What’s Wrong With Hollywood?

Our “greatest generation”, the one that had endured a decade of Depression, arrived at the doorstep of world-war feeling confident and optimistic. They believed that as “Team America” they could overcome anything. They merely had to roll up their sleeves and get to work – and so they did – from December 8, 1941 on, they enlisted by the millions and they wanted to be reinforced in their belief in American exceptionalism and were only too ready to embrace motion pictures that reflected their “never-give-up, never-give-in” attitude.

These “unconquerables”, after a decade and a half of economic strife at home and war overseas, came out of the experience determined that the next generation would never have to experience anything like it. It had been so traumatic and such a shared struggle that their collective experiences were enough that they didn’t find it necessary to discuss it among themselves or with their children. Even those who manned the home front seldom talked of those times. They would all just move on.

Into this silence (the “silence of the lions” – not the lambs), as we have seen, came the disenfranchised New Dealers, their acolytes and fellow-travelers, who believed that America needed to change because – well, because they were no longer near the seat of power – having been chased from their perches of influence, first by the new Democrat President – a plain talking man of the people from the mid-west – then by the “Red Scare” of the early 1950s and finally, after twenty years by, of all things, a Republican President!

Eventually settling into academia, the press and Hollywood with many of their mentors from the heady days before the Depression and by those stigmatized by the anti-communist chaos at the beginning of the Cold War, they began to exact their restitution by using their skills as persuasive writers to begin disassembling the belief in American exceptionalism that had marked the storied American experience since the end of the Civil War.

The attitudes of the Hollywood studios and the viewing public during these periods reflected the culture of America at the time. Where literally thousands of motion pictures reflecting optimism, courage and a never-say-die attitude could be churned out by the studios to financial, if not critical, success during World War II and the succeeding years through the Truman and Eisenhower years, the same could not be said for the studios and viewing public after the assault on American exceptionalism had taken hold by the early 1960s.

Because of the marginal success of the discouraging, anti-American-exceptionalism themed major films in the 1960’s and the success of inspiring and optimistic themed television shows, major studios, in some desperation to attract the baby-boom audience now coming into its own, started financing independent films, and major conglomerates that invested and traded in the studios, bought up many of the major studios.

“A slew of new distribution companies such as American International Pictures, an up and coming production/distribution company, distributed some very popular series of movies, including Roger Corman’s films based on Edgar Allen Poe. American Intl’ Pictures started the genre of marketing films to teenagers. Jack Nicholson, Robert DeNiro, Warren Beatty, George Lucas, David Lynch, Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola got their starts during this period. American Graffiti (1973), Taxi Driver (1976), and The Godfather(1972) seemed like independent films, but they were all studio funded and based on studio pitches.

Though thematic changes, which spread through the American cinema of the 1970s, prominently featured heightened depictions of realistic sex and violence (images and themes that could not be shown on television), directors who wished to reach the mass audience of the old Hollywood quickly learned to stylize these themes to make their films appealing and attractive rather than repulsive or obscene.

 

However, at the same time that the maverick university trained film students of the American new wave were developing the skills they would use to take over Hollywood, many of their classmates had begun to develop in a different direction. Influenced by foreign “art house” directors, (such as Ingmar Bergman and Federico Fellini) exploitation shockers and those who walked the line between, a number of young film makers began to experiment with transgression not as a box-office draw, but as an artistic act. Directors such as David Lynch would make a name for themselves by the early-1970s for the bizarre and often disturbing imagery which characterized their films.

With the proliferation of outlets for general audio and visual scripted entertainment, Hollywood has had to face the reality that the mass audience has been fragmented forever. As such, the consumers of film (both theater and television) have responded to the production values of a film much more than any political messages.

In the heyday of Hollywood, movies reflected the culture and only occasionally tried to gently “preach” to the audience. When Hollywood began to glorify the anti-establishment crowd in the 1950s, it began to lose audience because the people wouldn’t spend their entertainment dollar to have their beliefs challenged and insulted [rather than entertained]. When Hollywood began to pander to the younger generations in the 1960s, they found that the believability of the story, no matter how incredible, had to be spectacular.

Today, special effects are much more of an attraction for movie audiences who pay to be entertained than a “message” reflecting some personal viewpoint of the producer or director. People just don’t care anymore what Hollywood titans [now high-priced actors, rather than the studio heads of the “old” Hollywood, personally profess to] believe because it is not what the vast majority of the People believe – they want to be impressed, not indoctrinated [and messages about morality and ethics from the Hollywood hedonists is just a little too hypocritical for the average movie patron].”

But, true to form, the progressive/liberal/Hollywood cabal will not stop trying to sway their audience and will continue to celebrate those who make the attempt. When award season rolls around each year, the films celebrating progressive/liberal values, the further from traditional values the better, will continue to receive the lion’s share of the accolades – despite meager financial returns on their “political” products and dismal growth over the past decades. Only zealots would continue to pour their efforts into a product that performs so poorly.”

Need an example? Check out the 2016 calendar year Academy Awards. The movie Moonlight, about the struggles of a gay, black man grossed about $22 million and won the award for Best Picture. Two other acclaimed pictures, Hidden Figures, about female African-American mathematicians, essential to success at the beginning of America’s space program and LaLa Land, an old-fashioned Hollywood love letter to the movie business, grossed $152 million and $140 million respectively – and lost. The American people knew which were the best pictures but political motivation among the elite – entirely predictable – won out.

The American entertainment industry, beginning in the early part of the 20th Century, concerned itself primarily with providing the public with shows that they would enjoy and which provided respite from their daily routine. They could be fanciful, comedic, documentary, historical, futuristic, musical, classical, cartoonish or a myriad of other forms but, they didn’t dare insult or ridicule the consumer. Nobody pays to be insulted.

By the time the 21st Century rolled around however, much of the industry had thrown respect for the audience out the window. Somehow, preaching the progressive/liberal line at every opportunity was de rigeur. Even when such fare lost millions they have persisted. With the preaching has come a holocaust for quality. This is not to say that the source material for most projects is not in keeping with America’s long history of remarkable creativity but, when the production studios get hold of this material they first remove the creative artist from the project and turn it over, to put it nicely, to a company hack – or perhaps – flack. The end product, more often than not, is unworthy of the American People.

You would think that, with all of the money in Hollywood, they could figure out what is wrong with their product. They do know what the problem is, they just cannot help themselves – their collective ego won’t let them admit that their anti-America themes that seeks to tear down America’s traditions and institutions in favor of their perverted sense of an America without borders, without competition, without quality, without responsibility, without a common language and culture, without standards is not being bought by the People. They are stupidly leaving, literally, billions of dollars on the table as Americans continue to find new forms of entertainment.

Such writing has become cartoonish – especially what passes for comedy – with personally insulting, juvenile and locker room dialogue being celebrated as wildly humorous. It isn’t. It’s merely lazy and nasty. On television, they know the writing is so bad that they include a “laugh-track” with every comedy to enable the viewers to know what is “funny” and when to laugh – in stark contrast to the television comedies of the 1950s and 60s where all of America laughed uncontrollably at antics of Lucy and Desi. That all ended with the last great comedy series – Seinfeld – in the 1990s.

Now, of course, the industry will protest such criticism with the “artists have always pushed the envelope” argument. If past artists had pushed the envelope, they did not, at least, insult or demean their patrons or, if they did, they became “starving artists”. Today, the self-proclaimed artists not only insult their patrons – the People – they become multi-millionaires – a seemingly normal occurrence in the PLDC world.

And, we needn’t waste any more ink on rap music or most other artistic adventures that are celebrated as “pop culture”. So, it is no surprise that the younger generations spend an increasing portion of their entertainment dollars on video games.

“A few recent, seemingly disparate, events illuminate the seismic shifts occurring in entertainment and media (E&M). When basketball superstar Kobe Bryant announced his retirement from the NBA on November 29, 2015, it occurred not on a major sports network but via social media and the Players’ Tribune, an athlete-centric digital publisher.

That same month, CBS — which like NBC, FOX, and ABC is trying to grow viewership outside of traditional pay-TV — announced plans to revive Star Trek, one of its best-known franchises, exclusively on CBS All Access, its new subscription video on-demand service. Fox declared it will no longer track same-day TV ratings; rather, it will report on program viewership occurring after three and seven days, responding to the prevalence of on-demand viewing. Mobile operators like AT&T and Sprint responded to users’ surging demand for streaming video by emphasizing their unlimited wireless data offerings in their marketing and subscriber acquisition efforts. And some of the hottest-selling gifts in the holiday season of 2015 were streaming video devices and smartphones.

These developments foreshadow the E&M industry’s rapid transition to a direct-to-consumer world, where most content will remain the same — at first, anyway — but the packaging and distribution will change significantly. Specifically, the expansion of digital technology, manifested in more ubiquitous fixed and wireless network connectivity enabling growing numbers of connected devices and new routes to the user, is altering the industry’s structure, driving new ways to produce, distribute, and monetize content across its landscape. Creators can more readily pursue opportunities outside traditional studios and distribution channels. Consumers have far more content to choose from, available to them at any time, in any mix, through many more delivery options and devices. In every corner of E&M, empowered users are gravitating to brands, experiences, and platforms that are differentiated as much by the quality of their curation,

Tomorrow’s E&M landscape is most visible today on your teenage daughter’s smartphone, where users spend two out of every three minutes of their digital media time and where apps dominate. Users spend 71 percent of their time on mobile devices using apps, according to comScore. Increasingly, apps are influencing how users consume media and entertainment as they become the preferred format for delivering content- and functionality-rich experiences that drive engagement, best exemplified by apps such as Major League Baseball Advanced Media’s At Bat in sports and Spotify in music. But considering the competition among the multitude of apps across social media, games, messaging, e-commerce, fitness, dating, music, personal finance, travel, and even user-generated photos and videos — and limited available real estate on mobile device home screens — the fight for users among E&M companies will be brutal.

User time on smartphones is concentrated in just a few apps, a landscape dominated by social media properties such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, as well as entertainment brands such as Google’s YouTube, Pandora, and Apple Music. Today, the top five apps capture 88 percent of a user’s app time according to comScore. With their outsized audiences, these apps are becoming ever more attractive to advertisers, particularly as the TV landscape fragments. In the fourth quarter of 2015, 80 percent of Facebook’s $5.6 billion in advertising revenue came from mobile, up from 69 percent in the same period the year before, with much of its recent growth coming from its native mobile apps.

Increasingly, the largest apps are, in fact, the distributors. Through offerings such as Snapchat’s Discover, Facebook’s Instant Articles, and Apple News, content providers whose output is geared for these digital distributors can publish directly onto their apps, which offer such desirable user features as fast screen loading and attractive page designs. Publishers can “fish where the fish are” and attract new audiences to their brands, while the app companies keep users on their platforms for extended periods of engagement. Under these arrangements, publishers can sell advertising provided they share a percentage of the revenue with the platform partner.

As fans spend more time on their digital devices, they feel more personally connected to their favorite artists, stars, athletes, and fellow fans — so much so that they crave more live, direct interactions with them. A great deal of evidence supports this. Touring and festivals are now the lifeblood of the music industry. Theme park visitation is growing globally at a healthy 4 percent for the top destinations; faster growth is expected in the coming years in Asia, especially China. And video gaming (aka “e-sports”) has become a live event phenomenon where fans pack arenas to watch others play competitively.

Live events are critical to building and strengthening fandom. They also represent the most direct way to monetize a digital entertainment or media relationship in the physical world through ticket sales, merchandise, sponsorships, and advertising. Often, social media — connections and conversation between talent and fans as well as among fans — is at the center of the virtuous circle that drives the value of live events, such as games, concerts, conferences, theme parks, conventions, and musicals.

For example, fans fill Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook feeds with @event selfies, that is, photos, videos, and posts showcasing their favorite moments. These activities stimulate more interest from other fans, driving more ticket and product sales as well as advertising opportunities. Live events can be re-monetized as content on traditional or digital media. To illustrate, look no further than social-media pioneer and mega-star Taylor Swift’s decision to release her 1989 World Tour LIVE film on Apple Music, where it is available exclusively to Apple Music subscribers.

The attractive dynamics of live experiences explain why companies such as Pandora, which started out as a 100 percent digital service, have launched new event franchises like Women in Country. It is the rationale for other big strategic moves in 2015. Traditional publishers such as Time Inc., Conde Nast, and The New York Times Company have announced plans to expand their participation in live events — viewing these efforts as essential to developing new offerings for users and well as marketing partners and sponsors.

There is room for more efforts like these, especially in video and digital. Empire, Fox’s hip-hop soap opera, which debuted in 2015 and was a surprise ratings success, gaining nearly 17 million viewers by the end of the season, demonstrates the explosive impact that media companies can have when they create multicultural storylines that resonate with popular culture. In the second season, Empire has added a more Latino flavor to its cast and subject matter and expanded its audience in the process. This serves as a model not only for U.S. companies but also for other E&M outfits in global regions that have diverse cultural communities and emerging consumer segments that may also represent attractive “pockets of growth.”

In September 2015, a new pop-culture milestone was reached. The fourteenth installment of the video game Grand Theft Auto did $800 million in worldwide sales in its first 24 hours. [Recall that this years’ Academy Award winning movie grossed $22 million.] That was the biggest launch day ever for any piece of entertainment–any movie, any record, anything at all.

Grand Theft Auto V, by Rockstar Games, follows three lowlife characters through a sequence of high-speed car crashes, petty larceny, and other forms of simulated violence against the intricately detailed backdrop of Los Angeles. It is, according to the critics, a very, very good game. It also cost $266 million to make–more than any Hollywood blockbuster except the third installment of Pirates of the Caribbean. [However, that is a 333% profit in 24 hours. Did the Hollywood big shots notice? Apparently not.]

GTA is not the only $100-million+ “tentpole game” out there, or the first one to beat Hollywood by the numbers. Last year, the category-leading first person shooter Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 made $1 billion in 15 days. It took David Cameron’s Avatar, the top-grossing movie of all time, two days longer to earn the same amount.

The video-game industry is projected to grow from $67 billion in 2013 to $82 billion in 2017. At the same time, global movie revenue, both DVD and ticket sales, hit an estimated $94 billion in 2010, down 17% after inflation from 2001!!!

Why is the video-game industry on the ascendance? And are there any lessons that the movie (and to a lesser extent, the music) industry can take from its success?

Could the movie industry do this? Blu-ray discs didn’t get it there, but the recent Gravity did give 3-D and IMAX another shot in the arm–and an experience you can’t mimic at home. That said, overall domestic box office is pretty much flat since 2009.

Hollywood hasn’t really tapped into the social part of the viewing experience. TV has done a better job of this, but not in a way that directly generates revenue. With all the excitement around Twitter and the “second screen” it seems like there might be a way to engage hardcore fans of, say, a franchise so that they feel more like part of an ongoing community.

The U.S. entertainment and media market generated $479.23 billion in 2012, representing 29.2 percent of the worldwide revenue of nearly $1.639 trillion. In 2017, the U.S. is expected to account for $632.09 billion, or 29.4 percent of the worldwide total of more than $2.152 trillion, according to the report.

The biggest growth in film will come from “over the top” streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon.com. In 2013, OTT will generate $6.569 billion in revenue; in 2017, it’s projected to reach $17.438 billion, representing growth of 27.2 percent annually.

The laggard in the worldwide film business, not surprisingly, is physical rental and sell-through home entertainment products, the combined revenue of which will sink from $38.197 billion in 2013 to $31.341 billion in 2017, a 4.9 percent decrease annually.

In 2017, Americans will buy 1.3 billion movie tickets and pay an average price of $9.60 for them, according to PwC, representing a slow growth of 1.3 percent a year in admissions and 2 percent a year in ticket prices stateside.

Of the 13 sectors that make up the E&M industry, film will grow at the seventh-fastest pace worldwide. The fastest is Internet advertising, which will grow 13.1 percent annually from 2013-2017. Print will bring up the rear, with magazine publishing growing at 0.3 percent, while the newspaper industry remains flat. A milestone will occur in 2016, when the global E&M category becomes a $2 trillion industry.

People just aren’t going out to the movies anymore, and the number of moviegoers has hit a record low in North America. There’s no doubt that the movie theater experience has changed in the past few years, but with all of the amenities that a theater has to offer, it’s still surprising to see more and more empty seats. 

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the numbers have slipped so low, that they are the worst they’ve been in two decades. Roughly 1.26 billion consumers bought movie tickets in a recent year, the lowest number since 1995. So why is this happening? 

Besides the obvious exhaustion of seeing the same kind of movies over and over—action pictures, generally sci-fi or superhero based and animated comedies—studios tend to focus more on including a certain genre staples rather than telling interesting stories or creating unforgettable characters. Movies like Warcraft or Gods of Egypt used the same kind of junky production designs, ridiculous action and deluge of special effects as Civil War or Batman v. Superman, but had nowhere near the box office takes … because they were bad.

 Likewise, even die-hard fans of the Ninja Turtles stayed away from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles:Out of the Shadows (in part because of the low quality of the previous outing), while even major stars like Charlize Theron and Emily Blunt couldn’t buoy The Huntsman: Winter’s War.

 The reason? In short, major studios have become more focused on creating high-profile movies on a certain release schedule rather than quality product. The mentality hurts good movies as well as bad: X-Men: Apocalypse, a fun romp with the mutant heroes, had a release date set before the last movie in the franchise, Days of Future Past, even made it to movie screens!

 Suicide Squad underwent heavy reshoots and studio tinkering after Warner Bros. set a release date that would only allow director David Ayer six weeks to write and prepare the movie for production! This focus on making a release date over quality greatly hampers the final product, so it should come as no surprise that people would rather save their money for other things, or to wait and catch a movie on Blu-Ray at home.

 With the franchise mentality and enormous cost of movies these days, studios have had to look for creative ways to manage production costs. One tried-and-true method of saving money: sell screen-time to other companies in exchange for product placement. Why else does James Bond wear a Rolex watch, or would Starfleet cadets have Nokia hardware in Star Trek?

Manufacturers will pay millions of dollars for even just a few seconds of product placement, which can range from anything like a watch or stereo to even just a corporate logo in the background. Batman v. Superman has obviously placed the Turkish Airlines and Jolly Ranchers logos throughout the movie.

 For a long time, audiences didn’t seem to mind product placement, though recent movies have become so saturated with product logos, viewers have become annoyed. Subtle placement of corporate sponsors is one thing, but mind-bludgeoning saturation of product logos make a movie feel more like a commercial. The ham-fisted placement of products has a jarring effect on audiences just wanting to get swept up in the drama of a movie. Hollywood shouldn’t expect moviegoers to pay high prices for tickets to sit through glorified infomercials!

 With the franchise mentality that has so addicted Hollywood comes another dangerous phenomenon: the tent-pole movie. Now, Hollywood tent-poles are nothing new: even in the silent era, studios would release lavish, expensive mega-productions in hopes of attracting a huge audience and raking in the box office dough. Sometimes, a tent-pole can help a studio expand from being on the back bench to becoming major players in the industry. Austin Powers helped New Line make enough money to compete with older Hollywood studios and produce Lord of the Rings. Other times, a tent-pole can condemn a studio to bankruptcy. New Line, once created/elevated by tent-poles, found itself harpooned by one when The Golden Compass bombed.

 Constant tentpoles also can make audiences stay home. Rather than have a movie slowly attract an audience, studios can overhype a product to the point where audiences are sick of a movie before it even debuts in cinemas. That same overhyping can also kill a good movie. In 2016, Sony staked everything on the  Ghostbusters reboot. Overhype made the movie—a decent comedy in itself—seem lackluster compared to expectations, and the negative press can keep audiences away.

 Ghostbusters also illustrates the other problem of tentpoles: if even one movie flops, it can have dire effects on the studio. Gone are the days when Hollywood would produce a number of low-to-mid level films of different genres in hopes of getting everyone to go to the movies. Now, they try to get everyone to go to the same movie, when some folks would rather stay home than sit through another epic production.

You want to understand how bad things are in Hollywood right now—how stifling and airless and cautious the atmosphere is, how little nourishment or encouragement a good new idea receives, and how devoid of ambition the horizon currently appears—it helps to start with a success story.

 Consider: Years ago, an ace filmmaker, the man who happened to direct the third-highest-grossing movie in U.S. history, The Dark Knight, came up with an idea for a big summer movie. It’s a story he loved—in fact, he wrote it himself—and it belonged to a genre, the sci-fi action thriller, that zipped right down the center lane of American popular taste. He cast as his leading man a handsome actor, Leonardo DiCaprio, who happened to star in the second-highest-grossing movie in history. Finally, to cover his bet even more, he hired half a dozen Oscar nominees and winners for supporting roles.

Sounds like a sure thing, right? Exactly the kind of movie that a studio would die to have and an audience would kill to see? Well, it was. That film, Christopher Nolan’s Inception, received admiring reviews, became last summer’s most discussed movie, and has grossed, as of this writing, more than three-quarters of a billion dollars worldwide.

And now the twist: The studios were trying very hard not to notice its success, or to care. Before anybody saw the movie, the buzz within the industry was: “It’s just a favor Warner Bros. is doing for Nolan because the studio needs him to make Batman 3.” After it started to screen, the party line changed: “It’s too smart for the room, too smart for the summer, too smart for the audience.” Just before it opened, it shifted again: “Nolan is only a brand-name director to Web geeks, and his drawing power is being wildly overestimated.” After it grossed $62 million on its first weekend, the word was: “Yeah, that’s pretty good, but it just means all the Nolan groupies came out early—now watch it drop like a stone.”

And here was the buzz three months later, after Inception became the only release of 2010 to log eleven consecutive weeks in the top ten: “Huh. Well, you never know.” “Huh. Well, you never know” is an admission that, put simply, things have never been worse.

It has always been disheartening when good movies flop; it gives endless comfort to those who would rather not have to try to make them and can happily take cover behind a shield labeled “The people have spoken.” But it’s really bad news when the industry essentially rejects a success, when a movie that should have spawned two dozen taste-based gambles on passion projects is instead greeted as an unanswerable anomaly.

That kind of thinking is why Hollywood studio filmmaking, is at an all-time low—by which [is meant] that there are fewer really good movies than ever before but that it has never been harder for an intelligent, moderately budgeted, original movie aimed at adults to get onto movie screens nationwide. “It’s true at every studio,” says producer Dan Jinks, whose credits include the Oscar winners American Beauty and Milk. “Everyone has cut back on not just ‘Oscar-worthy’ movies, but on dramas, period. Caution has made them pull away. It’s infected the entire business.”

For the studios, a good new idea has become just too scary a road to travel. Inception, they will tell you, is an exceptional movie. And movies that need to be exceptional to succeed are bad business. “The scab you’re picking at is called execution,” says legendary producer Scott Rudin (The Social Network, True Grit). “Studios are hardwired not to bet on execution, and the terrible thing is, they’re right. Because in terms of execution, most movies disappoint.””

So, why this “Hollywood insider” discussion on the state of the movie business (both film and television). Because these are the people who fancy themselves as the creators of our culture. Remember the old saw: “All fads start in California.” These people still believe it and yet, they are allowing their industry, which used to be so influential in American culture, to wither away on the vine. They have shown themselves to be out of touch with the realities of their industry as well as with the vast majority of the American People. Why?

Because of their arrogance; their elitism; their world – which only exists of the two coasts of the United States. They have disconnected from the People and the People feel no responsibility and little desire to reconnect. They are saying: “We can entertain ourselves, thank you. Yet, despite the economic decline, they still preach to middle-America about why they, the entertainment elite, know best about what is right for America and Americans. And just like at the ticket window, Americans aren’t buying it any more.

Next time: Academia to Indoctridemia.

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