Only Styrofoam, Cockroaches, And Bad Jokes Last Forever

April 25, 2011

First of all today, I want to thank you for your comments and questions as we begin our quest to bring back the Old Hollywood. I am deeply grateful for your input because it helps me pinpoint the areas on which we most need to focus as we make this journey together.

In the last few weeks, we’ve begun to look more closely at the solutions and new paradigms in film development, production, and distribution that are beginning to emerge. These new developments that  illuminate the critical nature of the challenge that now exists to the continued viability of both new movies and movie theaters.

For instance, Regal and AMC have joined forces to distribute movies themselves with no studio interface. Why? Simply because studios are making fewer and fewer new movies, and asking exhibitors for such exorbitant fees for the increasingly expensive movies that they do make that movie theaters have less and less product and increasingly red-inked bottom lines.

In another development, studios have started a premium On Demand service through which subscribers will get home access to films only 60 days after their theatrical release. Theater owners are so enraged at this further cannibalization of the theater-going experience and so concerned that people will have less and less motivation to come to movie theaters that they are threatening not to book those films.

One of the most persistent issues that still that comes up, however, is much more basic and  can best be summarized by the following question:

“In spite of all these developments, are new movies and movie theaters really in as much jeopardy as you and your book claim they are….or are you just exaggerating the situation?”

As in building a home, the foundation of our journey must be solid before anything else can be constructed. Each day new people are exploring our site and are exposed, many for the first time, to our mission to save new movies and movie theaters from extinction. So, from time to time, I am going to return to our foundation.

From Bringing Back The Old Hollywood:

“For independent films, the vital signs are indeed flat lining:

Financing sources have dried up.

Theatrical distribution is so difficult that only one out of every two hundred independently financed films ever play in a theater.

Audiences over thirty are staying home.

Due to rising costs, fewer films, and diminished audiences, independent theaters are closing at an alarming rate.

With little or no theatrical presence, the promise of DVD income for a film has all but disappeared.

With no theatrical or DVD presence, there is almost no chance of selling a film to television.

With no U.S. theatrical or DVD distribution, foreign sales are much more difficult if even at all possible.

If something isn’t done soon, independent films will certainly become extinct and even the bigger films will be facing an uncertain future.

Only Styrofoam, Cockroaches, And Bad Jokes Last Forever

Lest anyone think that I’m exaggerating the danger, we need look back no farther than several decades to encounter some incredibly popular forms of entertainment that are today either completely defunct or on life support:

Vaudeville.

Silent films.

Burlesque.

Opera.

Ballet.

When they were popular, no one would have thought that any of those art forms could ever be in danger.

That is, until they disappeared or, in the case of opera and ballet, are struggling mightily to stay alive, at least in the United States.

Taking the concept of obsolescence a bit farther:

Would anyone have thought, even as recently as ten or fifteen years ago, that newspapers, magazines, and video stores would be in such dire straits today?

Would you have thought fifteen or twenty years ago that typewriters, non-digital cameras, and pay phones would today be collector’s items?

Simply put, a huge segment of filmmaking is indeed in great jeopardy of going the way of eight track tapes.

The survival of new movies is up to us.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Danny Cameron April 25, 2011 at 8:13 am

I don’t understand why studios are in a rush to get movies to DVD. Let people desire to go the theater, rather than brush it off because it’s going to be in their home five seconds later. The bane of this society is getting things faster and cheaper, and it’s quickly effecting movies. I just finished an independent film and I realize I have no chance of getting it anywhere near distribution from any small studio, so I’ve got to figure it out on my own…but I guess that’s what breeds ingenuity.

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Stephen Simon April 25, 2011 at 8:17 am

Hey Danny. Thanks so much for the comment and I totally agree with you. Studios are so desperate to get extra cash from home VOD that they continue to cannibalize the theater-going experience. This situation has reached critical mass so the next couple of years will be critical. And good luck with your film! Are you submitting it to Festivals?

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Danny Cameron April 27, 2011 at 11:01 am

Yes, but only a select few as most festivals now are just film people partying with no real incentives for developing more films. At this point, our distribution plan is getting to talk to someone at Hallmark Films, or a family film distribution company. If we can just get someone to say great job, we will fund the next one, it’s a small start to much bigger plans. Thanks for great articles! Here’s our teaser trailer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTb9y-m2onM

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Brian Mills April 25, 2011 at 9:25 am

Stephen, movie lovers will always choose to see a film on the big screen rather than even only wait 6o days to see it on DVD; as long as there is a cinema to see it in. It appears that in America the situation is far worse than in Europe with cinemas closing, here in London just in the last few months a new cinema, Curzon Millbank, opened. I think the healthy way to keep movies in movie theaters is through film festivals which is why I promote them so much on my page. Robert Redford is bringing a taster of Sundance to London next year not for people to see these independent movies on DVD but on the big screen. So why isn’t it happening in Hollywood? I think because they are aiming their productions at a lower demographic. They need to wake up to the fact that movies are international. Maybe the future lies in an older demographic that passionately love cinemas. Have fun, will unravel!

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Sherry April 25, 2011 at 11:15 am

Going to the movies is too expensive and has been for quite some time. When I was a kid you could go to the movies for 35 cents and stay all day. The theaters were absolutely packed with kids every Saturday and every day over the summer. This really kept the Public in the habit of going to the movies, in spite of the fact that we had color televisions to watch for free at home. These days the theaters are almost empty unless it is a big blockbuster movie. You can go to a movie on a Friday or Saturday night and sit in a theater with a handful of people. Why? Because in our relatively small, rural area, we’ll have to pay about $20 per person for a movie, popcorn and a soda – and the pricing here is cheap compared to the cities. It will also cost an additional $8 for us to get to the theater and back, so the price for a single film is $48 for a couple to go see a movie they may or may not enjoy. Personally, I watch Turner Classic Movies about 50% of the time I watch TV. I have a 64″ big screen television that has a gorgeous picture in high def and it is fabulous to get a chance to watch films from the 30s and 40s in almost perfect detail. I don’t have to put up with the rude behavior from the general public, who smack their popcorn, crunch their ice, pop and snap bubble gum, kick the back of my seat and talk throughout the movie. I’m 55 and I come from a family of film lovers. All of the generations of our family simply ADORE film and are very familiar with film history, as well as modern film. My husband and I look through the listings of movies playing at the theater and nothing sounds good to us about 90% of the times we decide to go to the movies, so we end up staying home. I have no interest in seeing people cut up in pieces, or doing “it,” whether its man to woman, woman to woman or man to man. The younger generation of actors seem unable to enunciate the English language well enough to understand the dialog and most of the younger women seem to have a habit of croaking their lines with an affected growl they apparently think is sexy. The problems that have led to the downfall of movie theaters are many and have been allowed to dominate for too many years. If theaters are going to fill up again, perhaps the industry needs to rethink their strategy in regards to the types of films shown, the cost of the experience, and the enjoyability of sitting in a large room with a bunch of boors.

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Stephen Simon April 25, 2011 at 1:14 pm

Hi Sherry. Thank you so much for your insights about the theater-going experience. As I detailed in my book, I couldn’t agree with you more. For all the reasons you cited and more, the theatrical experience has been so degraded that many folks in Acts 2 and 3 of life are no longer attending on a regular basis. We must change that whole paradigm. Thanks so much for your post and I hope you will keep your comments coming! Stephen

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Jay Wheeler April 25, 2011 at 7:54 pm

As always, Stephen, you raise some thought provoking questions. I’m not sure how concise I will be with my own thoughts, but here goes.

One of the real issues causin the downfall of the entire theater-going experience is that going to the movies is no longer an ‘event.’ at the risk of sounding like my father, when I was younger I planned my week around going to the movies on a Friday or Saturday night (or both I’d I was lucky). Since I can now only wait 60 days after release to see it at home, why should I spend the time and money to see a movie in the theater unless it’s a major blockbuster? That’s sad. I also think that it is a shame that most of the major talent when it comes to true storytelling is not being utilized by the major studios, and therefore gets no funding. Therefore the truly good art never gets seen…it can’t get funded. For the most part, the truly good screenwriting doesn’t get seen by te general population, so the quality of the story and dialogue is watered down. It seems the studios want ‘safe’ instead of trruly good. The talented mavericks also can’t have their voice heard the way they should. I feel like the Coens were in that group, but other than that, the last true renegade seen by any oration of the general population was probably Altman. Where are the Welles, the Cassavetes, the Fellinis or Bergmans today? Point being that today’s product is overly watered down (which is what scares me about the possibility of remaking the true classics). Finally, I think that multiplexes has helped put us in the situation we’re in as well. Don’t get me wrong, having 15 choices can be a great thing. However, I also think it helped create an oversaturation of the market. Again, it goes back to reducing the ‘experience’ of going to the theater. Where I live there are no moviehouses. It has instead ‘corporatized’ the experience. Well, I believe I have rambled on enough. I hope this note finds everyone doing well. Until next time……..

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Jay Wheeler April 25, 2011 at 7:57 pm

Wow, I need smaller fingers when doing this with a phone. Sorry about the typos and grammar!

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