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David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

Hot Button Rules of Thumb (first published in 2006)

Top 10 Hot Button Rules of Thumb

I just ran into this list, posted somewhere 8 years ago.

There is really only one specific change. In item #2, the DVD market has changed and international has become a much more significant force. I would still say that $150m domestic is still not a blockbuster, but often the start of a road to more than $300 million in returns to the distributor and/or funders. These days, a blockbuster starts anywhere between $200m – $250 domestic, depending on expected international results. There were 11 films over $200m domestic in 2012 and 13 in 2013. And in most cases, production costs of the films in that range have gone up substantially as well.

TOP TEN HOT BUTTON RULES OF THUMB

1. Great Media Outlets’ Standards Are Less Stringent When The Subject Is Entertainment And That Sucks.

2. $150 Million Is No Longer A Blockbuster In Theatrical… But Right Now Represents The Start Of A Road To More Than $200 Million In Returns to The Studio In Most Cases Thanks To The New DVD Market And Expanded International Theatrical Market.

3. Successful Movie Advertising Sells One Idea At A Time… And There Actually Has To Be An Idea Worth Selling.

4. The Story Of The Moment Is Almost Never The Real Story.

5. There Are Very Few Journalists In Entertainment Journalism.

6. Talent Is Your Friend Until It’s Time For Talent Not To Be Your Friend.

7. Reviewing Scripts Or Test Screenings Is Selfish And Immoral… You Do Not Know What Effect Sticking Your Nose Into Process Will Have And More Often Than Not It Is Negative.

8. Opening Weekend Is Never About The Quality Of The Movie.

9. There Are Things I Know And Things I Don’t Know And Sometimes They Change.

10. Love What You Do And Do What You Love Or Get The Fuck Out.

One Response to “Hot Button Rules of Thumb (first published in 2006)”

  1. Bob Burns says:

    I remember this list….. #8 made an impression.

    I would say about #4 that the story of the moment is indeed not the real story. In fact the story is never, ever the story, because there are no journalists in entertainment journalism. Period. If there were, they would have gotten Weinstein a couple of decades ago, instead of enabling him at every turn.

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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