The Expendables 2

| August 23, 2012

In case you haven’t heard, Sylvester Stallone made a sequel to “The Expendables.” You know what he called it? “The Expendables 2.” Cool, huh? You know what else? There are a lot more old 80’s action heroes in it, plus a couple of guys from, like, this past decade, even. You know what else? They kick a lot of ass. And blow shit up. Big time.

Yes, this film has a LOT of testosterone in it. And probably a lot of steroids and I’ve no doubt there was quite a bit of 5-Hour Energy Drink used on set. I mean, some of these guys are old, right? You got Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Jason Statham, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Jet Li, Chuck Norris, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Randy Coutoure, Scott Adkins, and Liam Hemsworth. Yeah, even Thor’s bro found a spot on the roster.

The story’s pretty simple. Sly and Co. are tasked with retrieving some unknown something that’s supposedly incredibly valuable and they do the job but get hijacked and shit goes sideways, so they have to open a can of whoop-ass in order to save the day. It’s a whole lot of mindless fun and it’s just one more example of the type of film which will ensure that very soon the action film should give superhero films a run for their money. And it took a bunch of old guys to do it.

One of the many smart decisions made by Mr. Stallone in producing this film was to hand the directing reigns over to Simon West, who also directed the Statham-starred remake of “The Mechanic” and “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.”

You know what I love most about this film? I love that it’s currently No. 1 at the Box Office and it wasn’t made anywhere near Hollywood. Not one frame shot within the state border of California. They shot most of it at NuBoyanna Studios in Sofia, Bulgaria. And some in other parts of Bulgaria, in Hong Kong, and in China, and they even shot a little bit in Louisiana. But none in Cali. You know what other films were shot outside Hollywood? Like, over 75%? “The Dark Knight Rises.” “The Avengers.” “The Bourne Legacy.” “The Campaign.” “The Hangover, Part II.” “The Odd Life Of Timothy Green.” “Total Recall.” “The Hunger Games.”

Wow. What the heck is going on, Hollywood?

Well, the budget for “The Expendables 2” is quoted as being $100 million. Factor in all the name talent and you’re probably talking $70 million, easy. Add all the explosions, special effects, stunts, etc., etc. and if you shot that film in Hollywood you’d be spending twice as much. I’ll repeat that, because it bears repeating. If you shot “The Expendables 2” in Hollywood it would probably cost twice as much.

Why? Even if you have to fly all those stars overseas, why would it cost more to film in Hollywood? Because the overhead to film in Los Angeles has become too much for most film productions to bear. The big unions, IATSE and the Teamsters, have successfully exercised the limits of their control over the business to the extent that it can be cost-prohibitive to make a big budget film within certain parts of the United States. And nowhere moreso than Los Angeles.

I was in the office of a famous film director and producer earlier this year. He directed one of Arnold’s early big hits. And he told me that filming at NuBoyanna Studios in Bulgaria was pennies on the dollar compared to filming in Hollywood. Pennies on the dollar. Which makes Sly Stallone look like the shrewdest film executive in Hollywood. He has successfully packed two major action films with more name talent than any half dozen other films, and even though it cost him $100 million, that is but a pittance compared to what it would cost if another exec greenlit production for Hollywood.

Imagine you have to organize a wedding. But everyone involved is a member of a different union. And each of those unions have 3-inch thick manuals on how their people must be handled and worked with, or else you face¬†exorbitant fines which could bankrupt you. And not only that, but some of those people have to have specific vehicles to go to during their “down time,” have to be fed a specific number of times per day, and have to be paid extra for the rehearsal, or the fitting, and they must receive compensation for their drive time to and from the event.

See what I’m getting at? Those kinds of costs add up quickly. And the more big name talent you have in your film, the more you will need of those kinds of things. It’s like every name you add is a multiplier of 10.

But, if you go outside the glamorous facade that is Hollywood you suddenly enter a whole new world. One which is much less cost prohibitive for your production. Which, as any Hollywood studio executive will tell you, only helps your profit margin.

So, what is Hollywood to do? In the face of such rampant success from these big films, what can Hollywood do?

The first thing they should do is stop avoiding the elephant in the room. I’m talking about digital filmmaking. The big Hollywood studios have essentially ceased production of any lower budget films, relying upon indie filmmakers to get their own funding and make the films then present the finished product for acquisition and distribution. Meanwhile, smaller Hollywood studios are taking over production of these lower budgeted films and are making a killing in the streaming and DVD markets. Big Hollywood studios are suffering because of this. Coincidentally, the unions have priced themselves according to what is quickly becoming an antiquated system, and therefore have removed contention for their members from the independent film production market. Who wants to shoot a small film for a bloated $20 million when you can do it for $20o,ooo? And still get one or two name talents to act in your film?

So, what’s the answer? Well, it’s really simple, but that doesn’t mean getting there will be easy. In order to be more competitive, and to keep production from leaving Hollywood, the unions need to have a two menu system. One for big budgeted films, meaning anything over $20 million, and a separate menu for films under $20 million in production spend. That way everyone wins. Smaller productions gain the advantage of professionals with extensive experience working side-by-side with young guns, and Hollywood retains some of those runaway productions.

Avoiding this elephant means losing work to intelligent maverick filmmakers like Mr. Stallone, who will likely see a healthy profit from this sequel and who is already thinking about where he wants to film the next entry in the franchise. And I’ll bet you dollars to donuts it won’t be in Hollywood.

About the Author:

Del Harvey is a co-founder of Film Monthly. He is an independent filmmaker, film director, screenwriter, and film teacher, currently living in Chicago.
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