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“Blockbusting” – Must-read book for filmmakers

January 22, 2010

Just from the cover you sense the significance. George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, Stephen Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Walter Murch, Ron Howard, and Sid Ganis all have their names and/or blurbs on the cover. It’s called George Lucas’s Blockbusting, and if you are a filmmaker or film fan, I’d recommend this book as one that you must have and must read.

Bockbusting: A decade-by-decade survey of timeless movies including untold secrets of their financial and cultural success.

I discovered this book as I was browsing at new releases in a local bookstore and I’m surprised I hadn’t heard of it yet. But, as I’m writing, Amazon doesn’t yet have it in stock.

As the tag says, the book takes a look at the movie business, centered in Hollywood, from a variety of perspectives. It begins with a listing of the Top 300 films by Domestic Box Office between 1910 and 2005. The list is adjusted for inflation to 2005 dollars so you get a clearer picture of success relative through the decades. Based primarily on this list, the book takes you through the movie business beginning with the invention of the motion picture and disputes over patents in the early 1900’s.

In each decade, the most important films are featured in brief synopses that include background on how the films were made and how they were received, as well as their statistics like production budget, # days of principal photography, key credits and locations, and box office revenues. The films highlighted for each decade are include films that are not in the all time Top 300 domestic grossing films, but also include films from that decade that are significant for other reasons. Each film has a story behind it that is fascinating to hear – the intrigues behind the financing, studio squabbles over stars, reticent directors and writers.

If you’ve seen collections of film synopses before, this is not entirely new. However, packed into this book are articles and tables that give a hundred other ways to consider films, their success, and their cultural impact. For instance, there are salary comparisons for top actors and directors, again adjusted for inflation in each decade. They even throw in a table that shows average income tax rates for different eras. That way you can tell whether Spencer Tracy was doing well vs Will Smith in his day. Want to compare how movie franchises fare? There are charts for series like Indiana Jones, Batman, Die Hard, Back To The Future, and Lethal Weapon that track production cost versus box office grosses across the years of each franchise. Want to know average weekly movie attendance and how it compares across the decades, and compare movie ticket prices adjusted for inflation? Those charts are there as well. The book gives a good mix of story and statistics.

There are hundreds of articles that go well beyond the charts and numbers. These tell the story of how the film business began and has been changing through the decades. From the early days of the Motion Picture Patent Company, to the rise and fall of the great studio system (and where the pieces remain), to current trends in distribution, you’ll get more angles on the business side of the movies than you’ve ever seen between two covers.

This book sits on my coffee table and I pick it up several times a week to just browse and learn something new about the business I’m in. Highly Recommend.

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