Thursday, January 28, 2010

The State of the Industry (and how freaking sad it is)

GOLAN: So I’m depressed. Hollywood big-budget movies are getting worse. AVATAR just won Best Picture at the Golden Globes. Well, not just. Just in my bedroom, as I DVR’d the Globes and have been watching them mostly on fast forward. Now, at 9:02 AM, AVATAR was called on by Julia Roberts.

Don't get me wrong. It's in my top 100 of the decade, but it's still indicative of what is bothering me. Special effects do not constitute a script! I know you partially disagree with me, and think the whole thing works brilliantly or whatever, but ask yourself this: Are you excited about the technology/graphics/visuals/effects, like the rest of the people in the world (whether they realize it or not)? Or are you excited about the shitty shitty script and laughable dialogue? Best Picture? Of the year? Are they kidding? Did they see THE HURT LOCKER? INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS? UP IN THE AIR? Even movies that weren’t nominated deserved Best Picture more than AVATAR. UP deserved it more. WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE deserved it more. I haven’t seen DISTRICT 9 yet, but from what I hear, even it deserved it more.

And during the awards ceremony, they showed a commercial for EXTRAORDINARY MEASURES. In my lifetime, I have met a lot of celebrities (yes, I know that sounds like a name drop – screw you), but I have gotten excited about only three of them. Albert Brooks (who I literally ran past Julia Roberts to say hi to), Jack Lemmon (I crashed the premiere of GRUMPIER OLD MEN by climbing over a fence and jumping off a roof just to shake his hand – later got hauled away by security and it was worth it) and Harrison Ford. He’s freaking Han Solo and Indiana Jones? How does that happen? Both? Awesome.

So when I say that EXTRAORDINARY MEASURES looks like a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie, and a bad one at that, you know it pains me to say it. And that’s the first flick from the new big-budget gonna-play-with-the-big-boys CBS Films, which I’ve been extremely excited about since they announced it Moonves was putting it together. This makes me sad.

Why, if they have the money to afford Ford, who is notorious for not reducing his fee for anyone, and Brendan Fraser, who can’t be super cheap after all the MUMMYs and JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH and all that, plus the rights to the book it’s based on, plus the articles that were written about it, plus everything else that goes into making a big budget flick like this one, could they not make a good movie? Now, admittedly, I have not seen the actual movie yet, but as I’ve said before, a commercial is a collection of thirty seconds of the best moments from a two hour movie. If this is the best commercial they could come up with, it does not bode well.

But I’m beating up on EXTRAORDINARY MEASURES when it doesn’t fully deserve the brunt of my rage and sadness. That belongs to all the big budget bullshit that’s been shat out into the Hollywood pipeline in the last couple of years (and seems to be happening more and more often).

Over the Christmas break, I decided to watch a bunch of movies using On Demand. In Hollywood's defense, they didn’t put all the recent movies into the system, so I can’t include movies like ZOMBIELAND or WHIP IT! in the bunch, which I haven’t seen and understand are great. Here’s what I did watch:


Instead of breaking down or commenting on them one at a time, I’m just going to say that there wasn't a single movie in the bunch that was worth the price I paid to see it. And a good number of them were free.

Collectively, these flicks represent almost $3 billion worldwide in ticket sales alone!

They star some of our biggest movie stars. Check out this list: Dennis Quaid, Channing Tatum, Brendan Fraser, Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman, Ryan Reynolds, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Vin Diesel, Nicolas Cage, Terrence Howard, Ben Affleck, James Gandolfini, Christina Applegate, Julia Roberts, Clive Owen, Paul Giamatti, Shia Lebouf, Megan Fox, Katherine Heigl, Gerard Butler, Jackie Chan, Jet Li... just to name a few!

Some successful directors, too - two Academy Award winners and one nominee, one Cannes filmmaker, two Sundance filmmakers (one that won Best Director), one Slamdance winner, two Toronto Film Festival winners, the director of THE LION KING... and Michael fucking Bay.

And not a single film in the bunch is worth a shit.

As a long-time development executive, I just don't understand what the people behind these movies were doing. The whole concept of development is to prevent movies that suck ass from getting made.

Where were the producers on these flicks? The creative executives? The directors of development? The VPs? Anyone? And let's pretend like the scripts to these shit sandwiches were great. What about the poor casting choices? The bad continuity? The wrong directors being put on the wrong projects? The writers that keep getting hired (often for ridiculous money) despite the fact that they consistently churn out worthless screenplays?

Is it any wonder that I'm depressed?

I know most of the above-mentioned flicks opened at number one. Some even were huge hits (TRANSFORMERS 2 and THE UGLY TRUTH, for instance, were on pretty much everyone's "worst of the year" lists, but made crazy money anyway). I guess my question is this: how do studios get away with lazily relying on a brand or on star power while ignoring things like characters, motivation, plot and dialogue? And why do we as audience members let them?

I wish I could rally the whole world to stand up to shitty movies. But that would require not going, and we're getting less and less good movie options these days.

I wish I could convince the studio executives to stop greenlighting movies that have potential and then rushing them into production before they are ready. But that would require them to stop making a profit on the garbage they release.

I wish I could convince good directors to wait for good projects instead of just taking paycheck gigs, or letting the studios force them to release projects that are nowhere near ready. But the fact that they are called "paycheck gigs" should explain why directors keep doing it anyway.

I wish I could get us, the audience, to stop believing the hype when someone tells us that a movie is a hit. WOLVERINE, for instance, made $375 million worldwide. They tell us that we should be impressed. Let's forget for a moment how much they spent to get the movie made. Let's even forget that it grossed less than MUMMY 3 that year. Let's instead focus on the fact that the other two similarly produced superhero movies that came out right around the same time made $572 million and $1 billion worldwide. Similarly produced because they got a strong indie director to helm and unconventional actors to star. So when we look at the measly $375 WOLVERINE made compared to what it could have made, we suddenly see it for the massive stink bomb that it is.

And the thing that pisses me off is that it didn't need to be one. It's as if they remembered to hire good people to direct and act, and completely forgot to develop a proper script with the writers.

That's not to say they didn't hire a good writer. David Benioff, who wrote 25TH HOUR, can be a great writer. But he also wrote TROY, if you get my drift. They also hired Skip Woods, who wrote... um... SWORDFISH... and... uh... HITMAN... and... ahem... fuck it. 'Nuff said. I don't care how talented an actor is, or how brilliant a director is - without a script, they are just making a shitty movie. At least on IRON MAN, they realized they had a shitty script and threw it out when they realized it wasn't working.

If we as an audience demand quality, the studios will no longer be able to pass off half-assed attempts at big budget travesties (because they know they won't get away with it) and instead give us the kick ass movies that we deserve.

After all, we're paying to be entertained. Let's make sure they actually go out of their way to entertain us.


  1. Unfortunately, I'm not as optimistic that the answer is as simple as having a hypothetical audience collectively demanding quality (and I realize you're not arguing the solution as realistic, just ideal) as the catalyst in creating a system that produces a higher number of quality movies, because it overlooks the fact that the system is based on quantity, or more than that, piggybacking. To me, the common thread with the movies you cited isn't necessarily their poor quality (though there is that), it's that they represent poor carbon copies of ideas that once proved to be a rare blend of crowd-pleasing ($$) and critic-pleasing (respect). The carbon copies aren't the original model, we've seen 'em before and better, but they're created in a pathetic attempt to lure a fraction of that audience that loved the original back for a half-baked (but, and this is the key ingredient, familiar) version.

    AVATAR demonstrates this -- or the beginnings of the AVATAR effect, anyway, that we're seeing begin. Already studios are ramping the number of 3D movies way, way up. Say what you will about AVATAR, (and you have, though I'd like to point out that I do, for the record, reject the simplicity of the "great visuals/poor story" paradigm being bandied about, but that's a separate thing, maybe) but it's a movie that was envisioned to embrace this technology as part of the storytelling. It wasn't tacked on because that's what was hot, which makes the announcement of the next two Harry Potter movies going 3D as disappointing as it is titilating.

    The point I'm trying to make is, I don't know how well box office gross, whether big or small, translates into understanding why it did how it did. This also explains why people's careers get made by being attached to a success even if they weren't the reason for the success (the Gerard Butler syndrome), because there's no way to interpret the box office data besides trial and error.

    Also, let me offer this blanket caveat: I have no idea what I'm talking about. Anything that I'm right about is because I'm a genius, and anything I'm wrong about is because, well, look, I'm admitting that I'm talking out of my ass, what do you want?

  2. I truly wish I had more of a background to make an educated analysis from the movie-making perspective, but I guess I'll add my "layperson" opinion...

    I watched AVATAR three times in three days. First, simply in a regular theater with no 3D; then, standard-screen with 3D; then IMAX 3D. Each time it got better for me. I loved AVATAR for its aesthetics, but mostly for creating a world that I would love to live in. I admit it...I totally geeked out, but it was beautiful to imagine living in a world with floating mountains, bioluminescent plants, and a living network that showed the connection between every living thing and the sanctity of that direct bond. …Plus I'd give anything to look like Zoe Saldana.

    Anyway, I consciously had to let go of the fact that it smacks of FERNGULLY and DANCES WITH WOLVES, but once that was out, I just appreciated it much like a child would when they watch a Disney movie. Or more appropriately, much like a "trekky" did when they watched their favorite series...just fully immersed in the story, dismissing some shitty dialogue, to live vicariously through this alternate society. And it should be mentioned that the Navi language is the new Klingon…

    That said…

    Eywa ngahu =)