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Black Swan is bleak news for $20 million stars, says PGA nom Brian Oliver: “There’s gonna be a major change. The $30-40 million studio film or the $25-30 million film is back. The days of paying people first-dollar grosses are going away.”
“What’s the lesson?” says Oliver, who shared today’s Producers Guild Award nom with Scott Franklin and Mike Medavoy. “Get everybody to work for free. Nobody who did this movie got what they were worth. Nobody got their quote. I mean, Natalie [Portman] trained for a year unpaid. If you asked her if it was worth it, she’d probably say yeah.”
The larger lesson spells doom for big spenders, Oliver thinks. “Everyone talks about how indie film is dying — it’s thriving. Go back, take the 10 best picture noms and look how many of them are indie films. That tells you there’s a formula that works that maybe the studios are overlooking. You don’t have to make huge tentpole big budget movies to have critical and financial success. Maybe we need to take a step back. So much of that money is not on the screen. It’s getting guaranteed paydays to a lot of people instead. You can’t be paying someone for failure.”
Is Hollywood crying out for the kind of reform Wall Street needs, a shift toward shared risk instead of top dogs shifting risk and scarfing profits? “You’re exactly right. Budgets soared, paydays soared, and then the economy didn’t, and it make people step back and look at the way films are made. So maybe we’re at a little shift, a tipping point for indie film.”
“We went through a period where the big stars were getting $20 [million] against 20 no matter what. If a movie fails, you pay someone as if it was a success anyway. I think the budgets are gonna come down and movies are gonna be done differently. Like doing an independent film, we had half the crew of a studio film. Everyone I’ve talked to thinks it’s a $35 or 40 million movie and we did it for a net 13 budget. It looks like a studio movie at independent rates.”
But what does a PGA-nom’d producer actually do to deserve kudos? Risk big money! “If you want my fingerprint on this movie,” says Oliver, “It was calling our main investor when two pieces of financing fell out and asking him to wire me $700,000 two weeks before production. His response was, ‘Is our deal done?’ No. ‘Is Natalie’s done?’ No. ‘Is Darren [Aronofsky]’s done?’ No. ‘And Brian, you think we should do this?’ And I said yes. I basically risked my job to keep this movie going. You have to take a risk, you have to believe in what you’re doing.”
Oliver says there’s plenty of credit to go around for Black Swan‘s apparent grand jete towards an Oscar nom. “Darren did a good job of pulling you into the ballet and then kinda crushing you with the dark violence and thriller moments. Fox Searchlight did a remarkably great job of hitting multiple quadrants on this film. I’ve met young girls who say this is the sixth time they’ve seen it. I tell them you really have to see it 12 times. But I’ve also met people in their 60s at Academy stuff and they find something in it that’s a little different that they love. Fox did a great job of marketing it as a thriller, a psychological thriller, as a character study, and also as somebody who sacrifices everything for what they want.” Even first-dollar grosses?
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