Popcorn futures

March 29, 2010

Joe’s forehead mirrored the complexities of the article he was reading online. “Mom, what are futures?”

Multiple uses of the word “futures” popped into Audrey’s head. Huddled in a blanket on the couch, she looked up from her newspaper. “Give me a category,” she said. “Fantasy, sci-fi, quantum physics, investing, philosophy—”

“Investing, I guess.”

“The futures market, then. That’s when you buy or sell something before it’s available, like corn or coffee. You decide how much it might be worth at a certain point in the future, and you try to factor in things like the weather which might affect supply and demand. Then you agree to buy or sell at that price. Why?”

“Some guys want to start selling box-office futures on movies.”

“Interesting,” she said. She stood up with the blanket wrapped around her. “It’s freezing in here.” She headed across the room.

Uncertainty rules: Is Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) making a case for or against film futures in "A Serious Man"? (Focus Features)

“The studios don’t want anything to do with it.”

“I imagine they don’t,” Audrey said from the hall. “This dumb thermostat says it’s sixty-two in here.”

“Don’t blame the thermostat.”

“I’m not blaming the thermostat.” She turned up the heat and came back into the family room. “Let’s say I’m a studio—”

“Pullet Pictures.”

“Yes! I like that. Here I am, Pullet Pictures, and I’ve got a little movie opening this weekend—”

“What’s it called?”

She plucked it out of nowhere. “Over the Handlebars.”

“Awesome.”

“And Wall Street wants to bet on how many people are going to see it, taking into consideration what other movies are opening at the same time.”

“Okay… so what if you’re opening against The Bourne Extremity. Who wouldn’t bet against Handlebars?”

“Depends,” Audrey said. “It could surprise everybody and run away with the box office.”

“Because it’s a better movie.”

“Of course it’s a better movie! It’s a Pullet Picture! Or maybe it got more buzz, or maybe the Moon transited into Pisces. Who knows? A Serious Man was a good movie but it tanked, didn’t it?”

Joe looked it up on Box Office Mojo. “Two-fifty the first weekend.”

“See? You can’t put it on paper.” Audrey sat down again, getting comfortable. “I met a little man once. He was a serious man, a statistician. He told me he’d been hired to watch every romantic comedy Hollywood ever made and try to figure out a formula for success. He broke them all down by how tall the stars were and the color of their eyes and how far into the movie they had their first kiss. And you know what he found out?”

“What?”

“He found out he didn’t like romantic comedies.”

Joe cracked up.

“Seriously,” Audrey said. “That was the only solid conclusion he could come up with. And Wall Street thinks it can treat films like commodities?” She shook her head.

“I thought you said it was interesting.”

Audrey smiled. The most interesting part to her was how Joe could stir up ideas from far corners. “Yeah, until I thought about it. Over the Handlebars has my name on it. It’s my baby. I’m not too excited about trading on his little future before he takes his first step.”

“I appreciate that, mom.”

“I thought you might. How’s your screenplay going, anyway?”

Joe threw her a quick look. “Pretty good.”

“Good. Now let’s make some popcorn and watch a movie.”

©2010 Pam Wells


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