Tuesday, August 01, 2006

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Profiting From an American Tragedy

In case you can't tell, i might be delving into one of my most hated conversational topics of all times.... politics. now i am not going to sit here and write a long entry regarding how enron and companies like my current employer and Lockheed definitely profit from things such as a war on terror, wars in afghanistan, or any other topic with so many ins and outs and what have yous that i couldn't possibly be informed about. i have no clue why we are still fighting and i have no clue what the future holds in that region. i am not pissed about the war over there, in fact i have zero opinion and wish to remain totally pacifist/passive agressive in my opinions on shit like that.

Last night yan was debating/arguing that he wanted to see World Trade Center when it comes out in theaters all across the country, perhaps the world, next week on August 9. (Notice how it comes out on Wednesday, so they can boost their opening weekend box office results) I argued that I had no interest in seeing it, specifically because i would have to pay $9 and the money would be going into people's pockets, not to charity. I guess it goes further than that.... i dont want to sit in a theater with 300 of my unclosest friends to re-live those events, i would personally rather rent the movie at home and watch with my own critical me against the world perspective. also, i argued, this would give the least amount of money possible to the fucktwats who thought it was cool to break the under-5-year buffer of such a catastrophic event.

since we were high on marijuana, it was probably not a very good idea to argue our points. So today i have constructed a more formal argument for why Hollywood is fucking ridiculous. As Vinny Chase put it on Entourage this weekend, "Hollywood only cares about one thing: money"

The first set of films regarding this tragedy were mostly documentaries. The directors (mostly indie, small-time) took some aspect of the attacks they wanted to portray and told a story. For example, on PBS, there have been quite a few movies that try to tackle the topic:
- Heroes of Ground Zero (link)
- Looking Back, Moving Forward (link)
- Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero (link)

In case you think these movies somehow made money, they didnt. PBS accepts donations from viewers and receives money from the government to re-invest in public interest in television programming. They are not a rich station and do not profit from releasing their movies to the big screen or to DVD.

HBO released a documentary, In Memoriam: New York City. Any and all profits from this movie were donated to 9/11 funds (article)

The First 24 Hours is another documentary purchased by HBO that was all for charity. It raised $100,000 for the Twin Towers Orphan Fund, which helps children whose parents were lost that day. (link)

Now we get to the big films. The Hollywood blockbusters. The films with big budgets. Big profits. Big expectations. The first blockbuster that really dealt with 9/11 was appropriately titled Fahrenheit 9/11. Michael Moore, the guy everyone loves to hate, pushed out this movie despite Disney threatening to can it and not release it. I wont get into conspiracies why they would shut this controversial man up, but eventually the movie was released to the big screen. I am actually ok with the donations from this movie... i mean 60% of profits means that 40% gets split a ton of different ways.... hardly any individual profited tremendously from the making of this flick.

The budget for this flick: $6,000,000
Opening weekend in the US: $23,920,637/June 27, 2004/(868 Screens)
Gross after 4 months: $119,194,771
Donations: Due to an agreement between Walt Disney Co. and Miramax Films, roughly 60% of the net profit generated by the film will be donated to charity.

The next film is a documentary, Answering the Call: Ground Zero's Volunteers. It tells the story of the actual volunteers, no big movie stars to play roles, no scripted drama, just real life stories. Even though it was a low budget film, it was released to theaters.
Donations: Net proceeds from the 2005 theatrical release of this film benefited the Leary Firefighters Foundation, created by actor Denis Leary.

Now it gets shaky... documentaries are one thing. even blockbuster documentaries that touch on 9/11 but arent the sole focus of the film are controversial- but still ok. somewhere along the line a hollywood exec green lighted the making of a massive blockbuster movie, United 93.

The budget for this flick: $15,000,000
Opening weekend in the US: $11,478,360/April 30, 2006/(1,795 Screens)
Gross after 6 weeks: $31,471,430
Donations: The filmmakers donated a percentage of the opening weekend proceeds to the Flight 93 memorial near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The actual amount donated turned out to be $1.15 million.

Users writing in: (CNN link)

And last but not least, next week's World Trade Center. Obviously no idea how much it will make, but the budget was $60,000,000. Oliver Stone. Nicolas Cage. Stephen Dorff. sounds like an excellent hollywood blockbuster sure to capture the emotion and trouble that affects us as americans every day. and oh my god, Oliver Stone has offered to donate 10% of the opening weekend's ticket sales to charity! no one else has chimed in that donations will be given from this movie.

Link to another smart mother fucker like me: (Link)
Link to someone with the right message, wrong means: (Link)

These are all examples of how different directors, producers, writers, and filmmakers decided to approach the 9/11 tragedy. Although all of them capture the emotions and feelings of a variety of different people affected by 9/11, one thing is for sure... Hollywood is going to make a fuckton of money on this new release next week. I argue that it is too soon to be making blockbuster hits about this event. Jonnys counterpoint was movies like Schindlers List and Saving Private Ryan have the same connotation... but i think the events, although already 5 years old, are still too tender and fresh in our minds to be exploiting for profits and gain.

The movies about WWII are probably still controversial in that generation's minds... but for the young, we need to see movies like that to remember what happened and see all that has been accomplished since then. But movies about a horrible event that is not even 5 years old does not need to be re-told in such a shameful, profiteering, glamorous way. Sure the real characters gave their blessing, and even if they didnt, was it going to stop the Hollywood machine? I will not be supporting this movie in the theaters and stick to my original argument, it is too sensitive to see in a huge theater with tons of people who interpret it in different ways. I will be renting it privately and coming to terms with it on my own. This will also accomplish the goal of giving all the suits involved in this movie the least possible amount of profit they can squeeze out of me.

Comments or arguments are greatly welcomed.


At 8/01/2006 3:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dictionary.com's word of the day is prima facie. I think it definitely fits your topic and the sentence in context is even more fitting. Enjoy.

1. At first view; on the first appearance.

1. True, valid, or adequate at first sight; as it seems at first sight; ostensible.
2. Self-evident; obvious.
3. (Law) Sufficient to establish a fact or a case unless disproved.

In Context:
With all rich men and women there is, of course, a substantial body of populist literature that concludes that their riches were won from the labor of others, or that the structure of capitalist society ensured that the rich would grow richer as the poor grew poorer, or that riches are prima facie evidence of unethical behavior.
-- Robin W. Winks, Laurance S. Rockefeller: Catalyst for Conservation

At 8/01/2006 3:46 PM, Blogger andisheh said...

The people who build the sets are paid. The people who bring food to the set are paid. The electric company is paid. The people who build movie cameras are paid.

Everybody involved in a movie is paid.

Why single out the people who actually put up money to make the movie be paid?

I understand that profitting from tragedy is distasteful and morally ambiguous, but millions of us do it everyday, directly and indirectly. It doesn't make sense to single-out film producers and say that they're crossing a moral boundary. We all are.

At 8/02/2006 9:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

in response to andisheh's comments i call bullshit. not everyone profits off of other's tragedies. only exploiters do which would include stock holders, corporations with high insurance coverage, the police, military, and government at the expense of those directly killed in the tragedy and the citizens who have feel the effects of higher taxes, increased police surveillance, a crap economy because the government allocates all of the resources towards the military and diverts funds away from social programs, etc. hollywood is but another example of the exploiters and "the people" in this case have to suffer through hours of propaganda with scenes and conservative patriotic ideals that have been shoved down our throats for the last 5 years.

At 8/02/2006 4:19 PM, Anonymous rahhk said...

Okay- here is my take on historical blockbusters. Piggy-backing on johnny cats and dogs arguement, there have been many films in relatively recent film history that have explored difficult themes that are fresh in the minds of many americans. Two examples: Apocalypse Now (1979) and The Deer Hunter (1978). Both films were released within 5 years of the end of vietnam, and Deer Hunter deals primarilty with post-vietnam issues, which many veterans were still dealing with at the time of the release. Americans USE films to conquer their grief: whether this is correct way to do it I don't know, but Americans as a whole need the release of this movie. The $9 you pay at the theater is really a form of therapy, and a cheap form at that. God I am good at arguing.

At 8/06/2006 1:17 PM, Blogger SK said...

I don't think it's exclusive to Hollywood taking advantage of tragedy. When it comes to the movies, they wouldn't make them if people didn't go see them. (But then again, people are going to be lining up to see "Snakes on a Plane"...)

I think Hollywood is (sadly) an exaggerated reflection of our mentality. People are opportunistic and will take advantage of a tragedy. Examples:
a)The numerous indivduals that filed false missing-person reports for loved ones in the WTC to get money, sympathy, attention.
b) Katrina just opened up a world of moral indecency. The folks that took advantage of the debit cards provided for Katrina victims when they weren't involved. The true Katrina victims that were given free housing by many church and community organizations only to abuse them and not fufill their end of the bargain (getting work, etc).

Not sure if I'll go see the movie. I'm a special-effects junkie but Nick Cage totaly creeps me out. If I do, I will get a ticket for another film and not contribute to Oliver Stone's pocket.


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