Monday, September 20, 2010

The Disappointing Movie Summer of 2010



When I was young, I went to the movies at least weekly, if not two or three times per week, especially in the summer. I saw E.T. the Extra Terrestrial 13 times at the theater...eight times in the first 7 days! And this was on top of reading a novel per week. I still love to go to the movies, but I find it less and less fulfilling each year, and I've been wondering why.

Then I watched M. Night Shyamalan's The Last Airbender, and I think I've figured out the problem. Hollywood has become bloated.

When I was little, Lucas had not made CGI king. When I was little, movies were about a great story. When I was little, actors were paid what they deserved, not what they thought they deserved (Marlon Brando got $250,000 plus a percentage of the gross for The Godfather). And it has to be said: agents got 10% of what their clients made. Not 2%, not whatever the client wants to give, and not a salary of $5 million per year plus bonuses.

Don't get me wrong: I love George Lucas, and I love ILM, and I love great special effects. But somewhere along the line, they took over. Special effects bloated movie budgets, and with larger budgets actors thought they deserved more dough, and then when action stars made more money, everyone else thought they deserved more too. Maybe I'm wrong, I don't know. But it wasn't too long ago that a movie budget over $50 million made executives' hearts falter. Now budgets soar to $150, $200, even $300 million.

Of course the increased costs have to be passed on to the consumer in the way of increased ticket prices. Add the IMAX movie experience for even higher ticket prices. Personally, I didn't see any difference in that screen...it's nothing like real IMAX. And thanks to James Cameron every movie has to be in 3-D now. Now, I'll admit, the new 3-D is much better than when I was a kid...but it jacks up the price from $10 to $15. Plus the IMAX thingy, making it $20 just to get in the door! And to top it off, most of the movies aren't even new anymore. It's either the novel made into a movie, an old TV show made into a movie, or the old movie made into a new movie. Or maybe not so old (I'm looking at you, Death at a Funeral).

What should be done?

Costs have to come down. Production costs as well as consumer costs. In Mexico, a movie ticket will cost you $5 at full price. Wednesday it's $2. The result? University students dash off to see a flick between classes. High school students stop at the theater on the way home. Families go out on a whim. This is a country with a very low average income, yet they still say, "Want to go to the movies?" and invariably get a response of "Sure! What's playing?" Think about that...the question is, "do you want to go to the movies?" not "do you want to spend the money to see that particular movie." The average Mexican will go to the theater and choose their movie based on what is playing next.

I believe that with lower production costs, Hollywood will be able to afford to take the risk of investing in new, original ideas. I don't mean throw money away on crap (I've seen enough of that on The Sci-Fi [oops...now SyFy] channel, where frequently the movie of the week is not just poorly acted and poorly directed, but poorly written). I mean look to agents who really know a good story, pay a good director a fair but non-exorbitant fee to develop the story, with a reasonable budget to produce the film and actually turn a profit.

(Note: I just read that Monsters by Gareth Edwards (which looks to be a great movie) had a production budget "in the low six figures." I hope it does great, and it proves my point: good does not have to be outrageously expensive)

Shyamalan made millions on Airbender, but the movie sucked so bad they took it out of theaters so fast it made my head spin. And with a production budget of $150 million they should have been able to afford a better script (Shyamalan sucks), better casting (Shyamalan sucks) and better directing (did I mention Shyamalan sucks?). I read a review by an 8 year old who had better vision. I guarantee a different director with a good writer could have made a much better movie on an $80 million budget...and it would have made a profit. Probably enough to save the sequel.

I love George Clooney, and I loved Ocean's Eleven. But come on...$20 million for it was a bit much. The production budget was $85 million, meaning George was 23% of the production cost. Knock his cost down to $5 million, the production budget goes to $60 million. That doesn't mean more profit for the studio: lower costs translate to cheaper tickets for the consumer, too. But that means more ticket sales, meaning little to no loss in profit for the studio. Plus you've got $15 million toward another, new, original, non-remake flick.

At least Ocean's Eleven had the decency to be a remake of a 40 year old movie (still looking at you, Death at a Funeral).

So come on, Hollywood. Get your s#*! together. Get out of your rut and make my movie going experience great again. If you need help, I'll gladly write circles around M. Night Shyamalan for a fraction of his fee.

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