Digital Polyphony

film, games, memories & random thoughts


Industry Musings

Posted on May 8, 2013 at 4:30 PM

Industry Musings

In the early years of me writing this blog, I took the time to write about a "Rules" of Hollywood that I learned over the years. I pretty much said all that I wanted to say back then and the whole series stopped after the 12th overwritten piece.

That doesn't mean that I'm still not learning, or that I don't have things I want to share with others. So here's a few extra tidbits I'd like to put out there.

The Bottom Line is the Bottom Line

Great reviews? Won some awards maybe? Has a cult following?

Studios don't care about that. Producers maybe, guys like Harvey Weinstein and Scott Rudin are all over that, but to those guys handling the big movies that get tons of people to the theaters, nothing matters but the dollar amount. All that matters is how much a movie can turn a profit. That's why even movies that end up bad are still shoved out there because they'll still make money. Transformers flicks? You're damn right they'll keep pumping those out. Despite bad reviews they make a ton of money and money is all that matters. I mean, why go out there and be creative and entertain people? For the sake of being creative and entertaining?

Keep in mind, when it's "turning a profit" that isn't just overcoming the budget, it's also the budget PLUS the insane amount of marketing put in to the thing. So when you look at, say, John Carter, which just nudged over its 250 Million budget with 283 Worldwide, it's far worse. Only turning 30 mil out of something that cost 250 mil is bad enough, but that movie was also promoted and marketed extremely heavily, so I'd add in an addition 100 million to that budget at the very least (and I'm probably being extremely kind, worldwide promos is probably closer to 200). So, taking that in to account, it actually lost 70 million out of Studio's pocket.

It's a business. Plain and simple. Why do ridiculous movies get made? Why remakes? Not because they think they'll be good movies, but because they think that it's something marketable and that can overcome the cost of marketing in addition of overcoming the cost to make the thing. Hell, if you remake something that was already popular, that's half the battle already won.

When Someone Wants to Do Something, You'll Know It

People in Hollywood don't get excited most of the time. There's a ton of projects and ideas out there that cross a lot of desks and seen by a lot of eyes. If you have an idea or project floating around and its being seen and viewed by people, you'll know right away if it's something they're interested in and want to get on task with it.

If you don't hear from someone for along while, then they aren't interested.

Patience isn't always a virtue, not in this town...

It's simple when you think about it. If they love it, they'll get back to you. If not, you'll probably wasting everyone's time. That's not to say it's a bad idea, it's just not for them. What you don't want to do is keep pushing it. Calling. Emailing. Getting in touch. It's fine to follow up once, even twice, but if your script or short or inquiry has spent weeks with an agent, or an exec or a producer, and getting ready to be a month, then it's safe to say they aren't in to that project.

That's a good thing, though. Cross them off your list and move on. You shouldn't have to "fight" to get interest, and you probably don't want to deal with someone who's mulling around and not 100% behind it in the first place. Hollywood is full of impatient people, and if there's something they want to do, you'll know pretty quickly.

Which Leads Me To:

Nobody Sets Out to Make a Bad Movie

Yeah, can you believe it?

Nobody sits around and writes a script, people don't get on calls and do meetings and nobody gets up to go to set with the idea of "Sure can't wait to make this awful movie."  Seriously - from the first gestation of the idea, everyone thinks it will be great. And why shouldn't they? People get excited, want to make something creative and make it with the very best intentions.

But something happens along the way, a tide turns, things just don't work out, and somewhere along the way the great intentions start to turn sour and the film is something nobody is excited for anymore. Now it's just a job to get done. It could be on-set relationships, it could be way too many script notes and changes before shooting even begins. It could be that the first cut of the film didn't turn out well and they needed to add in scenes, or even something as simple as "you have this character singing this song in this scene. The scene is hilarious, but we couldn't get the full rights to the song because home distribution rights aren't included and they're asking too much so you have to have him sing something else or cut it entirely." (That's a real story, by the way).

Everyone has the best intentions. Some are more realistic than others - you make a movie with Michael Bay and you know what to expect - but even then it's not with the intention of saying "can't wait to make this awful movie." Even if it's just a cash-grab, at some point that awful movie was a dream and a thought with being great.

Similar But Different

Here's a last quick note, and I'll do my best to try and explain it:

Hollywood Studios want fresh ideas.

But they want something that's familiar.

They want originality.

But not too original that it isn't marketable.

Got all that?

As time goes on, all this is going to start spinning the drain and ending up in the same pool of "sameness." Studios don't like risks, which is why there's so many remakes out there, but they also don't like to rely to heavily on remakes because they want to build new franchises (whether it's original or based off a book/comic, whatever). But even when it's something based on something, it can never be too "fresh." Studios like to feel safe and comfortable, and the more something is like something else, the better they feel about it.

As Steven Soderbergh recently pointed out: there's no turnover for new ideas. They keep going back to the well, getting on with older movies, and if they want to make something new it still, after all that, needs to be familiar and similar enough to something already proven to get made.

Unless a filmmaker, such as a Chris Nolan, just says "This is my next film," then trying to get something through all the levels of studio bureaucratic BS is nearly impossible unless it's similar enough to something that's proven, but different enough to not be exactly like that thing its similar to.

Indie's Not Dead, It's Just the Opposite

It's changed, sure. Independent filmmaking, though, I actually feel has opened up more since so much of what used to require state of the art editing software and cameras can now be financially feasable for a small budget. People say there's not enough independent cinema out there, but when I ask "Ok, what is 'independent cinema'?" They list off a bunch of titles, but seem to be oblivious to movies made after 2000. I guess A History of Violence or Magic Mike is too polished for them.

I call BS. There was a time when trying to find a good, small indie movie was hard. Well, it's still hard from a theater-going stance, but thanks to home video, streaming and VOD, going out there and finding a film, and more importantly a small film getting distribution like that, has helped open up a lot of possibilities for filmmaking as well. Hell, we have more Indie movies and public awareness of those movies nominated for Best Picture these days than during the "height" of Independent moviemaking in the 80s/early 90s.Seriously, Robert Altman, despite everyone loving him now, couldn't get a Best Picture nom during his very prolific 80s/90s time. Were people bitter he couldn't make Popeye work or something?

I think, maybe, it's just one of those "Hipster phrases" that are thrown out there. Like when someone says they liked something before it became "mainstream" because, if you think about it, people just grabbing a camera and making a movie is pretty mainstream these days. That doesn't make them any less independent, though. Yes, the Independent market is shrinking from a financial standpoint, you can't make a movie for less than a million like you used to, but there's still a ton out there.

Or, and I'm just throwing it out there, maybe there's just not an Indie "champion" like there used to be. People like Cassavetes and Altman for example. Maybe too many filmmakers that start independent and never stay there as they move on to bigger movies has made one "champion" impossible. Love him or hate him, Soderbergh is about the only guy out there really being the "face" or "Spokesperson" for Indie movies, probably because when he tried the bigger studio flicks they just turned him off of it and he went back to independent filmmaking (after threatening to quit the business entirely). As great as a Linklater or a Jarmusch are, they're not really spokespeople.

Still, that doesn't mean there isn't a new unique voice every week. I just saw A Place Beyond the Pines, Independent American filmaking at its finest, and if Indie is "dead" then I don't know what "dead" means because that, or Winter's Bone or Beasts of the Southern Wild or Beginners or Bernie or Take This Waltz from the past few years seem pretty alive and kicking in the indie movie scene.

Studios are Aware of Their Problems, They Just Don't Care

So why the Hell aren't they doing anything about it? Believe me, everyone in the industry is fully aware of how screwed up the system is.  They can point it out on a daily basis, write about it on Deadline or give seminars and state of the union addresses ad nauseum…but nobody is really doing anything about it. It's not as though they're oblivious, the Hollywood system loves to point out the problems, hypocrisy and weirdness of the Hollywood system going back decades (some of the best movies in history has been there to point out the flaws of how movies are made).

Why they won't change anything is a combination of being "stuck" in a failing business model, more money spent is assumed meant that more money will be earned, and probably a lot of egos all around that don't want to change, kind of like politicians "stuck" to getting themselves re-elected rather than push through meaningful laws and bills. To go back to Soderbergh, he notes how filmmakers get all the crap if something fails but studio execs don't, which is why they green light stuff that probably shouldn't be receiving studio funds. They got together with those marketing people and sold it to them, not to an audience. There's a difference. Studios  know (or assume they know, I should say) how to make a movie that will sell, filmmakers want to make a movie that is good.

That's not to say Execs don't get flack…but they do it for the wrong reasons. Rich Ross, the chairman of Walt Disney's film unit, resigned after John Carter tanked at the box office. It was a mess of a production and over budget and just a...just a mess. Despite the good he did in the past, after John Carter and the abysmal Mars Needs Moms (along with in-fighting with the Pixar people), he was let go and rightfully so. Those movies were incredibly expensive and both flopped critcially and financially.

So its this weird conundrum. They know they need to make the "big" movies, but "big" movies are the biggest risk. Not in the "it's a bad movie" kind of way, though, but in the "it better make enough money or you're fired" kind of way. There are more bad big movies that make money than good, small movies - and that's the most important thing to them. It's a model they're completely aware is totally broken, but there's nothing they will do to change that. They're not going to out there and say "Let's half the budget for the next big film so it's not overly expensive to make, it'll be easier to turn profit and we can take a few chances on other films down the line." It's too late.

Yet, I Still Don't Know How Some Things Get an "OK"

After working in this industry for a while now, one thing that I've learned is that it's incredibly hard to get something made and out there. Film. TV. Even a book. It's hard to have something and go to people to "sell."

Yet, I haven't quite figured out how some things get an "ok." I'll look at some shows or movies and go "really?" I have to assume that someone owes someone a favor, or maybe they're being blackmailed.

True, there's that whole "nobody sets out to make something bad" but when everyone is telling you "dude…don't" before it's even out, then maybe it's time to pull those reigns. Too bad that by the time they realize that, it's well past the point of no return.

But they won't. Remember: broken system. They've already committed, they've already made the announcement. "It sounded good in the room" they might say, but once it got out there with the Press Release to the trades, everyone groaned. Too late, already said it's happening…so it's going to happen even if we have to shit it out. We're going to force this movie or show upon you and you're going to take it because we're afraid to say "maybe these people are right" because that makes us look inept at our jobs and we can't have that, can we? Didn't you hear what happened to Rich?

I've been in pitch meetings. I've seen a lot of pitches. I can understand that an exec might look at the package and say "Ok" but even then…

,..I guess I execs and people OKing movies are unable to think like a regular person. They can't step outside of themselves and say "I wonder how this will appear to regular people in the world?" They live in a bubble of yes-men and commissions and have no understanding of what people want or need other than what the marketing department puts on their desk.

Maybe it's because nobody knows what the hell they're doing (as this piece out of the Hollywood Reporter notes).

Now, after reading that, is the system broken and unable to change because the newer generations have no idea what they're doing and can't force something new or that the older generation is holding on to that old system? I suppose that's a debate to still be had......with nobody because nobody wants to.

Categories: None

Post a Comment


Oops, you forgot something.


The words you entered did not match the given text. Please try again.

Already a member? Sign In