I am an entertainment geek, so as such I do read stories about production, commercial and critical success, historical significance, and the such. So when reading people discuss and talk about film and TV I sometimes want to reach out and explain things. Things they do not understand. So I’m going to drop a few bits in here.
The mainstream Hollywood movie system generally works the way you think. Production company and/or studio purchase screenplay. Develop it into a film, market it and out it out. However the development is where people tend to get wrong.
1-Movies rarely shoot a first draft. Companies, especially major companies, tend to to have the screenplay redone with various notes. The amount of changes differ obviously. Sometimes a studio will take a first draft to directors instead of having it rewritten to their liking, so that directors they want can be involved in the screenplay development process. This is why good screenplays become terrible movies or terrible screenplays become good movies. Because of the Director and production. NEVER JUDGE A SCREENPLAY BY THE FILM! The flop Gangster Squads screenplay actually made the 2009 Black List for best unproduced screenplays. The film however failed to deliver with audiences and critics. Did you know Hancock went through several drafts since the original screenplay was purchased in 1996. Original conceived as a dark R-rated superhero drama under the title Tonight, He Comes. Did you know Beetlejuice original screenplay was far more of a horror film and the Beetlejuice in film was a demon who intended to rape Lydia? So yeah, as I said, films are not an indication of a screenplays quality.
2-The novelist is probably not getting rich of the film/TV series. I bring this up due to someone saying Piper Kermann was making it rich exploiting the women she went to prison with. ignoring that the TV series is only inspired by the book making many changes, creators rarely get rich with adaptations. Licensed works usually involve two types of payments, the first is license fee and the second is royalties/incentives. The amount paid is based on a combination of the following, 1)how popular the material is, 2)how much money the studio/production house can afford, 3)negotiations, 4)performance.
So, using OITNB lets look at what we know. The source material was not a major success when it was initially released. I base this on the fact wikipedia’s article on the actual book is less than 7 sentences long without any notation about sales success. Secondly we got three companies in the production of OITNB. We are not exactly sure how this works but Tilted Productions is the one behind the making of the series, Lionsgate is probably the money and Netflix is where the show is on. Lionsgate is a moderate sized film/TV company. Tilted is really small, as it is for show creator Jenji Kohan. Netflix, despite being a major player in entertainment is new to original programming and we don’t quite now how much they can afford to pay for these shows. Basically broadcast TV has more money to spend because of ad revenue and stronger ratings, basic cable is second most to spend, and premium cable (which I’ll put Netflix in with) third. While a show on premium cable can look better than basic TV, those actors, producers and directors on basic TV get paid more. Third is negotiations, this ones tricky because most times we are unaware of how well someone negotiates their royalties package. its Hollywood, they usually want to pay you less than you deserve. Performance of the show is a major player but since Netflix doesn’t release details of views its hard to say for most of their shows-but we know OITNB last season was their big hit. So basically, I’m sure OITNB is getting Piper Kermann paid, but rich? Probably not. She’s not JK Rowlings. JK you know got a great deal. Stephen King? Yeah-you know he got great deals. Its pretty obvious though, Hollywood licenses hundreds and thousand of books every year but most the writers will be lucky for their work to make it to production, and even luckier if they earn enough to be financially set.
Especially comic book creators who created for Marvel and DC. Jack Kirby created many of the major Marvel characters and you now how much his family gets? 0. He helped make Marvel billions and the family gets 0. He got 0 when he was alive. The creator of Wolverine makes more money off Lucius Fox from Batman material than Wolverine. Also look at the various lawsuits against companies for lying on royalties.
3-Want to know why a soda and popcorn costs you 20 dollars? Its because studios take most the money from a ticket purchase. Movie theaters rely heavily on concession sales to keep in business. Its also why they started doing commercials before films. Also box office money is not a reflector of people seeing movies. Prices being what they are plus 3D sales, its hard to get a clear idea of how many people are seeing films.
4-A 200 million dollar movie usually needs to make 400 million domestically to be consider a success. Now, if its close to 400 million and international sales put it over that is still considered a moderate success. Sometimes the bar for success is different depending on projects but most of the time Hollywood needs a film to make double the budget domestically to be considered a success. That’s why Neighbors is a bigger hit than Godzilla. Neighbors had an 18 million budget and made over 138 million domestically with another 85 million internationally. Godzilla cost 160 million budget but only 185 million domestic with over 200 million international. Godzilla was expected to perform possibly stronger overseas so the bar for success was altered. Unlike the recent Spider-Man movie which is performing under Sonys expectations. Rumor had it they expected a billion dollar money maker but what they got is expected to be one of the lower performers in the Spider-Man franchise.
5-Studios pay a lot of attention to first weekend sales but the make and break is usually second weekend sales. A drop of 50% is natural. A drop of 55% and over is bad. Usually an indication that word of mouth isn’t strong. A drop of less than 50% means word of mouth is good and the film can possibly perform over an extended period of time.
6-PG 13 is an ideal rating for most studios. It gets young viewers and adults. Studios will have R-rated films cut to PG 13 for this reason. It can make or break projects like Guillermo Del Toro and Tom Cruises ambitious Mouth of Madness horror film. Universal studios was not going to put a huge budget behind a horror film. The rating itself was invented for the first Indiana Jones. Too violent for PG, not R-rated, plus a major motion picture.
7-TV, as I stated, production budgets are larger for broadcast. Despite the fact ratings now are very much down from years past ad revenue is still a major factor. Especially in streaming services like CBS or CW’s channels putting ads on their own streams. Now they also have commercials on the OnDemand shows as well. Usually actors who take projects on basic cable or premium do so because of the project. Also have a good royalties package with DVD/BluRay/VOD sales.
8-Pilot season is when the basic TV channels screen the finished pilot for executives. They then make the decision to green light for Fall or Midseason. Maybe they think it needs work and send it back for fixing (likely for casting changes. Like Willow in the Buffy pilot for example) to possibly add later. Or they choose not to go forward. When the series gets picked up it is usually still being worked as it airs so the show can be canceled and unfinished. Cable channels generally will allow a show to finish through the season even if they choose not to pick it up for renewal.
9-Speaking about pilot season, much like films. a pilot gets picked up for development usually based on screenplay or pitch. Unlike films they usually go into development after being purchased whereas a screenplay can languish for years.
10-Writing for TV involves the showrunner, creator, or head writer usually laying out a map. They work with various writers to follow this map. A lot of times an episode maybe credited to one or two writers but have parts included from other writers. This especially happens in comedy TV where someone will develop the story but several writers will work out jokes to put into the film. Of course in comedy TV improvisation with the actors will add to the finished product.
11-Pilot episodes are expected to set up the show and introduce the main players. They are usually designed give you the necessary information needed. If you ever feel that a first episode is trying to hard to do a lot its because it probably is.
12-Showrunner runs the day to day operation. They are writers, editors, producers and they outrank directors assigned to episodes. Some actually do directing as well.
13-Nielsen ratings system is bullshit because its based on people with a Nielsen monitored system. It does not properly measure the amount of people viewing. Also with VOD and streaming services more and more people are getting TV from different mediums. So its getting harder to really understand how well a show is doing. So yeah, that canceled show might have actually done pretty well.
14-Reviews mean more to smaller releases than to big releases. Thats because reviews are publicity that small films or shows on smaller networks (like OITNB on Netflix for example) could really use. When it comes to major films reviews do little. Reviews effects on TV are also hard to see outside cable shows because a broadcast TV shows success or failure may have more to do with the night the shows placed.
15-Oscars and Emmy’s suck. Everyone knows that. But why? Same reason diversity in film is lacking because the voters are old white people, mostly men. However there are things to know. With the Oscars most the categories do not need to be seen by voters. Thats right, its fucking stupid. Usually “prestigious” films released in the last quarter are more likely to get nominated because they are more “fresh” in peoples minds. Also the studios have to submit films for categories. For the Emmys TV actors submit the episode they believe best exemplifies their work.
So I hope this gives you a better look into the world of TV and film. I’m sure there is more but thats all I got.