Actors and Salaries and Art, Oh My!

A headline attributed to Forbes appeared not long ago in my news reader summary: “Kristen Stewart’s Lavish Pay A Sign That Nobody In Hollywood Knows Anything.” It turned out that the headline belongs to an op/ed piece by Kyle Smith, a Forbes contributor. Smith’s position seems to be that Stewart, who topped the current Forbes Highest Paid Actresses List, earning $34.5 million, did not make a significant contribution to the films she was in. Smith cannot find connections between the high incomes of major movie stars and the number or earning power of the films in which they appear. Nor does he see any connection with branding of the films.

Anyone who has studied film should understand that movie-stardom and the quality level of film are not really related. Movie-stardom is about a relationship between a movie person and his/her audience. It has very little to do with acting ability, profitability, or anything other than celebrity. Sometimes, movie makers can cash in on that popularity and utilize it for marketing (Historically, it has been used as an aid to market stability); sometimes not.

Smith also seems to miss at least one point that Forbes staffer, Dorothy Pomerantz, in a business news article, “Kristen Stewart Tops Our List Of The Highest-Paid Actresses,” makes quite convincingly. Stewart is in demand; fans would allow nobody else to play Bella Swan in any of the latter Twilight films. Thus, she (and her co-stars) could command a significant salary and a percentage of the profits. And why would the studios not pay? Hollywood, after all, is (and has always been) about the money, and if the producers want the movie to make more money, they will give the potential customers what they want, and if what the customers want is the actors they are used to seeing, regardless of the level of talent or skill, then they are who appear on the screen. And that same fan base justifies a higher salary for these actors in other movies.

Putting any actor in any role is a gamble into which many factors play. As far as I can determine (without digging too far), at least nine other actresses were considered for Stewart’s role in Snow White and the Huntsman. Replacing any actor playing any character can and does change the nature of the film. The choice of Stewart, and her accompanying higher price tag, was not a chance thing done for no reason.

Another thing that is evident is that the money paid a person working on a film is not automatically related to “crafting a story.” Money in American film is allocated not in a way that will necessarily contribute to artistic improvement, but in a way that will make more money. One reader of Smith’s article points out that Forbes also nominated Stewart as one of the most profitable/bankable stars of 2011 because “she was netting an estimated $56 for every dollar she was paid.” That is a pretty good return on investment according to almost anybody’s way of thinking.

Aside from finances, there are a number of considerations in putting a film together, artistic considerations being only one. Creative projects, as any of us in the arts know, tend to take on a life of their own. Once you are committed to the project, we will do almost anything to bring it to life. In the case of movies, this involves many compromises and much collaboration. And it includes scheduling: is this actor available when we want to shoot? Do we modify the schedule? Do we find another actor? Will these actors working together make the project better or worse? Should we pay more for this person, material, location, or less for that person, material, location?  What is the nature and availability of our funding? What is our window of opportunity? How will modifications impact audience acceptance? How much are we willing to compromise? What about the project is really important? How badly do we want to do it?

In the end, what becomes important is completing the project, realizing our vision. And we do what we have to do to make that happen, whether we are collaborating with others to produce a multi-million dollar movie, a stage play, a concert, an art show, or working individually to produce a photograph, painting or sculpture.

 

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Date: Monday, 9. July 2012 0:11
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: Audience, Creativity, Marketing

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