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.”
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.