There’s no argument that Hollywood is on the decline in theater attendance and home entertainment sales. Numbers don’t lie. But what everyone is speculating about is the “Why?” behind this gradual drop, and how to fix it. Why aren’t people going out to see movies as often as they had in the past, and why aren’t they purchasing hard copies of those movies as much as they used to? Recently, The Wrap asked six experts to chime in on the possible reasons for Hollywood’s dropping numbers and their thoughts on where the medium is headed. Some explanations and theories make perfect sense, while others are worthy of argument.
Producer Mike Medavoy believes that the decline is a combination of three things: the hurting world economy, technology and the quality of the films that Hollywood has been pumping out. Medavoy says, “In the past, new technology like television, videotape, DVD, and cable have saved the film industry.” He asks the question, “What’s next?,” which another expert will answer shortly.
The cost of marketing and producing … and the need for outside partners for high risk and cost films which lowers your upside, makes all the choices of pictures to make more difficult. The decision to rely on remakes and sequels at higher costs either makes people feel that they have seen a movie and can either wait and see it on the after-market or miss it all together.
I don’t think that anyone would argue that there aren’t too many franchises out there.
Film critic Joe Morgenstern believes that Hollywood is in a downward spiral of dismal spectacle. He cites the current lackluster box office performance of eye-popping effects-filled films like ‘The Adventures of Tintin’ and ‘Hugo’, versus the ginormous return of this summer’s effects-less comedy ‘Bridesmaids’. While I enjoyed both ‘Tintin’ and ‘Hugo’, I understand his argument. It’s valid. Like him, I believe that 2011 was the year where smaller and independent flicks reigned supreme. Movies like ‘Midnight in Paris’, ‘Drive’ and ‘The Artist’ were all smaller releases that earned big-time buzz from both cinephiles and general audiences. But where Morgenstern and I differ is in the worry for the future of indie films. His concern is that they’ll become extinct like newspapers, but I don’t think they’re going anywhere – not with film festival circuits still going strong.
Wall Street expert and analyst Harold Vogel looks at the decline from the viewpoint of a businessman. He claims that this is not a cyclical event, but the beginning of a new digital and online era. The internet is here to stay, so we all better change our business plans accordingly. Vogel offers the answer to Medavoy’s rhetorical question about what’s next:
The DVD lived for about eight or ten years and was magnificent while it lasted, but it was an interim technology. But the longterm technology is all digital distribution on the web – streaming or downloading or whatever.
When I think of the future of home entertainment technology, I think of Netflix and other steaming services and products. But to think that theater chains will disappear and that all viewing of new content will take place in the home is absurd. Hollywood is a double-dip business – you pay once to see a movie on the big screen, and you pay again to own it at home. Ending theatrical exhibition would kill profits. And with hacking and piracy so easily available, how would this not further the problem?
The studios feel vulnerable [to piracy], but the film industry lucked out too. Their product requires five gigabytes or more of data to be downloaded and it doesn’t happen that fast on the current Internet, but that will change. Slow speeds gave the business a couple of years to figure things out. It’s been a buffer.
Incorrect, sir. I know a few people who download everything – and I mean everything. They participate in online groups that notify them whenever a new movie, television series or album has been pirated. One acquaintance in particular had a copy of ‘Drive’ on his PS3 before the studio even held a local press screening. How much worse would this be if all distribution was web-based?
Vogel insists that one source of the decline has been Hollywood’s post-Writer’s Strike attempt to recoup profits from the box office lull:
Studios went to these bets of $100 million-plus [movies]. That seemed to do well for awhile, but if you look at the margins of the industry for basically the last forty or fifty years, we have not broken out of this eight to ten percent pre-tax margin range. Margins have been basically flat and are probably headed down. There is no great cure for this. There are some problems in life for which there’s no cure. The studios are going to be around, but their ability to generate high margins and sustained margins is being challenged all the time.
Hopefully, this means that the studios will return to making creative and original films worthy of viewing, not just formulaic franchise films.
‘Warrior’ director Gavin O’Connor looks at the gloomy future through more optimistic eyes. He knows that technology is changing the landscape of cinema in a new and unpredictable fashion, and believes that Hollywood needs to be prepared to roll with the punches and adapt. He is currently putting this into practice by directing a film on a $100,000 budget.
It’s about being entrepreneurial and creating content that I care about and that I think people will respond to. You can’t wait around for studios to send you scripts anymore. You have to write movies outside the studio system, take them around and maybe you have someone attached to it before you find the right home.
On the other hand, analyst and author Edward Jay Epstein believes that the independent film industry will be hurt the most:
The main challenge to the film industry is the death of video stores. It’s not a threat to movies like ‘Spider-Man’, but to a movie like ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’. It’s the kind of small movie where people have to find out about it by going into the store and speaking to a clerk. It might not get into a Redbox or a Walmart. Their disappearance is a major challenge for smaller and more diverse productions.
Producer David Hoberman has the most optimistic view of the problem. He believes that 2011 was simply a dry spell in Hollywood.
This year there wasn’t the big launch of some new franchise or a big new piece of business that gets people excited about the movies. It felt like people were not compelled to go to the theaters. … I think that there were good movies out there … but they didn’t drive people to the marketplace.
Out of all of the ideas expressed in the article, I truly hope that Hoberman’s is right – both this theory about this simply being a stagnant period in Hollywood’s history, and also his belief in what will come next.
I teach at UCLA and I do a teaching fellowship of Suffolk University in Boston, and over the last few years, the films I’ve seen from my students are amazing. The energy and inventiveness of what some of these kids are doing makes me think there’s going to be a whole new wave in live action and animation. There’s so much fermenting at the university level that I think there’s going to be tons of opportunities, as these kids from this last generation are growing up. They’re going to be the Steve Jobs of the world, figuring out new ways of creating things.
Here’s to hoping in Hoberman’s belief, what I’m calling the “New New Renaissance.”
[Source: The Wrap]