Sunday, 30 June 2013


You had questions, and I will now pretend to have answers...

soonertroll asked... Did George Lucas open his mouth and prove he is the fool we all thought he was, with his statement that blockbuster movie tickets would rise to $150?
Short answer: Yes and no.

While the claim does have a ring of the ridiculous on its face, there is precedent to his prognosticating.

You see for decades Broadway was, if not the centre of popular culture, it was the epicentre. 

What happened on Broadway rippled out from New York City and into the zeitgeist. Broadway shows produced most of the best selling songs on the hit parade, Broadway stars made national news, and the touring companies made sure to hit as many nooks and crannies in America as they could physically reach by planes, trains, or automobiles.

And, most importantly, the average working man or woman was able to afford to attend Broadway shows without having to get a mortgage.

Now Broadway was displaced as the epicentre of popular culture, first by movies, then television, and aside from putting on a very well done awards show, has become the entertainment of choice for rich New York elites, and tourists who saved up all year to see the big money musical extravaganza based on the movie they saw a few years earlier. For the average Joe and Jane they're going to have to shell out a couple of hundred bucks just to get into the cheap seats.

Now movies are different. You don't have to truck around an army of actors and crew and truckloads of props and costumes just to show a movie. Thanks to digital projection you don't even have to ship around big cans of film anymore.

The means of making a movie have never been cheaper either. Digital technology means that you can create professional looking material at amateur prices.

However, that doesn't mean the business is not heading for a meltdown, and that meltdown is being brought on by bad business practices, of which I growl about on a regular basis.

Now three questions from Maurice...
maurice asked...
1) What do you suppose the reason is for the rise of the toxic celebrity gossip/paparazzi culture in the last decade or so? it was always around but it seems to have grown to terrifying and absurd proportions. More specifically, supply arises to meet demand- why is the public eating all this stuff up? Is it related to reality TV? Andy Warhol's casting of pop-cultural icons as religious ones- that celebrity worship fills a hole in people they didn't know they had? What?
The reasons all have to do with money and demographics. It doesn't cost that much to set up a celebrity gossip web-site, TV show, or even a channel. But there is a guaranteed audience for it, chiefly young to middle aged women, who eat it up, and they have loads of the buying power and influence that advertisers love. So the profit margins for this toxic gossip culture are huge, and I don't see it fading away anytime soon.
2) Why doesn't some enterprising soul set up an independent accounting firm for film and TV production and distribution? To place the money outside the crooked accounting of the studios. The contractual arrangemetns of each project/film could be posted in, say, a password-protected spreadsheet that any party to the project could view. Radical transparency. Everyone would benefit (unions/guilds, actors, agents, financing entities, distributors and exhibitors, lawyers, etc.) except the studios. If all the affected parties who get paid insisted upon this, wouldn't the studios have to go along? From a systemic view, wouldn't transparent costing and pricing show the true drivers and drags on film economics and profitability, and allow producers to make better decisions accordingly? You could probably start such a company with a few lawyers and accountants- automating the rest with software. starting with the indie market and moving up the value chain from there. For the record, I think there's an obvious reason why this will never happen, which is likely to coincide with yours.
You could try, but the studios would never consent to it, even if the smaller indies who sign onto it succeed. Studio power lies almost entirely in the opacity of their financial practices. 

Sadly, many indies follow similar practices, and too few are even remotely interested in change.

The great irony is that something similar was done before. From the 1950s to the early 1970s the top studio in Hollywood was United Artists. 
Their business model was simplicity itself, and their accounting was just as simple. That meant that all the top producers, financiers, and stars who were looking for a piece of the profits went to UA first before anyone else.

Naturally, their success made them a target for a takeover, and they were bought out by Transamerica. Transamerica then decided that it should be run more like a traditional studio, because that was just how it has always been done. This drove away most of their partners to other studios, and it was eventually destroyed by Heaven's Gate by 1980.

You see, it's not just the accounting that's the problem, there's an entire culture of fiscal incompetence and greed that needs to be overcome first.

3) Why has digital production (made to be streamed over the Internet) not really taken off? I remember during the last writers strike, a bunch of A-list writers started their own digital production companies- to no obvious result- and there are a few fairly minor successes like College Humor and Funny or Die. But the high-profile ones started by Hollywood names (quarterlife, etc.) never went anywhere. You'd think in the Twitter/Vice/Vine/Smarphone/ADD era we live in, the creative forces-that-be would have stepped up and created memorable and popular content uniquey suited to the new technology. The established entertainment industry has always done this when new formats and technologies emerged in the past. Yet now all we get are cat videos and "the history of dance". Is that it? Can the creative types in greater Hollywood really not move into this space and beat user-generated content? Or are they choosing not to, because of the reluctance to swap analog dollars for digital pennies? You'd think there are enough smart, talented, or funny writers or performers who are penniless who could go this route, so not sure that applies. Guild rules maybe?
Because watching something on television, even streamed via Netflix or Amazon, takes up most of the audience's attention. There's not much else you can do on a television other than watch what you're watching.

However, a web-video is usually watched on a device like a computer, an iPad, or a smart-phone that has a dozen different apps and functions vying for your attention. So most people aren't going to invest more than a few minutes of time, and only a smidgen of brain-power to most web-video content. So the brilliant comedy video will usually get beaten by a cat chasing a laser pointer.

That's not saying that web-shows can't find an audience, it's just really hard to be found among all the other "viral" offerings.

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