Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...

Whose Cinema Is Dying? Whose Industry Is Imploding? A Postcard From The Edge...

Features
by Tambay A. Obenson
June 25, 2013 9:35 PM
13 Comments
  • |

Unless I'm only now starting to take notice, it seems like we've been treated to more denunciations of American cinema - specifically Hollywood studio filmmaking - in the last 2 months, than we had in previous years, with a key difference here being that, unlike years past, these recent voices of, shall we say, anxiety over Hollywood's future, belong to those who have long gotten fat on their successes within the same studio system that they're essentially now condemning.

Maybe the most notable are the predictions made by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg (that the business, as it is, will implode, in short), which seemed to shake the world at its core, given how much their panel discussion at University of Southern California's School for Cinematic Arts, traveled, and the reactions to the words of these 2 industry titans.

Apparently no one thought that they, in particular, would ever voice frustration for the way movies are made and distributed today, within the Hollywood studio system, or face any resistance from the executives who back their projects.

Not Spielberg and Lucas! No way!

Yes, way!

Just prior to Spielberg and Lucas' public pessimistic outlook, there was director Steven Soderbergh‘s “grenade-dropping” keynote speech at the 56th San Francisco International Film Festival delivered in April, which also created its own share of waves. 

It was seemingly the talk of the town for days afterward, given how frank and hilarious it was. An insider's POV of how the industry works; his understanding of, or, at times, a lack there of, for the business; his frustrations, and more.

The transcript certainly was a fun read (the recorded video was even better). If it was intended to be Sodebergh's swan song (he's talked about retiring a number of times recently), it certainly would be a heck of a way to go out!

And most recently, John Travolta shared his own concerns for the future of Hollywood cinema, in an interview on stage at the BFI in London this evening, during which the actor said that he felt that adult, character-driven stories are essentially a thing of the past, and are being pushed aside by "gimmicks in cinema;" adding that he's not "a comic book guy:" 

"I am a little worried because the kind of films I’ve loved over the years are diminishing by this new wave of financing in films. I’m doing my best to make the kind of movies I respect and I’m going out of my way to target them. But the honest truth is… I think we’ll see more gimmick films. The heyday of humane stories and character driven stories are limited. It’s not that they’re over because good stories will always be told but they are becoming limited."

And there have been a few others...

I've been thinking about all of this lately, and while I certainly don't feel any pity for these white men who've long controlled the industry we call Hollywood cinema, and whose stories in all their glorious variety have long dominated what we see on our big and small screens, I did have a bit of a laugh when I realized that their laments are starting to echo those long-voiced by those of us who've been in the so-called *minority* since the medium was invented, watching on the sidelines, or from the outside.

So George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Steven Soderbergh, John Travolta and others of their ilk, are no longer able to make the kinds of movies that they want to make, with as much ease as they feel that their white male privilege should afford them. 

Boo-hoo!

Welcome to *our* world fellas! Come on in, and have a seat. We've been frustrated with the industry for a century or so now, and continue to be. 

At least, you had some fun, right? You got the opportunity to knock out several box office hits, made a ton of money, won lots of awards, respect, etc, and lived in your high castles away from the rest of us, for much of your careers.

Some of you even helped (whether intentionally or not) create what the industry has become today.

You'll be just fine - while the struggle will continue for the rest of us; a struggle we've been fighting for decades. So maybe we're just more used to being disappointed than you are, and much of the frustrations with the industry that you've shared in recent months, just don't resonate all that much with us, because, well, again, we've been there for a while now. For us, it's long been the rule, not the exception.

It's all just been rather humorous to me that the complaints we've been making for years, are now their complaints too - well, somewhat.

Although, as noted earlier, it certainly isn't the first time that the future of American cinema specifically, has been questioned. You might recall the "cinema is dead" love song that was sung by many a few years ago, and that continues to be.

And while that wasn't specifically aimed at Hollywood studio cinema, Hollywood studio cinema is essentially cinema of the world, because it dominates screens almost everywhere. It's traveled very well, so much that some countries are taking measures to restrict the importing of American cinema, in a defensive move to grow and protect their own local industries.

But the death/destruction of cinema is something that was argued long before the current incarnation of Hollywood saw its early beginnings. 

For example, French New Wave pioneer, Jean-Luc Godard called it in the 1960s.

And even before that, in the 1940s/50s, the founder of Lettrism (the avant-garde movement, established in the 1940s), the Romanian-born Isidore Isou, stated:

"I believe firstly that the cinema is too rich. It is obese. It has reached its limits, its maximum. With the first movement of widening which it will outline, the cinema will burst! Under the blow of a congestion, this greased pig will tear into a thousand pieces. I announce the destruction of the cinema, the first apocalyptic sign of disjunction, of rupture, of this corpulent and bloated organization which calls itself film."

Prescient wouldn't you say? What better words to use to describe Hollywood studio filmmaking today, in 2013, than "obese," "reached its limits," a "greased pig" that's ready to burst, "corpulent," "bloated," etc.

Fast-forward to 2013, over 60 years later, to Steven Spielberg's own prediction, which, in an uncanny way, mirrors Isou's:

... There's eventually going to be an implosion — or a big meltdown. There's going to be an implosion where three or four or maybe even a half-dozen megabudget movies are going to go crashing into the ground, and that's going to change the paradigm.

So maybe it's just business as usual. It's not the first time, nor will it be the last time voices of discontent or, some would say, paranoia, will call for the end of what we call cinema, or filmmaking as we know it, or for needed change. And the business will continue to thrive, whether in its current form, or, in some other mold, after the industry experiences some kind of a Year Zero - a destruction or implosion, creating a near-blank slate, that is then followed by the creation of a new paradigm, as Isou predicted 60 years ago, or as Spielberg, Lucas, Soderbergh, et al, did most recently, 

But these hard facts from The Economist earlier this year, might be worth taking into consideration:

Hollywood executives have long been paranoid and insecure. Now they have cause to be. “The business model within film is broken,” says Amir Malin of Qualia Capital, a private-equity firm. Between 2007 and 2011, pre-tax profits of the five studios controlled by large media conglomerates (Disney, Universal, Paramount, Twentieth Century Fox and Warner Bros) fell by around 40%, says Benjamin Swinburne of Morgan Stanley. He reckons the studios account for less than 10% of their parent companies’ profits today, and by 2020 their share will decline to only around 5%. That is because the “big six” studios (the other is Sony Pictures, owned by the eponymous electronics maker) are growing more slowly than TV.

However, as I already stated, we (those existing on the fringes - the various so-called *minority* groups who really haven't participated fully in the 100-year ride) don't really have a dog in this fight, because, well, we've always been fighting I suppose (fighting *them* while they fight each other), and we've never really had a sit at the coveted table where decisions on what makes it to our theater and TV screens are made; where the real power lies. The view has rarely changed for us. 

And, as has long been the case, our success continues to come from the *outside*, not from within - something that I think will become even more pronounced, as the gradual implosion or destruction or burst of the dominant cinema, comes to pass.

Horace Greeley's advise to "Go west, young man" isn't quite applicable here. To appropriate his quote to make a point, the American (cinema) expansion isn't westward, and has never really been for the rest of us. The Hollywood-lands have never been as fertile, nor have they been an ideal place for those of us of a darker hue, hoping to find the best opportunities to succeed.

Cinema isn't dying for us; specifically, what we call "black cinema" is still very much in its infancy. The industry isn't imploding for us, because it was never ours in the first place, and we've never really participated in it fully.

So while their world as they know it seemingly starts to crumble around them, ours should blossom.

A luta continua...

Features
  • |

More: Things That Make You Go Hmm...

Free Indie Movies and Documentaries    

13 Comments

  • Ra HalfBlocEnt | June 26, 2013 10:53 PMReply

    http://youtu.be/7KNpSCCXHm8

  • William X. Lee | June 26, 2013 6:46 PMReply

    All valid points to a old school black filmmaker, but I've been living this story since 1974. Old news to me. Time to stop rehashing the same arguments and changing the paradigm.

  • Walter | June 26, 2013 12:01 PMReply

    Wait ~ you had a really great opportunity to make a solid argument about the state of cinema and you make it FML essay about race? Jeez...

  • Ben je | June 26, 2013 11:59 AMReply

    Whatever, whether implosion or explosion, we'll still make films.....

  • Mario | June 26, 2013 11:07 AMReply

    I think you have George Lucas and Steven Spielberg argument and Steven Soderbergh argument mixed up. They are making two vastly different arguments. Lucas and Spielberg argument is that the blockbuster model is going to fail once you have a string of $200 million+ movies fail and that the theater experience will transform into a Broadway theater type business model. As i disagree with the latter argument, the former argument by those gentlemen doesn't the new global market for blockbuster movies, with the notable John Carter being a global failure. Soderbergh's argument (which is similar to Kevin Smith Sundance rant an couple of years earlier)was that with the economics of financing a movie and the industry as a whole. There is an ever growing gap ($2 million to $50 million or as high as $75 million)of movies that can't get funding because it does make financial sense. So they either make a really cheap movies with a high chance for a good ROI (like The Purge) or go big and also get a good return (like Man of Steel). Unfortunately for Soderbergh, his movies are in that no mans land of budgets.

  • Indie Guy | August 2, 2014 2:13 PM

    So, I have a different point of view on this; I own an indie production/distribution company that has made about a dozen feature films over the last 15 years. We also have a US output deal and own our own foreign sales company. My company has made $10 million dollar films and $100k films and have distributed hundreds of movies around the world, and we've been able to make a pretty good (I'm not rich) living... until now. These days my company has some great films in our line up! Some with pretty good cast (not A List, but good solid B or B+) and we can't even give them away anymore. And yes, these are GOOD movies, festival winners and such. Seriously, no buyer overseas will buy anything from us unless it has A List cast, and then they will only pay D List prices. As for VOD... I have to pause here while I laugh a little as I recently received a VOD royalty check for $36.02. VERNON is a sick joke right now. According to my calculations, only about 1 in 5,000 movies breaks even on VOD! You can't support an industry on those numbers. Of course we've no shortage of filmmakers making indie films... everybody thinks their movie is different, their movie will win the Oscar and make millions, but the cold hard reality is, "I CAN'T EVEN GIVE AWAY great, powerful indie films." Nobody wants them anymore. One of my favorite films in my catalog recently had almost all of it's dvd units returned from Walmart. It was a great SciFi thriller with fantastic box art, and nobody bought any dvds, so we ate all of the returns!

    Is indie film dead? Well, I took a job in TV just so I could pay my mortgage, so maybe it's not dead, but you can't make a living on it anymore! It's now pure art, and only wealthy patrons who don't care if they lose all their money can afford to invest.

    My $.02

  • CC | June 26, 2013 9:02 AMReply

    "The heyday of humane stories and character driven stories are limited" ~ John Travolta

    Who would have thought it? Who knew the cocky Italian-American, Vincent "Vinnie" Barbarino would be the brightest in the pack? I thought his brain was limited to "up your nose with a rubber hose". Anyway, Miles Ellison and Mr. Travolta said it all when Miles said, "For a business to be successful, there needs to be a demand for the product".

    I am suggesting we get what we ask for and there's a new sheriff in town. Well, see, I was raised on real butter and homemade biscuits, this new generation was fed a diet of "It Taste Like Butter" and Pillsbury's facky flacky biscuits. So they don't wouldn't know "good" if it licked them in their face.

    So I am incline to believe the implosion-explosion rests in the minds of our "new" moviegoers. That's right, this quick-fix instant satisfaction generation ain't got time for humane stories and character driven stories. I mean, they don't know any better. Give them a McDonald's Happy Meal and a movie with plenty of T&A, BIG MONSTERS, big explosions, fast cars and flashy CGI, they're good to go.

  • Daryl | June 26, 2013 7:20 AMReply

    Good article Tambay. These guys are upset because the rug it getting pulling under their feet now. I like their films but what they are saying is bs. Cinema is the best it has ever been meaning anybody has a chance to make a movie and don't have to beg somebody to give them money to make their movie or go into the poor house making their movie. It is economically affoardable for anybody to tell their story, isn't this what all the filmmakers and actors always wanted, creative freedom. I sit back and laugh at millionaires and billionaires who complain about the industry but have the capital to make their own movies. Francis Ford Coppola gets it. He make films becuase he love films now, if they make money , they make money. Spike Lee gets it now , financing Red Hook Summer by himself because this is the story he wanted to tell. Love or hate Tyler Perry you can't front he got it a long time ago to do for self and built his own fanbase without hollywood, nobody gonna stop him from making movie but himself now because he got the capital and the production infrastructure.. That's creative freedom and we all have that now even if we are not millionaires with the cost of making a good film within everybody grasp, so no longer do we have to worry if we are going to get money to make another film, you do a budget that works for you and you can make as many films as you want. Tambay hit it on the head, it's funny to see the hollywood stars and filmmakers say what black folks been saying forever about hollywood.

  • Really | June 26, 2013 6:51 AMReply

    Film is not imploding...Spielberg and Lucas are imploding...the studios took those guys blockbuster formula, perfected it and are now leaving them on the sidelines...don't need them
    anymore...so Spielberg gives us "Lincoln"...basically a documentary, same with Lucas "Red Tails"...decent films but not what the market rewards as white-hot...they're kinda pissed off, they both used to be the ish

  • Money talks | June 26, 2013 4:57 AMReply

    Russel Simmons, Fifty cent, Rhianna, Beyonce, Jay Z among others are all people that have an income in the hundred million mark, some billions. I'm not a fan of Tyler Perry movies but he's invested in his own community to make movies with a black voice. Oprah finally got off her ass to do the same, she is a billionaire. Film needs a diverse voice of all different cultures but it also needs a diverse amount of people investing in film.

  • ScriptTease | June 25, 2013 10:20 PMReply

    "HOLD ON, CHANGE IS COMING"

  • Monique a Williams | June 25, 2013 9:52 PMReply

    While they lament the change, other whites are making the films they want to see. That's what will separate us in this implosion. Will we, Black filmmakers, make the films and use new channels to distribute or just whine and complain about it?

  • JIHUDI | June 26, 2013 9:04 AM

    BAM!

Follow Shadow and Act

Email Updates

Most "Liked"

  • 'Take Me To The River' Celebrates Memphis' ...
  • Byron Hurt Seeks Hazing Victims, Perpetrators, ...
  • Carra Patterson and Paul Giamatti will ...
  • Trailer for 'Contamination' - Film Tackles ...
  • VH1 Announces the New Cast of 'Love ...
  • Check Out the First Teaser-Trailer for ...
  • Papa Pope, Crazy Eyes and Egyptian Revolutionaries ...
  • Weekend B.O. Aug. 15-17 (The Dog Days ...
  • "Bang, Bang!" HBO Releases New Trailer ...
  • Energetic First Trailer for Kenya-Set ...