A Lesson in Hollywood Lingo

December 13, 2017

The film and television industry has a lingo all its own. This month’s question about the Hollywood lexicon comes from Carla Buckley and shows just how confusing navigating this terminology can be. Art photographer Gregory Crewdson is currently adapting Carla’s novel The Deepest Secret as a film entitled Reflective Light for Focus Features. And keep your eyes peeled for her new book, The Liar's Child, to be released in early 2019!


Carla: “What does it mean when they say the film is out to cast? Is that a good thing?”


Nina: I am happy to report that yes it is! “Out to cast” is a phrase that means the financiers of the project have made offers to actors for the lead roles. In order for a film or television show to be “green-light” or allowed to proceed from the development stage and into filming, those key cast roles need to be filled. The secured cast can prove to be a kind of predictor of success for the project. Distribution companies will analyze the previous success of the stars’ past work in order to help create a “P&L” (profit and loss statement) that aims to determine how those stars in this kind of genre might fare. Those P&Ls will determine how much financial risk a financier is willing to take on a project with a particular cast.


Another term frequently heard when talking about casting is “cast breakage.” While that phrase sounds like it might be painful, in fact “breakage” is a valuable concept. What it means is that a financier who has agreed to a certain budget for a project will increase that budget by the amount it will be necessary to secure a star’s participation (usually because the P&Ls can justify those overages).


Carla submitted another question after it was announced that Scarlet Johansson was “in talks” for a lead role in her book’s adaptation. (Congratulations Carla!)


Carla: “Why would the studio and producers announce a negotiation? Why not wait until the deal is done?”


Nina: There are a couple of reasons an “in negotiations” article might hit the industry trades. One reason might be that the forces behind the film want to up the project’s profile in the community, leading to other cast and key talent interest. Or the team might want to control the story and feel they might get scooped if they don’t release it themselves.  Usually though, this kind of announcement is made when the deal is close to being closed and virtually certain to do so.


Have a question about a Hollywood term? Submit them here.


Follow Carla Buckley on Twitter @CarlaBuckley or on her Facebook page.


Hollywood Decoded is where I answer your questions based on my 20 years of writing and producing in film and television. My answers will be included in my monthly newsletter and on my blog.

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