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Fantasy movie leagues are a betting haven for film buffs

Blockbuster films like
Blockbuster films like "Black Panther" can almost guarantee success in a fantasy movie league.

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We’ve all heard about fantasy football and baseball leagues, but what about those of us who wouldn’t know a WAR rating from a concussion protocol, but can tell you why Paramount’s animation department is tragically underrated?

As it turns out, there’s a place for these people too. Fantasy movie leagues are for movie fans can try to prove their skill set in the world of cinema, and they’re about to get a lot bigger. 

On a recent Sunday morning at a hillside bungalow in Silver Lake, 20 industry types — including one Skyping from London — are buried in their laptops and research papers as they shout out bids. 

Welcome to the 2018 Movie League season auction. Think of it as fantasy football, but instead of drafting players, you’re buying major motion pictures. 

Matthew Mizel has been league commissioner since 2006 and, by default, the auctioneer. 

“Everyone thinks they know more than everybody else," Mizel says. "Everyone thinks their taste is the best, they know more than their friends. If they were running a studio they’d be incredibly successful and never lose their job.” 

The rules are a little complicated, but it boils down to each team spending 270-million fake dollars to buy a slate of 18 real films being released over the next year. You can trade films or co-finance, but at the end of the day those movies rack up points, either for their box office or how well they do with critics. 

Which means you can’t just spend your faux cash on block-busters like "Black Panther," because everyone’s going to grab one of those. Instead, you need to find sleeper films you can buy on the cheap that either kill it at the box office, or critics fall in love with. Your Rotten Tomatoes rating is a good chunk of your final score. 

There’s a $500 per team entry fee, and the winners will walk away with a couple of thousand dollars – real money, not the faux stuff. But for writer/director Steven Hentges, it’s not about that: 

“I don’t play sports, so fantasy football, baseball, don’t make sense to me. I understand [movies], so it’s the bragging rights. The money would be nice, after finishing fourth twice in a row — just out of the money — for me it’s the bragging rights.” 

But it’s not just how your movies do, but also how other studios — the real studios — market their films. This was producer Alison Small’s first time in the league. She’s hoping that some bad buzz around one of their films will be offset by a lack of competition. 

“Everyone’s talking s**t about 'Tomb Raider,'" she said. "But there’s nothing else opening that weekend, so we got a shot.” 

With so many business insiders playing, it’s a little like trying to win MVP after you’ve made the all-star team. Manager Jake Friedman has been playing in various leagues for 20 years: 

“Now that we’re in this business, it's something you think you know a little bit about — until you’re in this room, then the advantage goes right out the window.” 

And it can also get pretty intense. Mizel says compared to his other gig, it’s not even close: 

“In my spare time I teach creative writing to incarcerated teens. I find I’m handling more disputes in the movie league than in the juvenile detention facility.” 

While film fantasy games are nowhere near as popular as baseball or football leagues, Mizel is working on a mobile app called that will let wanna-be moguls find like-minded film geeks to compete against — no matter where they live, or what '80s sitcom reboot or giant fighting robot-vampire-from-the-future movie they’d bet the mortgage on. 

“Movies, like sports, are something that people love and are excited about," Mizel said. "And this is a chance to prove to your friends that you’re right, and get a little comeuppance ... and discover that maybe we don’t all know quite as much as we think we do.” 

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