If TV Can, Why Can’t the Big Screen?

I don’t get why movie budgets have gotten so bloody stratospheric. Let’s do a comparison: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles has a(n unconfirmed) budget of about $2 million per episode. Large amounts of action and SFX all done in HD. If it were a 2-hour movie it would cost…let’s be generous and given them a budget-busting $6 million to do it. Of course, we’ll only give them 15 days to shoot it and another couple of weeks to release it.

Now…the upcoming film Terminator Salvation (which doesn’t have James Cameron’s blessing) has a reported budget of between $185-200+ million. That means, for the same amount of screen time, it costs 30x more (at least). Really? Is it going to be 30x better than what the budget-constrained television show can do? I don’t think so.

What’s sad is that the salary of  the star of Salvation, Christian Bale, could probably fund at least five episodes of the series (i.e. about 2-movies worth). I will concede that theatricals can push the state of the art, and that usually costs money, but honestly, now that we’re in an age where CGI does marvelous things, the budgets need to start coming down…and with them, ticket prices.

Let’s go the other direction: the series Firefly* cost about $1.5-2 million per episode for a space-based SF series. The movie Serenity cost $40 million. So, in effect, less than 10x the budget. Honestly, most of that ended up on the screen, due to the extras that the movie was wont to do that couldn’t be done in the series. So…clearly budgets can be relatively sane, even for an effects-laden venture.

I’m sure most of us can point to any number of TV shows whose quality is effectively at a theatrical level. If you loosen up the purse strings just a bit for a few more effects, perhaps enhance the cast and maybe do some location stuff, then I could see a budget of several tens of millions. But these latest budgets have no grounding in reality. They are little more than pissing contests to prove who can spend the most money. When you figure that most films have to make 2.5 times their budget to break even, then that $200 million flick better be one heck of a blockbuster.

Cinematic Hollywood, here’s the deal: write stories with good characters speaking good words in settings that make some sense. Stop trying to gee-whiz us with effects. Been there. Done that. Bored now. The effects should enhance the story, not be an end unto themselves. Save that effort for SIGGRAPH.

Next on my wish list: that studios drop their criminal accounting systems for one that makes sense and from which “net” points will actually get paid to the people who were given them. Stop being such money-grubbing skanks.

* The keen observer noticed that both series star Summer Glau. Total coincidence. I swear. Really. Move along. Seriously, just move along.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: