Giving Hollywood credit

Columns

As the ShowEast edition of Film Journal International went to press, the government’s $700 billion Wall Street bailout plan remained in limbo and the entire country was nervously waiting to see whether the Dow would rise again after its unsettling freefall.

Yet somehow, amidst all this financial turmoil, movies are holding steady as a solid investment bet. In mid-September, Media Rights Capital, the independent production company behind such films as Babel, Sacha Baron Cohen’s Bruno and Ricky Gervais’ upcoming Invention of Lying, secured a $350 million revolving credit fund from JPMorgan Chase and others. One week earlier, JPMorgan enabled $700 million in credit for Steven Spielberg’s new production deal with Reliance Big Entertainment of India. Other companies may be facing greater struggles to obtain financing in this uncertain climate, but these two deals prove that the movie business remains a more reliable and attractive gamble than most.

Hollywood famously thrived during the Great Depression, as a demoralized population flocked to their local cinemas to get some light diversion from their grave problems. And on the weekend that Congress burned the midnight oil to try to create a bailout consensus, people continued to spend their money on the movies, handing over $101 million for Eagle Eye and other new films for an 11% improvement over the same weekend in 2007. Who knows what the financial picture will look like in the coming weeks and months? But we’re betting our business weathers the storm by giving consumers much-needed entertainment and relief.

Cable Gets Competitive
With all the talk of Web diversions and new home-entertainment options, a longtime competitor to the motion picture theatre has become increasingly robust in recent years. We can’t recall another time when there have been so many terrific series on premium and basic cable television. Everyone seems to have their can’t-miss favorites, whether it’s AMC’s Emmy Award-winning “Mad Men” or FX’s Glenn Close starrer “Damages,” Sci Fi Channel’s “Battlestar Galactica” or TNT’s “The Closer” with Kyra Sedgwick. HBO may be struggling to regain its past ratings glory from the likes of “The Sopranos” and “Sex in the City,” but its current slate of “Entourage,” “Big Love,” “Flight of the Conchords,” “In Treatment” and the new “True Blood” has many devoted fans. And longtime premium also-ran Showtime has never been stronger, with acclaimed series like “Dexter,” “Weeds,” “The Tudors” and “Californication.”

Most of these series have continuing stories, so once you watch a few times, you’re hooked. The choices of quality programming are abundant, and often smarter than anything playing at the local multiplex. With all that excellent storytelling waiting on the home screen, it’s incumbent on the studios to continuing making intelligent, highly entertaining feature films if they want to hang onto an upscale audience and persuade them to leave their living rooms.