Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #534: 3 Bad Ideas

Welcome to the show folks...


The Summer movie season is not looking all that good, ticket sales overall are down, pundits are calling this "June Gloom," and the studio bosses are so panicked they're actually talking to agents about what to do next.

I have some video of one of these meetings:

I know, it's a joke I did before, but I love flogging a dead horse as much as the studio executives I like to mock.

But seriously, this meeting is a perfect sign of what's wrong with Hollywood, and here's why: It's basically two Hatfields having a discussion about why those damn McCoys are so ornery.

Well, here's my 2 cents about why things aren't working out whether you want them or not.

1. THE SELF FULFILLING IDIOCY: Hollywood should know that their own business practices are the main reason the costs of making, marketing, and distributing movies has a rate of inflation last seen in Weimar Germany. The whole structure of the studio system is designed to burn more mental calories figuring out how to screw some poor actor out of their 2% piece of the net, to get their CEO a better bonus, than making movies people want to see.

Everybody knows that, especially agents, and that's why agents have the reputation for being sharks. They know their clients are going to get hosed by the studios at some point, so they try to get everything they can get up front, and to hell with other considerations, because it's not like their clients are going to get their residuals anyway. The bigger the star, the bigger the demands, and the narrower the profit margin until it disappears completely.

This leads to an atmosphere of...

2. SHEER TERROR in the executive suite. The people who make decisions in Hollywood are terrified to actually make decisions, for fear of getting canned and losing their company paid Bentley, beach house, and jet for trips to the company retreat in Aruba. So they become extremely risk averse, because their practices made everything so damn expensive. This leads to an incredibly bland entertainment landscape, and a shrinking box office, that can't be attributed to the bad economy, because the movie industry is supposed to thrive in bad times. Hell, the Great Depression was a glorious time, both financially and creatively for Hollywood. Not anymore, so the Executives go off in search of a...

3. MAGIC BULLET. That simple, easy, 1 step plan for guaranteed hit movies, so they don't have to use any common sense in the field of studio management, budgets, or accounting. When one studio has success with a type of project, all the others pounce on that type like extras in a bukkake video. Remakes, reboots, adapting TV shows, digitally animation, 3D visuals, comic book movies, market research or even talking to agents. The problem is that most of these magic bullets are more fizzle than sizzle. I myself was shot with one of those magic bullets back in college, and no for a fact that they can do more harm than good.

While a university student in Toronto I was hired to write sketch comedy for a TV pilot. I was part of a team of 6 writers, and we were putting together some pretty good material. Then the producer decided that the project needed a magic bullet to make it a hit. So she went to market research, and from the findings of the market researchers we went from a funny sketch show, to a mildly amusing sketch/candid camera rip-off, then just a candid camera rip-off, and finally, a sitcom about angels. Why did it become a sitcom about angels? Because the marketing whizzes noted that an ad campaign for cream cheese using angels did very well (It's still running in Canada) so the show should rip off the commercials. The entire production crashed and burned over Xmas, the money people fled, and no one got paid.

Magic bullets do not work.

What does work?

Well, in the old days it was instinct. The folks who gave movies the green-light asked themselves:
Would it play in Peoria? It was still a gamble, but at least they weren't completely turning audiences off the way their heirs are doing now.

But they're probably not going to hear that from the agents, because the agents are too wrapped up in the existing system. There's no one in Hollywood that can rattle the cages enough to get the people in power their to take notice.


The federal regulators who thought Bernie Madoff and sub-prime mortgage backed securities were fine and dandy like sour candy, have decided that "futures trading" (translation: betting) on movie box office performance is a wonderful idea.

I have to call bullshit on this. It's a dreadful idea.


Think about it.

The values of these "futures" will be based upon the box office estimates made by studios and their rivals.

Those studios, and their rivals, all have reasons for spinning, or outright flim-flamming those estimates for their own ends. (I go into more detail here)

A movies futures market will give them yet another reason to play around with those estimates, and with it the money of even more investors than usual.

So I have to say this...






CBS has decided to trim the herd on their consistent Top 20 workhorse crime drama Criminal Minds by firing AJ Cook, chopping down the role of Paget Brewster, and keeping fan favorite Kristin Vangsness, for now.

Now CBS is hoping to mitigate the outrage among fans of the show by saying that they're adding a new female (& cheaper) character to the show to replace AJ Cook. Which means that they're already on some sort of damage control, not wanting the fans super pissed off at CBS with a
Criminal Minds spin-off due in the fall.

Now CBS's case is that they're trying to control costs, and they're picking on Criminal Minds specifically because it's their workhorse drama. It's not in the Top 10, it's unlikely that the star's going to be cast in the next big blockbuster movie during their summer break, and it doesn't sweep the Emmy Awards every year like those critical darling cable shows. So they can beat it like a rented mule, and get away with it, but I think it's a bad idea, here's why:

1. OPTICS: It really looks bad to slash the roles of
female characters on a show that's already viewed as pretty male dominated. It also makes CBS management look like sexist pigs, and give internet wags like me the license to whip up little pics like the one to your right.>>>>>

2. FAN RESENTMENT: Fans are getting sick and tired of seeing their shows jerked around because some executive wants to charge a new boat to their favorite show's budget. This is especially true when it involves actors and characters they like. CBS can't afford to lose these fans, especially in the face of...

3. THE SPIN-OFF: CBS is trying to sell a spin-off in the fall. A lot of fans are already thinking that these cuts are to somehow make the costs of this spin-off more manageable, whether it's accurate or not. They're going to resent the spin-off, and quite possibly tune out.

Of course if the costs were the problem on one of the cheapest looking shows on the normally over-slick network, CBS could have negotiated some sort of deal where both sides could have been happy. Of course, they were denied that option by their own shoddy business practices.

Anyway, if they go through with this plan, I expect the show, and its spin-off, to be done and dusted after next season, barring a miracle.

1 comment:

  1. As you have astutely pointed out, Hollywood has and is making many mistakes with choosing film properties, expenses and just plain being original and imaginative.The guys who ran the studios back in the "Golden Age of Hollywood" liked America and Americans and so were in touch with the American public's interests. It just kills me when the Hollywood pundits are oh so surprised that the public turns out in great numbers to see films like,The Blind Side,Karate Kid, Alice in Wonderland, Beverly Hills Chiuahuah?,Pursuit of Happyness etc;because they KNOW that the American public has no judgement about film. This ,judgement they leave to film critics, whose current taste is dubious. Also their habit of ,"taking down" certain films based on perceived politics,tabloid evaluations of the stars and just plain ignorance has harmed the reputation of many a decent film. Tis a witches brew to be sure. I hear that Warner Bros. is going to do a remake of Plan Nine From Outer Space,with the cast members of Eclipse, and it should do a 70 million weekend BO.