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My Second Chance

By Henry P. Raleigh
ART TIMES Sept/ Oct 2010

Henry Raleigh Drawing 2nd chance

It hasn’t been a good year what with the diminishing number of print film critics and my losing out, unfairly I might add, on that Netflix million dollar prize. Well, I guess we’re all looking nowadays for something to ease our retirements and I’ve stumbled on a scheme that may well do the trick. So far this isn’t widely known yet and I will confess I don’t actually understand the full mechanics of the thing. I mean futures and derivatives and predictive markets aren’t in my area of expertise. OK, montage, mise-en-scene, noir, anything that sounds French and there I’m right at home. Still, I think I grasp the basic operation of this new plan and the way I see it, it goes like this: You make an on-line bet (called a “contract”) on a film prior to its release. The bet is made with an “Exchange” (a bookie of sorts) against the Exchange’s estimate of the film’s box office return after four weeks from the opening. You bet $1dollar for every $1 million the film is expected to clear. Lets say last winter you had taken out a $20 dollar contract on

“Up in the Air” on which the Exchange’s expected take was $20 million. Seemed like a good bet, advance notices were up-beat and it does star George Clooney. What the hell, $20 is worth a gamble, right? And don’t forget George Clooney. If “Up in the Air” breaks $20 million you win the difference, if it doesn’t make it you lose the difference. In fact, “Up in the Air” made $24 million in four weeks and you could have walked away with a cool $4, a 20% gain on your investment and where can you beat that today?  Sure it’s small potatoes and you’re not going to retire to Florida at that rate. But supposing that back in December you took a shot on “Avatar”—  sci/fi spectacular — maybe James Cameron will pull off another big box office smash like “Titanic”? The Exchange sets a conservation estimate of $200 million, you put up $200 dollars, wait out the month and, hot damn, “Avatar” comes in at 430.8 million and you pocket $230 and change. Not enough for you? How about investing in some other money-makers along with “Avatar” like “Alvin and the Chipmunks”, “It’s Complicated” and “Sherlock Holmes”? On the other hand you most likely would have dropped a little bundle on “Nine” and “The Princess and the Frog”. And what if the Exchange had been operating when “District 9” and “Paranormal” came out? Boggles the mind, I can tell you.

The beauty of this scheme is that the quality of the film makes absolutely no difference. Those annoying evaluations by the few remaining film critics now can be completely ignored. Look how they so nastily ran down “Clash of the Titians” and it grossed $110 million in its first two weeks.  Snubbed by the critics, “Alvin and the Chipmunks” raked in $155 million in the same time. You can figure George Clooney is a winning draw for any film but if Adam Sandler had the lead in “Up in the Air” the four week return would have tripled.

It’s pretty simple, after all – a film is good if it makes money so why not give all of us the opportunity to earn a few bucks in the business? Of course, like any investor you might be expected to do a little research. Who the stars are, is the film a sequel to a money maker, will it promise enough sure-fire sex and violence, maybe even, if you really get into it, following the charts that show week-end grosses, weeks in release, weekly percentage change, gross to date. That’s a lot of work but I’ve got an easier method that I’m sure would be just as effective. Take these two films scheduled for August release dates—“ Eat, Pray, Love” with Julia Roberts and Javier Bardeem and “Piranha 3D” with Elisabeth Shue and Jerry O’Connell. It’s August remember, out-of-school American youth have been hanging out all summer, bored and it’s hot and humid. Which of this bunch will go for (and they are the largest group of film goers), Julia Roberts, a divorced woman mournfully traveling the world in search of food and romance or the one about prehistoric piranhas in 3D chewing up college kids on spring break? That’s a no-brainer, isn’t it? Why the second film has the obvious advantage of re-doing the killer/lake/terrified and sexy young girls theme so successfully exploited in several other films a few years ago.

By the time you read this the film futures Exchange should be up and running, approved by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission in March. The National Association of Theater Owners and the Motion Picture Association of America aren’t a bit happy by the matter, fearing it’s open to all sorts of nefarious manipulations. If that happens I know just who to blame and it will be those pesky algorithms again. I’ve warned you about them before, you know.