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David Poland

By David Poland

Kool Aid Time

With due respect to Anne Thompson, the idea of connecting trouble in the American auto business and alleged “trouble” in the film business is horrfying. It speaks directly to my greatest fear… that the intellectual debate about what the future of the film business is will be reduced to non-specific ramblings and irrational connections between things that are utterly unconnected.
In the most simplistic analysis, the auto business is completely different than the film business. The auto business has not been dominated by America the way that the film business dominates the world business in a long, long time. G.M. or any manufacturer release their product line once a year and sell that line for a year. While making a film does take time, no one film involves the kind of massive investment that an auto line does. And no studio, since the end of the studio system in the late 60s, has ever suffered or benefitted from trend buying the way the auto business is. Studios are not building SUVs only and seeing the trend suddenly turn away from that style.
Stealth may have crashed, but another studio tentpole, Fantastic Four, did terrific. Yes, Disney lost by chasing the Asian girl horror trend with Dark Water. But that was one movie with a small loss… and the lesson was learned. And a few months later, girls drove The Exorcism of Emily Rose to huge profits. The ship of movie state is much more flecible than that of the auto business.
And the argument that the connection is that the film business is slow to adapt is completely counter-intuitive.
The DVD business is five years old!!!
How many times must one say it? The DVD business, which expanded revenues by 30% to 40%, is only five years old!
Anne restates the same utterly false, completely unproven notion that texting is speeding up word-of-mouth to lightening speed. Besides people mouthing this absurdity a lot over the last year, what proof is offered? Forget details… just show me a Friday/Saturday drop that suggests it. Second weekend drops are not new. So if things are going faster, it should be seen on Saturdays, right? And before you use Rent as an example, you’ll need to find a teenager who saw the movie on Wednesday.
We have seen this kind of hysteria before. It comes and goes. And it DOESN’T mean that there is nothing wrong. Many things are wrong. But this experiential journalism – for which the web must take some responsibility – is for shit. None of us who write about this business are the target for the business. Yet we write endlessly about how we feel… and now that extends to the major papers and teh trades. This is getting very dangerous.
No one who knows anything about the record business will tell you that the troubles that occured in the 90s were a result of technology so much as a result of record company greed. Pricing was just to high.
And for some reason, all these people who are screaming about the end of the movie world as we know it and the NEED to chase technology (let’s not even get into the lack of screaming that the studios should have converted theaters to digital projection years ago and could be saving a billion dollars a year now) don’t seem to understand that the entire push for home delivery is about expanding the costs of films at home… not serving the consumer more effectively.
If you serve the customer more effectively, the price families spend to receive films at home will go down, not up! And if you prioritize the home experience over the theaterical window followed by the home window, it will go down even further.
The only two arguments for shrinking the window further are: 1. Serving the blockbuster and 2. the notion that people will pay a significant premium for seeing movies on opening weekend at home.
If either of these notions disturb you… and I would bet that both notions would disturb Anne Thompson and Patrick Goldstein as the primary drivers, since neither have written about them… then you have to be taking a stand on the side of strengthening the theatrical business and window before getting to a wide open ancillary business. If not, you are sure to be like the girl who sleeps with the guy on their first date to “get him” and wonders why he then leaves her because he thinks she is a whore.
The film business is a long relationship. The one night stand mentality is not progress.

7 Responses to “Kool Aid Time”

  1. Angelus21 says:

    The record industry priced themselves out of the market. 18 bucks for a cd? Unreal. Who wants to pay that? It costs less than a buck to produce them. They should have been selling and still should be selling for 9.99$. It was tragic that the Spiderman soundtrack was selling for 18$ and the dvd could be had for 9$.

  2. JckNapier2 says:

    I must make note of something you mentioned. While I agree that in no way has text messaging really affected word of mouth to any normal degree, it should be noted that Wednesday night in Cleveland… opening night of Rent, my relatives saw it (and loved it, natch), and they said the entire theatre was filled with middle-school girls and their mothers. Not making any statements, but one could argue that there were quite a few teenagers seeing Rent Wednesday night.
    I do wonder, just tossing it out, whether or not the alleged text-messaging word of mouth might explain the decline of the usual healthy Friday to Saturday increase. While back a few years ago, only the most front-loaded blockbuster made less on Saturday than Friday, I seem to be seeing that more and more in the last couple years, either with minor drops on Saturday or near even Saturday numbers, even with normal, seemingly non-front loaded movies.
    Of course, it’s just as likely as that’s simply a case of the ‘gotta see it first’ mentality that used to be merely a thing for film geeks and hardcore fans, but is now a national pasttime of sorts.
    Random thought, make of it what you will.
    Scott Mendelson

  3. The Premadator says:

    I think Thompson’s text messaging comment wasn’t meant to be taken too literally, but simply an example of how buzz & (ahem) movie dialogue has sped up these last few years as a result of cyber technology. It’s there, sure, but I don’t think it’s hysterically there.
    What I find interesting is how the studios seemed to have made peace with the geek sites. AICN has been all but declawed. The industry has very cleverly found a way to turn any cool news into questionable news with their go for the jugular marketing blitzs. A test screening or rogue script review doesn’t seem to affect business like we once thought it might (and what was the last leaked script anyone’s read online? Kill Bill?)
    Even Poland blowing my Voldermort surprise a few days ago doesn’t mean a thing. The critics I trust liked it, word of mouth is strong, and it’s making killer money… Count me in.
    I guess word of mouth, in any form, is still king.

  4. JckNapier2 says:

    Of course my reference to text messaging was also just a general remark to the sorts of ‘youth word of mouth spreaders’. Out of curiosity, what exactly was the ‘Voldermort surprise’? Had you not read the book? Even if so, for a reader, that was not the surprise for me, but what happened… um… what else occured.
    Scott Mendelson

  5. The Premadator says:

    That picture on the blog. That’s Voldermort right?

  6. JBM... says:

    “A test screening or rogue script review doesn’t seem to affect business like we once thought it might (and what was the last leaked script anyone’s read online? Kill Bill?)”
    I recall the Batman Begins and Stay scripts being out there long before the movies premiered. Didn’t read BB, but Stay’s script affected MY business, hyuk-hyuk-hyuk.

  7. Blackcloud says:

    “That picture on the blog. That’s Voldermort right?”
    The Jeff Wells one, you mean? Yeah, that’s Ralph Fiennes as the younger Tom Riddle, reincarnated.

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This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.

“One of the fun things about seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film three months early in Cannes (did I mention this?) is that I know exactly why it’s going to make some people furious, and thus I have time to steel myself for the takes.

Back in July 2017, when it was revealed that Tarantino’s next project was connected to the Manson Family murders, it was condemned in some quarters as an insulting and exploitative stunt. We usually require at least a fig-leaf of compassion for the victims in true-crime adaptations, and even Tarantino partisans like myself – I don’t think he’s made a bad film yet – found ourselves wondering how he might square his more outré stylistic impulses with the depiction of a real mass murder in which five people and one unborn child lost their lives.

After all, it’s one thing to slice off with gusto a fictional policeman’s ear; it’s quite another to linger over the gory details of a massacre that took place within living memory, and which still carries a dread historical significance.

In her essay The White Album, Joan Didion wrote: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

Early in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters drive up the hill towards Leo’s bachelor pad, the camera cranes up gently to reveal a street sign: Cielo Drive. Tarantino understands how charged that name is; he can hear the Molotov cocktails clinking as he shoulders the crate.

As you may have read in the reviews from Cannes, much of the film is taken up with following DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters – a fading TV actor and his long-serving stunt double – as they amusingly go about their lives in Los Angeles, while Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a relatively minor presence. But the spectre of the murders is just over the horizon, and when the night of the 9th finally arrives, you feel the mood in the cinema shift.

No spoilers whatsoever about what transpires on screen. But in the audience, as it became clear how Tarantino was going to handle this extraordinarily loaded moment, the room soured and split, like a pan of cream left too long on the hob. I craned in, amazed, but felt the person beside me recoil in either dismay or disgust.

Two weeks on, I’m convinced that the scene is the boldest and most graphically violent of Tarantino’s career – I had to shield my eyes at one point, found myself involuntarily groaning “oh no” at another – and a dead cert for the most controversial. People will be outraged by it, and with good reason. But in a strange and brilliant way, it takes Didion’s death-of-the-Sixties observation and pushes it through a hellfire-hot catharsis.

Hollywood summoned up this horror, the film seems to be saying, and now it’s Hollywood’s turn to exorcise it. I can’t wait until the release in August, when we can finally talk about why.

~ Robbie Collin