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stillakid
05-26-2003, 11:45 AM
I came across these two very different editorials this morning. Both make excellent points and both appear to be "correct." What do you think?


May 26, 2003


COMMENTARY
Hollywood Plays to the Pimply
Blockbuster-driven MBAs have killed movie creativity.

By Frank Pierson, Frank Pierson, who wrote "Cat Ballou," "Cool Hand Luke" and "Dog Day Afternoon," among other films, is president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. This is adapted from a speech to th


Hollywood was once a small company town, where everybody knew everybody, and if you dropped your pants at a party or punched a reporter or danced with a prostitute in the parking lot, it wasn't on "Entertainment Tonight" tonight.

It was even hard to get arrested. Every studio had a publicity department that paid the Los Angeles cops to stay away from show-business people. The police didn't arrest movie people. They drove them home.

We all went down to the film factories every day (at Warner Bros. even actors, directors and writers punched a time clock until the mid-1940s). We ate in the studio commissary, where the writers' table was preferred seating because the jokes were better there. If the New York writers were in town, slumming sneering at the movies and cashing big, fat paychecks you found yourself sitting next to Dorothy Parker or F. Scott Fitzgerald.

You could wander off to a sound stage and watch John Huston or Willy Wyler shooting a scene with Bogart or Hepburn or Peck. No security. We all knew each other.

It was up close, and personal.

Harry Cohn, the head of Columbia, was a legendary bully who admired Mussolini and had his office designed to resemble Mussolini's with a long approach into blinding lights and himself behind a desk, raised a foot above the floor, ranks of Oscars his studio had won behind him. He said he made only pictures that he wanted to see, and once the public stopped wanting to see what he liked, he'd quit. Not for him delegating decisions to demographers, pollsters and marketing experts. Nobody knew what a demographer was in those days.

It was up close, and personal.

Then, in the 1960s, when the glove salesmen and carnival touts who built the studios began to grow old and retire, their grip on the business loosened. For a while, independent producers flourished. New companies, new writers and directors burst the bonds of studio-imposed style.

The '60s and the '70s produced movies now looked upon as a golden age: "The Godfather," "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," "Dr. Strangelove," "Taxi Driver," "Chinatown," "Clockwork Orange," "Annie Hall," "Midnight Cowboy," "MASH," "Bonnie and Clyde" and a couple I like, "Dog Day Afternoon" and "Cool Hand Luke." Even "Easy Rider," which symbolized the anarchistic spirit of that drug-ridden time, was a Columbia release.

Then, on Wall Street, it began to be noticed that a single blockbuster movie could make in a weekend what a substantial business made in a year.

Warner Bros. was bought by Seven Arts, Seven Arts was bought by Kinney Shoes, and the whole mess now is owned by AOL Time Warner (as are HBO, Warner Books, Turner networks and CNN). Viacom owns Paramount, CBS, Showtime cable and Blockbuster. Of the 100-odd prime-time shows that will premiere on the four networks this fall and winter, more than 30 including CBS newsmagazines will be made by companies owned by Viacom. An additional 25 or so will be made by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., which owns the Fox network.

We had been having too much fun to notice: The barbarians were inside the gate. The polo games, the writers' table, Jack Warner's lunchtime tennis matches with Errol Flynn, the cops as our friends, all were a thing of the past.

We began to see Harvard Business School MBAs sit in on story conferences. Lawyers multiplied.

As the huge debt created by mergers was added to the rising costs of making little but blockbusters, the risks of making a film forced the businessmen to be risk-averse, to play to the least critical audience: teenage boys with disposable income.

The problem is how to keep this "average" moviegoer, male, 16 to 25, high school education at best, doesn't read books, gets his news from the 11 o'clock news if he bothers at all, never heard of Mussolini and thinks Korea is another part of downtown L.A. This pimply, oversexed slob with the attention span of a chicken, how do we keep him awake and interested while staying awake and interested ourselves?

It's not just Hollywood. What has happened here has happened to us all because the focus of international business has shifted from production to distribution. Whoever controls distribution shapes what is produced to what will fit under the seat or in the overhead compartment. Today, agribusinesses have researchers trying to produce cube-shaped tomatoes that will be easier to pack in boxes (and that probably will taste like the boxes). Watch the odd, the old, the personal, the traditional, the idiosyncratic, the family-made or the regional disappear from supermarket shelves that are rented by the foot to international companies that then stock them with their own water and sugar products.

As the movie business has changed, liberal critics have raised the alarm over corporate censorship. But the danger of censorship in the United States of America is less from business or the religious right or the self-righteous left than from self-censorship by artists themselves, who simply give up. If we can't see a way to get our story told, what is the point of trying? I wonder how many fine, inspiring ideas are strangled in the womb of the imagination because there's no way past the gates of commerce.

To the studios today, the art of film and TV is a byproduct of their main business, a side effect, and like most side effects, more likely to be a noxious nuisance than a benefit.

But movies are more than a commodity. Movies are to our civilization what dreams and ideals are to individual lives: They express the mystery and help define the nature of who we are and what we are becoming.

We need writers with ideas and passion, who write with force and conviction; directors who have minds enriched by their lives and not a library of stunts and special effects. They must be centered in their feelings and ideas in the culture and society, not in comparing grosses and applauding computer-generated ballets of violence.

We need it like we need clean drinking water and roads, green parks and libraries; it is as important as the breath of democratic life. Somehow we need to keep alive in our hearts the vision of community, shared interests and understanding of our neighbors' needs, the sense of connection this fractionated society is losing.

We need to recapture the spirit of Main Street. Up close. And personal.




May 26, 2003
COUNTERPUNCH
In reality, all they want is a little respect


By Erik Nelson, Erik Nelson is the creator and executive producer of such cretinous reality classics as "Busted on the Job," "When Good Times Go Bad" and "Red Handed." He is the president of a production company name


"We live in a time when the medium is no longer respected by its guardians. I believe there are studio executives and network heads out there who would rather make a show with an Aaron Sorkin than have lunch with the next contestant on 'How to Marry a Terrorist,' but those voices have gone silent for now."

David E. Kelley (2003)

"[Elvis Presley's] kind of music is deplorable, a rancid-smelling aphrodisiac."

Frank Sinatra (1956)

"Rock 'n' roll is phony and false, and sung, written and played for the most part by cretinous goons."

Frank Sinatra (1957)

"Something's happening here, and you don't know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?"

Bob Dylan (1965)

Voices gone silent. Guardians of the media.

Please.

Where have I heard this kind of elitist vitriol before? Oh yeah, I remember. Back in the '50s, when the self-appointed arbiters of culture lambasted rock 'n' roll made by, and for, "cretinous goons."

OK, so they may have been right about that.

That's not the point I am trying to make. This is the point I am trying to make: Reality TV, with all its vulgarity, cultural Cuisinart blending of every commercial trend of mainstream television and, most important, ability to seriously offend those who believe they should decide what you should watch, is the new rock 'n' roll. The people's television, enjoyed only by those who feel it speaks to them, by those who feel it gives them something that the increasingly ossified and predictable sitcoms and hourlong "important" dramas do not. The people aren't always right. But they aren't always wrong.

Think about it this way. This TV, like early rock 'n' roll, is fast, loud and out of control. It emerges from the television equivalent of the basements and garages, the independent producer, with only one goal in mind get in, get out and hit the top of the charts. It is not "Art," in the David E. Kelley "Girls Club" sense (irony fully intended), but art with a small "a," only appreciated by those who find it speaks to them, not at them.

Sadly, this latest trend of self-righteous pontification by mainstream writers and producers is not confined to Kelley.

"Lions will be eating Christians soon," opines recently deposed "Bernie Mac Show" creator Larry Wilmore, in a recent Entertainment Weekly round table of morose show runners. Last week, Wilmore, apparently now with a little time on his hands, appeared on Bob Costas' HBO show to make the same points. He found no argument from his usually more perceptive host. An admittedly nonscientific poll of 2,500 HBO viewers, presented by Costas in the same broadcast, broke down opinions on reality TV thusly:

Welcome, innocent diversion: 10%

Innovative TV genre: 8%

Like a car wreck I can't stop watching: 9%

End of civilization as we know it: 73%

Some reality producers can't take the criticism. "How do they think this makes the people who put these shows on feel?" executive producer Michael Davies asked last week in the New York Times. "These people have done something pretty incredible for these networks, and now they're out there insulting them."

Take heart, Michael. This mutant genre that brought you riches may yet bring you respect.

Revolutions occasionally are televised. A prediction: A time will come when we look back at these shows and recognize a populist art form in the making, where instruments were picked up, new rhythms laid down and a new, vibrant art form was created.

Critic Manny Farber put it best in 1962, when he coined the phrase "Termite Art." "The most inclusive description of the art," wrote Farber, "is that, termite-like, it feels its way through walls of particularization, with no sign that the artist has any object in mind other than eating away the immediate boundaries of his art, and turning these boundaries into conditions of the next achievement."

Maybe if these writers and producers living in their glass homes in Malibu would not throw stones, but rather build better houses, they and the public they profess to serve might have some alternative.

After all, Frank Sinatra did cover the Beatles.

And he and Bob Dylan wound up singing duets.

Eternal Padawan
05-27-2003, 07:31 AM
If 73% of viewers think Reality TV is the end of civilizaytion as we know it, why are these shows crowning the ratings race week after week? I think those 73% are chronic self loathers who should have voted "Like a car wreck..." I've never been suckered in by ANY kind of reality show, so I find it neither artistic nor entertaining.

I agree with the first editorial ( Business Majors in story meetings indeed. GET OUT! ), but can't confirm the point of the second. Is he saying it's good? Bad? He's merely stating that it is inevitable.

Exhaust Port
05-27-2003, 09:16 AM
Even not being in the industry we all can tell there is a difference in how things are being run. I think that first article spells it out pretty accurately. As it pointed out, there have been several different "acts" in the evolution of the movie industry. I think the current one will pop in the next decade. As technology changes and times change so will the success of the movie industry.

Look at the music industry, just 10 years ago reports were making the evening news about new multi-album, multi-million dollar deals being signed between artists and record companies. Now we don't see that. They're both taking a hit and blaming the file sharing craze for their loss of profits. That might be part of it but I also think that the bubble has just burst for their industry. They are going to be forced to be leaner and meaner in the future. They have to change with times and not spend as much time and money destroying the so-called causes of their failures. Remember when CD's suppose to be ruining profits for artists and companies because they lasted for ever?

The movie industry will most likely have a similar experience soon. I for one almost never go to the movies now and I can think of more friends than not that do the same. I'm sick of spending $10 a person and feeling like I wasted that money after seeing some piece of crap. Now I wait until I either rent it on DVD or just see it on cable.

With the explosion of cheap high-end home theaters the experience is hard to beat. The first time I've seen a couple of last years big movies was in front of a large HDTV playing through a 6 speaker system. I sat in a comfortable chair eating my own selection of snacks. I knew what I was going to watch was good as numerous reviews had said so.

Digital cable and dish services are becoming more previlant and cheaper as well. It's like a constant rotating DVD rental. With a nice cheap theater system you can blow away most local cinemas.

Theaters are taking more of a hit as the smaller ones are forced to shutdown as a result of competition from the newer/larger theaters. The always anticipated summer blockbusters have started to faulter in the last few years. They don't have the staying power that they use to. If you don't see a new movie in the first 2-3 months that it's out you are only another 2-3 months from being able to rent it or buy it on DVD anyway. Since the shelf life is shrinking for new movies I think they are pushing more and more movies through the door. Now when I do go to a theater I'm suprised at how many movies I haven't heard of.

The ability to hype a new movie into a blockbuster doesn't work as well any more. Time to stop rehashing old movies and actors and start as Harry Cohn said, making only pictures that he wanted to see.

stillakid
05-27-2003, 10:40 AM
Originally posted by Exhaust Port
Theaters are taking more of a hit as the smaller ones are forced to shutdown as a result of competition from the newer/larger theaters. The always anticipated summer blockbusters have started to faulter in the last few years. They don't have the staying power that they use to. If you don't see a new movie in the first 2-3 months that it's out you are only another 2-3 months from being able to rent it or buy it on DVD anyway. Since the shelf life is shrinking for new movies I think they are pushing more and more movies through the door. Now when I do go to a theater I'm suprised at how many movies I haven't heard of.

The ability to hype a new movie into a blockbuster doesn't work as well any more. Time to stop rehashing old movies and actors and start as Harry Cohn said, making only pictures that he wanted to see.

You've hit upon an important point. The manner in which many of the larger budget features get financed in the first place is through foreign presales. By using A list actors in the project, a film's bankability is determined and an estimate of how much the movie will make "can" be made. In some cases, for the slightly less budgeted feature, foreign buyers wait until the film releases in the US. They then base their own decision on purchasing it on how well the film does in the opening week or two here. If it flops, they don't buy it.

So, with more and more people opting out of the theater experience, in time, we may see those opening weekend numbers drop as people just wait for the DVD release. The inevitable result will be that foreign buyers won't commit money to the initial financing deals which will result in smaller more "modest" budgets overall. The days of the $80 - $200 million dollar feature will be over. Then one could argue that the smaller more personal stories will get a fair shake once again as the bottom line for a studio isn't determined solely by how well their showcase summer blockbuster does that year. However, an equally convincing case can be made which says that the corporate mentality will shut out the smaller "better" films even more as fearful executives cling even tighter to that A list of stars and established creative personnel in Hollywood, even more afraid to take a chance on an unknown new writer or a radical new story idea.

The bottom line is that commerce and art don't seem to mix very well...especially when "the bottom line" is running the show.

Exhaust Port
05-27-2003, 03:42 PM
Another factor in the demise of the big budget blockbuster is going to be the breakthroughs in movie technology. With computer effects becoming commonplace and nearly dirt cheap the necessicity (sp?) of big budgets to afford a decent looking film are nearly past. Home computing power is on the rise still and can produce some smokin' looking movies with very little effort.

Give it another 10 years and the line between professional and amatuer films will be blurred pretty significantly. The cost of actors and distribution of the movie will be the difference. Actors could very well see their salary demands fall on deaf ear and have their art become as lucitive as any other artists, as in not very. Distribution will become less an issue as internet broadband become bigger, better, faster and cheaper.

Why go to the theater in a decade or 2 when you can have it beamed straight to your home digital theater when you want.

plasticfetish
05-29-2003, 02:11 AM
The first article seems to sum up everything I know and have learned about the comings and goings of Hollywood. A decade ago I got sucked into the "industry" on a whim and have seen it change ever so slightly from legend to myth. I was involved with art department stuff ... props, set dressing, art direction ... and I watched prop houses, one after the other, vanish and close their doors. Last time I checked, there were only a handful of the biggest left. It's seemed pretty typical of how the history of Hollywood has become almost entirely that ... history. Big films aren't made "here" as often and I'd guess that the "big" television shows are few and far between as well. I remember going to prop houses early on and seeing things that had been used on sets from the shows that I knew as a kid ... you'd look and think "was that on All in the Family?" Now set dressers shop at Ikea because it's cheap and disposable ... I was guilty of it too. A first hand participant in the cheapening of Hollywood or what's left of it.

The second article makes no sense to me. Most of what's on today can be considered garbage. If there happens to be a few gems out there that I find interesting, then I consider myself lucky. I hate the term "reality TV" ... nothing could be a bigger lie. There is nothing "real" about these shows ... the situations and the participants are fakes ... producers and editors (the ones that have jobs in this town) are everything.


Originally posted by Exhaust Port
Home computing power is on the rise still and can produce some smokin' looking movies with very little effort. Give it another 10 years and the line between professional and amateur films will be blurred pretty significantly.
Just because a person CAN do something, because they have the technical capability, doesn't mean they will necessarily do it well. But, I would agree that more people who might have talent and are not a part of the "industry", will have a better shot at expressing their ideas. It can't hurt things, that's for sure.


Originally posted by Exhaust Port
Why go to the theater in a decade or 2 when you can have it beamed straight to your home digital theater when you want.
Well, there is something to be said for getting OUT of the house and doing something social. Theater was always supposed to be a social event. Even seeing a film surrounded by dozens of others in a dark room is a kind of social event. Some might even allude to visiting the big screen as a kind of spiritual event. I worked at a little movie theater in high school and ran (managed) another in college ... some of the best times of my life have been in those stuffy, dark rooms.

Exhaust Port
05-29-2003, 09:05 AM
Originally posted by plasticfetish
Well, there is something to be said for getting OUT of the house and doing something social. Theater was always supposed to be a social event. Even seeing a film surrounded by dozens of others in a dark room is a kind of social event.

Depends on your definition of social. Walking through the mall alone isn't social to me. Neither is sitting in a darkened room with a group of people, most of whom are no closer than a stones throw anyway. I never talk to any of them, for the most part I can even see them, hearing them is near impossible over the high volume sound system and I'll never see them again.

For me going to see a movie is a social event but not because of the people we see there but because of the people I go with. If I could have the movie beamed to my house it would be just as social. I would have those same friends and family over to watch it in the comfort of my own house. I can't stand watching a movie alone. :)


Some might even allude to visiting the big screen as a kind of spiritual event.

There will always be purists. I don't think that movie theaters will ever disappear but their mass market appeal will most likely take a hit with the boom of the home theater. For me I see more negatives with the theater than positives: I can't control the start time, I can't bring my own food, I can't control the volume, I'm subjected to commericals, the seats are very uncomfortable. Watching a DVD at home takes care of those issues.


I worked at a little movie theater in high school and ran (managed) another in college ... some of the best times of my life have been in those stuffy, dark rooms.

There have been 2 jobs that I've always wanted to do since I was a kid. Work in a toy store and work at a movie theater. For the last 2 Christmas seasons I've worked parttime at a toy store. Now I just have to work at a theater at some point.

Some of the best times of my life have been spent in stuffy, dark rooms too but that's a different story. :D

stillakid
05-29-2003, 09:40 AM
Originally posted by plasticfetish

The second article makes no sense to me. Most of what's on today can be considered garbage. If there happens to be a few gems out there that I find interesting, then I consider myself lucky. I hate the term "reality TV" ... nothing could be a bigger lie. There is nothing "real" about these shows ... the situations and the participants are fakes ... producers and editors (the ones that have jobs in this town) are everything.

I think that the "controversy" that he brings up revolves around the notion that so-called "purists" or something are uppity about this new form of entertainment. If I had to draw a comparison, it would be like putting James Taylor's catalogue up against The Backstreet Boys. Which one is real music and which one is "for the masses"? Technically, they're both music, but the argument this guy is making is that Reality TV shouldn't be so trod upon as long as people are enjoying themselves.

Of course, this can lead into a whole big discussion regarding the purpose and merits of art/entertainment in society etc etc etc. which has no real answer to it. What humans absolutely NEED to survive are water, food, and shelter (and reproduction to continue the species). Beyond that, it's all stuff to fill time until we croak. :)