Monday, October 16, 2006

Think small.

Two items of big news today—

1) Scorsese is downgrading to low budget film projects.
2) So is George Lucas.

First, here's what's up with Scorsese (italics in the articles are mine):

Scorsese set to 'quit' Hollywood
Scorsese's latest film, The Departed, topped the US box office

Film director Martin Scorsese says he plans to take a break from Hollywood to make low-budget films. His latest movie, The Departed, cost $90m (£48.5m) and topped the US box office, but Scorsese says he is finding it harder to make films in Hollywood.

"When there are very big budgets there is less risk that can be taken," he said at the Rome Film Festival. The director said his next project would be a "small-scale" adaptation of Japanese novel The Silence. Written by Shusaku Endo, the book tells the story of two 17th century Portuguese missionaries. "I have wanted to do it for 15 years," Scorsese told reporters.

Career high
The Departed is a remake of the Hong Kong drama Infernal Affairs, and stars Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon. Nicholson plays a crime boss in Boston who plants a mole inside the city's police force, just as his own organisation is being infiltrated by an outsider. The film gave Scorsese the strongest opening weekend of his career, taking $27m (£14.4m) at the US box office.

The director said film studio Warner Brothers had been supportive during the shooting of "an experimental film like The Departed, which we only finished three weeks ago. But I don't know how much longer that can hold out, with regard to what kind of movie they - the major studios - would like to make and the kind of film I'd like to make".

And this article passed my desk last week. Ironic that it comes so soon before Scorsese's announcement... perhaps a trend is in the making? Complete article follows:
Lucas tilts at studio tentpoles
'Star' man sees shrinking pic biz

George Lucas has a message for studios that are cutting their slates and shifting toward big-budget tentpoles and franchises: You've got it all wrong.

The creator of "Star Wars," which stamped the template for the franchise-tentpole film, says many small films and Web distribution are the future.

And in case anyone doubts he means it, Lucasfilm is getting out of the movie biz.

"We don't want to make movies. We're about to get into television. As far as Lucasfilm is concerned, we've moved away from the feature film thing because it's too expensive and it's too risky.

"I think the secret to the future is quantity," Lucas said.

He spoke to Daily Variety after the groundbreaking ceremony for the renamed School of Cinematic Arts at USC.

He gave $175 million -- $100 million toward the endowment, $75 million for buildings -- to his alma mater. But he said that kind of money is too much to put into a film.

Spending $100 million on production costs and another $100 million on P&A [Print & Advertising] makes no sense, he said.

"For that same $200 million, I can make 50-60 two-hour movies. That's 120 hours as opposed to two hours. In the future market, that's where it's going to land, because it's going to be all pay-per-view and downloadable.

"You've got to really have a brand. You've got to have a site that has enough material on it to attract people."

He said he's even discussed the subject with Pixar's Steve Jobs and John Lasseter.

"If you don't do very many movies, and you're really lucky, and you really know what you're doing, you can get away with it. But you know at some point you're going to lose a game."

Lucas said he believes Americans are abandoning the moviegoing habit for good.

"I don't think anything's going to be a habit anymore. I think people are going to be drawn to a certain medium in their leisure time and they're going to do it because there is a desire to do it at that particular moment in time. Everything is going to be a matter of choice. I think that's going to be a huge revolution in the industry."

That doesn't mean Lucasfilm is diving into online distribution, though. "Having had a lot of experience in this area, we're not rushing in," he said. "We're trying to find out exactly where the monetization is coming from. We're not interested in jumping down a rat hole until such time as it finally figures itself out."

Nor is Lucasfilm's exit from features instant or absolute. "Indiana Jones 4" is still in development. "Steve (Spielberg) and I are still working away, trying to come up with something we're happy with. Hopefully, in a short time, we will come to an agreement. Or something," Lucas said, without a great deal of enthusiasm.

Lucasfilm also is working on "Red Tails," a film about the Tuskegee airmen of WWII.

"I've been working on that for about 15 years," he said, adding that he's also been working on "Indy 4" for 15 years.

And Lucas Animation does plan to start making feature films -- eventually.

"Right now we're doing television, which looks great. I'm very, very happy with it," he said of his toon division. "And out of doing the animation, we're getting the skill set and the people and putting the studio in place so we can do a feature. But it's probably going to be another year before we have the people and the systems in place to do a feature film."

Lucas admitted the big-budget strategy has done well for him in the past, but said, "We're not going to do the $200 million investments."

He calls himself "semi-retired" but reiterated his plans to direct "small movies, esoteric in nature," after his other projects are launched. He expects to serve as exec producer on the two features and the TV shows, including a live-action "Star Wars" skein.

At the USC groundbreaking, Lucas was honored amid cannon shots of confetti and fanfares from the USC Marching Band for his gift, the largest in the school's history.

Other bizzers in attendance included Lucas pals Robert Zemeckis and Spielberg.

Lucas said the gift is intended to set an example for the rest of the entertainment industry, as well as other universities.

"In a lot of industries, the people in the industry give a lot of money to the schools that produce the people who are their employees," he said, pointing to the auto industry as an example. "The film industry doesn't seem to be too enthusiastic about that idea. I'd love to see the industry do more.

"As self-interest, it's good to have the best trained people working for you. And the best trained people come from film school.

"The world of moving images hasn't had a lot of respect (in academia)," said Lucas. "But it's the major form of communication in the 21st century."

This $175 million, he said, is meant to "put other universities on notice that this is an important discipline that needs to be fostered."

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