Last year I wrote a column on “development hell,” a special place where concepts for films go and sometimes never escape. In doing research for that piece, I read the book “Tales from Development Hell” by David Hughes, which detailed all the ways in which executives often have a hand in the swift derailment of these great ideas. In almost every example a visionary director or writer had an inspired idea, and a studio executive would derail the filming. The entire process of writing the screenplay, building the sets or casting the lead would have to begin again.
Studios control a lot of things in the industry, including what films are released, what happened in the screenplay and how the film gets advertised — with the end goal of making as much money as possible by targeting certain audiences. Viewed clinically, studios are part of an industry, which means they are trying to make money off us, the consumer. For that reason, many make harsh choices. This is just one of many reasons that the film industry is failing us, and I want to talk about the worst ways they do so.
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Number of films released
According to the British Film Institute, there are too many films being released in Britain’s cinemas every year, at a rate of 13 per week. This rate is exorbitant and doesn’t allow for certain films to gain a following. Some films are released rather quickly, are distributed in theaters for a week or two and then disappear just as quickly. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen a trailer for a film, seen that film hit theaters for a week then disappear until it’s released on DVD and Blu-Ray. These films don’t get recognized, and a great number of gems are lost to the Internet, where they are ignored among the cadres of other similar-sounding films.
No accountability with critics
Being a film critic means looking at all films with an appreciative eye, thinking of them first as an art form and second as a form of entertainment. Every film deserves to be looked at in these two distinctive ways, and every film deserves the benefit of the doubt. When critics destroy a big blockbuster with less than savory ratings, studio minions often denote the importance of the entertainment of their product over its cultural value. This thin-skinned mentality only shows how pathetically transparent the studio’s motivations are. They don’t want people to think about what they’re watching, because if they did, they might want something with more substance. Criticism lets us think about what we enjoy and have conversations about what we love. Even criticism that takes on things I love helps me better appreciate those things.
Courting the youth dollar
Younger audience members are the ones buying theater tickets, the ones writing reviews and the ones that the studios court with certain projects. For all the love that I have for the Marvel films, it pains me to realize they are being made for a certain audience. They are wildly successful for exactly that reason. These films will affect trends in filmmaking for decades, as well as the way blockbusters are handled by studios. The way films are shot, marketed and financed have all been affected by studios decisions to court the youth dollar. All the dullard humor in the “Transformers” movies? Yeah, you can definitely blame the director and the screenwriter, but you can just as much blame the studio, which wants guffawing teenagers in theater seats. If a film has any budget nowadays all it has to do is get butts into seats, which it often does.
The consumer over the artisan
I believe that all films should be treated equally in discourse, which is a principle that I have fought over for a long time. Even something as tawdry as “Transformers” should be treated with respect, in my opinion, which is why I pick each of those films apart with careful consideration. Sadly, I do have to diverge in my opinion of studios’ consumer-related decision-making. They only make those decisions because they have to put out a marketable, buyable product for the masses, which is extremely difficult to do. What they look at to make these decisions is what is paid for. If you, the consumer, go out and see something stupid a thousand times, that will be reflected in what the studios put out. If you want to enact change, don’t go see things that are horrible. Make smart, thoughtful choices in what you see and pay for in the future.