Thursday, 12 June 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #113: Some Musings On Production, Profits, & Priorities

1. A tip of my jaunty shako to Defamer for this piece about how movie companies are cutting back on production, citing a "multiplex glut" of 517 films released this past year, and competition from the internet, TV, and home video.

I don't really think the internet, TV, and home video are the real problem here. I think the real problem is a just plain bad business model Hollywood is following.

During the 1950s when Hollywood was reeling from the consent decree and losing audiences to the glass teat. To combat the tiny, black and white, TV screen movies went big, and I mean really big. I'm talking wide cinemascope screens, vivid and blazing technicolor, and epic stories that just can't be duplicated on television.

Sometimes it worked. Ben-Hur is often credited with saving MGM, but a lot of times it didn't, and studios started to slash production. The average studio output in the 1940s was anywhere between 50-100 movies a year, (multiply that by 8 major studios, and a half dozen smaller & "poverty row" producers and 517 movies doesn't seem like a lot) but during the 1950s that began to get cut, and cut. Ironically, smaller companies emerged, aiming their product at the then burgeoning youth market and filled the schedule gaps left in theatres and the new fangled Drive-In theaters.

Eventually mainstream Hollywood caught on to the youth market, and the modern age of the blockbuster movie was born.

This is all happening again, but as I think Marx said, history does repeat itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.

This time around Hollywood is facing new competition again. This time from the Internet, as well as TV and home video. The market is becoming balkanized to an extent, that the huge mega-media conglomerates don't really know what to do, and this is where the farce comes into play.

Studios think they can spend and screw their way to success.

By making it next to impossible for principal
participants to fairly profit from a film's success, up-front costs sky-rocket to levels similar to inflation in Zimbabwe. These films are also similar in content, style, and themes, and are pretty much all released at the same narrow windows of opportunity. This is because the "expert" analysts tell the powers that be that these times, usually based on holidays, and such, are the only times to release "blockbusters." And these films have to be blockbusters, grossing in the hundreds of millions, just to break even.

And it's not like Hollywood and audiences are getting as much bang for their buck as the 1950s epics. Ben-Hur looks like every dollar is on the screen, nowadays you get directors walking away
from what should be a fairly simple monster movie, because they can't work in the near penury a $100 million budget would inflict on them.

Independent studios aren't like they used to be, most of the ones that survived the boom of the 90s were either absorbed into the big players, and/or became entranced by what I call Hollywood's Ego Drive. Their purpose changed from making films designed to fill gaps in the marketplace, to making melodramas designed to win awards and the hearts of fashionable critics, not audiences. And the ones that were absorbed into the studios, were run along the same lines as their major parents, just with a much narrower target audience, which is a recipe for slow-financial death.

So here are some questions the Hollywood Powers That Be should ask themselves.

1- Why does almost every movie have to be a massive blockbuster?
2- Why do movies cost so much to make?
3- What can be done to bring costs under control?
4- What can be done to get people to go to
theaters and spend their money?

Only when they answer these questions can any real solutions to the Hollywood death spiral be found.

2. SAG and AFTRA are exchanging harsh words both
at each other, and from within their own unions in the ongoing boondoggle known as the 2008 contract negotiations.

And the main reason for this is because both unions
have lost sight of the main priority of a union, and the AMPTP, their fundamental adversary, is taking advantage of it.

AFTRA is rushing to a deal, that many don't think
very much of, in the hope that a strike will financially cripple SAG members and compel them to join AFTRA, leaving it as the last union standing.

SAG leadership seems more interested in ideology, and views the slightest deviation from that doctrine as the same as treason to their sacred cause. And while there are times and places to raise the black flag and man the barricades, this is not one of them.

Both have forgotten that the real reason for unions is to negotiate the best deals possible for their members. Not to forge monopolies of their own, or to waste precious time debating each others ideological purity or worthiness for representation. It all goes back to Sun Tzu's maxims on warfare, even economic. You must know your enemy, and know yourself. Not waste time having fights or betraying those who are supposed to be allies, and alienating large swathes of your own forces.

It's all about priorities.


  1. :) :) :)

    (Haven't even read the piece yet, but you've shown wise decision-making skills here. Thanks for humoring me.)