Why (Most) Movies Suck

The market totalitarians who call themselves “conservatives” are messing their drawers over the very idea of adding $50 million to the laughably puny $145-million annual budget of the National Endowment for the Arts. “Conservatives,” you see, say they think the NEA is a boondoggle.

Contrast this sense of where boondoggles come from with the excellent recent reportage of New Yorker critic Tad Friend on the workings of the corporate capitalist movie studios — where $50 million, by the way, is less than half of what gets spent there on a single movie, a.k.a. “property,” according to Friend.

As Friend reports:

“Studios now are pimples on the ass of giant conglomerates,” one studio’s president of production says. “So at green-light meetings it’s a bunch of marketing and sales guys giving you educated guesses about what a property might gross.

This, of course, means that:

Marketing considerations shape not only the kind of films studios make but who’s in them—gone are lavish adult dramas with no stars, like the 1982 “Gandhi.”

Even within this situation, which is well-known to industry insiders, if not the general public, there is no doubt what corporate capitalist movies are:

Marketers and filmmakers are often quietly at war. “The most common comment you hear from filmmakers after we’ve done our work is ‘This is not my movie,’ ” Terry Press, a consultant who used to run marketing at Dreamworks SKG, says. “I’d always say, ‘You’re right—this is the movie America wants to see.’ ”

Friend finds the resulting imperatives “unexpected,” but nonetheless does a great job listing them. Continue reading “Why (Most) Movies Suck”

Economic Blacklisting: Why it’s 570 Channels and Still Nothin’ On

Springsteen’s song in 1992 was “57 Channels (And Nothin’ On).”

Now, it’s 570, of course.

Why?

Why the plethora of themed channels, but the continuing wall-to-wall reliance on pablum, snoozefests, and re-runs? Why is “Spongebob Squarepants” smarter, better-written, wiser, and more relevant-to-real-life than every single new program for grown-ups?

Independent film-maker Lloyd Kaufman explains:

I was recently elected to be chairman of the Independent Film And Television Alliance, and I ran on the platform of lobbying in Washington to educate the lawmakers and FCC that independent art is under assault in this country—and under a pepper, too, but that’s beside the point. Comcast won’t talk to Troma. We’ve been in business for 30 years and have 800 movies, and they won’t talk to us. If we give one of our movies to some middleman at Time Warner or whatever, then they’ll talk to them, so there’s another layer of revenue that we lose.

The limited access to the marketplace is economic blacklisting. If you’re an independent, you don’t get on TV. And in the rare instances that you do get on, you get a fraction of what that very same movie would get if it came in through Fox or Viacom.

Like every other major dimension of market totalitarianism, this one remains unacknowledged in both the mainstream media and the public utterances of the power elite.