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Lynda Obst's New Book 'Sleepless in Hollywood' Asks: Is There Still Room for Movies in the Movie Business?

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by Aljean Harmetz
July 23, 2013 1:23 PM
2 Comments
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Lynda Obst
Lynda Obst

With six mega-hundred-million-dollar-movies already making belly flops into Hollywood’s summer movie pool, and the summer barely half over, it seems like everybody is worrying about the Future of Movies.

Steven Spielberg and George Lucas speak of an” implosion.” (The image that fills my head is of one of those evil Star Trek planets bursting apart and devouring itself.) They guess that the new model will divide into 1) even more expensive tentpoles that play for a year in theaters at astronomical ticket prices and 2) whatever else manages to get produced.

In her new book, “Sleepless in Hollywood,” Lynda Obst, the producer of “Sleepless in Seattle” and 18 other movies, also uses the word “implosion” but only on page 260 of a rambling 263 page attempt to come to terms with what she calls “The New Abnormal.”

Sleepless in Hollywood

Hollywood has never been normal, she writes, but in the middle of the last decade the Old Abnormal morphed into something new and ugly – at least to producers. Starting somewhere around 2008, she writes, “the studios have grown their slates into a diet of pure tentpoles, with almost nothing in-between. We producers fight for the precious diminishing space you could justifiably call the ‘in-between.’ So the question is, with all these tentpoles, franchises, reboots and sequels, is there still room for movies in the movie business?”

That question is never really answered in a book that is mostly musings, but there is an instructive 53-page chapter on her own experience at Paramount when the stable reign of Sherry Lansing and Jon Dolgen was falling apart under the pressure of the New Abnormal.

Obst dates Hollywood’s New Abnormal to the falling sales of DVDs. Peter Chernin, former head of Fox, tells her that “The DVD business represented 50% of [a studio’s] profit.” The loss of the money DVD sales provided led to Hollywood’s new emphasis on making more and more gargantuan films that would play well in foreign countries. But she also credits the 2007-2008 writers’ strike that allowed the studios to jettison all those rich production deals with producers, directors and writers who would no longer be needed.

To Obst, the new Hollywood may be “Tentpoles and Tadpoles,” little extremely inexpensive films with microbudgets of $100,000 to $10 million like “Arbitrage,” “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” and “Beasts of the Southern Wild” that may actually make some money.

But, as screenwriter William Goldman famously wrote, “Nobody knows anything.” In Sunday’s Los Angeles Times, a front page article proclaimed “B Movies doing A-List business.” Leading the pack were two of those mid-range movies that Hollywood is not supposed to make any more, the female buddy comedy, “The Heat” which cost $42 million and, so far, has brought in $118 million, and “This Is the End,” which cost $32 million and has earned $93 million.

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More: Reviews, Reviews, Books, Women in Film

2 Comments

  • Nancy Nigrosh | July 25, 2013 1:30 PMReply

    Aljean,
    I would actually be more interested in hearing your own independent take on this moment in Hollywood time and the future of movies.

  • Brian | July 23, 2013 1:47 PMReply

    I'm thinking the erosion of the mid-range genre film has caused a serious drop in moviegoing for some segments of the population (like me). When I think back to my favorite moviegoing experiences of new movies in the last decade I think of films like THE LAST SAMURAI, KILL BILL, VOL. 1, COLLATERAL, GRINDHOUSE, PUNISHER: WAR ZONE, THE BANK JOB, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, and a trio of westerns, APPALOOSA, 3:10 TO YUMA and TRUE GRIT, not to mention DJANGO UNCHAINED. But I remember when movies like these used to come out EVERY WEEK!!! Now they're few and far between.

    Also, I read reviews of various indie dramas and occasional Hollywood dramas and they're all so damned self-important, beating us over the head with a cause or a message of some sort. The timeless dramas of the past occasionally had a message, e.g. GRAPES OF WRATH and ON THE WATERFRONT, but most were just good stories, like REBECCA, IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES, A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, etc.

    I keep thinking I'd like to see the kinds of big-screen melodramas that used to be called "women's pictures," e.g. MILDRED PIERCE, PEYTON PLACE and MADAME X, maybe with black casts, but this kind of story has been generally relegated to television.

    The success of THE CONJURING bodes well. Although I tend to avoid horror movies, this sounds like it's not a typical genre film, but something a little more.

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