On the occasion of the publication of my new book "The $11 Billion Year: From Sundance to the Oscars, an Inside Look at the Changing Hollywood System," which covers one year at the movies-- 2012, from January's Sundance Film Festival through Oscar night 2013, when "Argo" won Best Picture--I invited two seasoned film industry reporters to debate the future of filmed entertainment ahead of last Sunday's screening of "Argo" at The Egyptian Theatre.
I was inspired by William Goldman's classic book "The Season," in which he took the reader behind the scenes of one season on Broadway. I wanted to take readers through my year of covering the entertainment industry on Thompson on Hollywood at Indiewire. Over the years I've worked at monthlies, weeklies and dailies and now I'm 24/7 on my own blog. Along the way I got to know these two veteran Hollywood analysts, Kim Masters, who predated me at Premiere and went on to write for Vanity Fair, Time and Esquire and now resides at The Hollywood Reporter, and John Horn, who since working with me at Premiere joined the Calendar staff of the LA Times. Master's weekly "The Business" on KCRW-FM, which Horn participates in, is a must-listen every Monday afternoon. 2:30 PM!
I wanted to pick their brains on some of the questions I keep getting on my rounds --what is happening to Hollywood, what is the future of this business? As I wrote the book in 2012 and 2013, some major shifts were happening. I was curious if they agreed with me on the direction the industry is taking.
For example, in the Sundance chapter I dig into some of the changes in indie distribution, which is the innovative bellwether for where the studios may eventually have to go. So we talked about the lower barriers of entry for indie films, and how the studios are hampered in their attempts to make changes. Kickstarter is crowdfunding films like "Veronica Mars," which was opened by a major studio last weekend, which had to buy out AMC theaters in order to offer the film at the same time on VOD, just the way Roadside Attraction's "Arbitrage" did in 2012.
We tried to answer the question of where the standoff between the studios and the exhibitors is heading. Are the studios right to focus so much on tentpoles --Spielberg foresaw a spate of box office disasters and he was right, as "Battleship" and "John Carter" among others went down. Is this the right strategy?
Why do the studios eschew originals--when evidence shows that original animated films like "Frozen" do better than anything else?
Diversity in the movie business continues to be an issue. Kathryn Bigelow is the exception that proves the rule. The books explores if she won best director for indie "The Hurt Locker" because she was a woman, and then was slammed for studio release "Zero Dark Thirty" because she was getting too threatening as a powerful filmmaker. Why isn't the needle moving for women and minorities? There's a big audience for women but the studios keep ignoring the numbers. Why?
Every year there's a list of exceptional movies that somehow push through the system despite not being supported by the studios. "Argo" is an exception--Warner Bros. saw the wisdom of giving Affleck a modest budget to make a newsworthy and adult movie. It worked. Why don't the studios do this more often? Masters feels strongly that only big directors get to make these exceptional movies.
There have been a lot of changes at the studios: Warners, Universal, Fox, Disney. What's going on? Are they heading toward digital prowess? Masters and Horn think Comcast/NBC/Universal is the most interesting player right now, and that Sony may prove a weaker entry in the survival sweepstakes. We also addressed what the role will be of Netflix, Hulu, iTunes and Amazon in Hollywood's future. Are the studios giving away the baby with the bathwater by pushing so many top talents like Steve Soderbergh and David Fincher toward television?
Listen and weep.