Monday, 26 November 2007

The Duncan Conundrum

Okay. I was watching my favourite show CBC's Intelligence, a show about spies and gangsters set in Vancouver's drug trade. Well, it looks like a gang war is brewing between the local Vancouver boys and some interlopers from Los Angeles. The first shot was fired in tonight's episode, the drive by murder of a biker gang underboss named Duncan.

my name. Now I know it's not unusual to see a show with a fictional character with the same first name as you.

However, my name's not that common, especially in Hollywood, so I've only seen it about 6 times that I can recall.

Plus 4/6 times, the character named Duncan is

In fact, the only 2 times I've seen a character named Duncan
not get killed was in cartoons, namely the horse Furious D in the Simpsons (Hence the name) and He-Man's sidekick Man At Arms. The character of Duncan Idaho in the Dune books gets killed off on a regular basis! They just keep cloning him, killing him, and cloning him again.

He's SF's equivalent of Wile E. Coyote.

So I would like the striking writers to make one pledge before any deal is struck.
Let a few more Duncans escape the cold grip of fictional death.

Sure death scenes are great for the actors. But too many of them with the same name are a tad unsettling, especially when you have that uncommon name.

Maybe let him get the girl once in a while too.

And don't just do it for me.

Man At Arms is starting to get paranoid as well.

Doesn't he look worried?

Friday, 23 November 2007

Hollywood Babble On & On... #8: An Act of God...

I'd like to take a moment to talk about numbers.

Specifically, the numbers around the new Dimension Films/MGM release The Mist. The estimates of the films budget, including prints, advertising, etc., is around $65,000,000. In order for that film to be considered profitable it has to make about double that in the theaters and to do that it needs momentum, and to get that momentum it needs a killer opening weekend.

Well, as of this writing it's made approximately $4,065,000 in North American theatres, putting it in 6th place behind Hitman, Fred Claus, and Bee Movie. It also has a per-screen take of about $832, well behind the usual per-screen average of the critically panned Hitman which hit $1,485.

The estimate experts are predicting a relatively dismal intake of $15,000,000 at most, which will not help the film become profitable.

That is not good.

For a horror film to succeed it needs to lure in the gore-hounds on the opening weekend, and then let their gushing word of mouth spread to the wider public.

But that's not happening.


Was the film getting bad reviews?

No, the reviews were as good as any horror film can get from most critics.

Then why?

Well, we can call it an act of stupid marketing turning a box-office disaster into an act of God.

You see the film is supposed to be about a strange thick mist that envelopes a group of people, and the mist is crawling with all kinds of nasty beasties.

But you really don't get that impression from the ad campaign.

Instead of the mystery monsters of the Mist the ad campaign decided to center on a supporting character named Mrs. Carmody played by the normally talented Marcia Gay Harden.

Mrs. Carmody is presented as the real villain of the film, because she's a Christian fundamentalist who speaks with a cartoonish hick accent and demands that innocent children be brutally sacrificed to appease a bloodthirsty deity angry about gay marriage. Naturally she gets people to follow her rather insane logic because they're Christians too and in the universe the writers live in, Christians regularly sacrifice children.

Of course the universe the film's writer lives in is not the universe Mr. and Mrs. Average Moviegoer lives in.

In the universe of Mr. & Mrs. Average Moviegoer Christians are the people who hold bake sales to raise money for the local homeless shelter, or run disaster relief programs that out-performed the government ones in Louisiana after Katrina.

They don't start slitting the throats of children the moment something weird and/or scary happens.

You see the basis of Christianity, is that God sacrificed his only son, part of, or an avatar of himself really, in order to create a new covenant where blood sacrifice would be banished evermore into the outer darkness.

And the Average American Christian, even the lapsed ones, aren't going to pay money to watch a movie that accuses them of being bloodthirsty, cruel, judgmental, ignorant, sadistic psychopaths who speak with thick yokel accents.

It all goes to the first rule of cinematic success that I discussed in my last post.


Audiences are forgiving creatures. They are willing to forgive the occasional insult to logic and their intelligence as long as it's packaged in an exciting and interesting story.

But they are not going to sit back and watch themselves being insulted for being themselves.

It's the main reason why Hollywood's recent crop of 'political' films have all failed. The main thesis of those films is that America is basically and inherently wrong, no matter what it does, and that it's intentions are always evil, and they allow no chance for debate on the issue. Those on the 'other side' are always portrayed as Snidely Whiplash style villains or corrupt hypocrites with all the depth of a postage stamp, and that sure fire sign of sinister stupidity: A Southern or Rural Accent!

That's not how you win over an audience.

The audience is voting with its feet avoiding films that it believes will offend or insult them.

Yet Hollywood keeps pumping them out.

Next on the list to come out is The Golden Compass, based on a series of children's books by author Phillip Pullman.

The books were written as an atheist's answer to the pro-religious Lord of the Rings and Narnia books and are reportedly about a young girl on a sacred mission to kill God in order to save the universe from a sinister alternate Vatican called The Magisterium.

The buzz around The Golden Compass is pretty much all negative and is expected to be one of the major bombs of the coming Xmas movie season. Recent anti-religious, anti-Christian statements by Pullman have helped create this wave of negativity, even leading to the books being pulled from Catholic school libraries.

Now while I disagree with censorship, I do acknowledge that a basically religious institution can't be forced to have something that brands it as evil on the shelves. No one's going to demand that Jewish schools put Mein Kampf in their libraries.

Now one must ask why Hollywood seems to be on a crusade against the religion of the majority of Americans.

Well, Hollywood is a very isolated, insular, nay, incestuous community. It possesses a sort of group-think that is almost Orwellian in its intensity.

Part of that is an almost religious adherence to political correctness. Political correctness dictates that you can't do anything that might offend anyone at any time.

But there's an exception to that rule.


You see Political Correctness is part of an old cultural Marxist belief system born in the 1960s. And since Christians are the majority of the richest, most powerful nation state in the history of the Earth it's okay to mock, deride, or offend those people and their beliefs. But don't you dare challenge anything held dear by any other culture, that would make you a nasty racist, and could possibly get you killed.

Hating Christians is the only prejudice Hollywood folks are allowed to hold anymore.

So this mindset severely limits what writers and filmmakers can do and who they can do it too. And limits create bad stories with crude cardboard cut-outs for villains who do nothing but insult the audience.

An audience that is the most important part of the business of film-making.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Hollywood Babble On & On... #7: The 12 Commandments

A few years ago I wrote an article for Film Threat's website about how to run a Hollywood movie studio. I composed 12 simple rules, or commandments that I believe every movie mogul and wannabe movie mogul should read, memorize, and take as the principle guide to their lives.


Because nothing bugs me more than people who don't do their jobs right.

Why should we pay attention to your advice, and do you have any experience in studio management?

I don't have any experience at all in running a movie studio. But I do have commons sense, something that appears to be missing in the movie business.

1- Don't forget the DAMN AUDIENCE! Hollywood is a very insular, nay, incestuous place that is isolated from the average citizen of the planet Earth. There is also a bottomless chum bucket of hype that creates an atmosphere in Hollywood that if anyone else's opinion mattered they'd already be on the A-List. Well, that's a recipe for fiscal and creative suicide. The audience is not always right, and it may not know much about art, or what shoes are in season, but they do know what they like. They like stories, preferably well told stories, that entertain them, occasionally challenge them, but not insult them. If you want proof, you can look at the Box Office performance of certain 'political' movies.

2- Don’t believe your every brain-fart is a sign of genius. Yes, you are the studio’s boss, but remember that you probably got the job because you were in the same college fraternity as the Chairman of the Board’s nephew, not because you’re the second coming of Irving Thalberg. Nobody’s perfect and that’s why you must follow these rules.

3- Don’t hire toadies. The classic corporate ‘Yes Man’ may make your ego feel good, but you’re setting yourself up for a fall. Always hire people that are as smart or smarter than you are. I know most execs would advise against it, but their own careers are usually hanging by a thread because their staff couldn’t find their own asses with a bloodhound and a map. Surrounding yourself with smart people can only make you look smarter.

4- Have someone willing to tell you when you’re wrong. During the mythical days of the Roman Empire, there was always an adviser next to Caesar reminding him that “All fame is fleeting.” The old fellow was saying not to believe your own hype. Every Boss needs a Devil’s Advocate. Someone you trust and respect who you can discuss ideas with in private. Then he or she can rationally find any faults in your case. Trust me, it’s better to have one trusted person pick your ideas apart than the press, ticket-buyers and shareholders. Then with all your dumb ideas weeded out in privacy, the stuff you do come out with will seem like pure gold.

5- Never let the marketing people dictate how your studio’s movies should be made or what they should be about. The biggest problem with filmmaking is that everybody who doesn’t make films thinks they can do it better. There’s nobody worse than marketing departments and ad agencies for meddling with films. It is your job to remind them that their job is to sell a finished product, not make the product themselves. Let them take over your studio an you’ll pump out nothing but super-bland turkeys that follow trends that are already deader than Elvis.

6- Always be on good terms with the talent you're dealing with. I know that sounds impossible since the words egocentric, neurotic, and spoiled are often used to describe the talented. However, you will soon realize that a little diplomacy goes a long way. Never try to threaten or bully them because the old days of ruining someone’s career by branding them ‘difficult’ have disappeared in this celebrity-worshipping age. That means you don’t meddle in things you know nothing about for the sole reason of flexing your own ego. There are reasons why some people work in a soundstage while others work in an office. Hire people who can do the job and then let them do their job. If you can’t trust them to do it right, then don’t hire them in the first place.

7- Don’t go solely on hype when you’re casting. The whole marketing theory of ‘Name Recognition’ is a myth. Just because the public will ogle a star’s photo-spread in PEOPLE doesn’t mean that same star will put bums in theatre seats where it counts. Look at how right they are for the part as well as their real box-office performance and cast them accordingly.

8- Respect the geek. When adapting a novel, comic book, or TV franchise for the big screen, a little fiddling can be forgiven. However, if you fiddle to where it no longer resembles the original source material just to score more product placements then you will lose the geeks. The geeks are the super-fans who line up on opening weekend to see their favorite fictional heroes. However, if they’re turned off by your ‘re-imagining’ then you can forget the positive word of mouth, you can forget the repeated viewings, you can forget the DVD sales & rentals, and you can forget your profit margin. Thanks to the Internet the geek can make or break a blockbuster at the speed of light.

9- Don’t be afraid to follow your gut and take a chance. However, that doesn’t mean you should forget rules #1-#4.

10- Never allow filming to begin before the script is completed. That’s a recipe for disaster. At least have a completed first draft ready before you start rolling out the cameras. Rewrites are inevitable, and often necessary, but the production phase is not the right time to grind out a first draft.

11- You can’t save a bad script by throwing money at it. You’re in the business of making money by telling stories. Make sure that the story you’re starting with is the best one you can get.

12- Treat your expense account as a convenient business tool, not a teat to sucked dry. If you start acting like your expense account is a goodie bag it will become your obsession and your mind will not be on your job, which is making movies not charging your daughter’s sweet sixteen party to the company.

13- Don’t be in it just for the money and the power. If you have a love for your job and the medium, it will show in your work and in the performance of your company. If you’re just in it for the cash and the casting couch, then you’re going to crash and burn.

I hope this advice somehow finds it's way to a Hollywood executive and he uses it to save the entire industry. All I ask is 10% of the gross.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Hollywood Babble On & On... #6: How to Measure Star Power?

Recent reports showing Hollywood movies suffering a 26% drop in revenues from the same period last year. Some attribute it to a recent slew of anti-war movies that has driven the audience away not only from them, but from other films for fear that may contain similar political and religious messages.

But there's another reason for it as well.

It's the stars.

Too many names on the supposed "A List" couldn't sell a movie if their lives depended on it, and they being paid way too much to fail.

For the last couple of decades the positions on the 'A-list' of Hollywood stars has been based on the concept of "name recognition."

Basically, name recognition is based on how many times a person's name and face appear in the various tabloid media, from People Magazine, to Entertainment Tonight, to the National Enquirer, and even internet gossips like Perez Hilton.

But just because a person gets a lot of attention and are read about whilst on the toilet doesn't mean that they're going to do the chief job of a star, which is to sell movie tickets.

You see appearing in those media doesn't mean that the average movie-goers will pay money to see them on the big screen. It just means that their publicists have a lot of clout and influence with people in the media.

And publicists don't buy tickets, the audience does.

I have discovered a simple mathematical formula to determine the real star power of Hollywood actors. I originally came up with it years ago, but the success of the show 'Numbers' means that some people might actually pay attention to it now.

Here it is: (A+B)-C= B.O.S.S.

B.O.S.S. stands for "Bums On Seats Status" or if you want to be more scientific sounding "Box-Office Sales Status" and is a fair and accurate assessment of what a movie star's real box-office appeal is.

So here is how you do it.

A: This is a percentage of how many profitable films the star has been the lead in for the past 5 years.

Don't go by the studios profit/loss statements, they contain more fiction than a Barnes & Noble superstore.

For the purpose of this formula you take the production costs of the film, double it, and add $30. This will give you a rough estimate of the total costs of the film, including prints, marketing, distribution as well as the theater's piece of the action. If the box-office take is more than this amount, it's profitable, if it's less, it's a money loser.

B: Now this is the only part of the formula where market surveys are used. You do a poll of average moviegoers about the star in question and take the percentage of people who say that they would pay to see that star in a movie, and deduct 90% of that value.

I call for the chopping of the 90% because the majority of people who answer the poll are just being polite, or so lonely they will talk to anyone and say anything to keep the talk going.

Trust me, I know how wildly inaccurate they can be having been involved with a clever sketch comedy pilot that was bastardized into a sitcom based on a cream cheese commercial because of market research.

This is a percentage of movies that have been negatively affected by the star. Now this can be interpreted in several ways. The most concrete involve profitability lost due to the over-sized salary or unprofessional behaviour of the star in question. A star who drives up the budget isn't worth it anymore.

Now you add all that up together and you should get a score between 1 and 100, you then compare that score to this easy to read chart.

SCORE 0-10: This actor's next role should feature the line: "Do you want fries with that?"

SCORE 11-30: This actor might be okay cast as a wacky neighbour on a sitcom on the CW network.

SCORE 31-50: This star could be either on the way up, or on the way down. Stick to supporting roles in big-budget projects, leads in small budgets.

SCORE 51-70: You can call this person a "star" but unless you have a good script and a good director making a good film, it will still be a bit of a crap-shoot. They should get good money, but not so much that it cripples the budget, and points only if they are willing to take a cut in the up front money.

SCORE 71-90: The word 'bankable' might be used now. They have the charisma to sell a picture, and may even be forgiven the odd stinker or two, but you shouldn't push it too far. They should get good money, and a modest points deal.

SCORE 91-100+: These actors can sell out a theater with dramatic readings of the Peoria Illinois phone book. They are worth every penny they can get, and a heap of points too because you're going to be swimming in money like Scrooge McDuck on a meth binge.

So, there you have it, the solution to Hollywood's 'star' problem.

And all I ask is 10% of the gross profits derived from this system. I'm not greedy.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Hollywood Babble On & On... #5: That's Just Gross...

This piece was posted on the IMDB's little newswire:
Studios Operating at a Loss, Says Report
Back-end participation deals with top directors, producers and actors, in which they receive a percentage of a movie's gross -- regardless of whether it is profitable -- have been principally responsible for pushing the movie industry into an annual loss, according to a report produced by research company Global Media Intelligence and Merrill Lynch and reported by today's (Monday) New York Times. In its report about the study, the newspaper commented that it may be particularly relevant during the current writers' strike. "As it turns out, the pot of money that the producers and writers are fighting over may have already been pocketed by the entertainment industry's biggest talent," the Times said. The study examined releases last year that yielded $23.7 billion from sales to domestic theaters, foreign theaters, home video, pay television and every other source of income. Total costs for those films, however, amounted
to $25.6 billion -- or a combined loss of $1.9 billion. The loss, the study determined was due partly to a 15.5-percent decline in foreign DVD sales, but "the real killer," said the Times was the growth in participations, which totaled an estimated $3 billion. By comparison, the newspaper noted, citing WGA figures, total residuals for the year amounted to $121.3 million, while a single actor could easily earn $70 million from a so-called first-dollar gross deal on a hit movie. And such deals amount to super-residuals. As Steven Blume, CEO of Content Partners, a company that buys participations for cash, told the Times. "These participations are paid in perpetuity."
Okay, did you read that?

Did you understand it?

Okay let me explain it.

You see back in the early days of Hollywood, stars, writers, and directors were under contract to the studios. Now these contracts are often compared to slavery, but the situation was actually closer to a pampered form of indentured servitude.

The average contract lasted about seven years, paid a generous weekly salary, and granted the talent the protection of the studio from bad publicity, but gave the studio complete control over what projects the talent could do and where and when they could do them.

Now that system began to change in the 1950s. Big name stars like Jimmy Stewart, and powerful directors like Howard Hawks and John Ford wanted to have more control, not only of their career, but a bigger piece of the pie from their work.

So they became their own producers and demanded what became known as 'back end' money. Back end money, is not the normal salary that was paid up front, but a piece of the profits.

Sadly, when it came time to divide those profits, the newly independent talent realized that there are profits, and then there are profits.

You see first come 'rentals' earned by the ticket sales of any given feature film. A rental is a portion of the ticket price that goes to the distributor, the rest is kept by the exhibitor (aka The Theater) and is called the 'house nut.'

The rentals earned by the studios are the 'gross revenues' or if the ticket sales are really good, the 'gross profits.'

After that things get a little hazy.

Because after the gross revenues come in, they start to get whittled down. Now this whittling is supposed to done to cover the expenses of the studio for marketing, distribution, and administration.

However, that's not the only thing that happens.

You it's at this stage that studios start adding things like the costs of less profitable movies, and, since they're all now part of bl
oated conglomerates, the costs of bad investments that have nothing to do with movies at all.

For instance, a major summer blockbuster can, through the magic of 'colourful accounting' lose a fortune because the studio's corporate parent lost money on cattle futures in Argentina.

What survives this whittling, or to be more exact, hacking, is called the 'net profit.'

Except there is never a net profit.

The net is a myth.

It's a fantasy.

It's the corporate equivalent of bigfoot. Traces have been reported, but no one has ever actually caught one.

So the talent started demanding a piece of the gross profits.

So the book-cooking extended to the counting the gross revenue, and suddenly gross profits turned into the fiscal equivalent of the Loch Ness Monster. Rumoured to be out there, but no one got a piece of it.

So the talent started demanding a piece of the gross revenue from the first dollar earned by the first ticket sold.

These demands extended into television broadcasts, and then to home video with the arrival of the VCR and later the DVD player. This means that certain, perennially popular films, could generate a steady income for the talent well into infinity.

And this has put Hollywood in the mess it is in right now.

Here's why.

The studios are both starstruck and blinded by greed.

They are starstruck because they give the 'A-List' not only large fees up front, but large shares of the 'back-end' whether they actually deserve it or not.

So movies that are only mildly profitable in theaters, or don't have that much appeal on home video because of the star's lack of charisma and talent, are now losing lots of money because the lead actor is getting too much of the revenue.

At least, that's the studio's excuse.

You see, they're still cooking the books, in fact, they're literally deep frying them, and blaming their own perfidy on the bad deals with the actors.

But they're the ones to blame for actors taking so much. They take the word of Entertainment Tonight, and Hollywood's network of publicists over the word of the audience.

Take for example George Clooney.

Clooney is a big star. At least that's what the studios think. The only problem with his career is that unless he's playing alongside Brad Pitt in an Ocean's 11 sequel, his ticket sales are downright abysmal. And the last Ocean's movie couldn't make a profit, because the star's salaries were too high.

The man has dropped more bombs than World War 2, but he's still a big 'star', commanding big salaries, despite his inability to attract an audience because the entertainment media machine, dominated by the studios love him.

And pity poor Nicole Kidman, the woman is literally box-office poison, despite being good looking and talented. She couldn't sell a movie if it was the last film on Earth.

But the press thinks she's good copy, so her salary goes up while her box-office intake goes down.

Now if these analysts are to be believed, Hollywood is sinking in a sea of red ink. How do they stop it?

Well here's how:

Stop playing games with the money. Make a plan so that if the film really does make a profit on its own merits, that those profits are divided equitably among all involved. Trust me, playing with the books costs more money than it saves, ask Enron.

Pay actors what they're worth. I'm not saying that you pay them scraps, but pay them a salary based on their real box-office appeal, not just the number of times Mary Hart drops their name or how many magazine covers they get. It has to be based on bums on seats, and if they are box-office gold, they're profit more from a intelligently run profit sharing system and won't demand the immense up front money.

Simplify the business plan. You see when studios offer a mission statement, they always talk about 'paradigms' and 'maximizations' and other pointless buzzwords that have nothing to do with making movies. The real business plan of a studio is to tell stories and sell stories. Remember that and you can't go wrong.

Garson Kanin said that the trouble with the movies as an art was that it was a business, and that the trouble with it as a business was that it was an art.

It doesn't have to be if everyone gets their heads out of their backsides and do their jobs.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Hollywood Babble On & On... #4: The Writer's Strike and What the Audience Can Do

Now I've been known to gripe a bit about how the modern movie business is run.  I'm especially displeased with how Hollywood has come to treat with contempt the most important people in their business: The Filmmakers who make the films and The Audience who makes them profitable.

Now the Writers' Strike has given me an idea for the filmmakers and the audience to unite and make the media powers that be stand up and take notice.


That's right.

The audience doesn't really need DVDs to live, but the studios do, that's why I think we, the audience should boycott purchasing new DVDs until a fair and equitable settlement of the Writer's Strike is reached.

It's not like the writers are getting anything from these DVDs anyway, and they won't until something dramatic happens.

Remember, the Xmas shopping season is coming, that's the most important time for DVD sales in the year.  So until a deal a reached, give your DVD money to charity, spend it on something else, but don't buy any more DVDs.

You have no idea how hard it is for me to ask this, but I am, because they've gone too far.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Hollywood Babble On & On... #3: Ins & Outs

The current writer's strike has made me think a bit about how Hollywood does business. Last time I talked about contempt, and how it's become integral to Hollywood's attitudes, and today I'm going to talk about another key ingredient: Isolation.

Hollywood folk aren't like you and me, they have a lot more money and a lot less sense. And the only people they encounter are either also in Hollywood (physically, economically &/or mentally) or want to be in Hollywood.

The average Hollywood denizen doesn't know much about the average person outside of its narrow little circle. In fact, they Hollywood folks don't even want to know anything about the outside world, because they believe that if you were worthy of their attention, you'd be one of them already.

This has created a strange culture in Hollywood that resembles high school on steroids and too much money.

A friend of mine brought this story to my attention that I think illustrates the point.

It's the story of director Peter Jackson, and studio boss Robert 'Bob' Shaye.

Director Peter Jackson made the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Those movies literally made billions of dollars for New Line cinema, and held the promise of other profitable projects for the studio.

Then New Line founder and CEO Bob Shaye shagged the pooch.

Or to be more specific, he tried screw director Peter Jackson out of his rightful share of the home video profits.

This led Jackson to file a massive lawsuit, Shaye to start name-calling, destroyed the developing adaptation of The Hobbit, and poisoned relations with Jackson and the audience.

So why did Shaye do it?

Was it greed?


Was it stupidity?

In a way.

Was it contempt?

Yep. But it's a contempt based in isolationism.

You see, despite his position as a top-money earner, Jackson lived in worked in New Zealand. He did not belong to the 'in crowd' in the Malibu/Beverly Hills/Hollywood Axis and had no interest in becoming a member at any time.

Peter Jackson had become the equivalent of the science geek. The captain of the football team will have the geek do his homework to get an A+ in Algebra, but will still stick the geek's head in the washroom toilet and give him a swirly.

Sure, the science geek will stop doing his homework and the jock will flunk Algebra and severely mortgage his future, but at least he got the momentary giddy thrill of showing everyone who was the big man on campus.

And seeing the New Line is one the razor's edge financially, you can figure out who was the figurative jock in that story.

With Jackson out, Shaye, in his infinite wisdom, decided to top Jackson at his own game.

He was going to make a film that was similar in spirit to the LOTR trilogy, but will be uniquely Shaye's.

That film was The Last Mimzy.

Yep that's one sucky title. Sort of like that allegorical jock trying to do his own chemistry experiment, only to have it blow up in his face.

You see LOTR was a grand epic adventure with lots of special FX, and since Shaye, being a Hollywood person, thought that was it and filled The Last Mimzy with that.

Shaye couldn't see what lay beneath the LOTR trilogy.

Tolkien wrote the novels to promote Christian ideals and themes without directly mentioning Christianity. And though I have no idea of what Peter Jackson's personal beliefs are, he didn't shy away from, or edit out those ideals and themes out of the film version.

Those themes resonated on an emotional level with the general public in a big way. This led to the repeated viewings, the white hot DVD sales, and merchandising out the wazoo.

Shaye's film did have an element of spirituality, but it was strictly of a New Age California blend that didn't resonate with anyone whose spiritual adviser didn't live in Malibu. Also many were annoyed by some tacked on political statements, that didn't particularly fit what was supposed to be a family film.

The Last Mimzy tanked at the box office.

Did Shaye see the film's failure as a sign that he had lost his connection with the general audience?


He called the audience 'stupid.' If they were truly 'with it' like he was, they would have made Mimzy #1.

And it's obvious that Shaye still hasn't learned his lesson.

His next project is producing The Golden Compass. It's based on a series of children's books designed to be the atheist's answer to LOTR and the successful Narnia books and film.

Already the film is tracking poorly with preview audiences and most analysts expect it to lose a fortune. For some reason being told that their deeply held faith is stupid and/or evil just isn't entertaining for the average moviegoer, even the ones that aren't particularly religious.

Will Shaye learn his lesson then?

Probably not.

Because Hollywood is High School, and no one wants to tell the captain of the football team that he's flunking out because he won't do his homework and actually learn something.

That will get you a swirly and a swift booting out of the 'in crowd.'

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Hollywood Babble On & On... #2: Contempt & the Death of Hollywood

You've probably heard that the Writer's Guild of America is going on strike, effective Monday, barring some miracle, and that Hollywood's movie industry is going to completely freeze for a while.

That might be a good thing.

Hollywood needs to shaken down to the core. It needs to wake up, smell the coffee and mix any more metaphors that would imply that radical change is necessary if they hope to survive as a viable industry.

Hollywood has spent so long as the principal source of entertainment that it has developed a serious case of contempt for two of the three types people that make profitable films possible, and an overwhelming, almost hypnotized awe for the least important one.

The three types of people who make a film successful are:

1. Filmmakers- These are the writers and directors who make the stories that are essential to a successful film.

2. The Cast- Actors whose charisma and talent are often essential in properly marketing a film to the audience.

3. The Audience- Most important of all. It's their bums in theater seats that determines whether or not a film will sink or swim.

Now can you guess which of those is the most overpaid and overfed of the three?

Well let's see.

The Filmmakers, right now, the writers, are on strike because the Hollywood studios are trying to screw them out of royalties from the sales of internet downloads. There's no reason not to pay them a fair royalty for download sales outside of studio greed and most importantly of all, contempt.

The Audience is also faced with the overweening contempt of Hollywood studios, and it's affecting the box office. Box office returns for most releases over the past couple of years have been dismal and they're getting worse.

A good example is the recent trend toward 'political' films coming out of Hollywood. Now Hollywood had been a stronghold for the Democratic Party since Kennedy's assassination and they want revenge for Bush stealing the 2000 election from Al Gore. This has led to a slew of films that can most diplomatically described as 'critical' of American policies, while most folks outside of Beverly Hills and Manhattan view consider them anti-American propaganda. American soldiers, currently fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, are portrayed almost uniformly as either bloodthirsty psychopaths, emotionally scarred losers, dimwitted hillbillies or all of the above.

The American audience do not want to see movies like while their country is fighting a war. And guess what, all of the 'political' films coming out of Hollywood, and even films that have subtler political stances, are bombing worse than an Al Quaida terrorist hopped up on caffeine and hate.

In fact, Tom Cruise's first picture as head of United Artists Lions for Lambs is tracking so poorly in advance screenings that it is endangering the financial prospects of parent studio MGM, which has taken a severe beating distributing many failed political films for the Weinstein Company.

It even hurts films like The Kingdom, that was slightly more politically neutral than the other films, but the audience had been conditioned to expect the diatribe, and it cost the film at the box-office.

Now when political films bomb, the companies do not blame the films, their content, or their political stance for the failure, they blame the audience.

They condemn the audience for being 'stupid' and 'unhip' for not spending their hard-earned money on Rendition instead of Transformers. Yet they don't realize that while Transformers may insult the audience's intelligence, it does not insult the audience itself. And, at least, Transformers held the promise of nostalgic escapist spectactle, while Rendition and others of its ilk, offer nothing but the insult.

You see, they're holding the audience in contempt, like they do the filmmakers.

But who isn't being held in contempt by Hollywood's studios?

Actors, not all actors, only the folks on the supposed 'A-List.'

We live in the era of extremely overpriced actors. The salary demands of Hollywood's supposed A-List stars can double, if not triple a budget.

Yet the overwhelming majority of actors don't deserve the bloated salaries, or the attention because they can't deliver what an star can: Bums in seats.

Instead of 'movie stars' Hollywood is overrun with what I call 'Media Stars.' Media Stars are people who are good at getting attention from other people in the media, but can't really hold onto, or attract the attention of the audience.

Take George Clooney for example. Every film he's made since A Perfect Storm that wasn't an Ocean's__ movie has tanked badly at the box-office. Yet he still commands top money because he's good at attracting attention from people within Hollywood.

It's the folks in flyover country who buy the tickets don't really give a toss about him.

But studios base star-power, not on box-office appeal, but on how many times a month their mug can get on Entertainment Tonight or the cover of People Magazine. It's called 'name recognition' and it's destroying the star system.

Now lets go back to Tom Cruise and Lions for Lambs. He must have seen the poor performance of the other political films and realised that it would be a money loser, but it was a sure-fire albeit cynical way to get back on the A-List.

We all remember his couch-jumping, hooting, hollering, and declarations that a high school dropout knew all about psychiatry, that made him an embarrassment and threatened his status on the A-List.

The audience didn't seem to care, Mission: Impossible 3 did well at the box office. Even though his antics made profitability for MI3 impossible, it did show that he could still put bums in seats.

But like the rest of Hollywood, he doesn't care about the audience, the audience and their opinions do not matter.

What matters is getting on the good side of the powers that be in Hollywood, and since the powers that be are more inbred than the hillbillies they claim live in the other states, it only left him one option. To make a propaganda film against his own country.

But it looks like he may have overplayed his hand, and his future as a mogul is in doubt. In fact, the future of MGM is now in doubt.

Now this just might be what saves Hollywood, if they see what's in front of them and take the right path.

They have to get rid of the contempt.

They have to stop wasting time, money, and resources trying to figure out ways to screw people who make films, and dedicate it to what really makes money. Telling stories that the audience wants to hear with stars that the audience actually likes.

They have to open themselves up to some outside ideas. That means quit coming up with reasons to not look for new talent/ideas and to actively look for it. And to look for it outside of the increasingly narrow thirty mile zone that seems to contain all of entertainment these days.

And they have to stop looking down on the audience.

The audience is their reason for existence.

It's how they make money.

Now will Hollywood actually change its ways?

Probably not.

Then the new Hollywood will rise, and toss them into the dustbin of history, like Old Hollywood had done with vaudeville.

It's called the circle of life.