Today we’re discussing how the formula to make a successful drama has shifted from needing established stars with healthy budgets, to showcasing rising stars with anemic budgets. While dramas like Lawrence of Arabia, Glengarry Glen Ross, and Schindler’s List have laced the history of cinema with greatness, current dramas are finding success by skewing toward a much younger viewer base. Whether this trend is temporary or permanent, one thing is for sure: dramas aren’t just for grandparents anymore. Before we get into examining the trend-setting successes, let’s highlight a star-studded feature that reminds us of the “old way” of making dramas.
This Robert Downey, Jr. and Robert Duvall courtroom drama stumbled out of the gates by earning $13,116,226 on 3,003 screens, on its opening weekend. The picture went on to make $47,119,388 domestically and $37,300,000 internationally; giving it a worldwide total of $84,419,388. That, my friends, isn’t much to brag about. While it may seem like making $84 million plus on a $50 million dollar budget seems like a solid return, it’s actually anything but. You see, on average, a film needs to earn 2.5 to 3 times its budget to break even. Thus is because a) the studio will pay $15 million to $25 million or more on P&A (prints and advertising), and b) the exhibitor (theaters) keep about 53% of the box office total for themselves. Thus, The Judge, a $50 million dollar budgeted film, needed to wrangle $125 million to $150 million to be deemed a success, and its $84,419,388 cumulative total is a far cry from that.
Now let’s take a look at a few “young drama” successes, which were produced with modest budgets and a youthful cast.
The Fault in our Stars
This $12 million dollar budgeted teen drama earned $48,002,523 on 3,173 screens over its opening weekend, which is a powerful $15,128 per screen average. The film has gone on to earn $124,872,350 domestically, plus another $182,294,484 overseas, giving it a worldwide total of $307,166,834. Furthermore, not only did the picture break the record for pre-ordered ticket sales for romantic dramas in the history of Fandango, but it also broke the digital download record. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that over 5.7 million copies of the novel have been sold worldwide including more than four million sold domestically, but the picture certainly blazed the trail for other youth-oriented dramas with modest budgets.
If I Stay
This $11 million dollar budget earned $15,176,190 on 2,907 screens over its opening weekend, giving it a $5,394 per screen average. The picture has gone on to make $50,474,843 domestically, and $28,400,000 internationally, giving it a worldwide total of $78,874,843. Just like The Fault in our Stars, If I Stay is riddled with a young cast and a modest budget. The winning formula has rewarded Warner Brothers by earning nearly seven times more than its production budget.
When examining these younger, hipper dramas, it’s safe to say the powers-that-be are redefining what they consider a successful drama to be, and how much they’re willing to spend on it. Thus, if you’re developing a drama, “think young,” with your cast, and think “small to medium” with your budget.
Okay, that’s what I have for you today. But, before you go, check out “Quest,” by Thomas Stellmach. This ultra-cool short film won the 1 997 Oscar for Best Animated Short Film. I have a special place in my heart for this film, because I was judge for the 1997 Flickerfest Short Film Festival in Sydney, Australia just a few months before it won the Oscar, and yes, it won Flickerfest too!
And, a link to my Limping on Cloud 9 podcast is below. As always, thank you for lending me your eyes and ears!