Thursday, 28 June 2012

The Book Report: Amazon Might Raise The Dead...

Amazon, the mega sized book e-tailer and burgeoning publisher, is reported to be making a bid for Dorchester Publishing.

Founded in 1971 Dorchester was one of the biggest independent publishers of mass market paperbacks through their imprints Love Spell, which specialized in romance novels, and Leisure Books which was the last major publisher to specialize in horror novels as of 2000, and acted as the distributor of the Hard Case Crime series of pulp-revival paperbacks.

Now a few years ago saw a dip in the sales of mass market paperbacks, and the company immediately started to collapse in on itself. It announced that it was shifting its focus to e-books and print on demand publishing, lost Hard Case Crime to rival Titan Books, and stopped paying royalties to their authors, while collecting revenues on e-book editions of books that they didn't have the rights to.

Then the company's owner decided to foreclose on Dorchester Publishing over several million dollars that had been loaned to the publisher by its parent company.  Soon after that they started sniffing around looking for a buyer willing to sort out the dog's breakfast the once venerable company had become.

So far, no dice until Amazon expressed interest.

It is in Amazon's best interest to save Dorchester and sort out the boondoggle with the writers who are currently fighting it over rights to their books, that go beyond profit and loss.

Right now Amazon is the biggest dog in the book business. The bulk of books being sold these days are sold via Amazon. While the e-book has gone from a pipe dream to a major part of the industry in a very short period of time, there is still a large market for hardcover and paperback books, and to survive the industry needs a steady supply of new material.

To do that they can't allow a once major publisher to die, especially in the middle of a feud over rights with dozens of authors. If the company goes officially bankrupt, the battle over those rights becomes even more convoluted and harder to sort out, putting authors and their work in a state of limbo. Publishers can't buy books that are being published by someone else, legally or illegally, because that means they have to share with someone who doesn't bother paying royalties.

The industry can't afford for that to happen, and what hurts the industry hurts Amazon.

Now Dorchester's problems could add up to costing millions of dollars to sort out. Amazon though has literally billions in their war chest, and are one of the few entities in the industry with pockets deep enough to fix this in a way that can please the ex-Dorchester authors and their fans, while keeping the uncertainty and chaos from having a ripple effect that affects the whole industry.

Actually, the story reminds me of a banking crisis that struck America in the 1900s. JP Morgan saw that the collapse of a chain of unstable banks would hurt the whole financial sector. So he rounded up all the biggest names in Wall Street, and literally overnight they set out a plan where they took over the debts, protected the depositors and squelched a panic before it happened.

Fixing this mess could cost Amazon a lot of money, but not fixing it could cost Amazon more.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #924: You Asked For It!

I got two questions from reader Nate Winchester that I'm going to answer here.
1) With the upcoming release of Spider-man, and the announcement that Batman will be rebooted right after Nolan's 3rd movie ends, I can't help but wonder why don't Superhero movies  do more of the James Bond route? (well, until Casino Royale, but was that even a true "origin" story?) True, if it's a more obscure hero or if it's leading to a grander epic (like Avengers), why do we have to have "origin" movies all the time? Spiderman, Batman, Superman, Hulk, Captain America, most of these the public zeitgeist get the basics of.  Why not just skip straight to a new story?
First we need to talk about reboots.


Sometimes a reboot is necessary.  There's been a long time between chapters in the franchise that the zeitgeist needs a refresher, or there's some sort of dramatic change in the fundamental nature of the franchise itself.


The Bond franchise's "reboot" with Casino Royale marked a shift to the characters literary roots with darker grittier stories and more believable gadgetry after the incredibly cartoonish turn the films took with the last Pierce Brosnan film.


I get the feeling that the people behind The Amazing Spider-Man feel a reboot is necessary to correct what were the strategic errors made in the Sam Raimi trilogy.  First, Tobey Maguire was too old to play Peter Parker, being about 10 years older than the character he was playing. Also, by dropping Gwen Stacy from the first film and bringing in Mary Jane right away, they lost the motivation for his reticence in starting a relationship with MJ in the second movie.


I try not to talk about the third movie, because it was a complete narrative boondoggle which probably increased their urge to do it again with a clean slate.

Nolan's "reboot" of Batman's origins were necessary because his trilogy was so radically different in style, tone, and method from the Burton/Schumacher movies that came before them. In fact, divorcing themselves as far from the disco-nipple-suited Schumacher movies as they could was essential to reviving the franchise.

Of course such rational thinking may not have anything to do with the studio's decisions. They might think that tweaking the origin story opens doors to more potential merchandise or they think that the audience's collective attention span is as short as their own.


Now when it comes to "James Bonding" superheroes by just changing the actor when the contracts run out, that's good if you have the character and their origins firmly established in the zeitgeist. Batman, Superman and Spider-Man could potentially be adapted from scratch without telling their origins, because everyone pretty much have those stories already burned into their brains.


Characters like Marvel's Iron Man needed a little more explanation because of their then status on Marvel's "B-List," but when Robert Downey Jr.'s time as the character is up, you don't really need to tell it again. You can just bring in another actor if you can find one who can match Downey's performance.


So I guess what I'm trying to say in my incredibly rambling way is that the James Bonding of superhero characters can be done as long as they're not trying to correct the errors of the previous movies. If there's no disaster to get away from, then why bother, just change the cast and crew.
2) I hear often the old stories about how the original studio system was "broken" to give rise to our current set up in Hollywood.  Which you point out is very dysfuncitonal.  So I'm curious what you think it would take to "break" the current Hollywood system and allow something more sensible to arise, and a rough estimate on when (if ever) it would happen?
To answer that question we must look back at what broke the studios back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and that was the simple fact that they were broke.

20th Century Fox had to sell off huge chunks of its back-lot to avoid bankruptcy. Gulf+Western owned Paramount at the time, but was seriously considering shuttering the studio and selling off its assets because it was a financial black hole. In fact the only studios that were anywhere near being financially healthy at the time were United Artists (because of its low overhead) and Universal, (because it dominated television production).


Right now, though dysfunctional, and losing audiences for theatrical there are things that are keeping the studios from engaging in the radical reforms they need.


1. The studios are just parts of very large multinational media corporations with sizable monetary cushions that protect them from the vicissitudes of the real world.


2. They are mostly making money hand over fist from their television channels and productions.


3. The occasional record breaking blockbuster convinces them that they're on the right track, even when everything else they do fail.


4. Any independent company rises to challenge them can be either bought up, or brought down by the studios without too much trouble.


New media, via the internet, may become a challenger one day, but even they will face consumption by the awesome Borg-like power of the big media companies.


Any more questions?

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #923: Lawsuit Follies

If there is one thing independent film production is good for is attracting lawsuits. The latest legal lunacy is centered on the 2009 movie Transylmania (AKA Dorm Daze III). 

Financier Third Eye Capital are suing the film's makers for failing to repay the $22 million they invested in the movie, and for using money from the movie's budget for personal expenses. 

The lawsuit also says that the film was branded as a spoof of Twilight and True Blood when it was really just a low-brow farce about 30-something actors playing stoner college guys running around chasing 30-something actresses, who look like strippers, playing co-eds while both are being chased by vampires. Reports say that the film was, in fact, a sequel to the straight to video "comedies" Dorm Daze I & Dorm Daze II that I had never even heard of before I started digging around about his movie.

Now I have to ask some questions.

About the movie as an investment:

What made the financiers think that sinking money into the production and 1,000+ screen release of a movie called Transylmania or Dorm Daze III was a good investment?

About the lawsuit saying the filmmakers bogusly branded the movie as a parody of Twilight and True Blood when it wasn't: 

Didn't the investors read the script of the movie they were putting $22 million into and know what it was?

If they did, how radically different was the script they read from the final shooting script? Was it radical enough to qualify as a deceptive practice, or just run of the mill production rewrites?

Then the release of the movie...

It's predecessors were straight to video movies that came and went without much notice among people who don't watch movies while high. So why release this film in over 1,000 theaters, which is an expensive proposition? (And lets not forget that it was made in 2008 and released in early December 2009, a time dominated by the annual Oscar fodder and the exponentially building hype for the then upcoming release of Avatar.)

Now the answer to most of these question is probably that they were trying to rip off cash in on the modest popularity of the Scary Movie franchise, its assorted spin offs and imitators.

Which brings me back to the question I asked about the branding of the movie. You sell a movie as a spoof, which has a following, but deliver a frat-boy T&A farce, which don't have a following outside the DVD discount bin, you are going to get bad word of mouth from your target audience to go with the traditional bad reviews from critics.

How could that possibly be good for anyone involved?

So from what I can gather this movie looked like one big ill conceived disaster from just about every angle, and probably should have been avoided right from the beginning.

I guess the lesson is that nothing makes someone a millionaire faster than being a billionaire investing in movies, and that you shouldn't put in a dime unless you know everything about what you're getting into, including where every last penny is going to be spent.

Hey, Third Eye Capital, give me $22 million. I can't guarantee you a hit, but I can promise that it would have a lot better chance at success than Transylmania.

Monday, 25 June 2012

The Book Report: Thoughts On The Book Biz

If you want to find a business that is sometimes even more dysfunctional than Hollywood you need not look any further than publishing. A classic story about how the book business is run involves Stephen King going to meet his editor in New York. 
 
At the time King had exploded onto pop culture and was the #1 selling author in the world, literally moving millions of units in both hardcover and paperback, and was literally at least half of his publisher's profit margin. However, when he got to the publisher's office, literally no one outside of his editor had a clue who he was.

That's the equivalent of the people running Universal not knowing the identity of Stephen Spielberg while E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial ran rampant at the box office.

It happened because King, while commercially successful, was not a "darling" of the narrowly confined New York literary/critical social circle, and was to the people running the company at that time, just a name on a financial ledger that they didn't pay any attention to. King moved onto another publisher as soon as he could, and the publisher that ignored him suddenly had to pay attention to a massive dip in their ledgers.

Now that you know how the industry treated the biggest selling author in the world at the time, you can imagine how they treat new authors. From my own experience in dealing with agents and publishers I've dealt with a few egregiously unprofessional people who treat new authors with mind-boggling contempt, while the majority try to do their best, they are more often than not shackled by things beyond their control.

Now while the contemptuous unprofessional people are a taint on the industry, I can understand why the majority of agents and publishers are wary of signing new authors. 
 
New writers are extremely risky. 
 
The majority of the manuscripts that agents represent are rejected by publishers, and that means that their time, effort, and even money, is wasted with nothing to show for it.

And for publishers, they have author advances, editorial, marketing, printing, distribution costs, and general company overhead to deal with. For every J.K. Rowling that become global phenomena that sell in the tens of millions there are hundreds, if not thousands of titles whose greatest achievement is the amount of dust they gather on bookstore shelves.

So you get publishers and agents chasing fads, pissing away millions on book deals for "celebrities" that usually fail to earn back their advance, and stick with a small number of "elite" authors, even though their sales tend to go down over time while their advances go up.
 
But the rub lies in the fact that some of the biggest publishing phenoms haven't been of the past decade haven't been the literary lions, or the celebrity tell-all, but complete unknowns exploding onto the scene from out of nowhere, selling of millions of copies, and sparking legions of imitators.

So you have an industry that needs new writers to provide the new blood and new ideas that win readers, but the risks in finding these new writers is just too much for some agents and publishers to bear.

But things are not all hopelessness.

There is a way for publishers to find new writers, and agents to find new clients, and it's through the e-book.

The e-book doesn't have the heavy manufacturing and distribution costs hanging over it like printed books. Infinite copies can be shipped via the inter-webs anywhere in the world at a cost per copy that are too tiny to calculate.

Some publishers are starting e-book imprints that specialize in short fiction and/or novellas in different genres. Some are even opening the door for new writers, which is a position I applaud. It allows them to get to know the work and style of new writers, and hopefully find the next Stephen King or JK Rowling in an environment that has relatively low risk and the potential for high reward.

Now if only we can get them to stop wasting money on overpriced celebrity book deals they might start making sense.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #922: Where Does All The Money Go?

Warner Bros. has put the kibosh to Johnny Depp's long awaited remake of the classic mystery comedy The Thin Man. Reports say that the studio was wary about committing over $100 million to make the movie in the wake of the box office failure Depp and Burton's Dark Shadows reboot.

Now can you see what was so freaking WRONG in the last sentence, and no, it has nothing to do with Dark Shadows being a flop.

What's so wrong with that last sentence was that up until the failure of Dark Shadows Warner Bros. was perfectly fine with spending $100 million on an adaptation of The Thin Man.

Perhaps I need to do some explaining...

If you don't know the Dashiell Hammett novel, or the 1940s movie franchise, The Thin Man centers on Nick and Nora Charles. Nick Charles is a retired private detective who quit the sleuthing game when he married the mega-rich heiress Nora. When the book and movie begins the couple are in New York for the holidays when they get mixed up in the disappearance of a wealthy inventor, the "Thin Man" of the title, who was a former client of Nick's.

The couple then drink and quip their way through the case, wrapping up in a classical "I've brought you all here because I'm about to name the murderer" finale. 
 
Both the book and the film were known for the great chemistry between the lead characters, and the actors playing them, the witty dialogue, and the collection of colorful odd-ball characters.

It's also known for the fact that the bulk of the action in both the book and the film takes place in Nick and Nora Charles' hotel suite, less than a handful of other locations, and has only about a little more than a dozen characters.

Now take a minute to think about all that you've read about this cancelled movie and ask yourself a simple question:

HOW THE HELL WERE THEY GOING TO SPEND $100 MILLION ON THIS MOVIE?

Seriously.

You could do a fairly faithful stage adaptation of the story with one set and get away with it.

Either they were going to piss away tens of millions of dollars that were not going to be seen on screen, or they were going add all sorts of expensive nonsense to transform it into some sort of Indiana Jones meets Michael Bay bullshit action fest like they did with Sherlock Holmes

That sort of film deserves to fail, so it was right for Warner Bros to shit-can it.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #921: Random Thoughts...

THAT'S INDECENT!

The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled in favor of the TV networks over the FCC's enforcement of indecency rules which in recent years have managed to be both erratic and heavy-handed.

Now before you scream out "Won't somebody please think of the children!" and run to man the barricades, I have something to tell you.

Civilization is NOT going to collapse.

The ABC Network is not going to debut a sitcom named Fuck Off Freddy, and CBS isn't going to turn The Good Wife into hard-core porn... though that does have possibilities...

Anyway... The networks aren't going to start going "indecent" because in the long run there is no profit in it for them. Networks are big organizations with big overheads, and to profit they need to reach the widest possible audience, and you can't do that if you're dropping pointless f-bombs and flashing boobies before every commercial break.

Need proof? Look at the box office. On average movies rated between G and PG-13 tend to have larger audiences, make more money, and have longer shelf-lives than movies rated R to NC-17.

Once the novelty of naughtiness wears off the market enforces a natural set of decency rules much more effectively than any government office given to the whims and caprices of bureaucracy.

So chill the fuck out.

THAT'S INSULTING!


The internet literally shit a brick.

People were freaking out, screaming defenses of Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and every other female comedian with a regular job as proof of how Carolla is a sexist neanderthal who needs to be censored. 

Which made me think of two questions.

1. Why do people think female comedians need to be defended so vociferously?

2. Have any of these people seen his act?

I mean if you can prove beyond any reasonable doubt that at least one female comedian or comedy writer lost work because of Carolla's comment, I will bake you a cake.

Also, female comedians and comedy writers are not delicate little flowers in need of your protection. Comedy club green rooms, and TV comedy writer's rooms are brutal dog-eat-dog environments that would make the saltiest sailor blush, and Carolla's comment sound like an invitation to high tea with the Queen by comparison. Any woman who can survive that sort of environment isn't going to be hurt by Carolla's comment. In fact, they might thank him, because it gives them something to talk about. There's a whole "methink they doth protesteth too much" vibe about the whole uproar.

And then there's the man himself.

I ask if any of the outraged have seen his act, because if they did, then they'd see it in a whole new light. He's not a comedian who comes out with a carefully crafted act of pre-written jokes. He comes out, interacts with others, and from that interaction says things that are provocative and/or offensive to every gender, race, religion, and political affiliation in the world. He then doubles down on the offense and provocation until you realize that he is the real target of the joke after all.

So all this controversy is a fart in a thunderstorm. You can disagree with him, I do, I've seen a lot of funny women, but don't wet yourself over what he said.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #920: Barbarella The Series?

Gaumont TV, producer Martha De Laurentiis, and director Nicholas Refn are joining forces to make a TV series based on Barbarella.

For those who aren't familiar with the subject Barbarella is a character that first appeared in France as a serialized magazine comic strip for adults. She's a sexy scantily clad secret agent who bops around the galaxy, bops various galactic characters, and occasionally saves the Universe from the threat of orgasm based weaponry. 

There was a Barbarella movie made in 1968 by director Roger Vadim starring his then wife Jane Fonda, and talk about a sequel/remake has been bouncing around the movie business since the 1970s, but so far this TV attempt is the closest any such project has come to being made so far.


So let's take a look at the Pros & Cons!

PROS:

1. Barbarella is considered by many to be a pop culture touchstone with both the comic and the movie more or less sharing a dedicated cult following.

CONS:

1. That cult following is, while vocal, relatively small and doesn't really extend much beyond people in the movie and comics business.
 
2. The original Jane Fonda/Roger Vadim movie was a box office turkey that only has the reputation it has because of the overweening nostalgia for all things from the 1960s, regardless of quality. Also, if you watch the movie without the help of mind-altering chemicals you will wonder what the hell all the hype was about. 

3. Story wise it's not much to work with since it lost its novelty as the seminal work of "sexy sci-fi." The one-note character of Barbarella goes around the galaxy, has sex with people in strange and exotic locations, then does something to stop a villain's inane scheme. It's pretty much already a self-parody. Parody TV shows don't last very long because the joke loses its potency with each retelling.

Personally, I don't really think this idea is going to get past the pilot stage unless there's some sort of radical re-imagining of the character and the premise, and even then it will have a struggle, because the brand is pretty well associated with late 60s/70s tackiness.

That's what I think, what do you think?

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Trailer Trashing: New Dark Knight Rises Trailer

Whoever is doing the trailers for The Dark Knight Rises is really bringing their "A Game." Just about every bit of this montage is carefully constructed to increase anticipation to see the film.

Take a look for yourself...

Monday, 18 June 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #919: Bombs Away!

Two movies that the studios had pegged as guaranteed winners crashed and burned this past weekend. Both the musical Rock Of Ages, and the comedy That's My Boy, underwhelmed on their opening weekend, leaving holdovers like Madagascar 3 and Prometheus to continue their reign at the top.

So why did these movies, allegedly starring box office titans, tank?

The first reason is that that so-called "A-list" movie stars can't really sell movies commensurate with the hype they receive.  Despite what the people who run Hollywood think, it is extremely rare for anyone to go to a movie solely because a member of the so-called "A-List" is appearing in it.

People went to see Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol, not because they wanted to see Tom Cruise. They went to see a Mission Impossible movie that looked particularly thrilling in the previews. Apparently promising that Cruise is going to sing some old hair-metal wasn't as appealing.

Adam Sandler made his way to the A-list because he used to have an audience that liked his goofy anti-social man-children and could guarantee him a return on his films which used to be relatively cheap to make.

But things have changed.

Sandler's antics have become increasingly lazy, taking that once guaranteed audience for granted. This laziness is whittling away at that audience, who are growing up, if slowly, while the costs of making and marketing his films go up.

Then are the other reasons for them to lose their appeal...

ROCK OF AGES REASONS:

The music in Rock Of Ages was not the sort of music that invokes nostalgia for a time gone by. It was a hit on stage because the audience treated such tunes with ironic condescension. Toss that music to anyone who actually grew up in that era, surrounded by people who listened to that music, like me, or actually listened to it, like my classmates, and you'll be more likely to get a cringe than a sigh of nostalgia.

Then there are the changes from the stage to the screen. In the original play, the villains out to shut down the rock and roll on the Sunset Strip were developers and crooked bureaucrats running a scam.  However greed and corruption wasn't deemed a fitting motive for movie villainy, so they rewrote them into a bunch of sinister Christian churchwomen led by the mayor's hypocritical Bible-thumping wife.

Goodbye American Christian moviegoers, even the ones who still listen to hair metal un-ironically. Audiences don't mind having their intelligence insulted as long as it's done in an entertaining way, they don't like getting their beliefs and existence insulted.

THAT'S MY BOY:

The whole pitch of the movie is "Adam Sandler's character asks like an out of control asshole." That's the pitch of most Adam Sandler's movies, and they've long stopped insulting people's intelligence in an entertaining way. They're just the product of Sandler and his friends sitting around thinking how they can amp up the assholery while burning the least amount of calories.

Sony's marketing team couldn't even go beyond that pitch for the movie, because that's literally all they got.

Now these reasons should have been seen way back in the development process, but thanks to Hollywood's dysfunctional system they weren't.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #918: The Magic Formula?

I remember Justice Society / All-Star Squadron comics from my childhood that featured a character named Johnny Quick who was originally created in the 1940s. Quick, as the name implied, was a super-speedster like The Flash but what differentiated him from The Flash was he didn't get his super-speed from combining lightning and chemicals, he got his power from mathematics.  All he had to do was recite the mathematical formula "3X2(9YZ)4A" and ZOOM he could break the speed of sound without breaking a sweat.

Now you're probably wondering why I'm rambling about an obscure comic book superhero whose powers come from the creator's inability to divine the difference between mathematical formulas and magical spells.

Well, the answer is simple.

Because Hollywood can't tell the difference either and there's going to be a lot of money pissed away before bitter reality sets in.

You see some Japanese mathematicians took a look at some successful movies and formulated a formulaic formula that they claim will predict if a film will be successful or not.  It has to do with the length of time used to promote the film before its release, combined with online word of mouth, star power, and quality of story.

I won't get into the details, because it's all pure bunkum.

That's right BUNKUM I SAY!

History is littered with so-called experts claiming that they have used science to crack the secret to movie success. The most recent was Relativity Media, who frequently bragged about how their computers could spot a hit when it just a glint in the screenwriter's eye.

How did that work out for them?

Well, they sure as hell dropped a lot of overpriced bombs, alienated their partners, and had to be bailed out by billionaire Ron Burkle who bought a big chunk of the company to keep it afloat.

Those things wouldn't have been necessary if they were pumping out hit after hit.

All this talk reminds me of the time Sony bought Columbia Pictures. Legend has it that at the first meeting the executives from Sony's head office told the guys at Columbia that from now on they should only make hit movies.

Well, if there was a way to make only hit movies they would do it.

It's very rare for people to intentionally make movies that will bomb at the box office. I'm not saying that it doesn't happen, recent years has seen dozens of guaranteed box office failures being made and released, mostly because they made fashionable political statements, and their failure gets them pats on the back for "courage" at the more fashionable parties.

However, movies cost a lot of money to make, and you can only do so many of what I call "statement turkeys" before the spigot of Other People's Money gets cut off.

Outside of that, most movies are made with the intent of making money. They filmmakers may not be expecting their flick to be a blockbuster, but they're hoping to at least make enough scratch to make another movie.

The biggest problem I have with people claiming to have found the magic formula is that too many variables get missed.

The font of all these variables is THE AUDIENCE.

You can measure interest, and word of mouth via the social networks, but they don't really give the complete picture. Sure a given picture might be getting great buzz on Twitter, but that's a relatively narrow demographic consisting of Twitter users.

When it comes to the audience there are countless factors ranging from money, mood, access to theaters, and whether or not they give a tinker's damn about the commercials. The combination of these factors are different for every individual, and they're literally millions of these individuals out there.

The best any movie studio can do is to get good stories, make them into good films at a reasonable cost, and market them well to their target audience.  Even then it's still a crap shoot. Something might have all the right ingredients, follow the formula laid out by these mathemagicians, and still fail to click with ticket-buyers.

That's why I must put on my curmudgeon hat and declare all this supposed foolproof formula pure hokum. 

Of course it being hokum is not going to stop the studios from wasting fortunes trying to mash movies into this formula, but hey, they still think people go to movies to see stars.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #917: Movies Slipping & Sliding

Movies haven't been the number one option for entertainment since TV knocked it off its perch in the 1950s, however, it's popularity as a regular entertainment option is currently in free-fall and there's no mattress on the bottom to catch it. 
 
Why is this happening?

There are 4 major reasons for the decline of the movies with audiences...

1. CONVENIENCE: It's a pain in the ass to go to a movie nowadays. The days of just walking down to the neighborhood bijou are long over. To get to a movie you have to locate which theater is playing the movie you want to see, you have to drive over there, because it's usually in a mall in the suburbs, then you have to find a parking space, get in line, buy your ticket, buy snacks, then find the screen playing the movie you want among the 150 at the local googleplex, then find your seat.

If your bringing your kids to the latest animated opus then all those inconveniences go up exponentially.

2. COST: It's expensive to go to a movie. There's the price of the ticket, the snacks, but that's just the beginning, there's also the cost of the gas you burn getting to the theater, and the price of parking, on top of that too.

3. QUALITY: Let's face it, while the Hollywood high-poobahs may like to go around waving around a handful of mega-hits like The Avengers and singing "Happy Days Are Here Again!" but that's just to distract you from the fact that in recent years Hollywood has dropped more high-priced bombs than Curtis LeMay on a bender.

The Hollywood industrial mind-set is to take a familiar name, either in the form of a remake, a comic book character, or even a board game, spend the equivalent of the gross national product of a Third World country on celebrities and special effects, put no thought towards story, and hope that the audience falls for it.

It had worked for a while, but the novelty has worn off. The audience knows when it's being jerked around and will choose to stay at home with reason #4...

4. COMPETITION: The movie's biggest competition right now is TV, with the internet creeping upwards. However I think some form of TV will remain dominant for the next while.

Why?

Because when it comes to the four reasons movies are failing, TV has the movies beat.

The per-hour costs of cable and satellite TV is a mere fraction of the per-hour expenses of going to the movie theater. Even though most "packages" saddle you with channels you never watch, the market will eventually evolve to provide more a-la-carte channel or even programming choices.

Then there's home video in the form DVD sales and rental, or some sort of streaming service. Both are cheaper per hour than going to a movie in the theater, and waaaay more convenient.

That brings us to quality.

Quality programming, shrewdly marketed can be very lucrative because the multiple convenient options the audience has in the TV universe means that you have to bring your "A-Game" in the form of a steady output of quality new programming that has originality and intelligence to keep eyes on you.

The movie business still thinks that everything revolves around teenagers, and that all teens need are tits and explosions. But even teens, the epitome of cultural stupidity, are starting to get bored with it all.

If you see something you don't like on TV, you can change the channel, or turn it off, without the thought that you wasted money and effort to go see this piece of crap.

That's what I think, tell me what you think in the comments.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #916: Go Digital Or Go Home?

Christopher Nolan, the master of the intelligent blockbuster, made two announcements at a recent conference of people in the movie business. The first one is that he's not going to do another Batman movie, which is probably a sensible call, and the second is that he doesn't care for digital film-making, preferring to keep using film until they pry the last reel from his cold dead hands.

Okay, I exaggerate his stance a little bit. 

He really just believes that digital film-making hasn't quite reached the technical and economic standards that he thinks film still has, and won't get into using digital cameras until they do.

He might be right, he's way deeper into the current technology than I am, but he's also speaking from a bubble of great comfort. If he wants to shoot on film no studio, especially not Warner Bros. is going to say no to a man whose movies have made well over a billion dollars at the box office in the past 10 years.

Everyone else though has to accept the certain home truth that digital is inevitable.

I can understand Nolan's ambivalence, and I will give him credit for acknowledging that he's not completely writing off digital. That would be like writing off sound or color, a blatant denial of the fact that the medium is changing via new developments in technology, and if you don't learn to use it, you're going to lose it.

I for one welcome the coming of digital technology, for two reasons...

1. It's cheaper than film.

2. It's easier to work with than film.

Now the big studios are thinking that it's a great thing since it chops millions off the costs of production and distribution.

That's a good thing for them, but also a bad thing for them. And what makes it a bad thing for them makes it a good thing for film as both an art & a business.

Does that make any sense to you?

Then allow me to explain...

Right now competing with the big studios has three major hurdles...

1. The high cost of production.

2. The high cost of distribution.

3. The high cost of marketing.

Digital film-making slashes a lot of the expense from production and distribution. Couple that with alternative mediums born from the digital revolution and the marketing opportunities that come from that, the cost of marketing movies can also be brought under control.

Also, digital technology is constantly improving thanks to the intense competition between equipment manufacturers while film has pretty much hit its peak, and I don't see it going any farther. So digital will reach a level capable of pleasing Christopher Nolan a lot sooner than anyone will think.

The revolution will be digitized my friends.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #915: This Is Not A Good Sign...

Zombies, those shuffling, moaning, flesh munching and no doubt malodorous undead are big business these days. AMC's The Walking Dead is a big hit, and just about everyone and his brother is making zombie movies, including movie star Brad Pitt and Paramount Pictures.

Brad Pitt's Plan B Productions and Paramount are currently making a film adaptation of Max Brook's zombie novel World War Z

They shouldn't be still making World War Z: The Movie, in fact, they wrapped production months ago. But Paramount has sent everyone back to work for seven weeks of re-shoots and have hired Lost/Prometheus scribe Damon Lindelof to rewrite a good chunk, if not all of the script.

That is never a good sign.

Rewrites happen during production, they're inevitable. Sometimes dialogue, or action just don't work when the cameras are rolling, or the star wants to come across more heroic, or the studio president's nephew needs a credit so he can get WGA membership. There are literally a million reasons for rewrites to happen.

However, when rewrites are called months after the shooting has wrapped can only have one reason.

The movie is coming out like total shit.

World War Z Production still of Brad Pitt in the starring role.
Not only that, but all the people involved in the movie: producers, studio executives, star, director and the half dozen writers who worked on the script before and during the shooting didn't see that, at least not until after spending $125+ million.

Ouch.

How the hell did this happen?  The film is based on a best-selling book and minor pop culture phenom by Max Brooks, that captures current fears about disease, irrationally destructive forces, as well as recent face eating incidents, and should have been an easy home run.

Now for those of you living in caves, World War Z, was a novel spun-off by Max Brooks after the success of his how-to book The Zombie Survival Guide.

It was written in the form of a oral history of a ten year long conflict between the living and the undead, where survivors tell their stories of traumas and triumphs.

Now this is where I think Paramount and Plan B and all the others involved may have screwed the pooch. 

You see the original novel is not one big story that you can center a film around, but a bunch of smaller stories from all over the world. The only character who goes through all these stories is the interviewer, but he's not the "star" per se, just the collector of the various stories. He doesn't solve the zombie problem, or save the world, he's just the guy putting all the stories together.

A studio is not going to spend $125 million on a feature film, hoping to make it a trilogy, with a highly paid star/producer like Brad Pitt.

This puts the studio into a quandary, how do they make what is an ensemble story that's scattered all over the world, and turn it into a one-man heroic-lead star vehicle. I think this quandary is the main reason why they need to rewrite at least 1/3 of the movie when they're supposed to be laying down the last of the soundtrack and putting together the trailers.

Now that quandary should have been settled during the script development process, but this is the age of $100+ million blockbusters going into production without a finished first draft, and I don't really expect much, unless Lindelof & Co. perform a miracle.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #914: Let's All Rehash!

A few days ago I wrote a post about movies being rehashed into TV shows, and I got this question....
Nate Winchester asked -   What about you, D? Any movies you can pick out/think of which would actually work great as a TV series?
That got me thinking, and that's actually pretty dangerous, so I'm going to post what I think is a good movie-to-TV adaptation premise and I want you, my readers, to post yours in the comments. That way I can steal your ideas to Hollywood for millions! BWAH-HAH-HAH-HAH!!!

Here's my idea...

THE MOVIE: 
FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF
I know what you're thinking it was tried in 1990 & it stank, but I'm talking about an entirely different concept.

THE TV SHOW: 
THE TRIALS OF FERRIS BUELLER

Instead of trying to make another bad show about Ferris Bueller's high school days, draw some inspiration from the roots of the original story. The character of Bueller was based on a high school friend of John Hughes' who could talk and charm his way out of any situation and drove the authority figures around him nuts. That guy went on to become a successful lawyer representing big name businessmen and politicians.

That's where we start: Matthew Broderick returns as Ferris Bueller, middle aged, a rich and successful Washington D.C. attorney, and bored out of his skull because his work isn't challenging anymore. This ennui, expressed by his wry commentaries to the audience, is broken in the pilot episode when he takes on the case of an unpopular billionaire charged with dozens of counts of fraud. The case seems impossible, but he not only wins, proving his client's innocence, he charms the jury so much, they spent their deliberations writing an apology to his client.

Re-energized, Bueller accepts a challenge by his wealthy client to take on more impossible cases. Each week it's a new client, from big money litigants to no-money defendants, and Bueller has to use his brains and charm to win as the challenge becomes a personal crusade.

A running sub-plot in the series involves his friend Cameron Frye (Alan Ruck), now a freshman congressman from Illinois, and married to Bueller's sister Jeanie (Jennifer Grey), and how Bueller "helps" him navigate the fever swamps of Capitol Hill.  There's even a reunion with his old high school flame Sloane (Mia Sara) who works on a big internet news site.


Surround this cast with a roll call of good supporting players/characters as fellow lawyers, clients, politicians, reporters, and sundry townsfolk, and you could have a funnier version of CBS's award winning hit show The Good Wife.


It's not rocket science it's TV.  The first attempt failed because all they wanted was the title, when they should have figured out how to take the story to the next chapter.


Now, put your own movie-to-TV-series ideas in the comments.