MCN Commentary & Analysis

Why Write?

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.

19 Responses to “Why Write?”

  1. Serg says:

    Funny how petty and tone deaf all the SXSW selections that cried about premiering online bwah, “but I want my red carpet!”..
    At this point, safe to say that a lot of these filmmakers who insist people should risk their lives just to see their stupid film are not going to be remembered fondly by history. Maybe you’ll just have to fill that hole that teens lined up at midnight outside the theater even though they have assigned seating fills somewhere else. Channel your ego and narcissistic needs somewhere less dangerous maybe.

  2. Bob Burns says:

    Weirdly, my business is booming. I am an architect, and I had almost no work for more than three months. Now, with the virus spreading twice as quickly, I have more and better work than ever. Construction never stopped at all, even during lockdown. No idea where my practice will be in two months. The extent this has smashed the entertainment industry is not being reflected in the lives of many, if not most people… currently. There isn’t much sympathy left for the plight of the film industry after taking account COVID victims and their caregivers. Especially with the immoral actions of the lead studio, Disney, in Florida.

  3. Amblinman says:

    I’m still wondering what I’ve been wondering: when do studios blink on this crop of blockbusters, if at all, and if so which ones? Is there a risk that some of these properties might grow cold while waiting for…whatever it is we are waiting for or at this point? I can see something like Tenet’s mystique growing but Mulan? A Quiet Place 2? Dunno. Don’t think so, is where I’m leaning. And then Disney, which is getting murdered on every front. Maybe BW becomes another Hamilton-esque weekend event at some point on Plus? I can see them forcing a month sub + an additional ppv fee for the film.

  4. Bob Burns says:

    Save the big movies for next year, or whenever it is safe. If they play them now, on any platform, what will they have next year.? It isn’t as if they are creating new content now.

    I wonder if the Academy has started making plans for a safe and appropriate ceremony? The NFL did a terrific job with their draft. Stars streaming from their homes, like the NFL, would be pretty cool.

  5. Hcat says:

    Bob, while a logistic nightmare that’s not a bad idea, have the presenter for each category deliver a bit from their home. Honestly though I think they should scrap them altogether and just make them eligible for the 2022 awards. I doubt theaters will be open by November so what’s the use of having an awards show with no product to award?

    And I agree with you I haven’t thought a bit about the industry in months with all that is going on but I hope the various guilds and unions are taking care of their below the line people as they are trying to survive these times.

  6. Hcat says:

    And on a different note, I was jazzed for Peacock. After Cheers hit me at an impressionable age I only changed the channel from NBC for simpsons and Bernie and Arrested development. Universal is the last great studio standing IMO and of all the mergers in the past thirty years theirs was the only one I applauded. I was bereft to find that since we use ruko to access everything I don’t get to participate. This is horrible, the creature from the black lagoon is just sitting out there and I can’t get ahold of it!!!!!!

  7. leahnz says:

    boy y’all are in deep shit, maybe brush up on textbook fascism and how to fight it in your spare time

  8. YancySkancy says:

    Hcat: I have AppleTV, so I’m enjoying the free version of Peacock. I had no idea until launch there was even going to be a free version. All I can say is it’s pretty nice to have, with lots of fine content. Waiting to see a list of what else is available on the subscription version. Oddly enough, I’ve started out by enjoying episodes of The Rockford Files, which I had been watching for free on IMDb TV. Only difference is Peacock only shows one ad (about a minute long) per episode, usually after opening credits, while IMDb shows three or four short ads throughout. I’ve also watched a few Columbo episodes, mostly later ones that never showed up when Netflix had it (IMDb also has Columbo, but only the original run of episodes I believe, not the later movies). I got to see two installments I’d never seen with Patrick McGoohan starring and directing, so that was a treat. Plenty of other shows and movies available, including a number of the classic Universal horror films. Weird that these services can’t get all the major devices lined up before launch. It just pisses off a large number of potential subscribers who may still be pissed after the availability issue has been solved and decide to stay away.

  9. Bob Burns says:

    truly sorry for the good David having to go without the movie ad income stream for this site… otherwise, it has been a blessing to go without movie ads insisting on our attention.

    They say that ad-free communist eastern Europe was kinda chill, in that way. the other side of deprivation. just that people were not always prompted to be anxious to buy the new thing.

  10. Bradley Laing says:

    —A commentator on twitter just wrote “Hollywood says no Tenet until Trump is defeated.” This is in response to “Tenet” being pushed back. How did the film industry start using withholding of movies to goad people into voting against Trump?

  11. John says:

    Bradley, if you believe Hollywood has ANY agenda that supercedes their desire and need to maximize profitability, then you’re not using your full critical faculties.

  12. Bradley Laing says:

    i give it a split between 90 percent maximize profitability, and ten percent doing things that make others believe they are far less than 90% dedicated.

  13. Bradley Laing says:

    DOMESTIC (84.7%)

    —this is the box office take of the documentary “20 feet from Stardom,” on Box Office Mojo.

    —Did it turn a profit? If it did, it is part of the 90 % need to maximize profitability. If not, it is part of the ten percent that makes others believe they are far less than %90 dedicated to maximizing profitability.

  14. amblinman says:

    Tenet is being pushed back because the US is currently a viral shithole.

    That’s it. That’s the explanation. There is no other reason.

  15. Bob Burns says:

    Jamaica Knauer: “True, but places like Park City count on the film festivals to survive. What can people do to support them or are all people going to have to move to large cities to pay their bills? City living isn’t for everyone. Never any easy answers, sadly.”

    This is truly ridiculous. What about all the people who dig coal, or all the frackers? Give up on climate change because those people might lose their jobs? In today’s America, most rural counties rely on federal programs for most of their income. Park City and Telluride have luxurious assets compared to most small towns, even without their festivals.

    Clearly no one in the film industry actually cares about those few towns that benefit from their film festivals. Look at the absence of ads on this site, and the other Oscar sites. Obviously the film industry publicists do not give a rats ass about the web sites that are the virtual homes of their biggest fans, much less the festivals. The last five months have been a long fuck you from Hollywood publicists. And when they return, it will be with the arrogant brute force of their cash…. and they could care less about ethics.

  16. Bradley Laing says:

    —I have asked this before, but I think I suggested that the movie studios could close down theatrical release in a posting on March 2. Was I the first person to mention this idea to you?

  17. Bradley Laing says:

    —I just checked “Box office mojo.” “Cats,” a much derided film, made 7 million dollars. The biggest summer film, “The Wretched” has made over 1 million dollars.

    —I know you are not surprised by these numbers. But the contrast seems strange to me.

  18. movieman says:

    WB now says “Tenet” is opening Labor Day weekend in the U.S.
    I guess that means 25 or so drive-ins scattered throughout the country will be playing the movie as it bypasses NY, LA and every other major market where theaters are still (sensibly) shuttered.

    Give them 24 hours and I’m sure they’ll change their mind again.

  19. Hcat says:

    The actual number of drive ins is 330 [ed: number added].

    What I find odd is that for the last few years even some of the smaller municipalitys around me have movies in the park with some sort of portable screen. You would think someone would be able to create a pop up drive in that could be brought around to all the empty mall parking lots. It would be quite a boon to the cratering food truck industry.

MCN Commentary & Analysis See All

THB #93: The Batman (no spoilers)

David Poland | March 6, 2022

THB #76: 9 Weeks To Oscar

David Poland | January 26, 2022

THB #73: Netflix Is Chilled

David Poland | January 24, 2022

The News Curated by Ray Pride See All


May 1, 2022

The New York Times

"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."
Jason Blum Sees Room For "Scrappier" Netflix

The New York Times | April 30, 2022

"As a critic Gavin was entertaining, wry, questioning, sensitive, perceptive"
Critic-Filmmaker Gavin Millar Was 84; Films Include Cream In My Coffee, Dreamchild

April 29, 2022

The New York Times

Disney Executive Geoff Morrell Out After Less Than Four Months

The New York Times | April 29, 2022

The Video Section See All

Mike Mills, C’mon C’mon

David Poland | January 24, 2022

The Podcast Section See All