Myths And Truths About The Movie Industry

Over at The Escapist, Bob “MovieBob” Chipman wrote an article to try to dispute some “commonly cited reasons” for the decline of the movie industry.  He does o.k on some points, but overall he comes off as making excuses for Hollywood.  Read the full article here.

Myth #1: It’s About Politics

You hear this one a lot lately. There’s whole organizations like Big Hollywood, Movieguide, or the Parents Television Council, dedicated to evangelizing it, though of course it’s been around for a long time before that.

See, in case you hadn’t heard, the political leanings of the U.S. entertainment industry are overwhelmingly Liberal – a word which, here in America, is used as a slur to describe anyone slightly to the left of Yosemite Sam.

Confirmation bias in 3…2…1…

So goes the theory espoused by delightful folks like this, Hollywood’s liberalism puts it out of touch with the (at least) half of the American audience that identifies as Conservative – and thus unable to make movies that appeal to “the folks.”

Sounds vaguely plausible, right? Well, let’s crunch some numbers.

The United States’ most recent presidential election (as a good a barometer of these things as any) came down pretty close to 50/50, with about a three point margin favoring Barack Obama. Just going by that, one could extrapolate that the political makeup of the nation – and thus its moviegoers – would break the same way.

This would be true if we were to assume that 50% of the people who voted, voted for Obama because they were liberal and 50% voted for McCain because they were horrible, awful, racist, homophobic, retarded conservatives.  However, one has to remember that, although both parties drift towards the middle during elections, liberals run from the left like there’s a locust fire.  Democratic candidates always espouse basic tenets of conservatism (limited government, lower taxes, common sense laws) to get elected and Obama was no exception.  Therefore, using the election as a barometer to judge the population’s political leanings doesn’t take into account that the old saying is true: “50% of people may vote and talk like liberals, but 97% live their lives like conservatives.

And if politics can’t motivate you to vote, how likely is it that they can motivate your movie choices?

Being actively engaged in American politics and having the initiative to vote is completely different from paying to be entertained only to have your core beliefs and values become ego fodder for a basement dwelling screenwriter.

In other words, even if it is true that Hollywood’s largely left-wing worldview alienates dedicated right-wing audiences, that’s only about 1/4th of the population to begin with – a big loss, but hardly decisive.

And that’s ignoring how nebulous the concepts of “left” and “right” are in the U.S.. Not just as a split between big and small government philosophies but also among a litanty of social issues tossed arbitrarily to one side or the other – which makes pinning down the actual outlook of all but the most ham-fistedly political film fairly difficult. In the fourth Rambo, the hero saves a group of Chrisitian missionaries from Burmese guerillas. In the process, said missionaries’ smugly pacifist leader – who’d earlier excoriated John Rambo on the sinfulness of violence – learns that action trumps prayer and good intentions. Pro-war, yet irreligious? Where does that belong? V (as in For Vendetta) hates Government so much he makes Glenn Beck look like FDR, but his enemies are thinly-veiled analogs for the Bush Administration. Which one’s the liberal, again?

I can’t tell if Move Bob is being genuinely naïve or duplicitous.  Very rarely are conservative and liberal ideas matched head to head with any sort of ambiguity between the two.  There are an endless number of films where wonderful, enlightened, good-hearted “progressive” ideas are struggling to correct injustices created by destructive, oppressive, and tyrannical thoughts and actions that mimic mock what the most Americans regard as traditionally held values.

Another point that Mr. Chipman doesn’t mention is the simple fact that the majority of people don’t want to pay $17 to escape reality for 2 hours only to be preached to.  Being told what to think and believe by having their values portrayed in a supervillian style is not the average American’s idea of entertainment.

Myth #2: Blame It On Teenage Boys

“Hollywood used to make movies for everyone. Now they only care about teenage boys. And since teenage boys have awful taste, movies are awful.”

You’ve heard that one, right? Another one that sounds sensible, but is built on a foundation of half-truths and misunderstandings.

So, yes, from that point on Hollywood has been laser-focused on teenaged boys, but that’s not the same thing as bad movies being their fault, as it relies on the erroneous assumption that the types of films teenage boys prefer cannot be good or even great in their own right – Dark Knight and Iron Man can certainly attest to that. It also ignores recent developments like The Twilight Saga, easily the biggest blight on the cinema right now and most definitely not made for teenage boys.

This will be covered in greater specificity next week, but it seems like the bigger problem is that the massive movie industry refuses to deal with more than one audience at a time. So instead of accepting that not every movie can be for every moviegoer, they continue to make teen boy movies and then awkwardly cram them with ill-fitting extras that they expect to satisfy everyone else. Why does Spider-Man 3 re-hash a love triangle that was put to bed two movie ago? Because someone thought it’d make the film more attractive to women. And let’s not even get into the embarrassing, borderline-racist knots studios tie themselves into trying to appeal to what they see as the strange and mysterious “black audience.”

This I actually agree with. It’s impossible to find a quality comedy nowadays without a half-assed chick flick thrown in so the pussy whipped beta men can get the permission slip to bring his harpy.

However, I do not think that the movie industry is focusing on teenage boys, rather teenage girls is what rakes in the green.  Blaming the industry’s focus on teenage boys ignores the fact that girls have become very androgynous in their tastes.  Many girls go see the superhero, scary/gory, and Sci-Fi fare that didn’t in earlier generations.  Go ask your mom what she thought of Star Wars when it first came out.  Then go ask your sister her thoughts on Lord of the Rings or The Dark Knight. I predict quite a contrast.

Myth #3: Hollywood Is Out Of Ideas

Too many remakes, too many sequels, too many adaptations of books, comics, TV shows … hell, now they’re even using board games and theme-park rides! Makes sense, right? Sure, except it doesn’t. You know that point at the 30-minute mark of every episode of House where the totally-sensible diagnosis turns out to be totally incorrect, the ambient noise and hospital sounds get suddenly louder and they cut to commercial on a sardonic quip from Hugh Laurie? This is one of those.

It doesn’t make sense that moviegoers are becoming listless when it comes to seeing Saw VI or Shrek 4?  Gimme a break.

Hollywood has always made movies from pre-existing material. Go run down any list of “the classics,” then hit up the IMDB and marvel at how many of them were based on plays, books, history, legends and – yes – even other movies. The Maltese Falcon, regarded as the greatest of all detective films, had been filmed twice before, and all three were based on a book by Dashiell Hammett. Jaws? Godfather? Exorcist? Psycho? All adaptations. And while we’re at it, what’s the precise difference between a movie about Robin Hood and a movie about G.I. Joe, apart from the age of the material?

There is a huge difference between adapting a movie from The Iliad or bringing Death of a Salesman to the big screen than making a movie based on House of the Dead for Sega Saturn.

Now, to be fair, yes, there do seem to be exponentially more of them now, and from increasingly dubious source material, but that’s not a disease, it’s a symptom. The disease is expense: Movies cost too much to make, and take too long to turn a profit, so no one in charge of the money wants to take a risk on anything without proof-of-profitability already behind it. Transformers didn’t get made because someone at the studio loved a pitch about giant robots, or because Michael Bay was a fan of the franchise (in fact, he thought it was “stupid”), it got made because someone was able to point to a Mattel earnings report showing how much money these characters had already made.

Audiences get to pay high admission to see shitty movies because :cue violin: movies in general have become so expensive to make?   Let me move the lump in my throat before I continue.

Does anyone remember how Tarantino got famous?

None of this is especially encouraging, but keep in mind that it’s the movie you make – not what you make it out of – that matters in the end. Knight & Day was an original pitch, Iron Man was an adaptation. Which was better, again?

Quality is king, baby. If a movie is made well and entertains the audience (see: non-Oscar winners for the latter), then people will go see them. Lord of the Rings was fantastically successful.  So was The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.  Avatar was a mile long desert buffet for the eyes.  These movies pleased a wide audience.   However, the new Bad News Bears made you want to resurrect Walter Mathau to perform a hit on Billy Bob Thorton.   And the world didn’t want another Shaggy Dog.

It’s undeniable that studios are churning out turds left and right while bemoaning the lower ticket sales.  It’s true that some of the fault can be blamed on the market crash and people need money for…food and gas, but any disposable income that a person or a family may have would spend it at the cineplex if they had a reason to go there.  The fact that they don’t can be laid directly at the feet of Big Hollywood.

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