Last December, when I interviewed Andrew Breitbart for TCS Daily, the proprietor of the Breitbart.com newswire and co-author of Hollywood, Interrupted told me that the star-driven production system that Hollywood’s movies are built around is long overdue for a change. After last year’s hemorrhaging at the box office, and this year’s so-so box office, England’s The Independent says that economics may force that change sooner rather than later:
Hollywood stars are being forced to take pay cuts as the major studios are pulling the plug on big-budget projects.
With last year’s box office takings down 5.2 per cent and the cost of making movies ballooning because of added expenses for digital enhancement and global marketing, studios are refusing to meet stars’ financial demands. In addition, several high-profile films due to go into production have suddenly disappeared from view.
Studios have taken note of the fact that only three of the 10 highest-grossing films last year – War of the Worlds, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Mr and Mrs Smith – were star-driven. The rest of the major hits – such as Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and The Chronicles of Narnia – had no stellar names, or fat salaries, to speak of.
In addition, all of this year’s Oscar nominees for best actor – Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote), Terence Howard (Hustle and Flow), David Strathairn (Good Night, and Good Luck), Joaquin Phoenix (Walk the Line) and Heath Ledger (Brokeback Mountain) – worked for rock-bottom wages. The last of the big paydays went to Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson, who was paid a reported $20m plus 20 per cent of the gross for King Kong, made by Universal.
Now studios are making sure that before any stars or directors take money from the film, they get their cut. Sony refused to give the green light for the upcoming romantic comedy The Holiday until Cameron Diaz agreed to a “cash break-even” deal. Even Tom Cruise, who normally collects around 25 per cent of his films’ gross profits, agreed to take a much lower cut for Mission: Impossible 3 when Paramount was faced with a massively bloated budget and at one stage threatened to cancel the project.
Brad Pitt is another one who has taken a big cut in pay, from his customary fee of up to $30m down to just