualify for the Academy Award nominations. Fewer and fewer filmmakers are going to… raise money, or to compete at Sundance and possibly get one of the specialty labels to release their films theatrically. And more of them are going to let the SVOD [Streaming Video On-Demand] businesses finance their films, maybe with the promise of a slight, one-week theatrical window to qualify for awards…” Netflix creates an uneven playing field in general as they are capable of spending more money on For Your Consideration campaigns then most other studios, including the smaller “specialty labels”.

Apple recently announced Apple TV+ with Steven Spielberg as a key speaker at the event. This event alone has sparked a massive debate among audiences, critics and filmmakers and even The Justice Department. The Justice Department has warned the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that any potential rule change that limits the eligibility of Netflix and other streaming services could raise “antitrust concerns and violate competition law”. If this sounds familiar, this is the same laws that many were arguing that the Disney/Fox merger violated.

The chief of the DOJ’s Antitrust Division, Makan Delrahim, wrote a letter to Dawn Hudson, the CEO of the Academy saying “if the Academy adopts a new rule to exclude certain types of films, such as films distributed via online streaming services, from eligibility for the Oscars, and that exclusion tends to diminish the excluded films’ sales, that rule could therefore violate section 1.” Letters written by the government are often hard to understand but the intent here seems clear, if the academy rules in a way that makes it so streaming services couldn’t qualify, then the DOJ will feel the need to step in. Almost like they forgot the Golden Globes and the Emmy’s exist.

The Justice Department is concerned that traditional media outlets tend to try and limit competition from streaming services, even those that have grown significantly in recent years like Netflix and Amazon Prime. These were the same concerns that were brought up when AT&T and TimeWarner were merging. Limiting how content gets to consumers has been a hot topic in recent years.

Spielberg’s concerns over the eligibility of movies on streaming platforms have triggered intense debate in the industry. Netflix attempted to counter Spielberg’s argument by saying they are only trying to offer more accessible media, but they miss the point of what he was saying. In Steven Spielberg’s eyes, a TV movie shouldn’t be up for a cinematic award, no matter the quality of the film. Spielberg told ITV News last year that Netflix and other streaming platforms have boosted the quality of television, but “once you commit to a television format, you’re a TV movie. … If it’s a good show—they deserve an Emmy, but not an Oscar.”

Streaming has changed the game in ways that we’re just beginning to see, but the academy’s first job is to preserve the theatre going experience and if services like Netflix want to qualify, then they should be a part of that conversation. Regardless of where you fall in this debate that will rage on for years to come, it is clear that the Academy needs a rule change. For example, instead of a one-week window, perhaps a four-week window in more than two cities, or use Amazon’s approach as a template and limit when that film debuts on a streamer. Time will tell what that decision will be.

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Why Custom Content?

Overwhelmed by the volume of content on social media? It is a serious issue for anyone trying to market successfully through these platforms. One shocking statistic is that 95 MILLION photos and videos are shared on Instagram every day. Moreover, there are 25 MILLION business profiles worldwide actively using Instagram. That’s why custom content is so vital. Every content strategy attracts specific audience demographics, response types, and presents its own challenges. Custom content helps you stand out among other content producers, merging functions of connecting with users, tapping into social networks, advertising, and researching content strategies before deploying them to broader audiences. It capitalizes on relating to the unique interests of your users to engage them in ways that don’t feel like a sales pitch. It’s about building relationships and deepening connections rather than sales.

To engage users through custom content, learn about users until you understand who they are. How do you show them you care about what they want and that you appreciate their time? How do you demonstrate your expertise or skill set? The benefits of custom content are all about the relationships you form with your users. Just like we form relationships with people in real life, custom content shows that you recognize who they are, what they want, and that you appreciate their time & attention.

1. Custom content is efficient 

By customizing what you're sharing with your audience, you’re respecting your audience’s time, delivering what they want and need in an efficient, engaging, and targeted way that tells them that you know who they are, and how they like to engage. 

2. You can target specific target audiences

Today’s users are more discerning, focusing on content that relates to them. If your product is developed for a Millennial male audience, target that audience where they are, using the language they use, and with visuals that appeal to them. You can’t appeal to every demographic using the same content. Customize your content to connect with users in different user groups. The more you learn what they want, the more you can deliver it to the right audience. 

3. It engages users

Users who are served content that's specifically tailored to themselves have a higher probability of engaging with your content because it speaks to them. They're going to more likely comment, like or even purchase from something that is relevant to them and their life than a generic ad.

 

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Disney+ Will Make All Your Streams Come True

By: Brandon T. McClure

Last year, Disney announced plans to launch a new Streaming service called Disney Plus or Disney+. Details at the time were sparse but things started to trickle out into the news circuit. Disney had announced plans for new programming, based on Star Wars, Monsters Inc., High School Musical and Marvel as well as making a promise that the service will be “cheaper than Netflix”.

Thursday April 11th was dubbed “Disney Investor Day 2019” by the company and they took the opportunity to drop a lot of new information for the service, including price and the release date. At the end of the very impressive presentation, Kevin Mayer, the direct to consumer chairman, announced that the service will drop on November 12, 2019 and debut at $6.99 a month.

They opened with a presentation of how the service will look on the landing page. Consumers will be able to personalize their experience by specifically choosing what brand they want to search under, either Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm or National Geographic. Disney will include the entire back catalogue of the company, as well as its newly acquired properties from 20th Century Fox and Fox Searchlight.

Probably the major content selling point for the service is all the new content that will be included. Disney brought out many producers and creators to talk about new content being developed strictly for the service, including Kathleen Kennedy, president of Lucasfilm, and Jon Favroue, creator of The Mandalorian. The Mandalorian will be the first ever Star Wars live action series and will be available when the series launches in November.

Marvel Studios president, Kevin Feige took the stage to talk about the Marvel products launching on the service. Marvel is looking to have quite the year, with Captain Marvel having recently made $1 billion and Avengers: Endgame out in just a few weeks. Only a handful of the Marvel films will be available at the time of the launch but shortly after will be series’ like Falcon and Winter Soldier, a series based on the two Captain America: The Winter Soldier characters and WandaVision, a series based on the two Avengers: Age of Ultron characters. Both of the series will star the actors who played them in the feature films and the shows will have lasting impacts on the franchise, unlike the shows that Marvel Television has put out in the past.

National Geographic and Disney Channel were on hand to talk about their sections of the expansive service, including announcements of The World According to Jeff Goldblum and The Phineas and Ferb Movie respectively.

Disney+ will also be a home for films that might not find a home in a theatrical market. At CinemaCon this year, Disney made another impressive display when they showed their entire 2019 theatrical release slate, needless to say it was very crowded. With the acquisition of Fox, Disney now is in a position to compete with itself in some weeks. Disney has found very little success in live action films, not already based on a beloved property like an animated classic or a Marvel comic, so Disney+ is positioning itself to house the other films. Along with Lady and the Tramp, a reimagining of the animated classic available at launch, there will also be Noelle, a new Christmas classic starring Anna Kendrick, and Timmy Failure, based on the popular book.

So much was announced for the new streaming service, that it would be difficult to give them all the space needed to talk about them. Everything from new information on High School Musical: The Musical – The Series to the untitled Cassian Andor Star Wars show and the announcement that Disney+ will be the exclusive home of the first 30 seasons of The Simpsons (which makes you wonder what Fox Entertainment’s role in this new economy is).

The $6.99 price point will make the service very alluring to audiences, and Disney has no shortage of fans. The price point puts it under Netflix’s standard $10.99 plan and only $1 above CBS All Access’ ad supported plan. The service has something for all, from people looking to watch Ducktales to people looking to watch old episodes of Lizzie McGuire. Disney’s new streaming service will be successful no matter what. Speculating on the long term ramifications of a major motion picture studio launching an exclusive service like this will have to wait for another time. With so much content being available at launch (over 75,000 episodes and 500 movies by the end of the year), plus the ability to have offline play, this service will quickly be a major player in the streaming market.

 

 

 

Follow Brandon at @BTMcClure or on the Fake Nerd Podcast and Mythellaneous on Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcasting app.

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Apple Joins the Streaming Age

By: Brandon T. McClure

Apple is about to join the streaming game. Last week Apple unveiled Apple TV+, a new home for original content. This has been a long time coming for the tech giant as they have been accumulating original shows from top creators for some time now. Everyone from Sam Raimi to Steven Spielberg are developing shows for the new platform, making it a force to be reckoned with right out of the gate.

On March 25th, Apple announced Apple TV+ as it’s new home for “the world’s most creative storytellers featuring exclusive original shows, movies and documentaries.” Dropping this fall, the service will be home to high concept shows such as See with Jason Momoa (Aquaman), a story about a world where the entire human population is blind, and Time Bandits by Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok) an adaptation of the classic 1981 Terry Gilliam film.

Multiple series’ are in various stages of development, but some of the ones showcased in their presentation were the anthology series Amazing Stories from Steven Spielberg, the historical drama series Dickinson with Hailee Steinfeld (Bumblebee), and the alternate reality sci-fi series For All Mankind by Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica). So far no release dates have been given but it would be fair to assume some of these shows will debut with the launch of the service to make it more enticing for the general audience.

It’s not easy to compete with streaming giants like Netflix or Amazon. A few years ago, the largest geek convention in the world, San Diego Comic Con International (or SDCCI), partnered with Lionsgate to launch Comic Con HQ. Even with a few original programs (Including one starring Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill), plus access to cult classic shows like Hercules and Andromeda (both starring Kevin Sorbo), the service failed to find an audience and shut down in late 2017. Filmstruck was another service that recently closed up shop. Even though it contained a vast library of classic films from the Criterion collection, AT&T decided it couldn’t compete and shut it down.

With WarnerMedia and Disney launching new services later this year, the market will only get more competitive as they all try to lure audiences to add another subscription. The two mentioned, along with Apple TV+ will join Netflix, Hulu, CBS All Access and Amazon to name a few, in a fast growing market. Still, insiders claim that Apple is setting aside two billion dollars for the service, which includes costs of producing the thirty plus new shows. According to Business Insider “Apple TV+ may be in the red for years before it hits a critical mass of users to make it sustainable on its own merits.”

No pricing for the plan has been given, but it’s likely the plan will start around ten dollars and go up from there depending on the demand for the service. While Apple is putting a lot of money into high and low concept shows, there is no guarantee that the service will draw in audiences. CBS All Access faced a similar fate when it launched, but now with multiple Star Trek shows on the horizon and a rebooted Twilight Zone, they seem to be on steady footing. With more people cord cutting every day, it wouldn’t be wise to write off any new service that is willing to offer a wide variety of new and original content. Perhaps Apple’s new service will become a new heavy hitter in this streaming age.

 

Follow Brandon at @BTMcClure or on the Fake Nerd Podcast and Mythellaneous on iTunes or your favorite podcasting app.

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March: Favorite Work

  1. In March, we got to launch the re-release of Cruel Intentions!

 

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2. We just had too much fun with the movie!

 

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3. We helped announce Escape Room on Blu-ray & Digital HD.

 

 

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4. We just LOL at this one... every time.

 

 

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5. We had a lot of fun creating this mashup of some of their best moments for Holmes & Watson.

 

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Saying Goodbye to Fox 2000

By: Brandon T. McClure

Until last week, it wasn’t clear what types of changes would be coming to the film production side of 21st Century Fox. Now that Disney has control of the company and layoffs began to happen, it was assumed that the company would operate relatively unchanged. This assumption was debunked last week when the public learned that Disney has shut down Fox 2000, the production arm of 21st Century Fox that produced films such as Love, Simon and Life of Pi.

Fox 2000 was started about twenty years ago by Elizabeth Gabler and focused mainly on developing book to screen adaptations. Many of them like The Fault in Our Stars were both financially and critically successful. While 20th Century Fox generally dealt with more big budget fair like this years Alita: Battle Angel, and Fox Searchlight dealt with lower budget films like last years The Favourite, Fox 2000 made the increasingly rare mid-budget film like 2016’s The Hidden Figures.

Even though Fox 2000 was making movies with crossover appeal to both men and women, Disney saw the label as being redundant and having too much overlap with other studios in the new Disney family which includes studios like Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm and Pixar, to name three. The thinking is that Fox Searchlight and Fox 2000 have an increasing overlap, therefore one had to go.

One could assume that Disney felt that since they have doubled the number of film banners Disney manages with 20th Century Fox (the main studio), and Fox Searchlight (the indie label), there was not a clear place for the Fox 2000 brand. A move like this would have made more sense before 2016 when Disney still utilized its Touchstone label which specialized in the same types of mid budget films that Fox 2000 put out. Most of the best picture academy award nominations that 21st Century Fox accumulated came from either Fox Searchlight or Fox 2000.

Even though it is unclear if Gabler will find a new position in the restructured company or if she’ll move on (word is that Paramount is looking to hire her), Disney is committed to completing the Fox 2000 films currently in production. These films include the dog-centric The Art of Racing in the Rain, starring Kevin Costner, which has a September 27 release date, and the thriller The Woman in the Window, starring Amy Adams and Gary Oldman, which has an October 4th release date. Since these films were being released this year it makes sense that Disney would want to release them.

This is not to say that the films that Fox 2000 has released in the past will be forgotten. It just means that all the films now belong to the 20th Century Fox banner under the Disney umbrella, which means they could easily appear on the streaming service that Disney is launching later this year. After the releases this year, there will be no new Fox 2000 films.

The public can expect more “redundant” companies to be dissolved in the coming weeks, no doubt. Blue Sky, 21st Century Fox’s animation arm now belongs to Disney and it’s unlikely they’ll want to keep it as it’s own, rather they’d fold it into Disney Animation.

Audiences are not hurting for content these days, quite the opposite, but the cinema experience is taking a hit even though many high budget films are profiting studios and then some. The mid-range budget films are being phased out of the Hollywood discussion in favor of higher budget films that bring in billions at the box office. When the public does consume these films, it’s likely on a streaming service like Netflix. It appears a repeat trend is starting to form.

Hollywood studios tend to put all their eggs in one basket. In the mid 20th century, musicals and western films were huge. These had relatively high budgets for the time. The market was there until it wasn’t. It’s fair to say that there are a lot of superhero films right now, but it’s fairer to say that there are a lot of IP dominated films right now. These days a studio would rather go into their own back catalogue of IP rather than find something new. When audiences no longer wanted to see westerns and musicals, there were some major bombs and a lot of money was lost. They didn’t have anything to fall back on. Disney and the other major studios are beginning to make the same mistakes now.

While most of the major studios are comfortable putting out exclusively high budget films, there are studios that are finding success in the low budget films. Studios like A24, Lionsgate and even Blumhouse (even though it is owned by NBC/Universal) all have found great success in lower budget fair. The mid-budget film would have been a good fall back when the age of IP driven content ends.

Many filmmakers are sad to see the production arm go. The Fault in Our Stars screenwriters Michael H. Weber and Scott Neustadter said “it's crucial that within our industry there’s a home for moderately priced films that are about characters and dialogue-driven. There will always be an audience for these movies when they’re done well. So we’ll miss Fox 2000, not just as screenwriters but as avid moviegoers.”

 

 

 

If you want more, follow Brandon at @BTMcClure or on the Fake Nerd Podcast and Mythellaneous on any podcasting service.

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