a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Monday, October 03, 2005

My Two Cents On The Whole Film Slump Thing

John August has a good post this week, about how silly newspaper reports are being about the supposed film slump, because the numbers they are using, compared to last year, really aren't off much at all. And he's right, particularly about the idea that it all can't just be blamed on "bad movies".

I think there is a slump, and I think it's little more subtle.

Movie prices are up; I paid $10.50 to see "Proof" in a mediocre theater last weekend. And I winced a little. Because $10.50 isn't cheap, when you are talking a wife, and refreshments, and the long walk from the parking lot. Meanwhile, other entertainment prices are holding steady. A little comparison shopping can find you most CDs for $11.99 and under, while DVDs are getting positively cheap, with Blockbuster selling used-but-perfectly-good DVDs 3 for $25.

In other words, I could have 3 DVDs for less than me and the wife paid to see "Proof" last weekend.

Meanwhile, the economy is getting tighter, and rising gas prices are just going to make it worse. People just don't have the casual disposable income to throw away any more. So deciding to go see a movie has become even more of a critical choice about where more of one's entertainment dollar is going.

Because of this, the line is being raised. The "line" is what a movie needs to be better than, to justify your deciding to get into a car and drop 30 bucks at the theater. The line is what determines if you head home after eating out and watch reruns of "Amazing Race", rather than do the parking spot hunt at the local multiplex.

It's not the bad movies that are hurting Hollywood. It's the average stuff, that adults used to go see, but now just don't have enough need-to-see vs. how-much-it-will-cost and it's-such-a-hassle. It's why Just Like Heaven isn't packing them in; who the hell needs to pay $10.50 to see that in a theater? Wouldn't you rather have that CD you were thinking about instead?

The line. When I was a theater manager, I used to see 150 movies a year, because most of them I didn't have to pay for. But when you do, you start thinking about quality, about whether it is worth the money, the time, the hassle. And I LOVE movie theaters. But I've been to see only 4 movies in the past three months.

Because there just aren't enough movies out there that really grab my balls and feel worth it any more.

Movie studios make movies geared toward young people because the 16-24 year old's line is a lot lower. They can churn out a mediocre horror film, dumb comedy or an action tale, and even though it isn't very good, chances are it'll still bring in the cash. Because most kids don't read reviews, and because dumb fun films are still fun.

But movies for grownups are just having a bigger and bigger downside. When you really have to nail it to get the crowds in? That's a big risk. So they throw money at the visuals, or base it on a known property (TV/book/previous film), and do whatever they can to make people want to see it even if it isn't a great movie. Even though, at the end of the day, the surest way to bring in crowds is to actually make a good movie, no one is confident enough of doing that to try nearly enough. Because if you fall a little short, you have "Cinderella Man", which at the end of the day is going to struggle to make back its cost.

The irony is that the over-40 audience is hungry for good films, which explains why "March of the Penguins" is making so much money this year, and "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" clicked so hard a few years ago. My dad complained to me a few weeks ago that there was nothing in theaters that he wanted to see -- and he likes going to see movies.

There's a zillion factors all having a little bit of impact, from high-def TVs recreating the movie experience at home, to the sense that the whole movie-going experience just isn't as special as it once was. DVDs are cool, and they don't take long to show up at the video store, and you can sit on your couch and watch them, with a beer and your balls out.

But people are still going to want to go out to the movies, and what Hollywood needs to realize is that the best way to do it is not to play it safe, but to make the kind of interesting, well-written, well-acted, intelligent movies for grown-ups that they used to make. A good example (hopefully) is the upcoming "North Country", which I think if it gets decent reviews will make some good money, because people want to see movies like that. "Good Night and Good Luck" looks good, and I hope that clicks too. "Jarhead" is on my shortlist, and "Elizabethtown".

But I'm tired of leafing through the newspaper, and trying to interest my wife in a movie, and seeing how underwhelmed she is about most of the stuff out there, and realizing that I am too. The line has gotten higher for us, and for a lot of other people too, and mediocre just doesn't do it any more.


At 7:39 AM, Blogger David Mulholland said...

Hey Scott,

Great blog. I think another issue that is keeping people home is that the experience just isn't what it used to be. Popcorn prices have always been ridiculous, so that's not the problem, but a lot of people I know who live in the real world (i.e. not Los Angeles) are feed up with seeing 20 minutes of commercials before the film begins, only to have to sit through 10 more minutes attached to the beginning of the trailer reel. By the time the previews are on, you've just sat through 30-40 minutes of loud, annoying commercials. I think this has gone a long way to denigrate the "special experience" of going to a theatre to see a movie. If someone wants to put up with loud, annoying commercials, they can do that for free at home in front of the TV. Personally, I love movies enough to deal with it, but I don't think the rest of the country sees it that way.


At 7:45 AM, Blogger PJ McIlvaine said...

I agree. The last time I went to the movies was to see RETURN OF THE KING. Otherwise, I'd rather keep my money and wait until they're on TV or DVD.

At 1:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree, Scott, and I've been saying so for years, before this summer's media blitz about the "slump".

But going to the movies is seldom fun anymore.

Contrast with just 10 short years ago, when my buddies and I would go to the movies in a group about 3 or four times a week, just for fun.

The movie almost didn't even matter. At times, we deliberately went to (and enjoyed) crap like "Species".

But with skyrocketing ticket prices, offensive commercials and a continued deterioration of audience civility, the simple act of going to the theater is just a pain.

Now I seldom go, and only for stuff I REALLY want to see. Forget going to see bad movies just for fun ("Stealh" and "Fantastic Four" didn't even cross my radar).

And the bad movies are no longer just a fun lark, they're the overwhelming majority of choices out there.

Look at the summer movies from the past ten years. There HAS been a drop in quality, you can see it.

Summer movies these days suck. I used to get excited for the summer season, now I couldn't care less.

Why should I go through hell and waste oddles of cash to see a lousy movie. Sure, there is still good stuff out there, but it is increasingly rare and is often drowned out by the noise and hype of the crap.


At 3:19 PM, Blogger Grubber said...

Luckily my wife enjoys action movies as well, so basically our deciding factor is the special effects-wow factor. Is this movie going to be a must see on the big screen as opposed to the large tv we have at home. If it is a non-special effect type movie, rom/com, drama, etc we generally enjoy it at home.

I know this is not the best way to decide, but with a finite amount of income, you have to have deciding factors, and that was what we came up with.

At 3:31 PM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

And that's another reason why studios aren't making as many smaller, adult movies any more. Theaters have increasingly become about the big movie experience.

At 4:22 PM, Blogger Michael J. Farrand said...

I remember a different kind of "movie experience", the talking about the movie after the movie, perhaps over Chinese. Is there anything really to talk about once the movie is over anymore? The movies pretty much are what they are. Is there anyone really to talk to about movies anymore? That requires intellectual curiosity and rigor. They haven't been around so much anymore.

At 4:39 PM, Blogger The Hopper said...

I think Michael is really hitting a point here--we usually pick theater movies based on a complex special effects : size of TV ratio, but what I used to love about going to the movies was the conversations that inveitably followed. Don't you remember standing around in the parking lot because you were afraid that if you got in the car you'd lose the passion of the conversation? If movies don't have themes, don't ask questions (and I would add, don't have low enough budgets for you to spot a mistake and not feel cheated) then what are we supposed to talk about???

At 4:39 PM, Anonymous Konrad West said...

A fantastic, well-argued post. And spot on too.

I love movies, but hardly go anymore, because I'm reluctant to shell out $15 (Australian) for a ticket and $10 for Coke and M&Ms, only to find the Skeleton Key is a good idea badly executed.

I've got an unlimited DVD plan from the local video shop, so if I don't like a movie (like Alexander), I can just swap it for another.

Try that at the multiplex.

At 6:26 PM, Blogger sretherf said...

I think everyone really wants to go see a good movie... but the problem is, you shouldn't have to try so hard to like a movie. If you have to try that hard, there's just no point. I think it all goes back to bad films. No one around that wants to take the time it takes to get it right.

At 6:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How 'bout we take filmmaking away from the bean counters and put it back in the hands of filmmakers.

At 7:08 PM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

That's nice in theory. And DV is making it easier for anyone to make a movie.

But the film business is still a business, that takes a lot of money to run. So it's not about taking it away from the bean counters; it is about convincing them that in the long run, a good movie is better to make than an expensive, overblown mediocre one.

At 5:43 PM, Blogger Matt Waggoner said...

Prescience, thy name is Onion.


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