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Reply #51: 'A list' isn't a matter of opinion actually (FYI post) [View All]

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anigbrowl Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Aug-21-09 02:18 PM
Response to Reply #13
51. 'A list' isn't a matter of opinion actually (FYI post)
The 'a list' 'b list' etc. aren't just Hollywood agent-speak, there are actual lists. This grew out of something called 'the hot list', where actors (and nowadays, directors too) are ranked based on objective criteria like how much money was made by other movies they're in, how many interviews and stuff they do to promote a given movie, what percentage of positive vs negative news stories there are, and so on. It's kind of like a credit score for actors, and it's (partially) published once a year (to get the full thing you have to pay a few thousand - that's OK, it's aimed at professional producing companies).

So you have A list B list and C list, and it's kind of like a log scale. Producers and investors use this to decide whether to finance a movie. Most people imagine that someone writes a cool script, then someone says 'I'm inspired, and I just met a great young actor who'd be perfect even though nobody has ever heard of him/her' and so on. This does happen to some extent (indeed, you'd be surprised how many bi-name actors will work for minimum wage on a small project if they like it personally), but more often what happens is this:

You hear about or read a great story - maybe in the news, maybe a fiction book, whatever. You run, don't walk to whoever would have the rights and offer them a tiny amount of money to option the story. IF you manage to get the deal put together and cameras rolling, the person in question may get paid quite a lot. But optioning the rights (for a year or 2) often costs as little as $1000. OK, now you have the rights to the story, you run around looking for a screenwriter and make a somewhat similar deal if you can (it gets complex here). Now you have some kind of a script and the rights to make it into a movie.

Next you need money. A lot of money. Well, you could try and raise money from people based on what an awesome story it is. This sometimes succeeds, but my god it's fucking hard work. Ever hear of films that take 10 years to get made? That's why, film revenues are extremely unpredictable. You're asking people to give you several million bucks even for a simple movie, so unless you have an outstanding track record they probably won't. Shit...but wait! There's the Hot List.

With this list in hand you can quantify the percentage chance that your movie is going to make money if it has a star in it, and indeed estimate how much it might make! This is what an investor wants to hear - that there is (say) a 75% chance they will get their money back and a 50% chance they will get double their money back. This is way, way, WAY more reliable than someone's gut feeling about how This Is An Important Story or how funny it is or any of that - taste is important, but one man's meat is another man's poison so nobody trusts their instincts above a certain amount of money.

So what happens next is you take your script and your rights and start calling agents and saying 'Yo, I have a script that would be perfect for Tom' 'Tom who? Cruise or Hanks?' 'Well, which one is free today? This is hot hot hot' and so on. You try desperately to get a meeting with the actor. you tell them it's the best script ever. They point out that it isn't. You say that you'll hire William Goldman or some other shit hot screenwriter to rework it. Hmmm, OK. IF you can get the actor interested, they give you a Letter of Intent - it's not a contract, but it says that they'd be open to making a contract with you. 'OMG I got an LoI from Wesley Snipes!' 'Wait, I thought you wanted Tom' 'Oh he has commitments'. Now with your letter of intent you run around calling more actors telling them Wesley snipes is already involved and so on.

When you have enough letters of intent (and the bigger the star the fewer you need) then you can go to a studio or film financer and say look, I have all these letters of intent, if you give me $42 million then my calculations say you can expect to get $87 million back within 2 years'. 'Well what if I give you 35?' 'Well then we'd lose So-and-so...' and so on.

And that, kids, is how Hollywood movies get made. There are exceptions, and everyone remembers the exceptions, but the exceptions are themselves exceptional for being successful - most films made outside the system die a quiet, unnoticed death because they simply don't grab the attention of the public, and (generally) nobody is willing to risk the money to heavily advertise a film which doesn't have any well-known actors in it.
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