Hangover Part 2 has, so far, earned $434Million according to boxofficemojo.com. Warner Bros.’ decision to offer each of their leads 1000% increase in their talent fee obviously paid off. The production budget also more than doubled, from $35M in 2009 to $85M this year.
Publishing figures like that is like dangling a piece of meat in front of a pack of hungry wolves. Every producer, director, writer and actor wants what they had – a commercial and a critical hit.
The legend of success of Hangover 2 started with Hangover 1 and in that movie the actors were paid less than a million… much less than a million. Having a Bradley Copper do the most physically demanding movie of his life for that much, or less, is insanely unthinkable.
But then again… this is Hollywood. We eat the insane for breakfast and the unthinkable for dessert.
If Brad Pitt can age backwards, anyone can sign an A-lister in their movie.
The Crash/Love Actually Formula
Regardless of your opinion on the movie, Crash and Love Actually were as A-List as A-List can get. There’s something to be said about A-Listers. They don’t like being shadowed by other A-Listers. When an A-Lister is around, everyone else has to be B or C or D. For them to share the spotlight with at least ten more, there’s got to be something there.
If it has been done several times, there’s gotta be a formula right? Right.
One word. Moments.
As old fashion as it may seem, the key was in the script. Every scene allowed them to shine. Every scene is memorable. Every scene spells A-List from beginning to end. If you have any chance of getting an A-lister in your movie, you need to give them those moments.
All of their stories, though short, were so powerful: the love triangle with a twist of Kiera Knightly in Love Actually, the rediscovering love in misery of Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, the magic coat of the kid in Crash.
And the scenes… they all made a mark: the pain that Emma Thompson tried to hold in when she discovered Alan Rickman gave the necklace to another woman, the peeing scene of Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt, the “carolling scene” of Andrew Lincoln to Kiera Knightly, etc.
Make sure each of their scenes is memorable and unique and that it makes a mark. Every scene must be a performance of their life.
Break Their Typecast
Almost every actor Hollywood are typecasted to a certain role… even if it doesn’t seem like so. Tom Cruise is always the lousy-guy-turn-hero, Jennifer Aniston is always the cute-as-a-button-wholesome leading lady, Sharon Stone is always a woman on top (no pun intended), Zac Efron is always singing and dancing, etc.
Most of them are salivating to play a different role. After earning more money than they can ever hope to spend in three lifetimes, they wouldn’t mind going 10% of their Talent Fee just for a chance to play a part that would earn them the respect bestowed to few actors and make everyone else recognize their versatility. If one of the parts in your movie is a role they are dying to play, you have a good chance of signing them up for a fraction of a cost.
Jennifer Aniston, to this day, is still waiting for a piece that would gain her the reputation of being a real “actress”. Julia Stiles has every making of a next Meryl Streep but, for some reason, hasn’t encountered the role that could solidify his potential. Then there’s Katie Holmes. She’s in dire need of a role other than being Tom Cruise wife. There’s more, lots more.
Don’t worry about them not being able to act. Fact is, most of them are good actors. That’s how they got through auditions in the first place. You just need to know what kind of role to give them.
You also don’t have a problem about their agents or managers not giving them the script because even the agents and managers are in on what the talent wants to do. Give them a solid script with a solid part for the A-Lister and you just might find yourself with a star-studded cast.
Make It Simple and Brilliant
Otherwise known as “the Hangover route”, making a great premise, insanely great story development and unique concept will make it possible for you.
Bradley Cooper got $400K – $600K (depending on your source) in the first Hangover. Prior to this, he already did He’s Just Not That Into You, New York I Love You, Alias, among others. All were either a commercial or critical hit. Yet, Todd Phillips and the Casting Directors, Juel Bestrop and Seth Yanklewitz, managed to sign him for a movie with a budget that was half of average low budget movies in Hollywood.
It was all because the premise was brilliant. Imagine waking up with no memory of what happened the night before. They had the perfect time bomb, the wedding of their friend. They had the perfect conflict, the friend who is about to get married is missing. You know it was going to be a disaster… a beautiful million-dollar-worth of disaster. Bradley Cooper and his agent knew too that it was going to be his ticket to more roles, bigger and better ones.
Garden State (directed by Zach Braff) starred Natalie Portman. She already did Starwars: Phantom Menace and yet there she was doing a movie with $2.5 M production budget. Her fee in Starwars was probably more than that but Garden State’s premise was too good to say no to. It’s a story of a clinically depressed guy who decides to stop taking medications he has been on for years. He begins to see life without the protection of medicines, pain, misery and boredom and all. Yeah, it’s pretty heavy but exactly what Portman needed after wearing those ridiculous headdresses in two Starwars movies.
The Dream Cast
Ocean’s 11 of Steven Soderbergh could have easily been the most expensive non-special effects movie. George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia and Julia Roberts plus a host of other A-Listers could easily round up the figure to more than $100M. Then take into consideration the three biggest Las Vegas Casino it featured. Yet, the movie was given $85M production budget and they rolled.
The actors were open about pulling down their fee to a tenth of what their usual. They said they were willing to do a project like that just to be able to work with the director and each other. Prior to Ocean’s 11, Soderbergh has worked on critically and commercially acclaimed movies like Sex, Lies and Videotape, Erin Brockovich and Traffic. All of those were “low budget”. All other high budget movies under his name came after Ocean’s 11.
If you can get a kickass director to do your movie that other actors are dying to be work for, you just might get A-Listers to sign up for a tenth of their fee.
Take Your Time
If you think about the list, it boils down to story. A good story can make anything happen. So start with that. Come up with a story that is unique, a development that is solid and unpredictable (in a good way), characters that are memorable and a statement that is too powerful to be ignored.
Of course, coming up with one is a harder than you think. What you think is a great concept is an opinion that producers might not share. So take your time. Think, re-think, get inspired, get re-inspired, do whatever it takes to get that one story that will knock down the barrier that separates you and your first movie.