December 27, 2019

Somehow, 1997's 'Men in Black' is Still in the Red

It's wild to think a movie like Men in Black, that spawned a franchise could still claim it has made no money. But creative accounting has rendered it so. 

Movie accounting is famously fickle and shady. When your agent or lawyer negotiates for the back end of a movie, there's little chance you'll ever see it even if that movie is a massive hit. The reason is that accounts use lots of convenient math to make it look like their films are not a hit. 

This allows studios to avoid paying residuals and take tax write-offs for depreciating assets. 

It's wild. 

Recently, writer Ed Solomon took to Twitter to talk about how in the 22 years and four franchise films since the original Men in Black, Sony still claims that film is in the red. 

This is a crazy statement, but it indicates the guarded truth about working on big-budget movies. 

It's not just Men in Black; other filmmakers chimed in with similar stories. 

Think $150mm is a huge number? Try almost $900mm and still not back end.  

And before you go blaming the guild, it's really agents and lawyers who have to keep track of these numbers and keep studios honest. 

While it's hard to know the story behind Men in Black without seeing the numbers, a few years ago, this accounting sheet from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix leaked and showed how the studio said that massive movie made no money. 

Solomon says the sheet cites distribution fees, distribution expenses, direct cost, pre-break participations and deferments, a supervisory fee, interest, over-budget charges, and other odds and ends to keep the movie in the red. 

If you think movies are bad, TV is the same. Check out how Army Wives received similar treatment.  

The hardest thing about this kind of accounting is that you cannot argue with numbers. Studios spend and continue to spend tons of money on these kinds of projects. The interest charged and inflation goes a long way in creating these deep holes movies have to dig out of, but it is discouraging to see hits buried buy this kind of fiscal work. 

As streamers rely more and more on clicks instead of box office, residuals will have to change. 

The accounting will always matter, but more and more people are negotiating in different ways to get paid. 

It will be interesting to see how this changes over time. 

And if Men in Black ever makes money. 

What's next? Check out our ultimate film budgeting guide!

There are so many elements to consider when calculating your film's production budget.  This comprehensive guide and free film budget template will get you started. 

Click for more. 

Your Comment

8 Comments

So, is better not to have deferred payment?

December 28, 2019 at 3:07AM

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Javier Diez
Director/Writer
105

I learned the hard way that "deferred payment" is not a good deal if you're below-the-line. I'm sure many others can relate!

December 28, 2019 at 9:29AM

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BD
825

The only good deal in Hollywood is the one that they pay you either upfront, or you get a guaranteed cut, no matter how the film does. Anything else, is going to be for the studio and no one else.

December 28, 2019 at 11:29AM

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Eugenia Loli
Filmmaker, illustrator, collage artist
26

I'm telling this to friends all the time. Forget about so called "Hollywood", do stuff on your own, have a stake in what you're doing. You probably won't get super rich but won't get screwed and keep your dignity. If that is of no value to you or you're fine things go, then cash in and ignore what comes after...

December 30, 2019 at 1:28AM, Edited December 30, 1:28AM

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DingDong
2112

The biggest part of the sham is that most of those "costs" are not for outside entities. They are for in-house departments like Marketing and Production, or to wholly owned subsidiaries… which totally redefines the term "Gross Profits!"

January 3, 2020 at 10:34AM, Edited January 3, 10:34AM

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Daniel Miller
Creative Director
86

What absolute SCUM some of them are. Making hundreds of millions if not Billions & they are unable to pay someone the $50k they are owed. I will not cry a single tear when the conventional studios are dead & buried.

January 3, 2020 at 11:31AM, Edited January 3, 11:31AM

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When Disney claims most of their money comes from stuff like product licensing and brand deals to McDonald's etc... Is that always going to be hidden or not? Clearly they are making money so how are they not showing it?
Even non profits cant spend more than they make. Only the government can do this.

January 3, 2020 at 7:59PM

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Travis Johansen - Minneapolis
Director of Photography & Producer
172

A perfect caption will add personality to your photos, align your photos with your brand, engage your audience, and call them to action.

January 12, 2020 at 11:18PM

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