Don’t Be a Sucker for Hollywood’s Shell Game

By Ted Baehr, Publisher

Intelligence is not your smarts, as they say in New York, but knowing everything you can about the target territory, such as where the weapons of mass destruction are buried.

MOVIEGUIDE® always has urged people of faith and values to get into the entertainment industry. At the same time, we have warned people about the pitfalls and tried to educate people and equip them to deal with the unique situation of show business. In this regard, the Los Angeles Times has published a series of articles on all the brilliant outsiders like Howard Hughes and William Randolph Hearst (to invoke some ancient examples that are common knowledge) who came to Hollywood and got fleeced.

The good news is that more Christians are getting involved in the entertainment industry. The bad news is that many of the deals they are doing just don’t make sense, and these brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ are getting fleeced.

Savvy distributors whom we like are asking little independent movies produced by Christians to put up $5 to $10 million in distribution fees. Like self-publishing fees, these fees may disappear into the Hollywood overhead of the distributor.

There are two problems with believing you can rent a distribution system at these prices. One is that if a distributor is releasing a movie it produced and financed at the same time it is releasing an independent movie that has bought its distribution system, the distributor will naturally lean toward promoting its own movie, for very obvious reasons. When a Christian reporter said to me this was shocking, I said that if you had to meet with a studio head and they told you that you could pitch only one script but you had your script as well as a friend’s, which one would you pitch?

At the box office, a movie has to gross at least two and a half times its production budget to break even.


Well, let’s go through the mathematics quickly. Theaters will take 50% to 90% of the ticket price. Let’s say they take a conservative 50%. That leaves 50% to be divided between the Christian producers and the distributor. If the distributor takes between 50% to 90%, that leaves at most 50% of 50% of the ticket price, or 25%. Thus, if the movie grosses $10 million (which is highly unlikely for an independent movie in the best of all circumstances), the theater will take $5 million, the distributor will take $2.5 million, and the producer may get only $2.5 million. Of course, this is very optimistic, because of the large upfront costs for distribution.

Realistically, therefore, to make your money back on a $10 million investment, the movie has to gross more than $40 million. If you go to or any other movie website, you will see right away that very few movies make that much box office.

Producers who tell investors they’re going to make their money back under these circumstances need to be challenged about their projections.

For example, I heard of one wealthy individual being asked to put up $7 million to distribute a documentary that may be popular among conservatives. In the 117 years of movie history, however, only about three documentaries have ever made more than $50 million, according to Box Office Mojo:  FAHRENHEIT 9/11 at $119.19 million, JUSTIN BIEBER at $73.01 million, and MARCH OF THE PENGUINS at $77.44 million.

Of course, as PT Barnum said, there’s a sucker born every minute. Regrettably, history has shown that some of the brightest financial minds have been conned by the Hollywood community.

If you’d like to know all of the different pitfalls, tricks and opportunities to succeed in Hollywood, please get a copy of HOW TO SUCCEED IN HOLLYWOOD (WITHOUT LOSING YOUR SOUL). HOW TO SUCCEED IN HOLLYWOOD (WITHOUT LOSING YOUR SOUL) shows you how to use your God-given and God-ordained gifts and talents to make significant creative contributions to the entertainment world. The book helps readers learn from industry professionals – the brightest and best people of faith in the entertainment industry – how they developed their screenwriting, acting, directing, producing, and behind-the-scenes interests to make Hollywood and the world a better place.

The contributors you will read exclusively in HOW TO SUCCEED IN HOLLYWOOD (WITHOUT LOSING YOUR SOUL) include:

➢ Richard Cook, former chairman of Walt Disney Studios;


➢ Bill Ewing, former Executive Vice President of Columbia Pictures;

➢ Bill Fay, executive producer of many movies including INDEPENDENCE DAY and THE PATRIOT;

➢ Penelope Foster, co-producer of many movies, including OPERATION DUMBO DROP, FREE WILLY and ROSEWOOD;

➢ Don Hahn, producer of many movies including THE LION KING, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, and THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME;

➢ Brenda Hampton, writer of many television programs, including  LOVE BOAT, SAFE HARBOR and 7TH HEAVEN (creator and executive producer);

➢ Bruce Johnson, president of Porchlight Entertainment;

➢ Dave, Gary and Joan Johnson, writers and producers of many television programs including AGAINST THE GRAIN, DOC and SUE THOMAS: F.B.EYE;

➢ Al Kasha, Academy Award winning songwriter and composer for many movies and television programs, including THE POSEIDEN ADVENTURE, THE TOWERING INFERNO, and THE RUGRATS GO WILD!;

➢ Ron Maxwell, writer and director of many movies including PARENT TRAP II, LITTLE DARLINGS, GETTYSBURG and GODS AND GENERALS;

➢ Brad Moore, president of Hallmark Hall of Fame;

➢ Bud Paxson, owner of PaxTV;

➢ John Ratzenberger, voiced every Pixar movie, star of hit TV show Cheers, and producer of Made in America;

➢ Barry Reardon, former president of Distribution for Warner Bros.;

➢ Phil Roman, executive producer of GARFIELD, TOM AND JERRY, and THE SIMPSONS;

➢ Andrew Stanton, the scriptwriter for TOY STORY, TOY STORY II, BUGS LIFE, MONSTER’S INC., and FINDING NEMO (which he also directed and produced);

➢ Chuck Viane, president of Walt Disney Company’s Buena Vista Film Distribution Group;

➢ Randall Wallace, the writer of many movies including BRAVEHEART, PEARL HARBOR, SECRETARIAT, and WE WERE SOLDIERS (which he also directed and produced);

➢ Frank Yablans, former president of Paramount Pictures.

As STEPHEN COLLINS, star of 7th Heaven, said:

“HOW TO SUCCEED IN HOLLYWOOD (WITHOUT LOSING YOUR SOUL) is full of wonderful interviews, tips, and research that anyone can put to work. . . . Written with real-world practicality, here’s a primer on how to break into the movie business while hanging on to your soul.”

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