I have a few end-of-year rituals I indulge as New Yearâs Eve approaches. One thing I routinely do is go through my movie stubs for the year, usually anywhere from 40 to 50 tickets, and compile my lists of the 10 best and 10 worst films I saw during the preceding 12 months. This year, however, I didnât bother holding the stubs and needed to look online at the 2011 releases to remind myself of the films I saw. They are:
Four films all year long. And only one of them did I seek out. I drove forty minutes to a small, out-of-the-way theatre to see Kill the Irishman, because my friend Tony LoBianco was in it. (Iâm happy to report he was terrific.) The others I saw because I needed to kill a block of time in the middle of the afternoon between lunch and dinner meetings. Of these three, Atlas Shrugged was awful, Thor was a passable vehicle for maintaining popcorn sales, and The Debt had enough moments of suspense for me to recommend a viewer not run into traffic to avoid it. And I should say, each of these films left me less interested in returning to the cinema.
So whatâs going on? Why is it that a reliable customer like myself, good for five to six hundred bucks a year in ticket sales alone, has lost interest in the movies? I could chalk it up to becoming curmudgeonly with advancing age, but apparently Iâm not alone. The overall 2011 box office is down a distressing 15% over last year, prompting every exec in Hollywood to furiously scratch his head and wonder. âWhatâs wrong with the audience?â they ask. âWhy arenât they breaking down the doors to see our films?â Well, thatâs easy: theyâre awful. Not the audience, the films. Generally, theyâre redundant, boring or offensive. Rarely is there a story thatâs logical or cohesive. Characters are generally dull, self-involved and off-putting. Although the acting is seldom bad, at least in the movies I see, there are very few performers who qualify as actual movie stars.
Now, Iâm no genius and I donât have an MBA, but Iâm thinking that if I were selling goods that fewer and fewer people wanted to buy, Iâd have two choices: change my marketing or change my product. Since Hollywood has already tried every marketing gimmick in the book, maybe itâs time to wake up and change the product. With that in mind, here are my…
2012 New Yearâs Resolutions for Hollywood
1. No more remakes. Just stop it. And this includes sequels which do not advance any narrative but simply repackage the original. You lazy idiots have your hands on the controls of the American Dream Machine, but youâre churning out recurring nightmares. Stop! Youâre like a chef who takes over Delmonicoâs and turns it into McDonalds. Hire some people with imagination to create original content. Donât make the lame excuse that itâs too hard or costly to market unfamiliar material. Donât you realize that you are conditioning the audience to only respond to old material? That shrinks the audience. If you want the industry to grow, youâve got to condition the audience to take a chance on something new. Once they have a few positive experiences with new material, theyâll trust you again, and start returning to take more chances. See âCultivate trustâ below.
2. Give the grown-ups something. I fully understand the focus on the youth market. Theyâve got the time and disposable income. They will return several times to the scene of the crime. Theyâll buy the DVD. Maybe. Theyâll drive your viral marketing like an August brushfire through the Malibu Hills. But once in a while make a film that will appeal to a mature person. Also, how about showing adults and adult values in a positive manner in some of the youth product? That way, parents who take their younger kids to the movies will have a better time and maybe not be resistant to taking the kids to more films. It used to be that a family film would be enjoyable for the whole family, not a mind-numbing experience for anyone over the age of three.
3. Revamp the business model. Hollywood has relied on cheating investors with shell-game accounting for too long. Just as the crappy films have shrunk the audience, the notorious swindling of investors makes it harder and harder to finance films. The extortionist tactics of distributors and P&A firms make it almost impossible for even popular films to make a profit. And the theatres can hardly stay open with the slim slice of the pie they receive. Why is it that the infamous Hollywood liberals are so unwilling to share the wealth their films generate? How âbout we scrap the whole crooked system in favor of one that reduces the up-front cost, starting with inflated compensation to the bloated egos above the line, and establishes a real back-end that allows everyone involved to profit from a filmâs success or take a hair-cut when it tanks? If you lower the unit cost per film, you can profit from modest hits and not rely on blockbusters, most of which only succeed in busting the budget.
4. Protect your brand. This is for studios and individual performers. When Hollywood was revered, there was an element of mystery about it. There was glamour. That created a demand for more things Hollywood. Now the country is saturated with scandal and nonsense coming out of Tinseltown, and is thoroughly fed up. Yet the assault on our ears and sensibilities continues. Now, itâs one thing for a performer to believe that his notoriety gives him a platform to advance a worthy cause, like medical research for some dread disease. Itâs another from him to launch into angry rants that alienate potential ticket buyers. Whether itâs Matt Damon spouting some propaganda he picked up bouncing on the knee of Howard Zinn, Sean Penn pimping for Hugo Chavez or Liam Neeson telling a Christian audience that a Christ-figure could just as easily represent Muhammad, the industry is not helped when putative stars alienate customers. Iâm not for censorship or (god forbid) blacklisting, but I am in favor of individuals realizing that there is more at stake in the film industry than their personal right to vent. Sean Penn used to be my favorite actor, and I still maintain that heâs the finest film actor of my generation, but I no longer enjoy watching him. All I can think about is him aiding and abetting Hugo Chavez who is systematically starving his people to advance a Marxist revolution to enslave Central and South America, not to mention smuggling uranium to Iran to assist with their nuclear ambitions. Iâm also done with Tom Hanks and Danny Glover, actors I once thoroughly enjoyed. I canât imagine a scenario where Iâd pay money to see one of their films. So many contemporary performers have tarnished their brand, and this spills over onto whatever project they attach themselves to. When a studio places a hundred-million dollar bet on a movie and that filmâs most visible representative says or does something that discourages sales, it damages the studio, its investors and its ability to employ stage hands, technicians, designers, editors all the way up the chain. Youâd think that for the sake of all the little people these die-hard liberals are supposed to care so much about, theyâd just once in a while put a sock in it.
5. Stop putting the whole movie in the trailer. Hollywood has the difficult task of selling a product sight unseen. To whet the audienceâs appetite, they show clips in trailers and commercials, but more often than not shove in so much of the film that they give away every plot twist or funny line, leaving nothing unseen thatâs worth buying a ticket for. I canât tell you how many times I got ten seconds into a trailer and said, âIâve got to see this!â and a minute later, âWell, now I’ve seen it.â Thatâs no way to stimulate ticket sales.
6. Cultivate trust. Continuing that line of thought, I enjoy being surprised at the movies, so I want to go in knowing as little as possible. That requires a leap of faith. When I think about people from whom Iâd buy a pig in a poke, I have to know and trust them. America knows Hollywood, but mostly doesnât trust them. Things which many Americans donât trust about Hollywood include: its inability to tell a story, its absence of moral values, its multiculturalism, its moral relativism, its contempt for Judeo-Christian religion, its contempt for America, its contempt for parents, its mangling of history, its desire to promote left-wing political views from New Deal statism to outright Marxism, and its desire to promote homosexuality. Now, I have no problem with Hollywood making films that have a political agenda. What I, and others who do not trust Hollywood, object to is having that agenda intrude into films where it has no place, as in childrenâs movies, or undermines my routing interest, as in The Kingdom. When I canât even trust dancing penguins and fuzzy puppets to steer clear of political diatribes, Iâm not about to open my wallet. When Iâm told at the end of an action film that the heroes (FBI agents) are no better than Al Qaeda, I go from elation to deflation and leave the theatre bemoaning the pointlessness of the previous two hours. Get a clue: people donât want to pay twelve bucks a seat to get bummed out.
7. Reconsider virtue. Every great film ever made is a study in virtue. Actors become movie stars because they are seen to embody particular virtues. Audiences want to invest emotionally in a character who shares their values, but is somehow better than them at living those values in the face of adversity. Yet, Hollywood has become so cynical, that virtue is routinely mocked, and characters, who should behave heroically given the plot requirements, are constructed without any shred of virtue. Anyone wondering why Green Lantern flopped should consider the pains the writers went through to make Hal Jordan the embodiment of absolutely nothing. Hereâs a short list of virtues in no particular order: Prudence, Temperance, Justice, Fortitude, Humility, Compassion, Courtesy, Devotion, Mercy, Purity, Peace, Endurance, Courage, Mercy, Generosity, Charity, Faith, Nobility, Valor, Hope, Diligence, Strength, Chastity, Integrity, Truthfulness, Determination, Resolve. Have at âem.
These are a few resolutions worth considering to repair the damage the last several decades have done to the relationship between studios and their audiences. I hope someone out there is listening; I really miss going to the movies.