Back In The Wasteland Again

February 11, 2011

AKA “Post-Oscar Blues”

Sung to the tune of Gene Autry’s “Back in the Saddle Again”:

We’re back in the wasteland again
Down where the drivel has no end
Where the the studio marketers feed
On their burger tie-in greed
Back in the wasteland  again

Readin’ the ads once more.
Trying so hard not to snore
But the movies look the same
And they couldn’t be more lame
Back in the wasteland again.

I mean, really. Have you looked at what’s playing in movie theaters now, not including the Oscar-nominated films?

It’s as if The New Hollywood said, “Phew. Glad all that content and character and drama are behind us again until October. Boy, movies with real scripts and real people are way too hard to make and where are the product tie-ins in a movie about a King who learns how to speak without a stutter? That’s a period picture, dude, so none of those products are around anymore. Let’s get back to what we know: high concept, repetitive, unoriginal broad comedies, action films, and horror films that the 14 year-olds want to see. The adults can watch HBO until October. Who needs them anyway? Those people refuse to go back and see the same film 6 or 7 times. What losers!”

OK. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, I suppose. But it’s in the same zip code of the truth.

Why has all this happened?

For one of the reasons, the following is an excerpt from Chapter 15 of Bringing Back The Old Hollywood:

Death Knell for Risk Takers:

Sequels, Tie-Ins, and Remakes, Oh My

More and more studios are today rejecting the whole notion of doing films that don’t already have built-in marketing hooks. As a result, sequels and remakes have become the centerpiece of every box office year.

In the spring and summer of 2010 alone, we were subjected to remakes of The A-Team, Nightmare on Elm Street, The Wolfman, Clash of The Titans, and Robin Hood. Sequels included Shrek 4, Iron Man 2, Sex and The City 2, Toy Story 3, Step Up 3, Twilight 3, Meet the Fokkers 2, and sequels to Cats And Dogs and Nanny McPhee.

During my old friend and lawyer Tom Pollock’s long, successful run as the head of Universal Pictures, one of his early and biggest hits was Twins, which featured Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny deVito as twin brothers. Later, Tom cast the same two people in Junior, which featured Schwarzenegger as the world’s first pregnant man. The film bombed.

From an executive’s standpoint, Tom made a safe decision because if Junior didn’t work (and it didn’t), he could point to the casting and claim to his bosses that he was not off base in thinking that the same cast that worked in Twins would result in another commercial film.

When executives take chances on untried material or personnel, however, and the film fails, those executives have no explanation other than that their personal judgment was wrong.

Of course, their judgment is going to be at wrong at times.

Very wrong. Way wrong. Totally wrong.

Making movies is not rocket science. Regardless of how corporate thinking might want the movie zeitgeist to be, there are no surefire pathways to box office success.

Perhaps the most-repeated and respected one sentence description of the creative process in Hollywood was written by screenwriter William Goldman in his classic book Adventures in the Screen Trade:

“Nobody knows anything.”

The most important support that film executives need to have is the security of knowing that they can fail without getting fired. Without that security, they cannot have the courage to take a shot at a new idea.

With corporate managers and overseers who don’t understand, respect, and appreciate the fact that risk taking often fails, executives simply don’t have the leeway to crash and burn with new and risky films.

Without that security, we the audience are doomed to an endless film landscape of sequels, remakes, and rehashes of what worked before.

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