Digital Polyphony

film, games, memories & random thoughts


Hollywood Won't Learn Because it Can't

Posted on May 31, 2012 at 1:30 AM

Hollywood Won't Learn Because it Can't


It was a movie that nobody asked for, everybody said was a dumb idea from the start, now released to bad reviews and bad box office…yet Hollywood won't learn a thing the sinking of Battleship, though comedians now have a million puns with the words "sinking" now. The studios will continue to go back to the well of ideas that is "everything that is already thought of that isn't a movie yet we need to make into a movie." Yes, even board games. At that point, I think any of us will take a remake of some television show into a feature.


Judging by the box office return of only 25 million of a budget that was over 200 million, it's safe to say others are in agreement. For once, it felt as though there was a collective "no" on behalf of the moviegoing audience. This business model is tired, boring and most of all annoying. Audiences seem to be sick of it, and by the box office and critical failure that was Battleship, it would be nice to assume studios in the Hollywood System would take notice. Here's this movie with a massive budget. To the studio's marketing and research department, the real runners of the movie industry, this was a shoe-in. It wasn't.


But what's going to change? Nothing. Battleship was panned even before it came out, but its lack of box office and critical success won't deter the studios from continuing their trend. Why? Because, on paper, Battleship looked like something they could "sell." To the studio that bought the rights and put the film together, it all looked good."Battleship" was something we were subconsciously aware of even if you didn't play the game as a child. It was a part of our cultural ether -things we are aware and familiar with but never really had direct experience with - the same way people will know familiar quotes and lines from movies and authors without having seen or read them or how someone is absolutely sure chicken soup will make them feel better even though they were probably never told directly by anyone that it does. It's simply awareness, and out of all the board games, "Battleship" was something we were aware of. It worked for Clue, right?




No, actually Clue did pretty poorly critically and financially as well...but I'm getting off topic.


Battleship was already something we were aware of even though it was something we barely even thought about. It's something someone says "yeah, I think I remember playing that as a kid," the studios buying that then re-selling it back to us as adults. Guess what, it's not the only thing they're looking at re-selling us. The , studios have a laundry list of things just like it and all they have to do is have something that kind-sorta resembles it and ride that recognizable name to the bank (in theory). Keep in mind, they didn't think of "how" it could be done, only that all those data and number crunchers saw that"Battleship" was something we were familiar with and that built-in audience would go and see it, right?




No. They just bought the rights, slapped some things together and said "here money, go make" like saying a "Hulk,smash" as though that will get it done. Then it's on to the next because, in the end, that's their entire business model. No matter how much Battleship might have failed, the studio is still trapped in a business model they can't escape from.


It's not that one doing poorly is going to make them throw all that out. Or even scrutinize it. It's that it won't even cross their mind. Instead,they'll just point some fingers to blame someone (such as what Disney did with John Carter) when they really should be looking at their entire business model in the first place. It's because that list of things that are easy to market and "sell" (name recognition being the biggest), and the way the marketing departments and execs think and approach it, is the cause of there being a failed film in the first place. It's not the players, it's the game. I would put in some pun about this game sinking as well, but I don't want to lose my train of thoughts.


Studios want something familiar and easy to get people to pay money for. A list of retooling board games, comic books, novels and remaking older films is the easiest means to that end. Yet it's not even the fact that it was something based on a board game. It's how it presented itself:cheap. As I said, it felt slapped together piece of celluloid with a noisy soundtrack and a lot of money thrown at it. There's no care or diligence put in it. It's because it fits right into that model, which is a model of short-sightedness and supposed "easy money." Believe it or not,studios, people want quality. A board game isn't quality. Sure It might give you an influx of money quickly if you're lucky, but when you start scraping the barrel you show nothing but desperation and Battleship felt desperate the moment it was announced in the trades.


Want an example of foresight and long-term planning with pre-existing material? Look at how Marvel, now associated with Disney, has handled its franchises. Early on, they just sold them where they could. They were short-sighted, needed money, acted quick. Then Kevin Feige came on to head the company, and it all changed. That was a man who understood that selling off titles to other studios and not having creative control was going to be a disaster eventually – both long-term financially and in terms of quality. He turned it around, and now years later it has paid off with one of the most successful films in history with The Avengers. That, folks, is taking an established idea and understanding what to do with it and throwing that old,tired and desperate business model out the window. The people behind the likes of Battleship or The Sorcerer's Apprentice or Doom or countless others where they simply said "hey, I remember that, let's do it" are on a different, lower, wavelength of understanding how to make this business work for you rather than against you.



Not only did Feige think outside the box of a business model, but who to bring on board to handle what ended up one of the biggest films ever with Joss Whedon, who only directed one feature before The Avengers.


In Feige's camp, it's not just saying "Ah, yeah, that was cool, let's get someone to make a movie about it." It's a discussion,a conversation, and outline and a long-term plan not only to make a movie, but to make a good movie and to utilize a business model that it seems nobody else has figured out yet (ahem...such as Warner Brothers who still have no clue what do with the DC properties).


What the studio system is lacking isn't willing film makers or talent, those people want to make good movies, it's the people with the will to look beyond just making a buck that control what gets greenlit and what doesn't. Every once in a while they'll take a risk, such as giving Marvel the go-ahead with The Avengers or putting Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim on the fast-track, but for every one of those, you have a hell of a lot of cheap junk that nobody is even going to remember or care about and, as Battleship shows,probably not even bother with once it's released.



Feige and Marvel are the exception that prove that rule.Studios will really only give someone the go-ahead to do something original rather than on pre-existing if they still feel it would be something marketable. Tie-ins, toys, comics, games…all these things pass by the minds ofthe marketing department and studio execs besides simply making the movie itself. Case in point, the previously mentioned Guillermo del Toro Pacific Rim film versus the cancelled Guillermo del Toro At the Mountains of Madness film.


We can keep score easily. Pacific Rim is a PG-13 big budget film with giant robots and monsters. At the Mountains of Madness was going to be an R-rated period film based on the horror novel by HP Lovecraft. Which one do you see getting that oh-so important teen audience AND able to sell products and toys?


It’s obvious to us, but it’s REALLY obvious to a studio and determines what gets the greenlight and what dies a slow death or ends up in“development hell.”


It's not about making good movies, it's about the best thing they can tell you to go out and see.


Battleship is just an all-encompassing example of everything wrong with Hollywood these days. Under the surface (man, it’s hard to avoid the water-based jokes here) it’s even far, far worse because that all-encompassing example was part of a system that will never change. Studios are trying their best to hold on to something, but they don’t even know what that something is.If there’s even a slight chance it will make money, they’ll latch on to it. But if it’s something original and interesting or something with thought put behind it, they grimace at the thought of putting time and effort to deliver it to an audience that is growing more and more apathetic to their usual schlock.

At this point, does anyone actually believe that the higher-ups in Hollywood have any clue what they're doing? Their priority has always been to make money, but it's never been this obvious to where the films they're dishing out. I work in the industry, and I have to tell you that trying to approach anyone with anything that isn't already a name is nearly impossible. This results in a trickle-down effect where even the smallest production companies put something "marketable" first because they can take that quality and get a studio or bigger company excited about it. Sure, there might be some awesome original spec-script on my desk right now...but I know I probably can't do anything with it. The harsh reality of trying to get a movie made is never going to be brought up in a film class or a film school. It's glossed over at best, but most people still believe people want to make "good" movies at heart.

Deep down, they probably do. But the way the business is, they simple can't.

Hollywood can only fix itself. Yes, there's financial trouble and movies are costing way, way too much these days...but if they're costing so much then it's time to re-tool the business model as well. It's more than just name-recognition at this point, it's about how to handle it from the ground up. It's about running on creativity, not desperation...but Hollywood's deserpation, from the seeking to make money to execs and producers desperatly striving to just hold on to their jobs. This has no sign of letting up. Not after a solid decade of wallowing in mediocrity and failing to realize you're wallowing in the first place.


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