Movie Mogul Gives Formula for Industry Success


After years of working in the corporate world, it might seem like a law degree and corporate experience would be of little value making a transition into the Hollywood institution. In fact, lawyers oftentimes have more luck transitioning than those who hold MBAs, due to their ability to adapt to the Hollywood language. Many executives in the industry hold law degrees. For those who aspire to transition to the creative side of the industry, the most difficult thing for lawyers to pick up is often the required understanding of teamwork. If one decides to work for a studio, he must understand that he will always have less creative control and may have to begin as an intern.

On February 28, 2008, Harvard Law School’s Arts & Literature Law Society (ALLS) hosted Hollywood media mogul Mark Gill. Gill walked the audience through the perils of private equity, the insanity of institutional investors, and, if students ran the gauntlet successfully, the incredible freedom and satisfaction of making their dreams come true.

Gill is the former President of Miramax Films & founding President of Warner Independent Pictures. During his tenure at Warner Independent, his company earned eleven Oscar nominations and produced the most successful independent film in film history, March of the Penguins. He has been responsible for over $1 billion at the box office. Among the films he has produced are Amelie, Good Night and Good Luck, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Frida, City of God, In the Bedroom and Under the Tuscan Sun.

Over the past couple of years, Wall Street has poured billions of dollars into Hollywood. Gill’s new independent motion picture company, The Film Department, finances and produces six star-driven feature films per year with budgets between $10 and $35 million. The average Hollywood movie costs $60 million to make; thus, a $35 to $40 million-dollar movie is considered cheap.

In order to produce a movie for less, it is imperative that all four components exist, including a phenomenal script – the blueprint of the film. One example of a successful independent film is Michael Clayton, a movie that was produced for only $25 million. According to Gill, the following are the four important components of a successful film package, in order of importance: the script, the cast, the director, and the mechanics (e.g. those who control the costs). The first three components are the most difficult to find.

A good script in hand will attract stars and a strong director. Everyday, Gill explained, he receives a pile of scripts from Creative Artists Agency (CAA). The majority of the scripts received are awful. However, Gill explained the anatomy of an excellent script, which may not necessarily be commercial.

The following seven questions must be asked, he said: (1) Does the plot move? (2) Does the story provide provocative emotional transference? (3) Do interesting individual characters exist? (4) Is the dialogue interesting? (5) What is the theme and meaning of the story? (6) What is different about the script? (7) How much would it cost to make?

Creating “library value” is important for the producers, Gill said. Fifteen to twenty years after producing a film, the negative will be returned to the producer. That old movie, such as Michael Clayton, will then be worth a lot; oftentimes, movie producers will simply refresh their libraries.

Gill also spoke about selection of independent films at festivals for distribution. Unfortunately, most of the films at the festivals are dark cinema. In general, “dark cinema” does not work as well in the USA as it usually would in, say, France. Although the script may be beautiful, the general audience today does not want to leave the theater feeling suicidal.

Finally, according to Gill, relationships are paramount in Hollywood. Video conferences, for example, rarely work in the film business because it is difficult to get a sense of people in that medium. In Europe, developing relationships on a personal basis is so vital that producers oftentimes will not read the script until they meet the other party in person. The film industry is a challenging career to start and maintain, which explains why relationships serve as the glue to making the dreams of aspiring movie producers come true.

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