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The Big Picture: Money and Power in Hollywood Paperback – January 10, 2006

4.6 out of 5 stars 30 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. To appear in 2003's Terminator 3, Arnold Schwarzenegger received a fixed fee of $29.25 million, a package of perks totaling $1.5 million and a guaranteed 20% of gross receipts from all sources of revenue worldwide. With that, writes Epstein (Inquest: The Warren Commission and the Establishment of Truth), no matter the film's box office results, "the star was assured of making more money than the studio itself." Such is the "new logic" Epstein explores in this engrossing book. Gone are the days of studio chiefs dominating their stars with punitive contracts and controlling product from script to big screen. Writers now sell their work to the highest bidder, stars have become one-person corporations who "rent" their services to individual productions, and the studios have morphed into what Epstein labels "clearing houses." These multinational corporations exist, in Epstein's description, to collect revenue from an ever-growing variety of sources—home video, overseas markets and product licensing, to name a few—and then disburse it to a fortunate minority at the top of Hollywood's food chain. Epstein explains the structure, personalities and behind-the-scenes interconnection of the "sexopoly" (the six huge media companies that control motion picture entertainment). In vivid detail, he describes the current process of how a film is made, from the initial pitch to last-minute digital editing. There's a refreshing absence of moral grandstanding in Epstein's work. With no apparent ax to grind, he simply and comprehensively presents the industry as it is: the nuts and bolts, the perks and pitfalls and the staggering fortunes that some in the business walk away with. This is the new indispensable text for anyone interested in how Hollywood works. Photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Hollywood no longer operates under the old studio system, as the digital age has revolutionized the way movies are made and distributed. New York writer Epstein peels away the Hollywood facade and gives a nuts-and-bolts view of how the six entertainment empires--Viacom, Fox, NBC/Universal, Time Warner, Sony, and Disney--create and distribute intellectual property today. Money flows through these clearinghouses in a complicated mix involving licensing deals, talent agencies, digital effects houses, film laboratories, and advertising firms. The accounting practices alone rival anything that ever came out of Enron. Epstein presents a fascinating look at the unbelievable efforts that must be coordinated to produce a film, including principal photography, computer graphics, sound effects, musical score and editing, not to mention final changes and approval by the studio heads. With all the complications that can arise, it is a wonder these things get made at all. Here is the stark economic logic of today's Hollywood: movies rarely break even through theater revenues anymore, and the only real money is in the rush to DVD and television releases. David Siegfried
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks (January 10, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812973828
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812973822
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #361,722 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This is a very detailed and insightful book on the movie entertainment business. Epstein researched an enormous amount of proprietary financial information from the Motion Picture Association All Media Revenue Report (MPA). This is a report disclosed only to the studios that details movie earnings. It is unclear how Epstein obtained access to this proprietary data. Epstein leveraged this proprietary data into an incredibly insightful analysis of the movie-entertainment industry. Thanks to Epstein lively writing style the book is a quick read despite the volume of information provided.

The movie business is not an economically viable stand-alone business. Indeed, over 95% of the movies loose a ton of money at the Box Office even if they often generate hundreds of millions in such Box Office revenues. Movies have become extremely expensive advertising for a very risky long-term investment in an "intellectual property" right. The pioneer of such a business model was Walt Disney who fully grasped the possibilities of the ancillary businesses more than half a century ago.

Related ancillary revenues generated by videos, Pay TV, and Networks dwarf the revenues at the Box Office. While the major studios derived 100% of their revenues from Box Office in 1948, this percentage has continuously dropped to only 18% in 2003. Additionally, these ancillary businesses are almost all profits. The vast majority of the production costs have already been absorbed within the Box Office business.

However, a majority of movies still loose money when you figure the full life cycle of its "intellectual property." Epstein details throughout the book such a cycle for "Gone In 60 Seconds" with Nicolas Cage.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a good book about the evolution and the workings of the modern Hollywood system. (For summaries, see the other reviews.) I enjoyed the first third of the book a lot, but then it became more and more repetitive. A lot of the information contained in Part 4 ("The Economic Logic of Hollywood"), Part 5 ("Social Logic"), and Part 6 ("Political Logic") had been already presented in the preceeding parts. For example, I don't know how many times Epstein mentions the 29 million USD Arnold Schwarzenegger received for "Terminator 3" - it sure seems like a million times. In the end, you get the impression that the author had access to more detailed information about a limited number of movies (T3, Gone in 60 seconds) and then used them as examples for each and every point he is trying to make. All in all, some serios editing would have turned this really good book into an excellent one.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is an astute analysis of the film business by someone outside the motion picture business. Many books are written about the movie business by insiders or entertainment reporters but often these writers are too close to the subject or in awe of the subject and as a result miss the mark. Mr. Epstien gives an astute analysis of the current state of the business using sources that normally are not available to the public. An example is the confidential disclosures by the six major studios to the Motion Picture Association Of America (MPAA), which are then compiled into an industry compendium disclosing studios sources of revenue. Mr. Epstein confines his analysis to the six major studios, Disney, Sony, Universal, Warners, Paramount and Fox, which dominate the motion picture and ancillary entertainment businesses world wide.

Once a movie's theatrical release was the primary source of a studios income and indeed in the beginning the only income. Now however the theatrical release is just the beginning of income to the studios that now earn more income from video/DVD sales and rentals than the initial theatrical release. Also particular types of movies that lend themselves to action figures, promotional tie-ins, theme park rides and sequels are the major earners for the studios. Examples of these are Star Wars, Jurassic Park and Batman. These movies are easy to understand, involve multiple spectacular action scenes and cater to a young demographic who go to movies, buy the action figures and memorabilia associated with a movie and after seeing it more than once in the theatres may buy the DVD or video of the movie.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I like books on business in general and also read many books on the movie business. This is an exceptional book to understand the current-day economics of the movie business which has changed drastically. Much in this book has already been covered of the original movie business starting from an Eastern Jewish influence to the West Coast. Fortunate to have a business with complete control of the talent through the studio system it was a "win-win" controlling the talent as well as what movies were shown in the theaters they owned. But laws soon outlawed owning the theaters and by the 60s the studio system completely crumbled allowing directors and stars to now bid their pay to incredible wealth.

Where this book really excels is not in the history of the business, where a fine job was done, but in the current discussion of the economics of the business. There are specific examples but probably the most telling is concerning the film, "Gone in Sixty Seconds", a typical car crash film starring Nicolas Cage. Most would probably assume this was not a profitable movie but he explains how movies are generally not profitable from ticket sales but through licensed video games, DVD sales and other promotions. This movie was hugely profitable but only when considering this ancillary income.

The example is carried further in explaining the mystic behind "net" and "gross" points. The known fact in Hollywood is always to get your points in "gross", prior to expense allocation. That's easier said than done. He goes through the whole math of the clearing house. As a former CPA it's an excellent explanation on what is "behind the curtain" in Hollywood accounting that leads to so many lawsuits.

Overall, I consider this on of the best books ever written about Hollywood.
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