“The Day The Movies Died.”

March 14, 2011

Although the title of this blog could have been  a chapter heading in my book,  it’s actually an article by Mark Harris in the February, 2011 issue of GQ Magazine. I mention it here because, in the last week or two, I’ve noticed something interesting in the interviews that I have started to do for Bringing Back The Old Hollywood.

In the interviews, we always have fun touching on my relationships with Frank Sinatra, President Reagan, Christopher Reeve, etc., and what it was like for me to grow up in The Old Hollywood.

At some point, the conversation becomes more serious when I am asked about the chapters in my book in which I talk about the potential demise of new movies. That discussion always includes a quite understandable and healthy amount of skepticism from the interviewer in the form of “Is that really possible, Stephen?”

That question has really been a godsend for me because it has made me much more acutely aware of how radical the whole notion of movies being an endangered species is when people first hear of it.

I so understand and respect those who might be thinking “Is this potential extinction really possible or is Simon crazy?” Or perhaps even more to the point: “Is he making all this up just to sell some books?”

So, today, I am grateful for the opportunity to answer those spoken and unspoken questions.

While I will most humbly demur from any defense of my personal sanity (Catch-22 comes to mind), I will say this about the concept of a coming time when new movies stop being made: I’m not crazy in making that case, and I’m not alone.

Mr. Harris’ GQ article illuminates some of the same threats that I discuss at length in my book.

In yesterday’s (March 13) Arts and Leisure section, New York Times movie critics Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott have a similar dialogue in an article entitled “Now Playing: The Usual Chaos”.

I cite these articles in particular because neither GQ nor The New York Times are exactly bastions of anti-establishment radicalism.

The threat to new movies is real and indeed increasing in intensity as 2011 has seen another plummet (over 20% so far) in movie attendance and as the studios retreat more and more into what Ms. Dargis refers to as “the-same-but-different business.” Case in point: More sequels (27) will be released in 2011 than in any other year in the history of film distribution. Ready or not, here comes Fast and Furious 5, Scream 4, Underworld 4,  Big Momma’s House 3 and others.

Even though the “endangered movies” discussion is just now making its way into mainstream publications, the threat to the continued production of new movies has been a topic of hushed conversations for years in Hollywood itself. The financial and distribution models for independent movies in particular is broken, has been so for some time, and everyone in the industry knows it.

That’s why I wrote my book and formed the community at www.TheOldHollywood.com.

While fascinating articles such as the one in GQ are illuminating the threat, the formation of our community is a call to action.

Those of us who care deeply about the future of movies must now come together and save the art form itself from extinction.

I most cordially  invite you to join us.

From Chapter 16 of  Bringing Back The Old Hollywood:

Endangered Species

Is there really a possibility that new films could actually disappear in the next ten to fifteen years?

Yes, that possibility does exist. Beyond the possibility, is it likely?

The studios of The New Hollywood will hopefully continue to make big event, brand name films, and movies targeted to people under thirty. Assuming their financial model does get fixed (and I hope it does), event films like Avatar, Transformers, Twilight, Harry Potter, and any animated movie from the inestimable Pixar, could maintain their places at the multiplex, at least for a while.

Independent films like Sideways that primarily appeal to those over thirty are, however, truly an endangered species.

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.”





{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Lauren March 14, 2011 at 12:59 pm

Great Blog Babe! As always you are ahead of your time….and maybe we can do something about it! I love my Movies! XO L


Brian Mills March 15, 2011 at 4:17 am

Hi Stephen,
Yes, it is a worrying time built I wonder whether this is mainly happening in Hollywood as the European scene seems quite healthy, mainly art house movies. Only this week an arthouse cinema chain announced the opening of a new cinema in the City of London, the second for them in two years. One of the biggest changes that could revolutionize cinemagoing is free cinema, whereby people pay only for the concessions like products and food and drinks but see the film for free. As for Hollywood, well Warner Brothers announced at the end of last year that they would be buying Leavesden Studios in England the home of the Harry Potter film franchise. Warners will be expanding the studio to meet their own production needs. Robert Redford has championed independent films for a long while via Sundance and I think
there will be a further shift to more film festivals being created worldwide. China is becoming one of the biggest filmmakers in the world and enticing Hollywood film stars to star in their films. Re-Hollywood? Who knows? But I sincerely believe that any true film lover would prefer to see a film in a movie theater than on a smaller screen. So let’s keep pressurizing them to keep the studios open and making quality movies.


Stephen Simon March 15, 2011 at 10:49 am

Hi Brian…as always, some fascinating ideas in your note….free movies with customers only paying for concessions is a truly unique and intriguing idea…audiences and theater owners would LOVE that for sure, but how do the films get compensated?….I completely agree about the theater-going experience and see no realistic scenario for the continued financial viability of features without some kind of theatrical component….we need to figure that out….am working on a new blog about movies, theaters, and the internet…sneak preview: the internet will be a viable revenue stream for movies in the future but it can’t replace the theater going experience… I am so grateful for your continuing flow of fascinating ideas!….hugs…Stephen


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