Posted on Saturday, February 19th, 2011 by Germain Lussier
Ladies and gentleman, there are some real, honest to God problems with the movie business. That’s pretty obvious from the huge void of original content that’s being released by Hollywood in the coming months, including a record breaking 27 sequels in 2011 alone. And while we all know this problem exists, the genesis of how and why it’s happening, and a possible solution, are concepts few of us have the wealth of knowledge and experience to fathom.
In a new GQ column called The Day the Movies Died, author and former Entertainment Weekly executive editor Mark Harris does just that. He weaves a story from Top Gun to Inception to Stretch Armstrong of how Hollywood went wrong and – SPOILER ALERT – why it might not ever get fixed. Harris’s article should be required reading for anyone who cares about movies in today’s society. Read a short excerpt and find the link to the full article after the jump.
Harris, who now writes EW’s Final Cut column among other things, has a knack for contextualizing an idea in a way that’s both fascinating to read and totally mind-opening. That’s what he did in his book Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood, which told a beautiful, compelling story of how Hollywood was born through the five films nominated for Best Picture at the 1968 Oscars. This latest work, though, tells a much more concise and much less promising tale. Here’s a brief sample.
The rise of marketers has also brought on an obsession with demographics. As anyone in Hollywood will tell you, the American filmgoing populace is divided two ways: by gender and by age. Gender is self-explanatory (usually); the over-under dividing line for age is 25. Naturally, every studio chief dreams of finding a movie like Avatar that reaches all four “quadrants” of the audience: male and female, young and not. But if it can be made for the right price, a two- or even one-quadrant film can be a viable business proposition.
In Hollywood, though, not all quadrants are created equal. If you, for instance, have a vagina, you’re pretty much out of luck, because women, in studio thinking, are considered a niche audience that, except when Sandra Bullock reads a script or Nicholas Sparks writes a novel, generally isn’t worth taking the time to figure out. And if you were born before 1985… well, it is my sad duty to inform you that in the eyes of Hollywood, you are one of what the kids on the Internet call “the olds.” I know—you thought you were one of the kids on the Internet. Not to the studios, which have realized that the closer you get to (or the farther you get from) your thirtieth birthday, the more likely you are to develop things like taste and discernment, which render you such an exhausting proposition in terms of selling a movie that, well, you might as well have a vagina.
That leaves one quadrant—men under 25—at whom the majority of studio movies are aimed, the thinking being that they’ll eat just about anything that’s put in front of them as long as it’s spiked with the proper set of stimulants. That’s why, when you look at the genres that currently dominate Hollywood—action, raunchy comedy, game/toy/ride/comic-book adaptations, horror, and, to add an extra jolt of Red Bull to all of the preceding categories, 3-D—they’re all aimed at the same ADD-addled, short-term-memory-lacking, easily excitable testosterone junkie. In a world dominated by marketing, it was inevitable that the single quadrant that would come to matter most is the quadrant that’s most willing to buy product even if it’s mediocre.
“It’s a chicken-versus-egg thing,” says writer-producer Vince Gilligan, the creator of the why-aren’t-there-movies-this-good cable hit Breaking Bad. “The studios say, ‘Well, no one else is coming to movies reliably these days except for young males, so we’ll make our movies for them.’ And yet if you make movies simply for young males, nobody else is going to want to go. So Hollywood has become like Logan’s Run: You turn 30, and they kill you.”