In my imagination, everyone in the movie business is a David Mamet character. It's probably not true. Logic dictates that somewhere, there must be some poor key grip who's just doing it for the love of the craft and not living off of the blood of innocents sacrificed with a hollow-tipped, bone-handled knife on an altar built from cast off set pieces from Star Trek IV. The rest of them? David Mamet characters, each and every one of them.
This is how I imagine an average transaction happening in Hollywood:
Bob: "Jack! Good to see ya, chief. How's it going? You look good! You feel good? You look good. It's nice to see you lookin' good. Cuz when you look good you feel good, am I right? Ha-haaaaah! Anyway, Jack, listen. I've got this script. It's amazing. It's brilliant. It's gonna change the world and I swear to god that it's gonna make ten million fuckin' dollars. Jack, we are gonna be swimming in cash. It's gonna be like Scrooge fuckin' McDuck. Did I say we? Cuz I mean it, hoss. I want you to produce this picture. Just this morning, Hank down at Paramount asked me about it and you know what I said? I said, 'Fuck you.' That's what I told Hank. I said, 'Fuck you, Hank. I want Jack up at Sony, because that guy--' well.. do I need to extoll your virtues? I do. Jack, I do, because you're beautiful. I said, 'Hank. If that guy produces your film there's no way you can lose. And I'm not a loser.'
Jack: What's it about, Bob?
Bob: You aren't gonna believe this. I read this script, I couldn't believe what I read. Remember back in '99 - the flick I made with the talking babies? Think Home Alone, but a baby, right? This one's different. In this one, you've got lots of babies, and not only do they talk - they're superheroes. Fuckin' superheroes, Jack! Have you ever heard of such a thing? It's gonna kill 'em, Jack. Fuckin' kill 'em!
Jack: Whaddya gonna call it, Bob?
Bob: Shit. Who cares? It'll sell itself! We'll call it Baby Geniuses 2.
Bob: Super-fuckin'-babies! Genius! You probably think I'm a whore.
Jack: You are a whore.
Bob: Fuck you, Jack.
Jack: I'll produce it, Bob.
Honestly. How else could it have been made?
I bring this up because the movie industry is coming off of a particularly harsh year. Moviegoing was down. People just didn't fill the seats. Nobody went to the movies. You might consider blaming the terrorists, but if you watched the Oscars, you'd know the real reason why - because they told you every 35 seconds for the first 2 hours of it.
Piracy! Scourge of the online seas! The internet buccaneers, stealing films from poor, destitute movie stars! Avast, ye scurvy dog! Ye'll give up those reels and heave to or ye'll walk the plank! Harr!
You might have seen, as well, montage after montage of all the movies that you (repeat after me) need to see on the big screen. Plot elements go missing if you don't see them on the big screen! The world gets turned upside down if you don't see them on the big screen! Rivers run backwards! Dogs and cats, living together! Mass hysteria!
I don't even remember what was in their must-see-it-on-the-big-screen montage, but they were things like Casablanca, Jurassic Park, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, probably Star Wars, Star Trek, and lots of other things with spaceships and/or explosions. To which I say - they're right. You really should see those on the big screen. It's part of the experience, and for a great movie it's really, really worth it. What they didn't show was a montage of Gigli, Son of the Mask, You Got Served, Police Academy, and Catwoman.
Hollywood, keep reading, because this is important. It's possible that the reason that moviegoing is down is because 270 million people own iPods, use BitTorrent fanatically and are stealing movies before you can get them onto the big screen, thereby ruining any profit that you might make. But I think that you should consider another an alternate explanation.
Maybe it's possible that nobody in Hollywood has been able to string together 90 minutes of film that's worth forking over ten dollars and watching 25 minutes of commercials for. Do you honestly think that people are that stupid? This isn't Field of Dreams - Hollywood Edition. If you make it, they will not just go. We're talking simple economics, here. People pay for products they want. It's got to be worth watching. The reasons your blockbusters are failing is because they suuuuuuck.
Stop living in your little yes-man fantasyland and go pay $10 to sit in a 3-screen theater with a sticky floor and stale yellow popcorn somewhere in middle America. Watch the car commercials, the Coke commercials, the 16 previews, the 10 year old reel about all the discontinued snacks available at the snack bar; listen to babies scream, have some jackass middle school student pitch wet Skittles into your hair, listen to the boop-boop-boop of the girl in back of you text messaging on her cell phone and see if you'll want to sit around for Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector. Then tell us why your profits are down.
IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
3.22.06 @ 8:15a
I went to see the same number of films this year as I do every year, which is usually somewhere between twelve and six. Never more than an average of once a month. There were enough really good ones to see for me to keep up my average. I have strong feelings about copyright laws and, therefore, don't steal either music or films. I've been called a sucker and naive and all kindsa things for this, but it's just something I can't bring myself to do. I didn't notice that there were any more really bad films this year than there are every year. I didn't notice that there were any fewer good films for which I would shell out the $7.50 matinee ticket price. Sometimes I just can't fit a trip to the mall for a film into my schedule, so I get it from Netflix when it's released on DVD. Because of Netflix I probably see fewer films in theatres than I used to see, but it's the convenience factor, not the quality of the films. I wound up seeing "The Constant Gardener" and "Lord of War" in one afternoon and came away so depressed I could hardly move, and my conspiracy theorist alter ego had to go home and put on the tinfoil hat, but other than that, well, I think piracy really is a big problem for the film industry. I've been a movie fan since at least 1939, and I'll always turn up at the nearest multiplex at least every two months. When I was a kid I used to see an average of two or three movies a week. (We didn't have TV then, doncha know.) Our little small town theatre timed the matinees so we could ride our bikes or ponies right after school let out and get there in time for the feature. Sometimes we misssd the news and the cartoon, but we always got there before the opening credits finished. Those were the days!
3.22.06 @ 10:23a
Well, that's refreshing, anyway. I don't think I've been to the movies more than twice in the past couple of years because there's been nothing that I've really wanted to see. And those that I did want to see only played in art houses and sometimes didn't play near me.
For the most part. Some I just missed.
And don't get me wrong - I'm not advocating piracy. I'm not a fan of it, either. I'd rather people went about things legally, and I'm a huge fan of iTunes because Apple found a way to make what people really wanted (ease of use, instant gratification, and cheap) legal. I'm really disappointed that the movie industry hasn't figured out how to follow suit.
I think that they spend a lot of time trying to lay the blame on piracy, but I just don't think the numbers justify that.
I also think that they spend a lot of money making really, really crappy movies, for the most part.
3.22.06 @ 10:41a
Well, the RIAA does it to, regardless of ITunes. I mean, they are legally authorized to subpoena an ISP and get your name an address from your IP without probable cause. And then you have to prove yourself innocent of copywright violation. They've spent tons of money even though Nielson has proved that downloaders actually by MORE music tha non-downloaders. And they never prove that one whould have payed for what they downloaded if they couldn't have downloaded it.
So Erik is dead on in my book. I don't advocate piracy, but it's an expensive witch-hunt and both industries should look first at their own content as to the cause of whatever trouble they think they're in.
3.22.06 @ 12:37p
"Going to the theatre". It's the new "going to the movies". Free programs with background details on the plot (in case you came in late), the director's vision, the actor's private lives. A big, 3D "screen". Sometimes the performers come out and perform in the aisles. And you even get to meet the actors, after the show. Hell, if you go often enough, they can even get to know *you*.
3.22.06 @ 2:32p
Erik Myers for President!!
Another few reasons for the movie slump:
-not enough originality between television remakes and biopics.
That being said, Capote and Good Night, Good Luck deserve a lot of credit for making a snapshot in time intriguing.
-Enter-fucking-tainment, which some people classify as laughter and pleasant banter. All these depressing pictures of late aren't balanced with good humor or zippy popcorn films. Aside from Wallace and Gromit, the last funny films I saw in the theatre were Hitch (6 out of 10) and the outstanding heat-of-the-summer pic Pirates of the Carribean (40-Year-Old Virgin is sitting at home right now). Would it kill Hollywoodd to appeal to a demo with a sense of humor more refined than, as indicated, Larry the Cable Guy?
3.22.06 @ 3:05p
From IMDb's Studio Briefing today (bold is my emphasis):
Although in-theater advertising is frequently cited as one of the reasons for the fall in movie attendance, such advertising is growing at the rate of 15 percent per year and will continue to do so through 2008, according to a ZenithOptimedia study cited in today's (Wednesday) New York Post.Part of the reason, the newspaper observed, is that advertisers are being forced to compete for a limited amount of on-screen time, typicallly less than 25 minutes, before the start of a movie. Matthew Kearney, CEO of Screenvision, which has deals that include more than 14,000 screens, told the Post that a typical ad deal these days is likely to be worth "north of $10 million."
3.22.06 @ 3:33p
Fuck you! The Police Academy movies are AWESOME!
3.22.06 @ 4:50p
Amen, Erik, but you forgot something else--people may just be tired of 70% of the script of so-called must-see movies being cuss words.
Screen writers presumably are wordsmiths. Shouldn't they be able to demonstrate a vocabulary larger than 10 words? The average person, contrary to popular belief, does use something other than the "famous seven" words to communicate with the world.
3.22.06 @ 5:09p
I don't believe for a second that the quality of movies has anything to do with the number of people who go to the movies. I believe that three things are responsible for lower movie attendance, and all three feed into each other in an obvious way:
* striking increase in ticket price
* shrinking window between theatrical and DVD release
* striking improvement in home theater system quality for cost
Given all this, people are staying home in droves, watching movies in a great, comfortable environment without advertising or cellphones or $27 concessions. And the people who go out aren't headed for a particular flick: they're going to the multiplex and heading into whatever sounds good.
Otherwise, movie quality would be reflected in the bottom line for individual pix, which is clearly not the case when The Pacifier made over $100 million and Fantastic Four made over $150 mil.
3.22.06 @ 5:43p
You're onto something there, Jael. My last experience at the theater left a lot to be desired.
3.23.06 @ 11:35a
Jael, those are good points. However, let's examine 40 Year Old Virgin (which I did watch yesterday). Now, I'll grant that when the writing was good, it was really, really good and very funny. However:
-It was 45 minutes too long, as if someone just couldn't bear to cut away from the "brillance" of Steve Carell, ever, at all.
-Every other word was monsterously obscene, to the point where it just didn't matter anymore to listen to the rest of the dialogue.
-The ensemble, a couple of which have acted together before, seemed to be phoning it in.
But it was considered one of the best comedies of last year. Mainly because it was one of the few comedies last year, and yet the quality was average at best, and quite similar to a string of other movies starring these same actors, e.g Anchorman and Old School. This formulaic approach eventually burns the audience out.
3.23.06 @ 11:58a
FYI, Tracey, the version you watched was probably the uncut DVD, which has all the deleted stuff WITHIN it, so you can't tell what was in the original release and what wasn't. It's an annoying way to release the DVD. It really makes the movie drag. It's like 30 mins extra I think.
I didn't see it in the theater, but I thought it was good, but not hilarious. The funny parts in Wedding Crashers are funnier.
3.23.06 @ 10:23p
Erik Myers for President!!
He's got my vote. His cable a la carte column was 8 weeks ahead of USAToday's.
As a bonus, recently said something along the lines of 'stereotypes are efficient if nothing else'. Guy's on fire right now.
3.23.06 @ 10:40p
Damn. And I started my cable a la carte column like 3 months before I finished it.
I coulda been really cutting edge.