In Limbo: Hollywood's Box Office Drama

Hollywood seems to be in a slump. Box Office Mojo says this past Memorial Day Weekend was the lowest-grossing in nine years and that overall business was down 14 percent from last year. Meanwhile, studios like MGM Studios are stalling on major projects The Hobbit and the James Bond franchise. NPR's Steve Inskeep caught up with reporter Kim Masters to talk about this recent turn of events. Their edited conversation:

So what is stopping The Hobbit from getting done?

The Hobbit is a joint effort between Warner Brothers and MGM. And MGM is a very troubled studio and has been for some time, but it's in crisis now. There are creditors who are owed a great deal of money. They're trying to sell it. And there are no buyers. Things are in a funk in Hollywood. And so, The Hobbit is in limbo.

This is something that's got a guaranteed built-in audience. You can assume that it's going to make tons of money. Why wouldn't creditors line up to loan money for something like that?

It's not just The Hobbit. [The studio wants] to sell this property… And the studio has been just languishing. It has no money… Its last movie that it released was Hot Tub Time Machine…. They had Guillermo del Toro, this wonderful director who did Pan's Labyrinth and seemed like a great guy. He had of course, Peter Jackson, who did The Lord of the Rings trilogy. He was blessed by Peter Jackson to do the two Hobbit movies actually. And then he had to back out. Why? Because it's in limbo and if… all of these creditors that are owed money and are controlling the fate of MGM decide to go into bankruptcy, then a company like Time Warner that invested in The Hobbit can find that it is completely out of luck – that it had lost its investment while this company is stuck in bankruptcy. So it's held The Hobbit up indefinitely.

And also, the latest 007 movie.

What would seem to be one of the surest thing in the movie business, Bond… James Bond, that would have been Bond 23. Talk about a franchise. But again the Broccoli family — which controls Bond — they don't want to go forward with the Bond movie and then find that there's a bankruptcy and this thing is bollixed up in a bankruptcy for an indefinite period. So all of this stuff is now on hold. And it's a symptom of what's wrong with Hollywood… There's another issue relating to this MGM sale, which is DVDs are not selling. There's all this uncertainty about how you're going to watch movies and who's going to pay for it… are you going to watch it in your house, is it going to be streamed, are you going to get it for a dollar out of Redbox? So the library value is questionable, and that holds up the MGM sale, and therefore everything is on hold.

Kim Masters hosts The Business on member station KCRW and is editor-at-large for The Hollywood Reporter.

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