Huckstering Hollywood

Other People's Money

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission is currently considering a request by a firm called TrendEx to establish a market for the trading of futures based on the box office performance of motion pictures. The Commission will decide on the contours of this proposal and whether to allow the trading of futures contracts based on box office receipts by June 7, 2010. For those who may be unfamiliar, commodity futures trading essentially allows participants to “bet” on the future price of commodities, like pork bellies and oranges (à la Trading Places with Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd). The proposal is to do the same with the future ticket sale performance of films.

As part of the testimony in opposition of this proposal, the opponents may want to seek out the assistance of Larry “the Liquidator” Garfield, the financial whiz played by Danny DeVito from the film Other People’s Money, to make their case. If they did, his speech might go something like this:

Larry “the Liquidator” Garfield
Addresses the Commodity Futures Trading Commission
On the Proposal to Create a Trading Exchange on Box Office Receipts

Danny DeVito as Larry “the Liquidator” Garfield in Other People’s Money.
Photo © Warner Bros. Pictures 1991

[After listening to Larry “the Liquidator” Garfield speak in opposition to this proposal (see the Politi-Flix column on the Republican flip side of this State Assembly edition of The Colorado Statesman):]

Amen. And amen. And amen. You have to forgive me. I’m not familiar with the Christian Right. Where I come from, you always say “Amen” after you hear a prayer. Because that’s what you just heard — a prayer. Where I come from, that particular prayer is called “The Prayer for the Almighty Dollar.” You just heard The Prayer for the All Mighty Dollar, my fellow Americans, and you didn’t say, “Amen.”

This proposal is dead. I didn’t kill it. Don’t blame me. It was dead when I got here. It’s too late for prayers. For even if the prayers were answered, and a miracle occurred, and the yen did this, and the dollar did that, and Hollywood did the other thing, it would still be dead. You know why? Derivatives. Synthetic collateralized debt obligations. Sub-prime mortgages. We’re dead alright. We’re just not broke. And you know the surest way to go broke? Keep entertaining proposals like this to hedge on a shrinking market. Down the tubes. Slow but sure.

You know, at one time there must’ve been dozens of companies offering derivatives. And I’ll bet the last company around was the one that structured the best goddamn derivative you ever saw. Now how would you have liked to have been a futures trading option holder in that company? You invested on that derivative and that derivative is dead. Let’s have the intelligence, let’s have the decency to sign the death certificate, collect the insurance, and invest in something with a future.

“Ah, but we can’t,” goes the prayer. “We can’t because we have responsibility, a responsibility to Hollywood, to its bottom-line. What will happen to that?” I got two words for that: Who cares? Care about that? Why? Hollywood didn’t care about you. They sucked you dry. You have no responsibility to them. For the last ten years Hollywood bled your money. Did Hollywood ever say, “We know times are tough. We’ll lower ticket prices, reduce violence and swearing.” Check it out: You’re paying twice what you did ten years ago. And Hollywood’s devoted union employees, who have taken no increases for the past three years, are still producing twice what they made ten years ago; and our stock with the viewing public — one-sixth what it was ten years ago.

Larry “the Liquidator” Garfield.
Photo © Warner Bros. Pictures 1991

Who cares? I’ll tell ya: Me. I’m not their best friend. I’m their only friend. I don’t make anything? I’m savin’ the economy money. And lest we forget, that’s the only reason they became filmmakers in the first place. They wanna make movies! They don’t care if they manufacture junk and duds, frightening chillers, or grow transformers! They wanna make movies! I’m the only friend they’ve got. I’m savin’ them money.

Make the movies. Invest the money somewhere else. Maybe, maybe we’ll get lucky and it’ll be used productively. And if it is, they’ll create new jobs and provide a service for the economy and, God forbid, even make a few bucks for themselves. And if anybody asks, tell ‘em they gave at the studio and not to some Wall Street huckster.

And by the way, it pleases me that I am called “Larry the Liquidator.” You know why, fellow filmmakers? Because at my funeral, you’ll leave with a smile on your face and a few bucks in your pocket. Now that’s a funeral worth having!

[Of course, Larry “the Liquidator” Garfield never made this presentation before the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. To hear what the supporters of this proposal had to say, flip over to the Republican side of this special State Assembly edition of The Colorado Statesman.]

Colorado Statesman film critic Doug Young is doing double duty this week as he reviews this film from both the Democratic and Republican perspectives.