Back in the day, the majority of Hollywood movies were derived from underlying literary works such as novels, novellas, comics and other sources, with a significant number of original spec scripts also being produced. Scripts could be purchased on a pitch or even a title.
Gone are the days of prestige novels receiving multiple studio offers or even bidding wars. Adaptations are being shunned in favor of sequels, prequels and remakes. Of the 6 main studios, about 30% of their output will be sequels and remakes during 2010/11. Paramount and Fox claim the top spot for dedicating 40% of their 2011 schedule to sequels and remakes, while Universal and Sony are under the 30% mark. Next year, 39% of Disney’s films will be franchisable properties.
In light of Hollywood’s increasing reliance on foreign box office, figures show that audiences will see a movie based on something they know reports Variety magazine. Given that the average studio film cost around $70 million last year, coupled with an average $40 million P&A budget, studios are playing conservatively. The strategy is paying off.
Book to Movie deals are being squeezed. For the year June 2008 to June 2009 there were 205 book deals closed. This figure dropped to 190 the following year. The biggest casualty has been adult-skewed drama.
The key reason is that specialty outfits including Miramax (who the Weinsteins didn’t manage to buy back), Warner Independent Pictures and Paramount Vantage have stopped development deals, or shut down completely.
Studios are buckling under the weight of event or tent pole movies with budgets nearing the $200 million mark. Small movies in the $20-40 million budget range are no longer on their radars. They want fewer, bigger movies such as “Alice In Wonderland” which has exceeded a global box office of $1 billion. They want multi-platform franchisable cash cows with product tie ins, merchandising in addition to DVD and Blue Ray sales.
Previously, literary agents would scour book fairs and purchase the rights to best sellers for movie adaptation. Now, studios want mega best sellers, effectively squeezing the range of source material considered.
Some agents try to offset this via simultaneous release of book and movie. TV is picking up some of the slack from the steroidal studios. This approach paid off for “Kick Ass”. The producers of “Gossip Girl” are developing books for adaptation to telemovies aimed at the female teen audience.
At some point, the movie food chain will need fresh product. Audiences will eventually tire of endless repetition and the spec script market will bounce back.