The Power of a Star
A name talent on a movie marque can greatly influence how big the distribution channel will be. According to this study conducted by Stephen Follows and Bruce Nash, “Consumers respond to branding, feeling safe to try new things when they come under the banner of an already trusted brand.” This was an article written about the how name talent can affect a production’s marketability, which then takes a deeper look into the genres that use star power more than other genres. My conclusion from this study is that Star power only increases your chances for a wider distribution platform but that does not this does not correlate to getting better reviews from critics or delivery a better story.
Some interesting notes from this article by Follows and Burns, go on to say,” Out of 877 independent films, a little under 40% (338 in total) had a famous cast member.” Although, it bares great weight on whether an independent film carries a star or multiple stars on the bill, it only represents 40% of independent films. The higher the budget goes, the more we see star power prevail. In my humble opinion, this is because there are more financial resources to pay the powerhouse payrolls. There are a number of ways how a film can secure financing but the most profitable way, and to secure the biggest theatrical distribution, is to package movie deals. This so called “packaging” practice has become a real battle in Hollywood since April 2019, as The Writers Guild (WGA) and an alliance of the major Hollywood talent agencies known as the Association of Talent Agents (ATA) have been feuding over these practices and how it mis-represents of the writers. Currently, as of Oct. 30 2019, both parties find themselves in a Mexican standoff, where the WGA wants to negotiate better payment compensation for their writers. These packaging deals the talent agencies are making with the studios, essentially gives the agency, or the agent/s who packages the deal, profits of the film’s revenue, thereby changing the agent’s role from- the writers agent, to the writers’ boss.
This will be a great topic for another post, but for now, let’s assume that packaging movie deals have a huge impact on a film’s distribution success. The focus on putting name talent on a production is big business but I will argue that it does not impact the quality of production, more so, the quality of storytelling.
The genres that faired well, with meaningful large distribution release, were: Drama, Thriller and Horror. These genres have relied on the story and uniqueness to find a wider release without name talent. The genres that do not do well without name talent are: Adventure, Action & Comedy. These are usually higher tiered productions, and if production companies are going to invest 50-300M+, you can bet your bottom dollar, star talent will be involved.
As an independent filmmaker myself, I am constantly looking to stay fresh and know my market. Knowing what types of genres will perform better with a name, versus no name, will always be the biggest contributing factor to the success of the films I pursue.
There is a big reason why they call them stars and why they are paid so handsomely…they are at the top of their game. They continue to work, hone their craft and take a story to another level. They own their characters and the stories they represent. That being said, it is not the end all factor to a breakout film. Stars can help a story get more attention, but if the story does not command attention, there is only so much the star power do.
The great William Goldman once wrote, “Nobody knows anything…… Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work. Every time out it’s a guess and, if you’re lucky, an educated one.” Stars are fleeting, one day they are there, the next day they can implode like dark matter in the solar system. Although Mr. Goldman made his statement 30 years ago, it still has a lot of relevance today, if not more. With so many projects at record budgets, packaging deals that are evolving the “Hollywood Deal,” never ending franchise sagas continue and branded star power is not as relevant as the story themselves, it proves Goldman statement is more apparent than ever.
Follows, S & Nash, B. (2019, month unknown). Do You Need A Star To Get A Film Into Theaters? [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://americanfilmmarket.com/do-you-need-a-star-to-get-a-film-into-theaters/
Anderson Seal is an award-winning filmmaker, video producer, editor, writer and director. A graduate of Cal State University Long Beach, community advocate, father, husband and entrepreneur.