Another day, another bit of news about Spider-Man and Sony and me writing about it. I know, I know — I'll wait until your surprise dies down. Yesterday, we learned that James Horner quickly backed off composing for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 due to how much studio meddling and producer involvement complicated the first film.
Today, I'm finally getting around to reading the leaked internal documents from Sony, and it's eye-opening. Especially jaw-dropping was a document simply titled "Sony_2012_Comments," which looked to include general remarks from Sony employees about how they felt about the company in 2012 - particularly Adam Sandler movies and the Spider-Man franchise.
As it turns out, they're not exactly happy about the direction in which the latter has gone. Just as many fans have been saying, "Did we REALLY need another Spider-Man origin story so quickly?" and "Could we dial down the VFX and actually work on the plot and script?," so were (and, one could assume, are) Sony's own employees.
Here are some of the most telling comments (with me adding the bold emphasis), with Sony employees expressing dissatisfaction with the reboot-heavy slate:
Need to improve the creative staff in Motion Pictures. Seems like we just reboot old product instead of coming up with new ideas like the Hunger Games. We need new fresh ideas that can drive franchise product. Go out and hire the best.
We do not seem to be doing new or original ideas anymore unless they come from term deal players. Remakes, sequels, and movies which are better off being E True Hollywood stories, should be left by the side of the road. Our development execs should focus on new fresh material, and not be permitted to simply remake another [for] money.
Stop making the same, safe, soul-less movies and TV shows. Enough with the re-makes and reboots. Breaking Bad and Community are just about the most artful and innovative gems we currently have...
One employee also pointed out the main problem with [The Amazing Spider-Man](movie:45497) reboot: That it took too long to happen, and when it did, it was essentially just the same origin story retold. On top of that, he or she questioned, why did they continue to put all their eggs in the Spider-Man basket instead of developing new franchises - especially when Sony itself doesn't see a cent of merchandising revenue for Spider-Man?
Are you aware that Men In Black 3 may gross $600M at the box office, and yet will lose money for SPE? Shouldn't we question that strategy? Why are some studios making Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Twilight - and we are considering movies like Moneyball, Steve Jobs story, Captain Phillips Story, Evel Knievel story, etc. Are you aware that SPE only has 1 franchise - Spiderman. Yet, it took 5 years to generate a sequel? Spidey 3 was released in summer 2007, #4 in 2012. Don't harry potters come out over 2-3 years?...Have you read the SEC annual report? Disney will make $300M on Spidey merchandise this year alone. We won't!
If you're wondering why I emphasized the part about MIB3 losing money for Sony, it's to address a common, but incorrect, misconception that many fans have about the ASM franchise: that because it's making decent money at the box office, it's profitable for Sony.
You can't take box office figures at face value for a few reasons. One, studios will often fudge the numbers, particularly if a movie underperforms. Two, studios are obligated to disclose the budget for a film's production - they are not obligated to disclose the budget for a film's marketing, which often, particularly for blockbusters, costs as much as and sometimes more than the actual production itself. And production budgets often balloon to far more than what is initially reported.
So let's take [The Amazing Spider-Man 2](movie:508593). While not as awful as many critics and fans have lamented, it still was by far the weakest of the comic book movies of 2014. Even with Spider-Man being my favorite superhero, objectively, I can say that the other offerings were far better films all around: [Guardians of the Galaxy](movie:424073), [Captain America: The Winter Soldier](movie:254973), [X-Men: Days Of Future Past](movie:203942).
While the numbers say that ASM2 made just over $700 million, and the budget was an "estimated" (read: "We are definitely lying about this") $200 million, that doesn't account for the massive marketing budget stacked on top of the operating budget, along with other costs. So if you bump the actual box office return down, and bump the production budget up by a LOT, account for the marketing and promotional budget, then remember that Sony doesn't make a cent off merchandise, you're looking at a film that very easily may have actually lost Sony money, just broke even, or made so small a profit as to render the ROI not worth the effort.
Let me repeat: Sony does not make a dollar from Spider-Man merchandise. And merchandising is the thing that actually makes franchises profitable - it's another misconception that the box office is entirely what makes or breaks a franchise's success.
And lastly, the comment that I thought was the most damning:
There is a general "blah-ness" to the films we produce. Althought we manage to produce an innovative film once in awhile, Social Network, Moneyball, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, we continue to be saddled with the mundane, formulaic Adam Sandler films. Let's raise the bar a little on the films we produce, and inspire employees that they are working on the next Social Network. That said, there's a strange dichotomy of encouraging us to be fiscally responsible, but then upper management allows certain talent and filmmakers to bleed us dry with their outlandish requests for private jets, wardrobe and grooming stylists - and are surprised when they are asked to work more than 5 hours to promote their film.
The last bit I highlighted, not because it directly related to the Spider-Man and Amazing Spider-Man films, but simply because it was a blunt assessment of how and why Sony has gotten to the point that they're scrambling, financially.
Between the stagnant slate of movies, the piss-poor job done to protect its information, and what the hacks have revealed - and make no mistake, the hack was devastating in the information it dumped, Sony seems to be a company that has lost its way, at least for now. If their own employees are losing faith, how can they expect fans to stick around? It's clear at this point it's in the best interest of both Sony and Spider-Man fans for Sony and Marvel to work out a deal for the rights to Spidey.
Or maybe that's just wishful thinking.
Were you surprised by the comments by Sony employees?