Posts Tagged ‘ Movies ’

Industry Leadership

Robert Dowling (former publisher of the Hollywood Reporter) posted a thoughtful piece on “Where the Trade Papers Went Wrong“.

Here’s my response:

Well said! It’s refreshing to read a treatise on the state of the industry that is infused with a sense of optimism instead of doom.

The film business is more global than ever — in terms of the filmmakers breaking through (Neill Blomkamp, Fede Alvarez–the Uruguayan director of Panic Attack!), the types of stories getting made (District 9 took place in South Africa and didn’t have an American in it) and the multi-national nature of the audience (Avatar box office to date: $435 million domestic, but more than double that internationally — $910 million).

The industry needs leadership across-the-board and not just from the industry trades, but also from the filmmakers, producers, managers, agents and members of the creative community who scout, cultivate, develop, break, manage and advocate for or express their talent across the entire spectrum of the business.

The traditional film model is too expensive, too time-consuming and has too high barriers to getting great, original and compelling content made. More A-list directors, producers, studios and financiers who make movies have to embrace and support a new wave of talent creating content differently, more cost-effectively and in non-traditional platforms like the web and new media. And they have to figure out new ways to capitalize, monetize and distribute that content across the multiple platforms where audiences consume it.

How are we as creators and as an industry going to respond to content being “everywhere, instantaneous and free”?

It’s our reality, whether we believe it or not. It’s upon us. It’s real. And it’s now.

Welcome to the future.

Henhouse Update

Since I posted about change two days ago, here are a couple of things that have happened in entertainment:

  1. The Jay Leno Prime Time Experiment has ended.
  2. Conan O’Brien declined to move to 12:05 and may leave the network.
  3. Simon Cowell is leaving American Idol. Apparently this is a big deal.
  4. Sony announced Spiderman 4 is going to reboot without director, Sam Raimi, nor star, Tobey Maguire.
  5. The new Disney Studios Chief canned the studio Production President.
  6. Variety is up for sale.
  7. The Hollywood Reporter was sold.
  8. MGM’s film library is generating a third less cash, or $150 million less than expected. Multiple studios are bidding for its assets.

Talk about not counting your chickens…

Tectonic shifts. Change. Evolution. Upheaval. Consolidation. Retrenching. Surprises.

Anything can happen in this business. And it usually does.

The Henhouse

The adage “never count your chickens before they hatch” is a sensible notion — and a rule to live by in the movie business.

It’s even more germane these days as not only can you not count your chickens, but you can’t even count on the henhouse being there in the morning!

What I mean by that is that in this current studio climate, the writing assignment you’re chasing or hoping to fill and the directing gig that’s open for a priority project has never felt nor been more tenuous. One minute, a project’s on the studio fast-track, the next minute, it’s on the back burner.

Virtually overnight…

  1. Hot projects go cold.
  2. “Now” projects happen “later.”
  3. Management reshuffles.
  4. Buyers flatline: studios head to the auction block, bankruptcy or simply run out of money.
  5. The executives who hired your filmmaker jump studios.
  6. The plug gets pulled on the green light: preproduction and casting are exchanged for a cold studio shelf or turnaround (if you’re lucky).
  7. Studio mandates change from tentpoles to million dollar movies, from genre flicks to lower-budget family films, from comic books to… well, more comic books.

While a degree of unpredictability has always been business as usual in Hollywood, we’ve entered an era of off-the-charts anything-can-happen-at-anytime-to-anyone.

No one knows what will work even though everyone thinks they know what won’t work. Everyone is running scared and frozen in fear that the decision they are about to make will be their last.

While none of this is new, these particular doldrums have been exacerbated by the global economy — our insular Hollywood is an untouchable island no longer.

With any luck, 2009’s year-ending record box office brought about by the second highest-grossing film (so far) of all time and a number of box office surprises (e.g. The Blind Side) will be a boon for the business that will trickle down to the day-to-day. Because what the town needs is a buoyancy of spirit we haven’t felt in a while.

Until that happens, don’t count your chickens before they hatch, don’t even COUNT on counting your hens. Because in this climate, someone might shutter the henhouse before your hen gets a chance to lay the next golden egg.

How Media Evolves

Here’s a perspective on the “Evolution of Media from Seth Godin:

  1. Technicians who invented it, run it
  2. Technicians with taste, leverage it
  3. Artists take over from the technicians
  4. MBAs take over from the artists
  5. Bureaucrats drive the medium to banality

“TV used to be driven by the guys who knew how to run cameras and transmitters. Then it got handed off to the Ernie Kovacs/Rod Serling types. Then the financial operators like ITT and Gulf + Western milked it. And finally it’s just a job. Same thing happened to oil painting…”

In film, it seems we are at the end of this “evolutionary” chain.

Are we at a stage where the medium needs to be handed back to the artists?

It seems like the business is on the verge of recognizing this fact– or at least having no choice but to recognize it. Content creators outside the system — whose work has been marked by originality and creative freedom — have generated some of 2009’s biggest successes — District 9, Paranormal Activity, Avatar.

What’s been working has been markedly original and distinct. Not driven by stars. And yet, each success has shared a through-line: story-driven, visual f/x-driven, virally-marketed movies with name-brand filmmakers endorsing the projects, but not necessarily directing them (Avatar exempted).

In the case of Avatar, does Jim Cameron’s magnum opus represent a reboot of the evolutionary process? He’s certainly a technician who is innovating within the medium of 3D and motion capture, as well as creating a new post-production workflow. In essence, he and his collaborators are technicians inventing the medium.

He’s also clearly a technician with taste who has successfully leveraged the medium to engage audiences with compelling storytelling. He’s a technician (and engineer) who is already higher up the evolutionary food chain than peg one.

And he’s certainly an artist — a writer, director, craftsman. So he’s artist and technician. And has the power to leverage both areas of expertise in his storytelling for profit. So he’s really the first three pegs on the evolutionary ladder rolled into one. Much like George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Robert Zemeckis, Peter Jackson, even JJ Abrams to some degree. Those are the guys moving the evolutionary needle of the medium. They are the ones that are primed to reboot the renaissance. And with advent of online and digital distribution of content, the door is now open for the next generation of innovator to get their shots behind the camera in the ways that Neil Blomkamp, Oren Peli or Duncan Jones have.

The artists who emerge from Hollywood’s evolutionary ooze to become the new innovators, the new technicians, if you will, will be the ones who have the ability to create content unhampered by bureaucrats, but who work within budget parameters that amplify their creativity rather than constrain it.

In short, the new “technicians” will be the ones who can do something unique for a price where interference in their process would be more trouble and cost more money than it’s worth. Better to give them free rein to innovate and expect an original result, because just maybe if you are one of those people at peg four or five, you’ll be able to capitalize on lightning in a bottle.

Blue Moon Cojones

Rare New Year's Eve 'blue moon' to ring in 2010

Happy New Year. It’s 2010. Welcome to the future.

We entered this new year, this new decade under a Mercury Retrograde, a Mars Retrograde, a lunar eclipse and a full moon — not just any full moon — a blue moon. (A blue moon is when there is a second full moon in a single month.) To have one rise on the last night of the year as a punctuation mark on a decade is a rare and special event.

What it all might mean is open to interpretation, but suffice it to say that these celestial confluences hold significance for us earth-dwellers. Let’s hope they auger positive transformation and abundance for all of us, the film industry and the global economy at-large as tectonic shifts continue to rock most of our world. Shifts that call the status quo into question.

Fresh from my third trip into the world of AVATAR, the latest screening with my 5 1/2 year-old daughter, it’s clear that film challenges, defies and rewrites the status quo: it’s a completely immersive cinematic experience, it’s a technological breakthrough, it has a timely message about ecology and interconnectedness, and it’s an extraordinary commercial hit. Clearly, movies aren’t dead, they’re just being redefined. Thank Eywa.

One of the reasons I love movies is that when a truly original, visionary film is embraced by audiences, it evinces a wonderful (dare I say cosmic!) intersection of zeitgeist and story, message and meaning, technology and commerce, vision and timing.

From what well does one draw the creativity, perseverance, confidence and endurance to mount a film of such epic scale?

(And what a gratifying reward to see it cross the billion dollar mark worldwide in only 17 days!)

Was its success meant to be? Is the film’s resonance such that it was almost pre-ordained for success? Or was it the vision of the artisans that crafted it that made it so?

Ultimately, to even attempt to mount a film on such a grand scale, one in which the filmmaker crafts an entire world from the ground up — or the sky down — requires a leap of faith. Everything that goes into a film to perfect it for release, make it beautiful to watch and as finely tuned as possible before sending it out into the world (albeit on the back of tens of millions of marketing and P&A spend) with no certainty of whether it will flop or fly requires an act of faith on the part of the filmmaker.

That, and giant cojones found once in a blue moon.

There are only a handful of visionaries on the planet who can and choose to live life as a perpetual leap of faith. Whether they do so because they’re filled with spiritual knowing or purpose or calling or just a giant set of cojones, they should serve as inspiration.

Ultimately, the lesson to be gleaned from AVATAR and the story behind the film is… take the leap and the cosmos will respond. It worked for the hero, Jake Sully. And it worked for Jim Cameron.

Here’s trusting it will work for you, me, and anyone else who takes a leap.

Let’s just make sure to leap.

The formula for success in 2010: Cojones + faith.

Plus, oh yeah, a blue moon. But we’ve got that already.

A Multi-Platform Engine for Creativity

As both a media creator and a representative of media creators, the notion of what I do and who I am is best encapsulated by the moniker… Content Engine.

Welcome. I hope you enjoy this forum for personal perception and lively discussion about a rapidly evolving, tectonically shifting and always interesting media landscape.

Here is where I will post musings, observations and a bit of experiential wisdom garnered from 15+ years as an entertainment entrepreneur and industry veteran.