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April 2008 | Vol. VII - No. 4




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Hollywood ToyBoy: Toying With Kiddie Films

Merchandizing Ain’t Easy for the Average Bear


“Only three percent [of family/children’s movies] sell any meaningful merchandise.”
“Get Guillermo del Toro on the phone!” I yell to my new assistant. “He doesn’t have enough to do; let’s give him more!”

Everyone thinks toys are easy. Toys aren’t easy for movie people, but they think they are. Hubris.

“So I got this script about a bunch of cats that live in a house,” began an old and insane producer-friend who’s actually won a Best Picture Oscar. “It’s kinda like ‘Big Brother’ meets ‘Cats.’ Kids will love it, and we can sell a zillion toys.”

It always starts this way … but let’s take a closer look.

LOST ON TOYS


According to a helpful person at AdWeek, the average family/kid movie loses money and doesn’t break even on merchandizing. Only about 15 percent get into the black for production, and only 3 percent sell any meaningful merchandise. A baseball player hitting one for 33 would be sent to the minors. A doctor succeeding in only one out of every 33 surgeries would be arrested. But if you’re a studio exec, they bump you up to VP in charge of development.

It gets worse. Foreign investment loves anything with an animal pulse, but doesn’t love to finance the whole movie. Those wacky Swede, French, German and Spanish investors whip out their checkbooks to pay half or three quarters of the money if you can get the rest “elsewhere” — meaning the good ole’ U.S. of A.

FILMS IN DESPAIR

“I wouldn’t give a devalued penny for another kids’ movie,” explained a top capital investment CEO on the Hollywood circuit as he shoved sushi into his mouth. “These deals that come in are all based on nothing. Bad scripts. Bad outlines. Badly drawn pictures. It’s as if the ghost of Walt Disney has gotten high on huffing and is trying to recapture his old glory.”

So these producers are committed up to their bloodshot eyeballs to foreign money with no American obligation, scrambling to get the rest of the deal made. Now they go to the toy companies and promise them daydreams that would make Baron Munchhausen blush.

“I had a guy come to me,” purred a sweet and incredibly astute looker who worked for a super-large toy company whose first initial is “M,” “who lied, flat-out, about the demographic data he had. Then he told me he could ‘guarantee’ so many tens of millions of sales in, of all places, India. Then he went on and on. They’re desperate out there. Toys and video games are doing fine, but the movie business is having trouble.”

BEWARE THE TOY SELLERS

So now they must go door to door. No one in the mainstream wants to touch these movies now, but they somehow find a way to get merchandise in the system and … BUYER BEWARE!

This is a badly thought out, hastily conceived stopgap to try and raise the rest of the funds for the movie. And when poor, unsuspecting ma-and-pa toy stores put them on shelves (after being promised the moon and stars by the movie people), they sink like the last Paris Hilton film.

Moral of the story: Don’t pick up strangers with axes on the side of the road. Don’t think you won the Nigerian email lottery. And don’t get into deals with Hollywood producers trying to merchandise their kids’ movie.

Ah, finally, Del Toro’s on the line. “Hey, Guillermo! What’s goin’ on? What? Benicio Del Toro? The actor, not the director?” It doesn’t look like my intern is going to last long. “So, liked you in ‘The Argentine’…”



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Writer's Bio: Mark Zaslove is an entertainment industry veteran in developing content (writing, directing and producing television and feature films) for the major studios, including Disney, Universal and Warner Bros. A two-time Emmy Award winner for writing and recipient of the Humanitas Prize (for writing uplifting human values in television and movies), Mark is also Head of Content Development for Nice Entertainment. Read more articles by this author

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