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Saturday, May 24, 2014

Why I wouldn't invest in the Corner Gas movie (but am anyway)

An article in the National Post a few days ago with the headline "Corner Gas movie’s $8.5M budget is 75% from government funding despite success of the original TV series" implied that it was surprising and unnecessary for a successful Canadian TV series to require public funds for its film incarnation.

In reality, that requirement is neither surprising nor unnecessary. What it is, however, is probably the equivalent of flushing public money down the toilet, or handing it to the already affluent Brent Butt, which might be even more offensive to Canadian taxpayers.

Movie people tend not to like to make public predictions about the commercial success of movies, for the obvious reason that if a prediction is wrong, it could come back to haunt them. I worked in Hollywood for a production company which garnered about a dozen major Academy Award nominations, including one for Best Picture and two for Best Original Screenplay, for movies I was involved with during my time there. With all due modesty, I was very good at my job and one of the things I did extremely well was to predict at the development stage whether a movie would be able to perform at the box office.

Most Hollywood executives would have you believe that such a thing can't be done. They'll tell you predicting movie performances is "like trying trying to capture lightning in a bottle."

That's not true. While it can't be done without any margin for error, and it is actually hard to predict whether something will be a runaway hit like Star Wars, or a fluke success like The Blair Witch Project, it's not hard to tell whether a movie has the basic elements of a success or failure. The rather obvious reason that Hollywood execs don't want you, or in particular their bosses, to believe that it can is because most of them just aren't very good at it. But if anyone is worse at predicting success than a Hollywood executive, it's a Telefilm Canada executive.

Yes, Corner Gas The Movie absolutely does need government funds, and I'll tell you why I think the movie, which has not yet gone into production, will never come close to making it all back.

As its producers and fans like to remind us, Corner Gas was the most successful Canadian television series ever. In Hollywood terms, that's only slightly less impressive than being the most successful Ukrainian television series ever. It's like saying you've got the world's third smartest tree frog. That's all very interesting to those few people who are interested in that sort of thing, but really, who cares? And outside of Canada, no one cares about Corner Gas.

I've watched the show a few times and I don't hate it. It had the usual "let's laugh at the antics of silly hicks" formula that's been around since before I watched Green Acres reruns as a little kid. Corner Gas'  writing wasn't very clever and had no edge to it, but it wasn't the worst thing on TV. Although that's an easy bar to get over, particularly when the main Canadian competition was CBC's painfully unfunny Little Mosque on The Prairie.

So let's look at Corner Gas The Movie's potential for success. First of all, movie versions of TV shows with the original cast are very rarely hits. Star Trek is the notable exception, but it took 10 years after cancellation and massive worldwide cult status already in place before that happened. In Canada, as an example of how these things don't work, we have the precedent of Red Green: Duct Tape Forever.

We also have the example of The Trailer Park Boys movies, but there is a substantial difference. Those movies are made on lower budgets, less of which is government-funded, and unlike Corner Gas, the Trailer Park Boys have an edge and a natural audience among a desired movie-going demographic, (kids in their mid-teens to late twenties and stoners), where Corner Gas has none.  And even then, on the $5 Million budget that The Trailer Park Boys Movie cost, it still lost money, which doesn't leave much hope for the Corner Gas movie.

Who will be starring in Corner Gas The Movie? That's right - no one that anyone outside of Canada has ever heard of, and other than Brent Butt, no one that most people in Canada could name. Which means that all of Corner Gas The Movie's receipts will be from the Canadian domestic box office, and that isn't exactly for the movie business what Saudi Arabia is for oil.

If you're wondering how much a movie has to gross to be profitable on an $8.5 Million budget like that of Corner Gas The Movie, the answer is a hell of a lot more than $8.5 Million. There are advertising costs, which are massive for movies, plus distributors' and exhibitors' fees involved. There may be some variances, depending on marketing strategies and other factors, but in general, the rule of thumb is that a movie needs to gross three times the production budget to break even.

So even giving it a break on estimates for some of those factors and giving it a generous estimate on TV and DVD sales, on an $8.5 million budget, Corner Gas The Movie would need to make at least $20 million at the box office just to stay out of the red.  Since it is a virtual certainty that all of that money will have to come from a Canadian audience, it means that, just to break even, one out of every 22 Canadians will have to pay to see Corner Gas The Movie in a theater.

What do you think the odds are of that happening?

Based on those figures, I wouldn't put a dime into producing Corner Gas The Movie. Although I am anyway, as are you, courtesy of the choices made on our behalf by the Canadian government.


Anonymous said...

That was a very educational but depressing read.

I guess I will have to shelve my idea for a The Trouble with Tracy movie!

Richard K said...

You know, if you put together a decent script and could make it for under $1.5 and get a decent cast, it might fly. As I recall, the whole thing only had two sets, her apartment and her husband's office, so even with an expanded movie version, it shouldn't cost much in the way of production.

I'd be a bit more worried about a $30 million King of Kensington movie with Kevin James as King, Sarah Polley as his wife and Cher as his mother.

Anonymous said...

I would be worried about anything with Sarah Polley as she was for a very long time a member of OCAP and still publicly supports them.

That says all I need to know about her.