Digital Polyphony

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Running and Ruining Hollywood

Posted on March 10, 2011 at 1:23 AM

Running and Ruining Hollywood

If you want to know who runs Hollywood, look no further than reading this Q and A from Guillermo Del Toro.

Then follow that up with a rather brilliant article by Mark Harris from GQ.

Now note the point of both: marketing is now the creative outlet at major studios. Not concepts, ideas or passion, but how to sell and make money. That is what creative energy is being focused on - not the various ways to entertain with a film but the various ways to put that film into the minds of the people and make more money.

Now take a drink. You might need it.

People wonder why Hollywood has become a punchline full of remakes, sequels and adaptations of things you can sell a fifteen year old. I see videos and blogs complaining about the state of movies and they're right (mostly) in that the business is, now, more business than it has ever been as it dishes out sub-par movies that are often sequels, remakes or adaptations of popular things like toys and comic books. It's never been golden, that business side of things has always been there, but it's never been full of tin cans either like it has been the past ten years or so. Creativity and quality has stalled because movie studios are too busy worrying about profits and gains rather than making good films.

At the Mountains of Madness is a project that Guillermo del Toro has, sorry...had, been trying to get off the ground for years. It’s gone through various scripts and so on, but most changes minor (save for the last version, but it still retains the basic plot and story, just adds one major thing) along with financial meetings and Universal sitting by waiting to see if The Hobbit project was going to go through with del Toro at the helm. When they finalized the latest script about two months ago, they had something pretty damn special, del Toro as director, James Cameron as producer, 3D which the studios love these days and stars vying to be in it (mainly Tom Cruise who would have suited this rather ensemble-like story pretty well).

Ah, but then comes in the accountants and marketers who then say “Sure, you met our budget requirements and have all these great things with a great script...but it’s rated R.” This is the problem with the studios today. If they feel they can’t market a film, it won’t get made. Period. do you say "go fuck yourselves" in Spanish?

Here you have a couple of issues I wanted to touch on:

One: The MPAA has been so out of date and out of touch for so long, their control on what a rating gets is questionable at best. I’ve seen R rated movies that aren’t needing an R rating and plenty of PG-13 movies that push the limits of that rating respectively. Most recently they came under fire with the pathetic rating of NC-17 for a rather tame Blue Valentine. Studios shouldn’t be so focused on them in the first place considering they’re questionable to begin with.

Two: A director like del Toro has a lot of creative control...but he still has to get the greenlight to run with. That greenlight isn’t determined by producers or studio executives but the marketing department who sit and debate how to market a film. A movie like At the Mountains of Madness is, on paper, something that markets itself. Del Toro. Cruise. Cameron. Those are names. Throw in an amazing poster and commercials and you have something that’s out there.

Then you have the R rating come into play. Well...that nixes that, doesn’t it? The studio doesn’t want to spend 150 million for an R rated picture that probably won’t have a worldwide, international appeal (where they make most of their money, mind you). A PG-13 rated one is far more feasable, hence why Pacific Rim, del Toro’s contingency plan, is on the fast track. The marketers on that one are popping champagne corks as we speak. “We did it!” they’re probably saying.

Yes....yes you did.

It’s an interesting dynamic to see the massive change in studios. The same profit-margin marketers were around in the 80s and 90s but hard R rated, popular movies still got greenlit such as Robocop, Terminator 2, The Rock and Die Hard (and sequels). That’s merely action, throw in horror and the list is dozens of titles long. Even in that genre we see the marginalization into PG-13; headlines of surprise and shock noting that Scream 4 is rated R shouldn’t be a headline, much less surprising and shocking. Today’s movie world says other wise.

Studios are scared. They’re scared to go under and risk losing money. They might greenlight a risky movie like Scott Pilgrim once in a while, but look what happened there. It flopped and hasn’t regained net profit yet. Sure, the movie is amazing...but studios don’t care about that. They care about the dollar. They always have, but now they’re caring even more to where they won’t greenlight a thing if a dime is risked being lost. We lose out on creativity and, more importantly, originality. Why are there so many sequels, remakes and comic book/toy movies? Because those are “names.”  Yes, folks, the name of GI Joe with a PG 13 rating is a better “name” than del Toro, Lovecraft, Cameron and Cruise combined.

Sell us our childhood, that’s how to make a buck and most are suckers and will buy it up. The studios are only half to blame here, the rest is the moviegoing populace that sees bad movies. I bring up Scott Pilgrim again. There you have a relatively, seemingly, low-risk flick base on a popular indie comic book, a relatively popular director and a very popular star and rated PG 13. Yet, it flopped. Look next door and Vampires Suck with no-names abound is raking in millions because of the Twilight craze and Transformers can’t get enough screens to accommodate all the people that flock to see it because they cried with Prime died in the animated movie from the 80s.

Of course, there are the occasional exceptions, Inception or Avatar, where you have something completely original and new and fresh and not based on something before it and gets greenlit because of a PG 13. In contrast you have the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, based on a few minutes of a previous Disney movie and marketed to death that, though not flopped, certainly under-performed. So yes...exception...but rare.

 Passion projects like Inception getting a studio greenlight are rare, but having a PG 13 rating helps, that's for sure...also making millions for your productions companies/studios on previous franchise movies helps too.

I tried giving the studios the benefit of the doubt here. I really did. I looked at, say, Tron Legacy which was a huge gamble, Scott Pilgrim another one and noting smaller projects like The Social Network or Black Swan. But now...I just don't think they have any idea what they're doing at all. They're in the same boat as us only they have a sail and aren't sure how to raise it.  At this point, I don't know if I even care that much and perhaps the Hollywood Studios are just a lost cause.  They're a business, sure, but it used to be a business with balance.

In the end, there’s a lot of great movies that don’t get made and there are still some studio sub divisions still holding on to the idea of creativity first (such as Fox Searchlight) that at least get smaller pictures made. But for the larger ones, you won't be selling them on some stupid story of a boy and his robots (Star Wars) or some mechanical policeman (Robocop) - especially the latter, that's R-rated (I know this because they're shooting for a PG-13 rating for the remake). It’s not that people are out of ideas, folks. The talent is certainly there. It’s that, for a lot of these ideas where independent financing is probably out of the question, those ideas get squashed because money has one thing ideas don’t: tangibility.

Now I ask you, without looking it up, how much did the Godfather make on opening weekend?

Ok, fair enough. That was before all this summer movie/blockbuster/profit margin bullshit. Here’s another:

What did Terminator 2 make?

You don’t know, do you?  

You know what else? I bet you don’t care, either.






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