For those nine hours a month when Law & Order isn't on...
April 20, 2006 5:51 PM   Subscribe

I have a multi-pronged question about the soup-to-nuts process of movies getting onto cable television and actors getting their residual checks.

How do cable networks schedule the movies that are going to be on in a certain month? Do they have some big "Joe's Book of Cheap-to-License Movies" (so they can fill a month but stay within budget)? Maybe they get a newsletter of titles that have recently become cheap enough for cable?

Okay, so once the cable network has their schedule for the month, how do they get the movies from whoever holds them? Is the movie transmitted to them electronically? Does a movie company send over a video tape/DVD? I'm assuming that if a network has shown a movie before they probably have a copy of it in their archives or something (ex: they don't need to ask for a new physical/electronic copy of The Omen II if they just played it last October—but of course they'd still have to pay to show it again).

Finally, how are residuals kept track of? I'm guessing that each studio has a dedicated person (or team of people) who get a daily/weekly list of their movies that have been shown on TV and cable TV. From that they can look up information on each movie that says "For this movie the residuals are as follows: Mr. Smith gets $X, Ms. Jones gets $Y, Mr. Brown gets $Z" and then they just cut the checks.

Am I at all close?


(Trivia portion: This question came to mind after two separate somewhat unrelated things:
• A friend of mine had a date with someone he met on Craigslist. While telling stories back and forth, she mentioned that she had a family friend that was in Jaws 2 and that he gets a residual check for $500 every time it's on. That seemed like a lot to me, but he did operate a vehicle so maybe that upped the amount.
• The so-bad-it's-still-bad movie Showgirls was on the USA network late at night and they digitally added a black bikini to the people who, in the film, were walking around nekkid. I couldn't imagine anyone taking so much time to polish a turd just to be able to put it on cable. Someday I'd love to hear an interview with the person responsible for having to step through that movie frame by frame penciling in a swimsuit.
posted by blueberry to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (2 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Hmm. These are hard. I work in the business, and I'll be damned if I know the answer to the first two questions. I will ask around and see if anyone else knows. But, just so you know, every network, primetime or cable has what they call programmers. They decide what's going to be on when. They're the people that will decide, "Let's have a Law & Order marathon on TNT one Saturday 10 weeks from now."

As to movies, those are programmed as well. Yes, someone actually puts thought into it. I don't know for certain, but I think they don't purchase the material. There are probably buyers, people who buy the programs. What to buy is driven by the head of the network and what he's decided he wants the network to be. He's the guy with the plan. And everyone has to communicate with him. No one person ever does things on their own.

Studios employ THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE. The Warner Brothers lot is a city of 40,000 people. So, they have tons of people and departments that handle all kinds of crap. So, there is a job I am pretty sure, for a person or persons, who keeps track of what aired when and who's owed what.

Residuals are kept track of by the accountants. Lower level accountants because it's a shitty job.

As a back-up, the guilds also have someone who does this, just to keep the studios/networks honest.

Just so you know, residuals are paid by the studio that made the movie, not the network it shows on. The network pays a flat fee to the studio.

Another interesting note: It is not unusual for studios to delay paying residuals for years, to hundreds of writers, actors and directors. This can amount to millions, maybe tens of millions, which they earn interest on. Because most of the residuals are really small amounts (like your friend's $500) no one really has the time or patience to wear down the business affairs people. The studios know that and use it to their advantage.
posted by generic230 at 11:33 PM on April 21, 2006

Response by poster: odinsdream, yeah I've noticed that too when watching Sopranos on a friend's enormous televison — the black areas of the picture seemed very pixel-blocky. We may have been watching via the TiVo-like "On Demand" function, perhaps they (HBO or the cable company) compress those more than normal HBO programming.

generic230, thanks — I look forward to an update if you happen to find out more.

posted by blueberry at 2:35 PM on April 24, 2006

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