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.

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