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David Poland

By David Poland

Kool Aid Time

With due respect to Anne Thompson, the idea of connecting trouble in the American auto business and alleged “trouble” in the film business is horrfying. It speaks directly to my greatest fear… that the intellectual debate about what the future of the film business is will be reduced to non-specific ramblings and irrational connections between things that are utterly unconnected.
In the most simplistic analysis, the auto business is completely different than the film business. The auto business has not been dominated by America the way that the film business dominates the world business in a long, long time. G.M. or any manufacturer release their product line once a year and sell that line for a year. While making a film does take time, no one film involves the kind of massive investment that an auto line does. And no studio, since the end of the studio system in the late 60s, has ever suffered or benefitted from trend buying the way the auto business is. Studios are not building SUVs only and seeing the trend suddenly turn away from that style.
Stealth may have crashed, but another studio tentpole, Fantastic Four, did terrific. Yes, Disney lost by chasing the Asian girl horror trend with Dark Water. But that was one movie with a small loss… and the lesson was learned. And a few months later, girls drove The Exorcism of Emily Rose to huge profits. The ship of movie state is much more flecible than that of the auto business.
And the argument that the connection is that the film business is slow to adapt is completely counter-intuitive.
The DVD business is five years old!!!
How many times must one say it? The DVD business, which expanded revenues by 30% to 40%, is only five years old!
Anne restates the same utterly false, completely unproven notion that texting is speeding up word-of-mouth to lightening speed. Besides people mouthing this absurdity a lot over the last year, what proof is offered? Forget details… just show me a Friday/Saturday drop that suggests it. Second weekend drops are not new. So if things are going faster, it should be seen on Saturdays, right? And before you use Rent as an example, you’ll need to find a teenager who saw the movie on Wednesday.
We have seen this kind of hysteria before. It comes and goes. And it DOESN’T mean that there is nothing wrong. Many things are wrong. But this experiential journalism – for which the web must take some responsibility – is for shit. None of us who write about this business are the target for the business. Yet we write endlessly about how we feel… and now that extends to the major papers and teh trades. This is getting very dangerous.
No one who knows anything about the record business will tell you that the troubles that occured in the 90s were a result of technology so much as a result of record company greed. Pricing was just to high.
And for some reason, all these people who are screaming about the end of the movie world as we know it and the NEED to chase technology (let’s not even get into the lack of screaming that the studios should have converted theaters to digital projection years ago and could be saving a billion dollars a year now) don’t seem to understand that the entire push for home delivery is about expanding the costs of films at home… not serving the consumer more effectively.
If you serve the customer more effectively, the price families spend to receive films at home will go down, not up! And if you prioritize the home experience over the theaterical window followed by the home window, it will go down even further.
The only two arguments for shrinking the window further are: 1. Serving the blockbuster and 2. the notion that people will pay a significant premium for seeing movies on opening weekend at home.
If either of these notions disturb you… and I would bet that both notions would disturb Anne Thompson and Patrick Goldstein as the primary drivers, since neither have written about them… then you have to be taking a stand on the side of strengthening the theatrical business and window before getting to a wide open ancillary business. If not, you are sure to be like the girl who sleeps with the guy on their first date to “get him” and wonders why he then leaves her because he thinks she is a whore.
The film business is a long relationship. The one night stand mentality is not progress.

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7 Responses to “Kool Aid Time”

  1. Angelus21 says:

    The record industry priced themselves out of the market. 18 bucks for a cd? Unreal. Who wants to pay that? It costs less than a buck to produce them. They should have been selling and still should be selling for 9.99$. It was tragic that the Spiderman soundtrack was selling for 18$ and the dvd could be had for 9$.

  2. JckNapier2 says:

    I must make note of something you mentioned. While I agree that in no way has text messaging really affected word of mouth to any normal degree, it should be noted that Wednesday night in Cleveland… opening night of Rent, my relatives saw it (and loved it, natch), and they said the entire theatre was filled with middle-school girls and their mothers. Not making any statements, but one could argue that there were quite a few teenagers seeing Rent Wednesday night.
    I do wonder, just tossing it out, whether or not the alleged text-messaging word of mouth might explain the decline of the usual healthy Friday to Saturday increase. While back a few years ago, only the most front-loaded blockbuster made less on Saturday than Friday, I seem to be seeing that more and more in the last couple years, either with minor drops on Saturday or near even Saturday numbers, even with normal, seemingly non-front loaded movies.
    Of course, it’s just as likely as that’s simply a case of the ‘gotta see it first’ mentality that used to be merely a thing for film geeks and hardcore fans, but is now a national pasttime of sorts.
    Random thought, make of it what you will.
    Scott Mendelson

  3. The Premadator says:

    I think Thompson’s text messaging comment wasn’t meant to be taken too literally, but simply an example of how buzz & (ahem) movie dialogue has sped up these last few years as a result of cyber technology. It’s there, sure, but I don’t think it’s hysterically there.
    What I find interesting is how the studios seemed to have made peace with the geek sites. AICN has been all but declawed. The industry has very cleverly found a way to turn any cool news into questionable news with their go for the jugular marketing blitzs. A test screening or rogue script review doesn’t seem to affect business like we once thought it might (and what was the last leaked script anyone’s read online? Kill Bill?)
    Even Poland blowing my Voldermort surprise a few days ago doesn’t mean a thing. The critics I trust liked it, word of mouth is strong, and it’s making killer money… Count me in.
    I guess word of mouth, in any form, is still king.

  4. JckNapier2 says:

    Of course my reference to text messaging was also just a general remark to the sorts of ‘youth word of mouth spreaders’. Out of curiosity, what exactly was the ‘Voldermort surprise’? Had you not read the book? Even if so, for a reader, that was not the surprise for me, but what happened… um… what else occured.
    Scott Mendelson

  5. The Premadator says:

    That picture on the blog. That’s Voldermort right?

  6. JBM... says:

    “A test screening or rogue script review doesn’t seem to affect business like we once thought it might (and what was the last leaked script anyone’s read online? Kill Bill?)”
    I recall the Batman Begins and Stay scripts being out there long before the movies premiered. Didn’t read BB, but Stay’s script affected MY business, hyuk-hyuk-hyuk.

  7. Blackcloud says:

    “That picture on the blog. That’s Voldermort right?”
    The Jeff Wells one, you mean? Yeah, that’s Ralph Fiennes as the younger Tom Riddle, reincarnated.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon