Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Summer Doldrums Come Early This Year

Hi friends,

 Seen any good movies this summer? I don’t know about you, but I’m finding it harder and harder to get excited about the late spring/summer movie season. Feels like the same crap over and over. In May, as I drove around Los Angeles looking at all the billboards advertising “Iron Man” and “Sex and the City,” and all I could think was, is this 2008? Think about it. Has there been a major studio release that’s NOT a sequel or based on a TV show or video game? Of course this is nothing new, and the writing community has been discussing (and fretting over) this irritating trend for years. And there are no signs of it abating. Just the opposite, in fact, since as Jason Scoggins notes in this month’s Spec Market Scorecard -- the industry has largely abandoned the concept of buying and developing scripts. They’re pretty much only interested in prepackaged, ready to go movies.

So what’s a writer to do?

I think it’s important to modify our expectations of what we’re going to get in the way of major studio releases. Much though we’d all like it to be, it’s not the 1970s, and movies like “Coming Home:” and “Ordinary People” probably won’t get made by the major studios (although they might pick them up for release if someone else makes them and they get a lot of buzz on the festival circuit.) Therefore it’s even more critical that all of us support the independent film community, which has done a damn good job of picking up the slack. Here in Los Angeles we’re fortunate enough to have a good selection of art house theaters, and at any given time if one digs just a little bit you can probably find something cinematically cutting edge and that doesn’t leave you feeling fallow and taken at the end.

Now let me be clear: I have never been an indie guy. I grew up loving studio movies, and they’re the reason I got into the business. But the business has changed. And while sure, I will absolutely shell out to see big movies, the more Hollywood continues its corporate downward spiral, the more I want a movie experience with actual substance. This summer I’ve fallen in love with the wonderful Landmark at the Westside Pavilion. This gorgeous theater makes movie-going fun again. You can select your own seats from a seating chart, there are no commercials, the price is about the same as any other theater, and the movie selections are always fresh and creative and alternative. (There’s also there’s a bombtastic restaurant right downstairs with the best hummus and martinis in town.)

My surprise fave so far this this year is the quirky dark satire “The Joneses” starring David Duchovny and Demi Moore (trailer here: Kind of shocking that two former A-list stars in a cutting satire on American consumerism can only manage an art house release. To date the film has grossed less than $1.5 million domestically; not even close to making back its $5 million budget. It’ll probably break even internationally and on DVD, but still, the point here is, why didn’t people go see this movie? Did anyone even know about it? My date only begrudgingly accompanied me to see it because I twisted her arm. She hadn’t heard of “The Joneses,” but she’d damn well heard of crapola like “The Bounty Hunter” and “Furry Vengeance,” both of which she asserted she’d prefer to see over “some movie with the ‘X-Files’ guy.” Sigh.

Box office is down again this summer, and the only reason for the revenue spike earlier this year was because of 3-D ticket gougery (Seriously, 5 bucks more to see “Clash of the Bison” in Fake 3-D? Pass.) and the success of “Avatar.” My date aside, maybe the masses really are slowly starting to get the picture. Who knows, perhaps in a few years this trend could reverse itself and lead to a new cinematic renaissance. As Scoggins notes, “Over the past decade we’ve seen a long list of fantastic and popular television shows, in no small part because the networks have risked giving showrunners and creators room to tell compelling and original stories. The movie studios should do the same thing: be smart about production and marketing budgets, but take some risks and trust the talent to do what they do best.” Well said!

--Jim C.
Founder, Coverage Ink
The Industry Experts

P.S. Did I mention we were just top-rated by Creative Screenwriting? Ya gotta believe it! See below…


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