Against Monopoly

defending the right to innovate

Monopoly corrupts. Absolute monopoly corrupts absolutely.

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King Kong

It will probably seem like I am picking on Tim Lee, but I think he is articulate and sensible. I also think that Mike Masnick is articulate and sensible, but then again, he is agreeing with me. Tim argues about my post concerning movie costs
This is a good argument, but I still don't entirely buy it. Certainly, this gives us a reason to think the optimal price for movies in the future will not be $200 million, as better technology allows us to cut the costs of the expensive special effects and film-based recording technologies that contribute to the cost of Hollywood movies. Certainly, that will bring down the cost of blockbuster movies somewhat.


I have the impression (please correct me if I'm wrong) that much of the cost is driven by the immense amount of labor required to create a top-quality film. You've got lighting crews, camera crews, makeup crews, set crews, sound crews, post-production crews, and on and on. Another major cost is the environment in which actors act. Either you have to move your cast and crew to a new location, which involves a lot of travel costs, or you have to construct sets, which requires considerable materials and labor for their construction.

Star Wreck had all of this. I think at this point a picture and quote should do the trick. This is the bridge of the starship in Star Wreck

In the earlier post I talked about the render farm because I thought the picture of the kitchen was a pretty low cost example of a render farm. But if you see the movie - you will realize that they have elaborate sets, ranging from the bridge of several starships - much more elaborate and larger than in the Star Trek or Star Wars movies - as for example, the set above - to battles in the snow or inside a nuclear center. How did they do this? The quote is worth repeating
A: What sets? The bridge sets are all virtual. The on-location shoots were made at locations that didn't cost any money (schools, public places etc). The "bluescreen studio" is actually a small piece of blue linoleum in Samuli's living room...
The cost in other words was essentially nothing. See the movie then read how they did it - it changed my mind about the costs of making a movie, I suspect it will change yours. BTW - I don't know what they did for a sound crew, but the sound quality sounds to me to be quite good.


Look, I don't claim that technology hasn't brought down the cost of producing movies. It obviously has, and will obviously continue to do so. But I think you're over-stating the magnitude of the savings here. This movie team was in a peculiar situation: they had gobs of free labor but very little money. And so they chose production methods that were cheap but labor-intensive. The cost of the bridge set was not "essentially nothing." It was hundreds, if not thousands of hours of extra labor. Read the next two question in the FAQ:
All the people on the bridge are shot separately in front of a bluescreen. This shot comprises seven people shot during the last five years. Camera angles have to be carefully planned in advance to create the illusion that it was all shot at the same time.
Shooting seven separate people and compositing them together is almost certainly far slower for everyone involved--the actors, the camera, lighting, and sound crews, and especially the post-production crew that has to stitch it all together. I'm not in this business, so I don't know how much extra time, but I imagine that this was part of the reason it took them 7 years to make the movie. Moreover, this process has to affect the quality of the acting. It's difficult to emote properly when you're acting against a bluescreen and you have to imagine that your fellow actors have just said their lines, even though they're really down the street getting lunch. In short, the low cost of this movie looks to me to be mostly an anomaly dirven by the devotion of sci-fi fans who made it. They subsidized it with thousands of hours of their time. If you were making a movie that doesn't attract that much passion--say a romantic comedy--you would have to pay warm bodies to do all of those jobs. Once you have to pay your compositors, actors, and camera crews market rates than getting them for free, you might not think those virtual sets are so cheap.
They also said that the reason it took 7 years is because when they started out they had no idea what they were doing and it took years to figure out. We should find out the real answer soon enough: they are making a second movie. We'll see how long it takes and what it costs, or if they can makes movies with very low production cost for real.

Most of the cost of $200 million movies is in the special effects and the star actors/actresses. The special effects we agree are spoken for. If movies bring in less money, the big stars will earn less - sad perhaps for them, but for the rest of us?

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They also said that the reason it took 7 years is because when they started out they had no idea what they were doing and it took years to figure out.

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Even with the reduced costs of movie product I think it's safe to say the studios will keep jacking up the prices in order to pad their pockets.

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