Friday, 14 June 2013

Hollywood Babble On & On #1032: Meltdown Imminent?

Stephen Spielberg and George Lucas both recently predicted that a "meltdown" was imminent in Hollywood, specifically in the movie business.

Gee, I wonder who has been saying that for years?

Oh, yeah: 


Welcome Steve and Georgie to the Club of People Capable of Seeing the Obvious. The facilities are lousy, but membership is free.

What are the signs that the movie biz is troubled?

1. Bigger Money, Fewer Bets. The big studios are putting more and more into less and less. Basically they're making bigger and bigger bets on fewer and fewer movies with increasingly narrow release windows. This creates periodic gluts of mega-budget productions, each one needing to break records just to break even. Every summer movie season is a potential Heaven's Gate situation just waiting to happen.

2. Not A Franchise, Not Interested. The big studios are bit by bit reducing their output of films that are not sequels, remakes, reboots, or otherwise connected to some previously existing franchise.

3. Dysfunction. The environment of the movie business is growing increasingly toxic. Nowadays it would be news to discover that someone, be they talent or a investor, didn't get screwed over by a major studio.

4. Alienation. The people making movies for the big studios haven't been as far out of touch from simple normalcy as they are now, and view those who disagree with them as being mentally deficient, morally defective, or a combo of both. They need hired consultants to tell them how to dress, how to eat, how to exercise, and even how how to vote. Just how can they connect emotionally and intellectually with the overwhelmingly working and middle class audience?

5. Audiences are dwindling. Aside from the occasional upward blip, overall people aren't going to the movies as much as they used to. And if that's not bad enough you should look at the "solutions" the people running the studios are coming up with.

6. Faith in China. The folks running Hollywood think the Chinese market is the magic pill that will solve all of their problems. It's over a billion people, rates of regular moviegoing North America hasn't seen since the 1940s, and a burgeoning economy. However, while it's a growing market, it is not a free market. To do business in China they need to proverbially fellate not only the high mucky-mucks in the ruling Communist Party, but all their relatives, friends, and assorted cronies. That not only doesn't bode well for the movie business, it doesn't bode well for any business in China. 

Not only are the movies you release, and the revenue they generate, subject to the whims of the political ruling class, the market the lucky few are getting released to is exponentially more fragile than anyone cares to admit. The slightest downturn or upset in the fragile balance at the heart of China's current economic miracle can make the whole thing come down like a house of cards. 

That doesn't make it a safe bet in the long term.

7. Excuse Pricing. Why did the studios go big into 3D a few years ago? Artistic expression? No, it was an excuse to jack up ticket prices at 3D screenings, and are coming up with other excuses for audiences to pay extra. It will probably soon devolve to where if you want a seat at a screening you're going to have to pay a fee.

8. Dwindling Share. The big studios used to be the cornerstone of the big media conglomerates that formed in the 1970s to the 2000s. Nowadays they're a shrinking part of growing companies, gradually being outshone by their red-headed step-siblings television and the many other ways of delivering home video.

They're also being outshone creatively by cable television, many shows getting ratings that the studios' blood siblings, the broadcast networks, would kill to get. Nowadays if you want to shine creatively, and make a decent living, you avoid making big budget movies with the major studios, you get a good television gig.

Who does Hollywood have to blame for this?

They just have to look in the mirror.

1 comment:

  1. I suppose the indie market and production ecosystem (both the parts that have been bought by the studios and remain independent) is a bright spot that is outside these trneds, but it is very small and limited to an educated audience.

    The basic business model of movie theaters is basically unchanged since the 1920s. I thought Steve and George were pretty on the nose. Maybe films in big thaters will be like going out to sports events or broeadway, as infrequently as those and priced accordingly.