| March 6, 2022
I started writing this two weeks ago. I was interrupted and never finished… for all the reasons I started writing it.
I am not afraid to shoot off my mouth. I have strong opinions. And even if you disagree with my analysis, I have educated, researched opinions.
But all the thoughts cascading through my mind and my heart and some days, my very soul… right now, they feel meaningless.
There are people in this industry who have solid ground under their feet. The television business is a place where they should be doing all the infrastructure work that hasn’t been done properly for decades, so that when production restarts in earnest, they are ready to be the very best platforms possible. Writers can write. Producers can work on writers’ work and make deals that are on shaky ground, but it’s something to do.
But people like me? Putting aside the specific weirdness of specifically being me, I am an analyst and strategist. I am a journalist, though the word never sits comfortably in my mouth. I get information. I contextualize information. I offer information.
And COVID-19 is a giant “fuck you” to anyone who thinks they know anything right now. Unless you are managing something that already exists, you are wishing and hoping and dreaming.
On issue after issue after issue, taking an absolute position on the future is Russian roulette. Movie theaters. Movies themselves. The future of streaming. Non-TV awards. Film festivals. International vs domestic. production. Distribution. Unions.
There is a media obsession with selling the notion—fundamentally stupid—that the entire filmed entertainment universe is going to be on our television sets with 5000 IMAXs for Marvel movies. Idiotic. On its face. But putting that aside… COVID-19 could make that happen. Not directly. But none of us can be sure that traditional brick & mortar—not just cinemas, but every mall and restaurant—is going to look the same after this all settles in however long it takes. I don’t know if theaters will survive another 15 months of the virus. If Los Angeles’ Century City Mall becomes a condo, I wouldn’t expect an AMC, or maybe a much smaller AMC.
The question of whether people would want to change their primary content provider in the midst of the pandemic was up in the air a couple months ago. I leaned towards more conservative choices by consumers. But time and the virus may change that dramatically. As people have less money from working, the $50 each month that cable or DirecTV costs over cutting the cord might look attractive, even if it requires effort. But access to a strong internet connection is also part of this equation and do people want service people coming into their homes to manage higher-quality internet service? The longer this goes on, the more pressure points exist and the harder they are pushed upon.
Many of my opinions are unchanged since March. Others have changed dramatically. My position on the now-cancelled Telluride Film Festival started with spreading the event into 12 days, with one-third of passholders invited to the section of their choice. It seemed like this would narrow the danger and discomfort. Soon, I added to that the idea that media should be eliminated from the mix, included by a digital offering, which could also be the basis for building a full-festival digital footprint as needed. By June, I was 100% in on Telluride going 100% digital, with the outside hope of some local event in Telluride. Last week, the knife was shoved in for the festival, as the local school board disallowed the use of two of the the festival’s three largest venues. But that was a predictable outcome. The festival chose to roll the dice, but the dice were loaded from the start.
Toronto, on the other hand, announced — without asking me, for the record — that they would push all of Press & Industry to streaming. And unsaid, though I expect it may be what happens, is the notion that the entire festival may eventually expand into a virtual event. Same ticket price for a movie and Q&A, but stay home.
Of course, there was another major variable in these festival choices… The Academy. By pushing the Oscar Show two months (which still is 50/50, at best, to happen), they undermined an already problematic situation for the August and September festivals. It allowed the distributors to bow out because the fests were suddenly way too early for launching awards efforts, which they have relied on for hoopla in recent years. So the show can go on… but if there are more than a handful of ambitious awards movies, it will be a surprise.
That brings up the comical date change by The Academy. How will this work? If they are waiting for theaters to open, are theaters more likely to be open in January and February than in November and December? If Academy members are watching movies online and via screener, why delay? If it’s about the show itself, what makes anyone think it will be any safer to do a show live in Southern California in April than in February? All I see is magical thinking… and a shift in the pressure to actually have a competitive Oscar show, as if, in February there is a good chance it would be cancelled but in April there is less of a chance. But based on what? Whim. It’s strategy by awards consultants, not anything grounded in reality that anyone has been able to explain to me.
Look. Maybe Toronto will have a local event that works great. Maybe New York will be a great outdoor festival. Maybe theaters will open in the fall and winter and The Oscars will be a huge winner in April. Maybe distributors will feel compelled to raise the bar higher and higher regarding what they are willing to push to their streaming platforms. Maybe American studios will start prioritizing international distribution in countries that are open and start overseas, then figure out America. Maybe NATO — the National Association of Theater Owners — will make an agreement with distributors to get a piece of the VOD for a films that were intended for theatrical. Maybe, maybe, maybe, maybe, maybe…
I don’t need to predict the future perfectly. I have always been about the ongoing conversation and not about the insta-answer. But I don’t want to do it right now. I don’t want to add to the noise. There is so much noise. And so little reality.
So… thanks for caring. (I assume if you bothered to get this far, you do, either way.) But I don’t want to piss in the wind. And there is a lot of wind right now.
| March 6, 2022
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May 1, 2022
"Netflix, the great disrupter whose algorithms and direct-to-consumer platform have forced powerful media incumbents to rethink their economic models, now seems to need a big strategy change itself. It got me thinking about the simple idea that my film and TV production company Blumhouse is built on: If you give artists a lot of creative freedom and a little money upfront but a big stake in the movie’s or TV show’s commercial success, more often than not the result will be both commercial (the filmmakers are incentivized to make films that will resonate with audiences) and artistically interesting (creative freedom!). This approach has yielded movies as varied as Get Out (made for $4.5 million, with worldwide box office receipts of more than $250 million), Whiplash (made for $3.3 million, winner of three Academy Awards), The Invisible Man (made for $7 million, earned more than $140 million) and Paranormal Activity (made for $15,000, grossed more than $190 million).From the beginning, the most important strategy I used to persuade artists to work with me was to make radically transparent deals: We usually paid the artists (“participants” in Hollywood lingo) the absolute minimum allowable by union contracts upfront, with the promise of healthy bonuses based on actual box office results—instead of the opaque 'percentage points' that artists are usually offered. Anyone can see box office results immediately, so creators don’t quarrel with the payouts. In fact, when it comes time for an artist to collect a bonus based on box office receipts, I email a video clip of myself dropping the check off at FedEx to the recipient."
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