A clarification on the relationship between executives and the box office.

My last headline was “When Executives Want to see how good a movie was, they check boxofficemojo.” This got me some interesting feedback, both in terms of factual information and angry response.

Redditor david-saint-hubbins said.  It’s not about checking to see “how good a movie was,” it’s checking to see “if a movie was commercially successful.” If your job is picking scripts to be made into movies, you need to make commercially successful movies or you’re not going to have a job for very long.

Obviously good doesn’t = successful.   This headline is a joke that tells a reductive truth in service of making a point.  If a character were to say, “You’re beautiful and by extension good,” the humor comes from a) the gruesomely awkward way he makes that point, and b) the fact that he’s stating a truth that’s ugly, but shows itself in almost every aspect of our culture.  Obviously, execs don’t think that more money = better than, but in a world where all opinions are subjective, they do tend to grasp onto the comforting, empirical metric of financial performance.

* Look, it’s Saul Goodman and Tobias Funke.  They were joking too.

With the benefit of hindsight, I would have framed my headline in a more obviously “jokey” way to underline the humorous hyperbole I was going for, i.e..

BOSS: What did you think of (MOVIE TITLE)?
EXEC: Hold on, let me pull up the domestic gross.


Q: What’s an executives favorite critic?
A: BoxOfficeMojo.

Hindsight is 20/20.  Also, don’t mention these jokes to execs.  For every one that has a sense of humor there are nine that don’t.

Redditor tequila_wolf, self-described writer who does marketing/producing work. Using his finely honed skills of communication, he helpfully describes my headline as “sensationalist garbage.” He goes on to say.

“Your attempt to try and frame people (i.e. studio execs) as some sort of monsters and enemies of creative freedom in the interest of money is a childish attempt to grab some votes. It betrays a terrible ignorance of how Hollywood works (it’s a business with a diverse group of people, even at the executive level).
It also contributes to the general spread of misinformation of how the industry works, which irritates me to no end since that prevents actual problems from being solved.”

I think he’s projecting. I’m not some “charge-the-gates” anarchist. My intent isn’t to mock the way execs make decisions, it’s to point out HOW they make decisions in service of helping beginner writers. People in the industry often read my blog and say, “well, no offense, Matt, but duh…” These people are so seeped in the culture that they take it for granted. I read a lot of beginner scripts, my experience tells me that considering the mercenary nature of Hollywood might not be as instinctive to outsiders as some might think.

When I write an article like this, I’m trying to give beginning writers a useful, bite-sized chunk of information about the buyers. I’m not writing a sociological paper on the industry. If anyone has or would like to, link me, I’d love to read it.

Oh, and personal to Tequila_Wolf… Hollywood may be diverse, but if you don’t think that the people at the top share a certain bottom line mentality, you might be the ignorant one.

Redditor bdof says:

CE here. Your headline is bs. A lot more goes into a company’s decision whether to purchase a script or not. My company does have Mon morning meeting and we look at numbers from boxofficemojo. But she a movie is Shit, we say it’s Shit. Regardless of how much it made.

When considering a script, writer or director, companies look at the project itself. They consider the personality of the person they are considering working with. they look at budget and style to see if the project is a good fit for the company.
your title gives a bitter and completely false and bitter interpretation of what goes on at production companies and studio meetings.

My reply:
Slow your roll, G, I’ve been a CE too (well, technically Story Editor, but I deserved that title, damn it). I worked at the company that made Cowboys and Aliens. You’re welcome, America.
[some more blather, which I’ve redacted because it doesn’t make me seem as awesome as I’d like.  You can see it all here]
I’m attempting to communicate a point to beginners in a useful manner. Right now I’m not sure if you’re arguing the metaphor or arguing the point. You sound a little defensive. I’m sure you’re a wonderful CE, different than the rest. But I also think that if I pitched you ISHTAR by way of WATERWORLD, you might have a few notes.

Which brings us back to to the x meets y pitch, the subject of the blog that started all this drama in the first place. Let me defend that post by saying… I screwed up, and all these arguments are really my fault.

My headline should have been “when you think of an X meets Y pitch, you should reference hits, not flops.” But I got too big for my britches and grafted a sociological point onto a how-to article, doing a disservice to both points, and incurring the wrath of a collection of smart, well-meaning redditors.  Mea culpa.

So what have I learned:
* With blog posts, it’s best not to conflate two points, as it exponentially magnifies the chance of being wrong on one or both points.

* I should write a more helpful x-meets-y how-two with more useful information and less me.

* Next time I use a joke in a headline, I’ll follow it up with a footnote immediately after.  If it saves me even an eight of the time I spent defending the last title, it’s well worth it.

Published by Matt Lazarus

WGA screenwriter offering in-depth writing instruction, notes, critique, and assistance.

One thought on “A clarification on the relationship between executives and the box office.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: