Friday, December 30, 2005

Oversimplifying Hollywood

You see it all over the internet and industry publications. An increasing number of commentators (columnists) are stating boldly that Hollywood is in trouble and without significant changes, the industry will spiral into the depths of bankruptcy and eventually burn itself out. Others spout statistics to prove that there is no box office slump at all.

Naturally, each commentator knows the root of the perceived problem. These roots span every possibility from bad movies, lousy scripts, and cheesy remakes to noisy theatre patrons, DVD sales, poorly run multiplexes, political conspiracies and alien invasions. So, what are those of us outside the golden gates supposed to think?

Well, I don't want to trivialize what may or may not be critical issues, but was any one of these commentators looking over the accountant's shoulder when Disney recorded $313 million in losses? Hiding behind the curtains when Harvey and Bob Weinstein said their goodbyes at Miramax? Doing the laundry when Dreamworks threw in the towel?

Hollywood is made up of people. The film "industry" is made up of people. People run the studios. People write the scripts. People direct the films. People keep the books. People scrape the gum out from under the theatre seats.

The economics that affect filmmaking are volatile, variable and complex and the direction of an organization is as individual and subjective as the politics, personalities, policies, and prerogatives of the people holding the reins.

If it rains in Seattle, do people in Kalamazoo, Michigan get wet? Only if it's raining there too and only if the people aren't indoors or wearing raincoats or riding in their cars or holding umbrellas or standing under an awning or camping in a tent or riding on a subway (does Kalamazoo have subways?) or crossing through a skywalk ...the variables go on and on and on. So what's the answer? Depends on where you're standing.

The same thing works in the film industry or any industry. Variables affect organizations differently. A badly timed release date and an economic nightmare in New Orleans might not leave a bruise on some organizations while breaking the bones of others. Sure, some factors are universal, but the impact is not.

The direction of Hollywood can't accurately be summed up in a single magazine column any more than the solvency of a company can be summed up in a single financial statement. And yet, we continue to talk about Hollywood. Why? Because we must! It's Hollywood! But in the words of William Goldman's Psychology of the Deal, "Repeat after me. 'Nobody knows anything'."


chris soth said...

Yes, nobody knows anything. Esp. Me...

DVD sales, yes, a bigger slice of the pie now. just don't watch movies like we did growing up, and the ones they do watch -- they might pirate.

But there will always be story.

Love the bit about technique on the masthead, there IS technique for everything...I believe it and I seek it.

But how do reconcile that w/noboby knows anything?



Anonymous said...

Hollywood's demographics always state they are going after the youth audience, but the youths are playing video games now not going to see films unless they are slasher horror or starring one of the WB/UPN clan or Ben Stiller...but I think it's just bad films. We can only be hit over the head so many times to blow $8-10 (and that's just the matinee) on a crap movie when we can wait 4 months and rent the same crap movie for $2 and get dvd extras

The Great Swifty said...

Yeah, like I said, with so many different alternatives around for someone to watch a movie (DVDs and *cough* downloading), people just don't find the need to flock into the cinemas all the time unless the film's an established franchise they've been waiting for for quite a while (SW3, HP4, Batman Begins), or that it got some good word-of-mouth, or reviews online (Wedding Crashers, 40-Year-Old Virgin etc. seems that high-ranking films in Rottentomatoes generally do well in the box-office on 2005). People are more adverse to bad films nowadays. Haha!

On an unrelated note, I recently went to see Zhang Yimou's latest flick, 'Riding Alone For Thousands of Miles' during my vacation in Shanghai, ticket price was 60 renminbi! After seeing it, I wish I had bought the pirated dvd instead that were being sold at the streets for 6 renminbi...

Anonymous said...

One of my fave fiction characters is en route to the silver screen..Bran Mak Morn.

Unless they do their homework AND stay true to the original, this could prove a major disaster in the making. ;(

Neil said...

Haven't they been talking about the death of Hollywood since the introduction of sound?

MaryAn Batchellor said...

Since the introduction of sound, then television, then Beta videos, and then DVD's. It's almost like an urban legend that updates itself every time technology takes a leap.

I don't recall this much doom and gloom before but then, maybe I'm just too young!