Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Cruising Towards Performance Related Pay

he UK box-office this weekend featured seven movies all earning in excess of £1 million-plus. One of the highest grossing films this week was Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz's action-comedy Knight and Day which came in at second place with £2.4 million. It's a pretty solid result for 20th Century Fox but hardly the most auspicious opener for a Tom Cruise movie. Unlike in his heyday, Cruise's box-office results of late are looking more chequered. Cruise was one of a handful of 'Stars' that could guarantee solid movie openings, but it's no longer the case as audiences are not necessarily drawn to star-driven features and are more likely to go after concept-fuelled fare that don't particularly rely on expensive movie stars to open big. For example, although Leonardo DiCaprio's involvement with Inception helped, he was dwarfed by the movie's overbearing ideas and auteur qualities.

Tom Cruise is a fine actor. His involvement with any particular film will add credence and assure a high-level of entertainment quality. He is a dying breed of true Hollywood stardom; a breed in short supply with the latest generation of ephemeral hotshots who'll be lucky to have any resonance beyond the end of next year. There are specific movie brands synonymous with Tom Cruise, none more so than the Mission: Impossible franchise. In truth, if there's no Tom Cruise then there's no Mission: Impossible. It's bizarre then for Paramount Pictures to now have Tom Cruise huddled in a corner where they're rubbing his nose in the actuality that his box-office clout has faded and that if he wants to be a part of the new MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 4 then he'll have to slash his fee to an embarrassingly low level. Reports are suggesting Tom Cruise will star in Brad Bird's MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 4 for a substantially reduced upfront payment relative to his previous outings with the Mission: Impossible films. The NY Vulture claims he will "get a nice back-end after cash break-even". That's a big step down from the $90 million for the first Mission: Impossible in 1996 from a combination of gross participation and producing fees. Paramount Pictures public flogging of Tom Cruise has been going on for the best part of five years with the studio accusing the star of damaging War of the Worlds profitability by acting like a tit on the Oprah Winfrey Show, and then lambasting the poor bastard the following year when Mission: Impossible 3 failed to recoup its production budget domestically (in effect, Sumner Redstone firing Tom Cruise from Paramount Pictures where he ran a production office with producing partner Paula Wagner).

What is happening with Tom Cruise is an example of studios still wanting to work with big-name actors but on their own terms. There are reports that Paramount want to make Tom Cruise's role of Ethan Hunt less headlining and have his character hand over the reins to a fresher male actor; but who can honestly supersede Tom Cruise? Will it be the bland Sam Worthington? Maybe the asswipe known as Taylor Lautner? I don't think so. Cruise is Mission: Impossible. Without Cruise I refuse to accept the franchise and so will many others.

Before I finish this particular rant I want to just make one thing clear in that I do not support the way movie star salaries were unwieldy uncontrollable in the past. It's right for actors to take pay cuts, especially when their presence isn't delivering promised revenue. I've always favoured concept over star, and the actuality Julia Roberts' new movie EAT, PRAY, LOVE looks set to lose out next weekend to The Expendables and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World goes to show the waning power of the once reliable movie star. Reckless spending is exactly why we're in the worst financial state of modern times and exorbitant movie salaries falls into this paradigm of greed. Knight and Day has so far managed to gross only about $74 million in the US and hasn't yet cracked $190 million worldwide. As the box-office dexterity of "first-dollar gross" megastars like Cruise falters, they now must settle for being paid only after their products prove profitable. Jim Carrey agreed to a similar deal, accepting nothing up front to star in Yes Man, but still made off with an estimated $30 million-plus as a result of the film doing well. With that in mind, it doesn't seem movie stars will be destitute anytime soon. It just means they have to get used to a new system of performance related pay.

Now if only we can try and fashion a similar principal in the wages of our overpaid head teachers, consultants and executive civil servants.

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