BY GREG SAITZ
This Sunday night at the Academy Awards, there will be winners and there will be losers.
The actors who walk away clutching a gold-plated Oscar will be happy, content in the knowledge that their salaries almost certainly will rise with their new title: Academy Award winner. But what about the success of the movies they will go on to star in?
"The question is whether the Academy Awards are an indicator of value for future films. The answer to that is no," said S. Abraham Ravid, a finance and economics professor at Rutgers Business School-Newark and New Brunswick who has built a body of academic research focused on where popular culture and money intersect in the motion picture industry. "I'm not saying Academy Award winners are bad. It's not like you have a star and you're sinking your movie," Ravid said. But, he added, "You can succeed without them and you can fail with them."
Ravid, whose interest in films dates back to when he was a teenager in Israel making his own spy movies and documentaries, has written about the correlation between movie stars and the financial success of their movies (there isn't any); the reaction of a movie studio's stock price to changes in films' opening dates (it's not good); and studied which types of films are most successful (family movies and sequels).
Some of Ravid's current research is focused on what kind of a difference directors and screenwriters make on specific projects, as well as how much movie ads affect the success of a film. "The way I see it, it's like pieces in a puzzle," he said about his studies.
Carving a path to publication with movie-related research is not easy, he said. "The problem with placing this type of work in top journals is people look at it and initially think it's trivial," said Ravid, who has consulted a number of times with studio executives and directors regarding his work.
While Hollywood is big business it's also an artistic one and some in the industry base their decisions on intuition and a gut feeling about what to do, Ravid said. But he said there's also a place for the type of work he and other academics are doing.
"Scientific research provides some help to those in the industry who would like to base economic decisions on some sound economic rationale," he said.
The professor's path to academia was not so direct. After his brush with filmmaking as a teen — he made documentaries for a local town and high school — Ravid was drafted into the Israeli Defense Forces. He spent time as an officer in artillery units and then moved to the army's radio network.
After the service, Ravid worked as a journalist for the Israel Broadcast Authority and several newspapers, and, after briefly considering studying communications at the university level, he took his father's advice and got a degree in something else — statistics and economics.
Ravid earned his master's degree and doctorate from Cornell University. He then taught for several years at Haifa University in Israel and as a visiting professor at several U.S. colleges, including Rutgers, before coming to Rutgers full time in 1987. He also does research in the fields of finance, venture capital, mergers and bankruptcy.
Suman Basuroy, an endowed associate professor in the Price College of Business at the University of Oklahoma, first met Ravid in the late 1990s when both taught at Rutgers. Ravid and Basuroy, whose focus is on marketing and supply chain management, eventually collaborated on three papers involving the motion picture industry.
Ravid's 1999 paper on movie stars "established him as a stalwart in this whole area," said Basuroy, who used to arrive at conferences a day early with Ravid so they could catch movies together. "He's probably a pioneer in this area from a finance perspective."
These days, Ravid is helping his 15-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son create films of their own. (He even put some of his accordion playing in one.) It's not Tinseltown, but a finance professor can still daydream now and then.
SOURCE: RUTGERS FOCUS