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The Hollywood Economist: The Hidden Financial Reality Behind the Movies Paperback – February 23, 2010

3.9 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews



"The answer to [the] mysteries of modern-day film financing can be found in The Hollywood Economist, Edward Jay Epstein's latest foray into the seamy underbelly of Hollywood spreadsheets."
The Wall Street Journal

"[A] terrific job.... There's fun to be had in knowing specifics, and Epstein
 offers plenty."
Entertainment Weekly

"Mr Epstein tells some good stories."
The Economist


"A rich adventure that will change the way you look at movies."

"Edward Jay Epstein is here to tell us that when it comes to Hollywood these days, we've got it all wrong."
The Washington Post Book World

"One of the virtues of The Big Picture is Mr. Epstein's astonishing access to numbers that movie studios go to great lengths to keep secret....A groundbreaking work that explains the inner workings of the game."
The Wall Street Journal

"Hollywood has needed one of these for a long time--a user's manuel. This one could not be more complete....[Grade] A."
—Entertainment Weekly

About the Author

Edward Jay Epstein, who wrote the "Hollywood Economist" column for Slate, is the author of The Big Picture: Money and Power in Hollywood, as well as many other books. He writes frequently for the Wall Street Journal, Vanity Fair, and The New Yorker, and he lives in New York City. His website is edwardjayepstein.com

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Melville House (February 23, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1933633840
  • ISBN-13: 978-1933633848
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #824,048 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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This is Epstein sequel to The Big Picture: Money and Power in Hollywood released in 2003. Unfortunately, it adds little new information. Here are some of the main themes that are repeated from the previous book:
1) The history of Hollywood with the Studio era (stars are just studio employees; and box office captures 100% of the business) from 1929 to 1950 and the new Studio era (stars make the real bucks, and movies account for just 20% of revenues).
2) Movie financing considerations including cast insurance, completion bonds, pre-sales distribution contracts as collateral for bank loans, and investors ready to lose their shirt to make the whole thing work.
3) The pop corn economy where movie theaters make more money from pop corn and sodas than movie tickets.
4) Hollywood's focus on male-teenagers because they go to the movies and buy the merchandising follow ups (DVDs, video games, toys).
5) The Hollywood formula for blockbusters: a PG rating, a vulnerable character turning into a hero who will vanquish evil forces, etc...
6) Arnold Schwarzeneger's lucrative success in the Terminator movies.
7) The financial fiasco of "Gone in 60 Seconds" even though it grossed several hundred millions.
8) The emergence of VHS and DVDs that first threatens Hollywood business model. Ultimately, Hollywood will learn how to make more money from videos than from movie tickets.
9) The difference between studio produced moronic blockbusters with sequels, prequels, and merchandising follow ups, etc... aimed at male teenagers vs intelligent independent movies doomed for commercial failures but often reaping Oscar awards.
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Format: Paperback
In 1929, an average 80% of Americans attended movie theaters each week. Today that figure is less than 6%, and there are only one-third as many theater sites. (More screens, though, due to multiplexing.) Epstein goes on to also reveal that the major studios lose money on most pictures, and not because of accounting legerdemain. They spend more on production ($65 million average), advertising ($3.7 million/picture average on newspapers alone, $19.2 million average total - including TV), and distribution than their net revenues; similarly, theater chains also lose money on showing films. No, the studios and theaters don't make it up on volume - the studios' main income is from DVDs, pay-for-view TV, toys, fast food tie-ins, and electronic games, and the theaters' profits come from the concession stand (80% margins). The secret to studio success - couch potatoes, not movie-goers, and to theater success - add more salt to the popcorn and boost soda sales! (Theaters should get a cut from cardiologists?)

Epstein's "The Hollywood Economist" reveals a number of key movie-industry details, such as stadium seating (eliminates most blocked views) increased attendance 30-52% when introduced, the business is seasonal (500 million of 2007's 1.4 billion tickets were sold in the summer season, and another 230 million in the Thanksgiving - New Year holiday season), Schwarzenegger's contract for "Terminator 3" was 33 pages long and gave him a $29.25 million guarantee + 20% of DVD, TV, game, etc. sales after reaching break-even, financing for star-studded movies requires insurance (guard against injuries, walkouts, etc.), etc.

Ever wonder why most theaters are now 299 seats or less? Epstein tells us - the ADA requires wheelchair access to all rows if the number of seats exceeds 299.
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Format: Paperback
Unfortunately, while the topic is a worthy one, the Author covered about 80% of this book in his earlier and by far much better book, The Big Picture: Money and Power in Hollywood. What's worse, much of what's new comes from other articles he's written which are freely available on the web. The author also repeats himself in various parts of the book. Finally, by using large fonts and margins, the book is nearly twice the number of pages it needed to be.

These are, in a nutshell, the big problems with the book. For those interested, here's more information:

The author knows his stuff, I'll give him that much. And I loved his other book, The Big Picture: Money and Power in Hollywood. But this particular book really is little more than a collection of essays or blog posts which he has already covered via his "Hollywood Economist Blog" or articles on other blogs or magazines (most of which can be found online by searching his name and the title of this book). For example, his section on "the real secret is the salt" in this book was covered in his 1998 New Yorker magazine article entitled, "The Popcorn Economy". And his blog entry from January 2010 presents the same content found in his book on indie financing. And his section in this book on the role of technology in the industry is essentially his 2006 Financial Times article entitled "The Samurai Embrace" - he even uses the same term in this book.
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