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Friday, June 30, 2006

$450 million for two `Pirates' sequels...Docurama Film Festival

- Merissa Marr of the Wall Street Journal (them again - subscription required) has a great report on the challenges for filming two sequels to `Pirates of the Caribbean' back-to-back. The pair of movies were originally budgeted at $350 million, but now the tab's expected to hit at least $450 million. Marr notes that the Disney division that's releasing `Pirates,' Touchstone Pictures, "is being cut back to just a couple movies a year from six or seven."

What seems to be happening right now is:

Studios make fewer movies...with larger budgets...based on known properties (comic books, best-sellers, TV shows, earlier movies, theme park rides.) Because they're making fewer movies, and spending so much on them, they can't take many risks. The likelihood of a movie like `Pirates 3' containing a surprise is roughly equivalent to the likelihood of GWB admitting a mistake.

But at the same time, cheaper filmmaking tools, viral marketing, and new distribution outlets like the Internet are making it easier to make a movie for under $1 million. (My favorite example, `Napoleon Dynamite,' was made for about $400,000.) They're also improving the odds that a low-budget project can be a break-out hit -- or at least recoup its money.

Does one dynamic necessarily cancel out the other? Will we see the studios lumber into a tar pit and die? I don't think so.

In the world of cheese, Kraft sure sells a lot of flavorless Velveeta, while Cowgirl Creamery simultaneously does well selling its tasty artisanal cheese made from organic milk.

Your thoughts?

- Docurama is trying to replicate the film festival experience at home, according to this piece from the LA Times. What they're really doing is packaging a set of 10 films (for sale, not rental), and offering online forums on their Web site where you can discuss them.

This would work better if they had `big names' putting together the festivals... Ken Burns on documentaries, Mike Nichols on comedies. (I don't see it taking off as it's currently structured.) Netflix would have much better luck allowing its users -- or enlisting big names -- to build film festival lists of movies that people could rent, rather than buy, I think. The thing that seems really difficult to duplicate, though, is the fun discussions about movies that you have while waiting on line for a movie at SXSW, or riding the shuttle bus at Sundance.