Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #831: Missed Opportunities & Answering A Question


Now I can understand them wanting to get out of the movie biz, with box office in some of the worst doldrums seen in 16 years and Brad Pitt being named Hollywood's most bankable star of 2011 despite starring in two films that bombed, badly, (Tree Of Life, Happy Feet 2) and one movie that did moderately OK (Moneyball).

But there's more to this story than investors wanting to flee the sinking ship of the movie business, the story of Alliance Films is a story that embodies the Canadian film industry that has lessons for Hollywood, because it is a story of missed opportunities.

Alliance Films started out as Alliance Communications in 1984, as a partnership between formerly independent film and television producers looking for strength in numbers. Mostly under the leadership of producer Robert Lantos the company enjoyed steady growth throughout the 1980s, mostly in television. However, the 1990s were a golden age for the company. As the Canadian theatrical and home video distributor for American and international indie companies like New Line, Miramax and others they got to enjoy a share of the profits made by films from The Nightmare On Elm Street franchise, the early films of Quentin Tarantino like Pulp Fiction, to the Lord Of The Rings trilogy.

They also enjoyed growth in television providing programming to the rapidly growing Canadian and international cable/specialty channel market. In 1998 Alliance merged with fast growing TV producer Atlantis Communication, and boss Robert Lantos left the head seat to go back to being a hands-on producer. A couple of years after the merger the company took a gamble with a TV show produced by Jerry Bruckheimer that had been rejected by every other studio in the business.

That unwanted show was CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.

Now you think having the #1 show in the world, and its two big money spin-offs would inspire Alliance-Atlantis to become even bigger players in the TV production business.  They had a big show, and were producing shows in Canada that were gaining critical acclaim, and could, if marketed properly, been sold to the big, plump, juicy US market.

It became a bigger player, but not in TV production.

The management of Alliance-Atlantis decided that making TV shows wasn't the future, broadcasting them was.

One by one they shuttered, or sold off every show they made, even CSI, and invested everything they had in specialty cable channels. The problem with that plan, was that it left them with little or no ability to produce the shows they needed for their new specialty channels.

Faced with lots of channels, but little content, the Alliance shareholders decided to cash out. The once big fish in a small pond was filleted and sold for change. All that was left was the Alliance Films theatrical distribution business, which is basically all that's left.

The company had a lot of opportunities to become a real competitive powerhouse in film and television, but they missed them to cash in on short term trends.

Really a shame.


Sandy Petersen asked... So here is my question for the might of Furious D's potent cranium. The SyFy channel is renowned for its inept and stupid movies. Yet they are somehow able to recognize and host some good television series (Battlestar Galactica springs to mind). What gives?
The short answer: The SyFy channel probably has a different team of executives handling the inept movies, and another set of executives handling the TV series.

Which actually illustrates one of the SyFy channel's biggest problems: Not enough people working there seem to like or appreciate the genres they're supposed to be broadcasting.

The channel started out during the early 1990s and the first explosion of specialty channels in the USA. No doubt the original intent of the channel's founders was to run an endless loop of Star Trek reruns and 1950s monster movies, and watch the money roll in.

Then it sank in that you could only milk reruns for only so long, and have to dip your toe into original material. And this is where the channel's management seems to split in two.

One side at least tries to show some appreciation for the science fiction and fantasy genres, while the other side thinks any old crap will do as long as it has a cheaply done CGI monster involved.

So you get shows like the Battlestar Galactica reboot, which scored lots of critical acclaim and good ratings, but you also get movies with titles that have the words "MEGA-__________ VS MEGA-__________" in them.  I tried to watch a couple of those movies, but they were so poorly and lazily done, I couldn't even see any camp humor value in them. 

This management schizophrenia is probably why SyFy varies so widely in quality.

1 comment:

  1. I can't argue with your remarks on the SyFy Channel, but I also would posit a second factor; the law that when you reward something you get more of it.

    As someone who has suffered through many, many SyFy 'original' offerings over the years (being a manic fan of killer animal movies), to but occasional satisfaction at best, I can only assume the dogged determination to stick to a rather hoary template after hundreds of (very) similar offerings is due to the fact that viewers continue to show up in the numbers SyFy is seeking, and thus they have little incentive to stray from their formula.

    I mourn the fact that they care so little about the product, but clearly they don't.