Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #828: A Not So Sweet 16

16 years.

Movie box office in 2011 hasn't been this low for 16 years.  And is just another chapter in an ongoing decline in the whole movie business, with only occasional monster mega-hits like Avatar creating the increasingly rare upward blip. 

Why is the movie biz in such doldrums?

Well, it's the movie business's own damn fault and here's why... 

1. THEY FORGOT WHAT BUSINESS THEY'RE IN:  Go find any movie studio CEO and ask them what they do and you will get a whole load of hooey about how their job is to maximize shareholder value blah blah through asset management blah-blah on a quarterly yadda-yadda and a whole lot of bullshit that you can only get with a Harvard business degree.

What this corporate baffle-gab forgets is exactly how they maximize shareholder value, and that is by selling stories to the public.

It's a vital need people have whether they know it or not, and the proof can be found in everyone's childhood. What's one of the first things a child asks for that doesn't involve immediate survival issues?

They say: "Tell me a story."

People want stories, they crave stories, and they are willing to pay money for a wide variety of them.

The problem with Hollywood is that they show as much respect to the story as you would to something you find stuck to your shoe.  Story to Hollywood is an inconvenient necessity, a cheap excuse to string together increasingly expensive gimmicks like 3D and so-called "movie stars."

2. THEY'RE DISCONNECTED FROM THE AUDIENCE & THE AUDIENCE IS THE ONLY ONE THAT KNOWS IT:  I call the area that encompasses the movie business the Axis of Ego because it is definitely not part of the real world.

It's like that scene in an old episode of The Simpsons where they try to teach Krusty the Clown to do "observational humor," and his first attempt involves a story about his butler and his sock garters.

In Hollywood that's not too far from the truth.  We're talking about a community insulated from reality through layers of money and media adoration. A crippling sense of group-think dominates the movie business, and this group-think dictates to them that anyone who lives or believes differently from them is somehow less evolved and/or outright evil.

They think that all they need to do is bombard the screen with gimmicks, loud noises, and pretty faces, and the sheep-like masses of the great unwashed will flock to the theaters. The problem is that the gimmicks are now being seen by audiences as a sign of the poor quality of the movie's story, and are voting to stay home and watch the more narratively rewarding product popping up on TV, or the internet.

3. THE BLOCKBUSTER IS KILLING THE SLEEPER:  When I was young it wasn't uncommon to see something called a "sleeper hit."  Sleepers were films that weren't meant to be big blockbusters, but they had qualities that appealed to audiences and thanks to word of mouth and modestly budgeted but well structured marketing campaigns became very profitable and popular. 

Nowadays films that would otherwise have been sleeper hits, are being buried by the studios and their hunger for big blockbuster opening weekends.  They can't buy TV advertising to find their audiences because the big movies and their massive blanket-style ad campaigns sucked up all the air time.  Now while the internet has created alternative outlets for them to get the word out about their movie, it doesn't really matter. These same films can't book screen-time because the majors are cramming the latest Adam Sandler anus opus into 3,000 screens on the same opening weekend as the 4,000 screen release of the latest remake, and the 3,500 screen release of the latest re-imagining of a board game into a big budget movie.

Why bother hiring a sitter, getting in the car, driving across town, paying for parking, tickets, and snacks if the movie you're actually interested in isn't going to be there?

Hollywood is trying to replace the "sleeper" with the "awards movie" because they don't have to be sold to the punters in flyover country.  Sure, awards movies don't make much money, but it's not like the people running the movie companies are going to lose sleep over that, their big media-conglomerate parent companies will keep them afloat.

If these trends aren't changed, and soon, I think the entire movie business might reach...


  1. Another factor, resulting in part from Hollywood's near total abandonment of the non-teenage audience, is that theaters are increasingly hellish places to see movies. People yakking throughout the entire movie, people bringing small kids to R rated movies and then letting them cry through the whole thing because God forbid they should get a babysitter or feel enough shame to leave, people opening their cell phones every ten minutes and blinding nearby patrons and distracting everyone sitting above them in stadium seating. And is there an usher on hand to deal with any of this? Heck, no. And since people don't want to miss ten minutes of the movie they're paying to see by walking down that long, lonely multiplex hallway looking for a disinterested teenaged employee to complain to, they largely sit and take it.

    Eventually they stop coming back, though.

    And I realize I don't speak for everyone here, but I know I'm not alone in being disenchanted with Hollywood's apparent belief that whatever adult filmgoers remain uniformly want to see Frost/Nixon or something along that line. Before largely abandoning modern movies in favor of DVDs, TCM and whatever old movie revival screenings I can find, I found myself all too often suddenly having a movie ruined for me by some utterly gratuitous line of dialogue equating conservatives with racists, or a (literally) out of left field tirade about the Iraq war. How many times is half the country going to go see seemingly nice, non-political films like Julie & Julia only to slapped in the face with Hollywood self-righteousness?

    Note, should I even need to say this, I'm not against forthrightly liberal films, or 'neutral' films having liberal characters. However, sudden pointless digs against George Bush or Sarah Palin in the middle of some fluffy romantic comedy again don't really encourage some of us to keep handing Hollywood our hard earned dough.

  2. The only hope are indies and perhaps foreign films. Once Hollywood is extinct, perhaps the others have a chance to start to stir things up. When Avatar 2 bankrupts the studios, perhaps theaters will be willing to show interesting "minor" efforts such as Skyline or Kung Fu Hustle.

  3. I had an interesting movie experience over the holidays. An old theater in a high end mall nearby was renovated and turned into what could be described as a "luxury" theater. Each theater of the 6 there only seats 100 people. You pick the actual seats you sit in from a terminal - either at home through the web or on site. So you don't have to stand in line to get tickets. They serve liquor and subsequently NO CHILDREN are allowed into the shows - no screaming babies!! Each seat has a small area next to it suitable to place a boxed lunch which they sell on site. Not to mention large enough seats to be really comfortable. Italian ices are available instead of bon bons and they even offer to put butter on your popcorn. The screen size is the standard movie theater size and sound is excellent.

    The cost is roughly 60 percent more, but IMO well worth it. The future of movie going???