Monday, 19 January 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #216: You Have Questions, I Can Fake Answers...

Reader Kit dropped me an e-mail today, and had some questions for yours truly. So I'm going to try to answer, or at least fake my way through them.

Question #1:

Is Hollywood/the film industry dying? If it is, then how long (do you estimate) until it kicks the bucket and will it leave a vaccuum?

Answer #1:

Hollywood is definitely not healthy, but I'm wary of going so far as to say that it's dying. Hollywood's been on the ropes before. In fact it's been on the ropes several times. First there was the Edison Trust that tried to monopolize the industry, then the coming of sound destroying careers and hiking up costs, the Great Depression, the Consent Decree of 1948, then came competition from TV, Pay TV, and now the Internet.

The key is that people love stories, especially told in movie form, so the art of cinema won't die, new businesses based on a new business model would arise after any potential collapse of the big media giant. And they'll probably be from Mumbai.

Question #2:

What events could kill the film industry/Hollywood?

Answer #2:

Two words: Zombie plague.

But barring an uprising of the flesh eating undead, the film biz is not likely to "die" but be grievously, but not mortally, wounded. This could be brought about by two things happening:

1. A rebellion by shareholders, film financiers, and creative contributors. All contribute to the success of the studios, but almost none of them reap any real rewards. There's a feudalistic attitude in the head offices of the major media companies where who ever gets the job of CEO automatically assumes that they are the king and queen, and it's sweet-fuck-all for those who actually do most of the heavy lifting.

The money people used to let the studios get away with a lot because their questionable finances enabled them some shelter from taxes. However, with the economy the way it is, they can't stand to have millions being pumped into something that doesn't pay anything back. They're getting screwed just as badly as the unions, and if they decide to do something at the same time, or, even more devastating, in concert, they could give the studios a royal thrashing about head.

2. Political involvement. As I've said before, Henry Waxman (D-CA) is taking over as chair of the House Commerce Committee. Now he has a reputation as a grandstanding muckraker who likes easy targets, and they don't come any easier than the greedy businessmen of Hollywood's executive ranks. A shareholder/financier/talent rebellion may clue him in that his riding in Beverly Hills, Malibu, and other prosperous areas hold more voters getting screwed than doing the screwing. Toss in the potential of Angelina Jolie testifying before congress about how she lost her profit share of the Tomb Raider movies, and it's a perfect storm of politics, celebrity, and money.

Then some ambitious US Attorney, and/or the California Attorney General, could decide to go after some of these executives to boost their own political career. Any deep study of recent white collar crime convictions show that sometimes you don't even need an actual crime to get at least an indictment. And no executive wants to do a perp walk under the unblinking gaze of cameras owned by their own subsidiaries, unable to resist a real cracking story.

Question #3:

Is there any hope for a film renaissance?

Answer #3

Now in Answer #2 I said that the movie biz would be wounded, but not killed. Now after such a wound healing can begin.

New people would have to be brought in to revive these companies. And the only way to do that is to literally start from the ground up. With a business model based not on making only the CEO and his cronies rich, but making everyone involved happy, from the shareholders, to the investors, to the people making the movies, and even the audience. Because in a truly capitalist system, every transaction must end with both sides sincerely saying "Thank you" to each other, because they both got what they want. Right not, no one says thank you, only "screw you," and "sue you," and that's not good business, and it's not good capitalism.

Question #4:

How could a change in the current industry come about?

Answer #4:

Right now the studios are undergoing a major contraction, reducing the number of movies being made overall, and forgoing any project that might make less than $100 million at the box office or win them an Oscar. A contraction like this leaves openings. Theatres need movies for their screens, and TV channels need content. Smaller, leaner, more efficient companies can start to forge little niches for themselves. They can't compete with the big boys in the sort of mega-marketing campaigns the studios can do, but there are ways around them for clever, adaptable businesspeople.

Then these companies can grow, slowly, steadily, and gradually take over where the studios are failing. And hopefully someday, they can either absorb the old order, and reform it in their image, or consign them into the dustbin of cinema history.

I hope these answered your questions.

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