Weidenbaum Center hosts public forum on economics of movie industry, April 3

“Entertainment Economics: The Movie Industry,” is the topic of a public forum to be held from 9:30 to 4:45 p.m. April 3 in the Bryan Cave Moot Courtroom, Anheuser-Busch Hall at Washington University in St. Louis.

Organized by the University’s Weidenbaum Center on the Economy, Government, and Public Policy, the forum brings together movie industry insiders, business people, faculty and students for a day-long discussion of economic issues facing the business of Hollywood.

The event is open to the public, but a $60 registration fee is required in advance. The program is co-sponsored with the University’s Department of Economics and its Program in Film & Media Studies, both in Arts & Sciences. For registration and other information, contact Melinda Warren at 314-935-5652 or via email at warren@wc.wustl.edu.

Forum sessions include:

9:30 a.m. – 11:45 a.m. Digital Production and Distribution Opens with keynote address by Laurence J. Thorpe, senior vice president of Sony Electronics Inc. Thorpe, a renowned industry expert in the field of video acquisition, is recognized as a key leader in the HDTV movement. After the keynote, a panel of experts on digital production and distribution will give short presentations. These experts are Lawrence Lessig, a professor of law at Stanford University who recently argued the Mickey Mouse copyright extension case before the Supreme Court; S. Abraham Ravid, a professor of finance at Rutgers and Yale universities; and Doug Whitford, vice president of film buying for Wehrenberg Theatres.

(12 Noon – 1:45 p.m.) Luncheon talk. Leonard Hill, owner of the Los Angeles-based independent television production company Leonard Hill Films, will speak on “The New Media Frontier: Why Media Consolidation of Corporate Control Threatens Creativity and Innovation.”

2 p.m. – 3:15 p.m. Hollywood Money: Financing and Accounting How can a blockbuster movie lose millions at the box office? A panel of industry insiders will be on hand to answer that question and others as they offer a behind-the-scenes look at movie financing and accounting practices. Panelists are Harold L. Vogel of Vogel Capital Management, nine-times selected by Industrial Investor as the top leisure industry analyst; John Sloss, of Sloss Law Office P.C., a law firm providing counsel in business transactions for the entertainment, sports and media industries; and Janet Wasko, a University of Oregon professor whose latest book is “Understanding Disney: The Manufacture of Fantasy.”

3:30 p.m. – 4:45 p.m. What Movies Get Made: Past and Future Focuses on filmmaking and distribution issues. Panelists are Michael Shamberg, a producer with Jersey Films whose work includes such major motion pictures as “Pulp Fiction,” “Erin Brockovich,” “The Big Chill” and a “Fish Called Wanda”; Lloyd Silverman, an independent film producer with The Artists’ Colony whose credits include “Snow Falling on Cedars” and “Shattered Image”; Richard Chapman, a veteran screenwriter and producer in film and television; and Rodney Hill, former head of theatrical marketing at Wellspring Media.

Each panel discussion will be moderated by a member of the University faculty, including (in order) Charles Moul, Ph.D., assistant professor of economics; Paul Rothstein, Ph.D., associate professor of economics; and Jeff Smith, an associate professor in the Program in Film and Media Studies and the Performing Arts Department.

The conference will be recorded and placed on the Center’s website as streaming video and audio. Transcripts of the talks will also be on the website within a month of the conference date. For more information, visit the Weidenbaum Center’s Web site at http://wc.wustl.edu.

Additional Background

Entertainment Economics: The Movie Industry Advancements in technology and globalization are reshaping the way America does business. While this applies to almost all business, it is particularly true in the production, distribution, and marketing of movies.

The motion picture industry represents an exciting and largely untapped opportunity for study. Its economic and cultural impact as a major domestic industry and as one of the United States’ largest exports is obvious and to some extent unparalleled. Its similarities to many general New Economy products, however, suggest that it may also serve as a leading indicator of the general direction businesses and associated government policy may take in the near future. How these issues evolve over the next decade will have a substantial impact on movie producers, distributors, retailers, and on the ways in which we as consumers are entertained.

Several recent changes in the industry have brought a renewed interest in its study. As in many other sectors, new digital technologies have broadened the set of potential producers as costs have dramatically fallen. The enthusiasm for this revolution is tempered, however, by the uncertain ability of these independent producers to have their products seen. The major studios increasingly rely upon the “event picture” and design their distribution networks accordingly, leaving few outlets for the true independent filmmaker.

At the same time, technological innovations already on the horizon will enable the individual to enjoy movies at home through the Internet, broadband, and other digital medium. The consequences of this individualization are already affecting the types of movies that are being produced, and they will undoubtedly change the relationship between distributors and exhibitors.

Demographic trends, such as the maturation of Baby Boomers’ children, drive both content and style. There is a common perception that the movie industry sacrifices diversity for the lowest common denominator, even though such diversity might be rewarded in the marketplace. If this perception is accurate, the extent to which it should be attributed to either globalization or demographics is a question that has potential implications for the production of most high-technology goods and services in the future.

The motion picture industry offers many potential insights into the economics of both entertainment and high technology products.