I have been chronicling the negative in our film industry for sometime now—six years. Much of what I have stated in years past remains still in need of getting done. Dig into my past lists and you will have well over 100 things that we could be doing better. You’d think with so much wrong, more people would stand up and say “this has got to change!” Where is the film industry’s national leadership? For the first time I believe we are capable of conceptualizing what an entire systems reboot could be—and one that looks out for ALL the stakeholders. Isn’t it time for a national summit on this?
I have been also chronicling the good too, but today that’s for another day.
By detailing what we have failed to do, done wrong or continue to ignore, we build a road map of how we can improve things for the future. Here’s my contribution to that map for 2014. Let’s build this better together.
1. The ‘Winners Take All’ Blockbuster Model Has Stomped ‘The Long Tail’ Flat. And as much as I hoped people would try to resist and not just dream of a world where diversity, quality and ambition cause the worthy to surface, it doesn’t seem to be so. The louder you yell, the more you win. Culture becomes what has the most marketing money behind it, and the underground gets buried in the grave, never able to get enough of a footing to rise in opposition. The outsiders grow so discouraged, the next gen that might have been inspired to build upon their work never sees or hears it. Corporate culture becomes the monolith. Much has been written about this, in books, newspapers and elsewhere—and still few do little to offer an alternative. Sigh…
2. It Was the Worst Summer Theatrical Attendance in Over Seventeen Years—and that still Probably Won’t Change Anything. Box office dropped by fifteen percent. Although there are many reasons for the poor performance, there is no ignoring that very little feels fresh or original any more. As the New York Times reported: Studios released twelve sequels this summer and only three performed better than the prior installment. The revenue leaders came from familiar brands or genres. Even if the box office champ was the most original movie of the summer, will that change anything?
3. ‘Movies are not a growth business’—at least so proclaimed Dreamworks Animation Chief Jeffrey Katzenberg this April at the Milken Institute’s Global Conference. Perhaps that is why he’s been shopping his company to Softbank and Hasbro. . . . As much as we appreciate it when the chieftains speak the truth, one can’t but suspect such blunt realities stem the tide of capital into the sector, too.
4. Indie Film’s Foreign Sales Pre-Sales Model Is on the Verge of Collapse—for most Titles. Schuyler Moore says Netflix is to blame: “a worldwide VOD reach will rip the heart out of these sales, because it will destroy the value of DVD and pay TV rights to the local distributors. The net result will be that independent films will be financed by pre-sales to Netflix, not the local distributors.” Will we focus on finding a solution?
5. The Traditional Broadcast Television Model Is Beginning to Die. The audience is disappearing—and it won’t be coming back. A big ratings drop happened this summer. Bernstein Research’s Todd Juenger pointed out that TV viewing dropped thirteen minutes a day over the last year, and viewers are making up for it by spending twelve minutes more a day on Netflix. Obviously people want commercial free viewing on demand, and they are paying for it. Advertisers won’t pay the same rate to reach less people. How will traditional broadcast survive? Juenger recommends they stop selling their shows to Netflix. Hmmm…
6. Further Media Consolidation Feels Inevitable. “In 1983, 50 companies owned 90 percent of the media consumed by Americans. By 2012, just six companies—including Fox (then part of News Corporation) and Time Warner—controlled that 90 percent, according to testimony before the House Judiciary Committee examining Comcast’s acquisition of NBCUniversal.” (NY Times 07.25.14) To me, it would seem obvious that when it comes to media companies, a different standard of anti-trust must be applied, as we deal with the traffic of ideas, opinion and truth. The fact that first a merger between Comcast and Time Warner could even considered, let alone late Fox and Time Warner, indicates how far wrong we have gone. What are our values? Does business trump democracy as a matter of course now? Can a line even be drawn? The Cable Industry is one of virtual monopolies and the movement towards further mergers gives them incredible leverage over the creative community. To bring the studios down from six to five, and the networks from five to four seems absurd. At least the NY Times opposes the consolidation. But the general lack of resistance does feel like we’ve entered the world of (he hit me and) “It felt like a kiss” where we’ve come to want the ritualized abuse that such mega-mergers bring us.
7. Hollywood Is More Committed to Producing ‘More of the Same’ than Ever—Despite Terrible Box Office Performance of Such Crap this Year. In his great article on “Hollywood’s Horrid Summer,” Mark Harris points out that the suits have doubled-down on a formula of sequels, reboots and retreads for years to come. Warner Bros. has dated over nine new DC comic adaptions. Avatar 4 is already dated. Doesn’t that make you soooo excited? Essentially, as Kenneth Turan pointed out, Hollywood is a “hedgehog,” good now at only one thing (making tentpoles), and no longer a “fox,” fluid and adept at many things. We have reached a point where we should accept the death of the Hollywood film for adults. Hollywood is a one-horse town.
8. Hollywood’s Business Is International. Eight of the top ten movies of the summer earned more than sixty percent of their revenue abroad. Whereas we might want to applaud that The Studios have found another way to continue to prosper, what may be good for the business is terrible for the art. When we look for depending on everybody to make films profitable, it requires we make films that appeal to everyone. As long as this foreign focus represents the core of the Hollywood business, Hollywood won’t be returning to making movies for adults anytime soon. Just a lot of films with limited dialogue and swell stuff to look at. The Studio business thus can no longer even be titles, it has to be franchises (as Brad Grey said here), which also further emphasizes the aforementioned point that the public gets virtually nothing but endless variations on a theme from the story worlds that caped crusaders and horrific avengers are dedicated to. On top of that, this international focus makes the entire studio side of the business susceptible to injury via national film quotas (Russia?) and world economic downturn. What happens if Jonathan Wolf, the American Film Market’s managing director, is right and there has been “a global shift away from U. S. product over the last 25 years” and it continues on?
9. The Majority of U.S. Citizens Prefer to Watch Movies at Home. A Harris poll at the end of 2013 showed the scales had tipped. Two thirds of Americans went less to the theaters in 2013 than previously. Obnoxious patrons and high priced concessions seemingly scared them away. Even all the fantastic innovations can’t lure them in. Movies, as a glorious projected and shared experience, grow less and less consequential or needed. It’s not just that audiences are going to “wait for video,” or that they prefer convenience over commonality or community, it is that: People… Don’t… Feel… The… Need… To… Go… To… Movies… Anymore! I guess it is a good time to be in the SVOD & OTT business though!
10. It Is Commonly Acknowledged that a Career of Making Ambitious, Original, Countercultural Films Is Now Impossible (and a Thing of the Past). I was thrilled to read in the NY Times’ interview with John Waters on the occasion of his Film Society of Lincoln Center career retrospective that he was reading my book. But as soon as the buzz of him mentioning it left, what he said hit hard: he would not be able to do what he did if he had to do it today. His work inspired me to dare to try to make movies because he demonstrated that one could say or do anything. Aren’t you afraid that we will reach a point where artists won’t be able to develop a body of work, growing along the way? Aren’t you concerned that there won’t be voices of dissent? Don’t you suspect that The New may get really boring, making our young boring in the process? Well, I guess we can be thankful that there is so much to gain from the past. And at least for me, it makes me want to help the new rising artists even more than ever before, because, damn, they sure need our help.
Read Ted Hope’s Ten Really Good Things in Film Biz list on Film Comment today. And stay tuned as tomorrow we will run ten (additional) good things on Keyframe and Ted’s ten (additional) bad things in Filmmaker magazine. The FULL top twenty-or-more lists can be found on HopeForFilm.