I saw “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” the other day. I loved it, and I’m not at all embarrassed to admit it. It was funny, fast paced and brimming with style and some great performances. It’s also going to be one of this summer’s biggest bombs. And of course we now have to wade through the endless hand wringing about what went wrong.
Is there a Michael Cera backlash? Are comic book movies finished? What about the future of director Edgar Wright? Times like this make me wish people chill. Or better, that more people in the industry and industry press played poker.
This is the only time I’d recommend business men gamble more. Obviously our entire economy was nearly destroyed because those in the banking industry couldn’t stop gambling. But the movie and entertainment business has always been different. It’s always been a gamble. If I were in charge of a studio I’d make sure all my producers learn poker and play regularly.
If you’re going to gamble, best learn how.
Reviewing how to play and basic strategies can fill an entire book so I won’t go into them. Just take my word for it that pocket aces is a good thing while going all in with a 5-10 unsuited is a very dumb idea. But the thing is sometimes 10-5 unsuited beats pocket aces.
Sometimes the bingo player wins and the smart player loses. When that happens you don’t question whether pocket aces is really a good hand. You admit you got beat by random chance and move on to the next hand. If you continue to play smart those bad breaks even out.
Take “Scott Pilgrim,” for instance. It started life as a very well respected though not best selling graphic novel. I read it, I loved it, I loved the movie. People who read the comic will probably see this movie multiple times. But that’s still a very limited audience. The only way this becomes a true hit is if the people who never even heard of the comic flock to it.
In poker terms it would be what we call a speculative hand, like a 4-5 suited. You might land a jackpot if you get a straight or a flush but odds are you’re going to get crushed by larger cards.
You can still play, but at the right price. “Scott Pilgrim” reportedly cost $60 million to make. That’s about twice as much as it should have given the circumstances. And if it had cost $30-35 million, things would probably be okay. The movie would be on track to make back its production budget and probably turn a tidy profit when it hits VOD. The only mistake is the producers paid too much into a speculative hand.
On the other hand, sometimes speculative hands pay off big. I’m sure the producers of “Salt” had no idea that a real life Russian spy ring would be busted just as their movie about a Russian sleeper hit the theaters. (Unless they did but that’s another story.) It’s like they went in with Queen-9 unsuited and two more Queens popped up.
That’s the other part about gambling, when you get lucky you have to make the most of it.
As Americans we can be very reluctant to admit the part luck plays in success. Poker teaches us that there are things outside our control. You can’t make the cards give you what you need. Sometimes you just have to look at the four twos that beat your double aces, sigh, and move on to the next hand.