Monday, 21 March 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #696: You Gotta Do What You Gotta Do

Welcome to the show folks...

Recently there have been some news in the arena of the entertainment business that I have written about before, but I think they deserve a second look, so I can clarify some points. First was the story that the AMC and Regal movie theater chains are joining forces to start their own distribution company called Open Road, and I wrote about the motives, means and methods behind the formation of the company. Later, video rental behemoth Netflix dove head first into the realm of original content by giving the greenlight to David Fincher & Kevin Spacey's adaptation of the British political satirical thriller
House of Cards. I wrote that it was a risky but necessary gamble for Netflix to make.

Now the fundamental basis of both of these decisions is the simple fact that the major studios are not putting out enough content for the sheer number of outlets, and the stuff they are putting out often doesn't come up to snuff. In the Golden Age of Hollywood each studio put out over 50 movies a year.

If a movie did poorly in one theater, it was quickly moved to another theater where it might do better, or pulled entirely, and another film put in its place. That way, the theaters weren't in danger of not making their "nut" or per screening operating cost by being stuck with a turkey that doesn't put popcorn & soda buying bums in the seats.

Things are much different. The output of the studios are way down, they don't make as many movies as they used to. However, they love to cram those few movies onto hundreds, if not thousands of screens at a time. The turnover of turkeys needed to protect the theaters from money losing movies is way harder, because if there are way fewer options.

However, they can't just expect this gap to be filled by a lot of independent filmmakers. Since the indie film boom of the 1990s, the bulk of the independent movie scene has gone from trying to do what the studios weren't doing, to becoming nothing more than critical praise/awards bait for Hollywood insiders and wannabe Hollywood insiders than in winning audiences. Open Road distribution will need to seek out filmmakers interested in not just making interesting films, but films that people will actually want to see.

If they don't the whole thing could backfire on them big time.

Netflix's situation is slightly different. They have access to more product, having older films in their back catalog, but have to deal with paying the studios hundreds of millions of dollars a year for the rights to rent their movies, and also witness a reduction in new movie product, and television product.

I don't have concrete numbers, but I suspect that the reality shows that currently clog up the major networks don't take up much space on people's Netflix queues. Most people looking at renting DVDs or digital streams of TV usually look for the dramas and comedies that they missed while they were wasting time watching the reality shows.

However, a lot of those shows that could be rented are made by divisions of the media conglomerates that own the networks. That means huge fees, and battling with the network's plans to create their own wholly owned and operated proprietary outlets especially for digital streaming video.

So it's inevitable that Netflix would get into original content. Now is House of Cards the right gamble for them?

Well, it might be a little too risky. Hollywood doesn't have a good record when it comes to dealing with politics. Especially when they translate the British Tory politician into an American Republican. There is immense potential to completely alienate a good chunk of the video renting audience. The project was passed on by HBO, which rarely meets a star-centric project that it didn't love, and the guaranteed 2 season commitment and $100+ million cost was just a little too much for them to take, and might be too much for Netflix to take.

I would have advised them to start on a smaller scale. Test the waters with cheaper programming, like a sitcom, or sketch comedy, before spending such big money for such a big risk.

Anyway, this is just all just a symptom, and the major Hollywood studios and networks need to shake up how they do business, or they could find themselves being replaced on almost every level.

1 comment:

  1. Back in the golden age movies were done much cheaper as the studios pretty much had a death grip on actor's pay.

    There were no actors blowing money on some "important" pet project that will lose money but impress his friends and get some award.

    Since there was no such thing as, to home video rights most films were shown until they no longer made money and then thrown in the trash.

    That is why 80% of all the movies ever made are LOST FOREVER