Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Shhh... It's a Secret...

Since the Kepler's launch of The Last Assassin on Thursday, I've driven 1000 miles, visited 35 bookstores, done eight interviews, and gotten an unenviable amount of sleep. So no time for a longer piece today, but here are a few thoughts provoked by what I've picked up on the televisions people insist on watching while they exercise in LA hotel gyms...

Apparently, the movie Superman cost something like $270 million to make. I heard it reported like this: "And Superman, which opens in July, cost over $200 million to make... although industry insiders tell us the true figure is closer to $270 million."

Hold on a minute, I thought. $270 million? Come on, we're talking about a movie, not an aircraft carrier. And then I realized... it's bullshit!

Book publishers inflate figures all the time to create hype. When you hear about a 100,000 hardback print run, figure the real number is 30 or 40,000. When you read about a $300,000 marketing campaign, figure about a third. (The one area where publishers seem to be scrupulously honest in their publicity efforts is the number of cities they report an author as visiting on a book tour. For example, the entire Bay Area gets counted as a single city. When you're doing the driving and the appearances, it feels like more than that. But I digress...).

The theory is, if the publisher reports that it's spending a lot of money marketing a book, that in itself will make people take notice. Why should the movie industry be any different? The feeling is, "Damn, $270 million, that's gotta be some movie. Great sets, great computer generated imagery... I ought to see it, just to know what someone spent so much money on." The alleged $270 price tag itself becomes the news.

My hat is off to Hollywood for knowing exactly how to get the public to swallow these ridiculously inflated reports. They don't say, "Superman cost $270 million to make because of the awesome set designs and CGI." The public wouldn't be impressed by that. Instead, they pretend to try to hide the actual size of the budget while "industry insiders" go around "leaking" the "true" inflated figures. If it's a leak -- if it's a secret the studios are trying to keep -- we'll believe it much more readily than we would if they just openly reported it.

When someone acts as though he's trying to hide something, we often don't notice that the dissemination is in his interests. So next time you read a "leak" about something going on in the government, ask yourself if this is something the government in fact wants you to know about. What works for Hollywood works elsewhere, too.

I've got another piece on the subject that will appear on MJ Rose's terrific blog Buzz, Balls & Hype soon.

Okay, gotta head to San Diego -- see you soon.


Brett Battles said...

Hollywood not telling the truth? Barry, say it ain't so!

All right. I have to admit I actually work in "Hollywood." And the fact that numbers would be inflated to pump up anticipation of a BIG MOVIE is not surprising. Studios will do whatever it takes to get certain movies noticed. Sadly, more often than not, these are the flicks that suck.

I don't doubt that the big blockbusters are expensive, but with the creative accounting that goes on here, who knows how much something costs. It's like a double punch. They make the movie seem more important by saying it cost 270 million dollars, then if it tanks, they don't have to share any of the profits they may actually make by saying the movie lost money.

Yeah, I know. We're all nuts out here.

Good seeing you Friday at Mystery Bookstore. For those of you out there who have not heard Barry speak in person, it's well worth it.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I want to see the movie because it is Superman. They could say it was a 5 million dollar budget, or a 270 million dollar budget. I would still fork over my 9 bucks to see this in the theaters.

I look for stories that I am interested in, not budgets.

Anonymous said...

It all goes back to that old adage,"Don't believe everything you hear(or read)". Problem is, sometimes that's all we get...just what the powers that be want us to hear. The other old saw that springs to mind is "bigger is better...the more it costs, the more it's worth". Not always true but oh so believable. That's why Red Hot Chili Peppers tickets go for $200.00 a pop...costs that much? Wow must be great!
Glad the tour is going so well...even without the sleep :o)
And so glad you found the time to post.

JA Konrath said...

So when you say you've driven "1000 miles" and visited "35 bookstores"...

Barry Eisler said...

Good seeing you, too Brett, and thanks again for coming.

Joe, now it's 1400 hundred and 48 bookstores... ;-)

Dying to post on the proposed gay marriage amendment! But I've got a bunch of stores I want to hit in Phoenix this morning, and a long drive to El Paso today. Maybe tonight, if I'm awake enough...


Elizabeth Krecker said...

Hollywood has gone mad.

Have you been on a movie shoot? Me? Once. The amount of food was unbelievable. The number of paid extras, production people and actors standing around waiting for their 2 seconds of fame, astronomical. Multiply all those people and all that food by weeks and weeks and weeks of shooting, add in locations all over the world, equipment, set design and production, props, costumes, pre-production expenses, the cost of residuals, toss in some VERY expensive special effects, focus groups, editing costs and the producers' cut, never mind the stars salaries, and I can easily see how the total could hit $270 million.

Which poses the question: Why?

In the days before Pixar, a low-budget film like Casablanca could become an Oscar-winning hit with a message that endures generations. How long will we remember this particular permutation of Superman?

Sandra Ruttan said...

My husband was in a movie, Heaven and Earth, the Japanese epic, but I digress.

From the publisher's side of the equation, I find this fascinating. I never gave the numbers a second thought.

Anonymous said...


Nice mention on the front page of today's Wall Street Journal! Two mentions in two paragraphs.


Anonymous said...

"In the days before Pixar, a low-budget film like Casablanca could become an Oscar-winning hit with a message that endures generations. How long will we remember this particular permutation of Superman?"

I don't know much about movies, but in the days of Casablanca, weren't there fewer movies to choose from in the theaters at any one time? Plus, there were no dvd players and not as many other entertainment options. Therefore, there was less competition for customers looking for entertainment.

With so many options now, I bet it's more difficult to generate buzz, so there's an escalating arms race in trying to outdo the other guys for a smaller and smaller market of people who will go to a theater to see a new release. Same dynamic in the publishing industry.

Of course, marketing has always contained a smoke-and-mirrors element to it.