First, I thought - This can't be true. How stupid are audiences that they're conditioned to make decisions based on what a commercial tells them?
I'm a member of a generation that - statistically - believes word of mouth, doesn't believe what advertising tells them, and believes what they read in a newspaper before they believe what they see on the news or hear on the radio. The tail end of the baby boom - born from 1960 through 1972 - we are the "show me" generation.
And yet, though it makes me sick to think it, I suppose the assertion that marketing sells movies is probably true.
- There are certainly hundreds of people who make independent movies every year, and those films - which take years to create and conceive and execute - aren't ever seen by more than a handful of people. Most filmmakers can't get financing, and many who can simply can't make the deals that get their work seen. So yes - there is probably a surpluss of people who can make a good movie about real things.
- I can see it in my kids, though I try to shield them (pretty unsuccessfully as it turns out) - people of all ages see an ad and respond to it. People do go based on a trailer - they have become a sort of anti-art form. And I guess they work.
Indeed, I DO respond to the trailer - but almost always negatively as it turns out. Trailers are for me about 95% of the time, a warning that a movie obviously sucks or it wouldn't need the high-excitement, earsplitting trailer.
This happened very clearly to me with "Inside Man" the really quite good Spike Lee movie that's out just now. I saw the trailer - which made no mention of Spike's involvement - and simply saw Denzel Washington and Jody Foster - and I thought: "another sucky, big budget, blow-'em upper. Stay home." I was glad to be wrong, but the trailer did what it was supposed to, I reckon. It scared me away and invited the dummies into the theater. How was I to know this movie wasn't dreck? Word of mouth got me - someone I trust spoke the truth.
And speaking of speaking the truth, I was very inspired by Tilda Swinton's speech to the San Francisco International Film Festival. She ties business, politics, morality, fatasay and reality - and the news media's creation of what seems too often to be an alternate reality - together into an eloquent meditation on film and dreams.
She also rightly points out that film can be - at its best - art that comes from, frames, and is framed by the personal reality of the filmmakers. And one which, hopefully, inspires thought in its audiences, inviting them to share the dream of a film and incorporate it into their own, subjective realities.
I admire her take on what's dangerous in the crap that gets produced over and over in Hollywood, which as I said above, I have to be careful about when considering my kids. Entertainment is too often like junk food. The pre-packaged, industrially produced fantasy - very pat, no ambiguity, and little real nourishment - is about as satisfying as those little, disturbing "Lunchables" my wife and I laugh about when we see them for sale at the local Food Emporium. But still, people buy them - people...we...know (shudder).
But is the fault with the stars or with ourselves? I'm not saying there aren't plenty of people in the entertainment industry who need to be chided for their belief in the bottom line, but perhaps we can affect that bottom line a lot more than we expect. the fact is, we're already doing it. People aren't going to the movies like they did only last year, and each year shows lower and lower attendence.
However, Raising ticket prices seems to be working for the Hollywood executives' morale. The attendence is down, but the bottom line is still good.
Funny thing is, Hollywood doesn't just believe the bottom line - they're also drinking the water they sell. They believe the marketing if it tells them what they want to believe.
There's every indication that studios just view the recent trend toward movies with interesting plot deeper character development as just that - a trend. Trends peter out, they go away. Studios already believe that middle America was angry about the Oscars. They'd seen enough "news" reports before the Academy Awards that showed little old god-fearing people in a town in Kansas that "didn't like seeing gay cowboys on the movie screen". You can bet that Hollywood is still going to option CRAP, and keep producing "Lunchables", just to keep the movie houses filled when the anti-art sentiment is guaged. Hell - just look at what's coming this summer! Direct in response to your stated beliefs in market research studies - a whole load of un-challenging, inedible dung sandwiches.
It's not a good choice Hollywood makes, but they make it again and again. The funny thing is that when they give the people "what they want", the people still stay home or they wait a couple of weeks for the DVD to save a few bucks. The crap movies cost a lot, but they lose a lot - or don't make as much as the studios think they will. I think that War of the Worlds cost $150 million, or something, and yet it didn't make the money back in the US, relying on foreign distribution (which yielded much less than expected), and DVD to break even. A $165 million dollar film can only BREAK EVEN?
Just as opften, little movies like "The Squid and The Whale" make $65 million when they only cost about $13 to make.
Bruce Campbell - love his movies or hate them - is a real, honest filmmaker. When he was on the Late Show with Craig Ferguson a couple of months back, Craig asked him why people weren't going to the movies.
"Because the movies suck." was his truthful reply.
Ah, Hollywood. They'll never get it because they don't have the brains, the balls, or the will to try. It's just business, supply and demand - don't worry, there's plenty of creative genius out there making commercials and videos and small independent films to choose from. All Hollywood has to do is pluck them from obscurity and get them to work in harness and produce "Lunchables" to go with their popcorn.
Rant over, now a call to action...
Our fault is in accepting the dreck we're handed.
The movie "industry" may seem to be a monolith, but it is show business, just like vaudeville. Pelt the bad acts with tomatoes and they won't come back; reward the good acts with your applause, and attendence.
We audiences need to be more discerning, more exacting, and less accepting of bullshit.
We need to vote with our feet.
Film is a business - show business - and the free market needs to be flooded with discerning customers - not accepting "consumers" (how the fuck can you 'consume' film?).
Don't see sucky movies and call them when you see them: friends don't let friends see sucky movies.
DO see good movies, and pass the word.
Encourage your friends, neighbors and family. If you love movies, act responsibly.