MCN Columnists
Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

I’m Talkin’ About a Revolution

How long can Hollywood sustain the luxurious lifestyle to which it’s grown accustomed? Our economy is bad and not likely to get substantially better for a while — or at least, we’re told, it’s likely to get worse before it gets better again. The mortgage bubble that persuaded people on average incomes they could afford overpriced McMansions has burst, leaving countless families facing foreclosure and financial stress. And in Hollywood, as in other business sectors, it’s the average people on average salaries who lose their jobs to sustain the bottom line, while the execs and stars at the top of the heap continue to rake in incomes significantly higher than the average American. Maybe it’s about time for a revolution.

What will happen when enough people get sick of shelling out so much money for less than two hours entertainment at the movies?  When you’re tightening your household budget and struggling to stay afloat, you’re not as likely to shell out $13 for a popcorn and soda on top of that movie ticket, are you? Try taking a family of 4 (or 5, or 6) to the latest family film; you’ll easily drop $50 on the tickets alone, and another $40-50 on concessions.

Who can afford to do that these days? Our family gets by on a decent income from two working parents, and we very rarely take the kids to see a new release in the theater, unless it’s a free screening. And I suspect we’re not alone in taking “go to the movies” largely out of our entertainment budget. After all, with new releases hitting pay-per-view so quickly these days, why not just wait to see the latest films in the comfort of your own home, with your own budget-priced snacks — and not have to miss any critical moments running a preschooler to the potty or making another batch of popcorn?

We’ve all heard that the reason movie theater snacks are so ridiculously expensive is because theater chains make very little money off ticket sales, relying on sales of their overpriced concessions to stay afloat.  We’ve heard about how many millions of dollars it takes to make movies, and how even a movie making $200 million in ticket sales may not make a profit, and we’ve seen many discussions here at MCN and on other film sites about how big Hollywood films cost so much to make, in part, because of the millions of dollars big
stars (and directors) demand.

While I understand the theaters’ hands are largely tied by the business model under which they’re operating, the problem is that this model relies almost entirely on the willingness of movie consumers to subsidize theaters’ operating expenses by paying out a small fortune for snacks on top of the cost of their ticket, just to stay afloat. Hollywood, in turn, also relies on consumers subsidizing the exorbitant cost of their stars’ salaries and marketing budgets to make a profit on ticket sales.

We’re all complicit in creating the giant, ugly, co-dependent monster that going to the movies has become. Without our willingness to dig deep into our wallets to pay the concession tax for overpriced, stale popcorn slathered in greasy “buttery topping” and giant tubs-o’-soda, movie theaters would, by their own business model, be forced to shutter because they wouldn’t make enough profit. If the theaters all closed, to whom would Hollywood sell all the tickets they rely upon, those millions of dollars we chart so lovingly each week here?  And what, by extension, would happen to Hollywood — and the big salaries that keep movie stars living in mansions — if average-income people collectively decided to send the message to Hollywood that enough is enough, and we’re done subsidizing their spendy business model and lifestyle?

The studios may agree to pay the salaries the Hollywood royalty demand, but we put the money in the coffers that allows them to do so, and we validate it by spending at the box office and concession stands. The stars and studio execs who’ve gotten fat and overfed on the profits reaped by their films — profits that come, largely, from the collective dollars of millions of people making a fraction of their salaries  — certainly aren’t going to agree on their own to trim down their luxurious lifestyles like the rest of us have had to. Why should they? It’s Hollywood, right? Aren’t they entitled?

At what other point in history has a relatively small group of people in an artistic pursuit made an income so much higher than the average person? You could make similar arguments about a (very) few stars in the music business, or the salaries paid to elite professional athletes that result in only people with a certain income level even being able to afford to go see their favorite teams play; why do we worship fame and celebrity so much that we are willing to give up our own money to support movie stars and athletes and such to a much higher standard of living than our own?

Yes, certain movie stars, musicians and athletes have talents that are relatively rare and therefore perceived to be valuable, and yes, the arts (and, I suppose, professional sports for some people) offer the masses entertainment that diverts them from thinking about the real problems we have. Art and culture have a real, inarguable value. The real tragedy of Hollywood is that it’s not always (some might argue not often) the artists with the greatest talent who make the lion’s share of the money. So we’re not only paying to support Hollywood’s extravagance, we’re paying it out in return for compensation (entertainment in the form of movies) that’s frequently mediocre crap. How smart are we?

– by Kim Voynar

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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