Tuesday, March 07, 2006

And like that... he's gone.

George Lucas:"The Blockbuster Is Dead"
go to original article ... or email me for article text
""The market forces that exist today make it unrealistic to spend $200 million on a movie, Those movies can't make their money back anymore. Look at what happened with King Kong""
I'm inclined to agree. Sort of.

I think it's all too easy for "Hollywood" studios to make their money back on the big budget movies they produce. It's formulaic, in fact. That's why everyone celebrates and jeers at the big flops and misses. We're so used to them winning (and winning ugly) that we like to see them lose every once in a while. If you've ever cheered against the Yankees, Duke or (I hate to say it) the Lakers, you know what I'm talking about.

The studios have made a precise science out of what the public will come out to see, and it doesn't necessarily have much to do with how good, original, or meaningful the movie is. But they can make their money back (and more) in theatrical release -- and definitely in dvd sales -- because they're smart about what they put out. What people who go to the movies a lot are noticing, is that smart production moves don't tend to lead to interesting movies.

So what George is essentially saying is that it's impossible for GOOD big-budget movies to make their money back.

Over my many years of being obsessed with Star Wars and following what I could of George Lucas, I've flip flopped in my opinion of him many times. In the end, I believe that he is, in fact, an artist. He can fail to execute well, he's not prone to admitting mistakes, and he's not always in touch with his audience or the general public. But there is soul and creation infused in all the stuff he tries to do.

Reading the reaction to his most recent public comments, it's clear that not many people agree. Which is unfortunate. As an artist, I think Lucas is speaking out about how no one who wants to make an expressive piece of cinema will be able to access "Hollywood" funding, because outside the formula, the economics of film distribution just don't add up. And for people who think about art, the other movies don't count.

His predictions seem off base, because they probably are. I doubt we'll see the average production cost dip. Big movies still make money, and they will continue to because the channels are established and mature. The reality is, the checks and balances that exist corporately make it impossible for them to fail. But the artist is myopic and sees only his and his contemporaries paths. The people who want to make GOOD movies will have to work outside the hollywood machine (create a new machine perhaps) and do it for less money.

If this interests you, read the book "Blockbuster" (referenced on the right). Blockbusters are not just movies that cost a lot of money and bring in huge grosses. They refer to a specific period in the history of cinema where two huge dams seemed to break simultaneously. There was a backlog of images and stories that filmmakers were holding in their collective imagination that had yet to put on the screen. And there was a backlog of these same images in the viewers collective imaginations as well as access and choice to a multiplicity of films. The multiplex and big budget movie matured together and they were born of the Blockbuster (whose name even suggests exceeding capacity -- lines that went out the building and around the block).

Now the economic channels are more mature and there has been little unmet demand like before. I don't think a business will erupt like what happened with Star Wars, but steady technological changes will start to decentralize the big screen movie viewing experience (out of the multiplexes and into high quality home theaters and intermediaries) and this shift will allow a more balanced distribution of films across the appropriate channels. Not every film is feasible if it needs to go out to 10,000 screens worldwide. But any film with an audience can probably find a way to get made for that audience.

The blockbuster, isn't on the verge of death. Without anyone really noticing, it died years ago.


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