Chris Meledandri: Event Films Are Cannibalizing Each Other

Chris Meledandri Minions

Too many tentpoles, not enough training for storytellers, minion maestro tells VFX Summit

Illumination Entertainment CEO Chris Meledandri said Saturday that the feature film business has entered an unprecedented period of volatility and that it is losing — or has already lost — the next generation of potential moviegoers.

“Everybody’s familar with the broad issues, wheether it’s the continued contraction of the DVD marketplace, the disappointment in the domestic sustainability of audience interest in 3D. Things are coming at us from all sides,” Meledandri told the Visual Effects Society Summit in Hollywood. “The thing I worry about the most is the competition for young eyeballs. We’ve got so many other competing forms of media and entertainment and content.”

Meledandri cited his own experience with his sons, who are 14 and 23. “I observe in them is a very different relationship to the cinema than I’ve ever seen in previous generations. Simply put: They don’t have to go to the movies. I worry about a generation growing up without that habitual commitment to the movie theater.”

One major issue facing the industry, he said, is the number of “event” films being released. “If you look at what’s happening with animation right now, it’s quite similar to what’s happening with live action event films, which is the industry releases too many of them and there’s not enough room for them. They’re unquestionably going to cannibalize each other and we’re starting to see that. As our films continue to aspire to be films that speak to all audiences, we’re also competing against the live action event films.”

“Now more than ever as an industry we have to be diligent about doing things that will strengthen and further us rather than contributing to some of the problems we face.”

Meledandri, spoke in a keynote conversation at the W Hotel. Though Illumination’s “Despicable Me 2” is set to surpass $900 million at the box office, he said that he’s never seen another period when it was so hard to project the future of the business. “The only thing that’s certain is we’re in a period of uncertainty.” He said quality storytelling “is our only safety net,” but noted that there is little formal training for storytellers within the feature business.

“Television is a writer-driven business,” he said. “You have writers training other writers, having their work challenged by other writers. It’s a natural evolutionary process, where the film business is a very solitary business for writers.” It took him 20 years, he said, including much trial and error and failures including “Titan A.E.,” to feel confident about his own storytelling skills.

Meledandri ended by telling the gathering this era demands entrepreneurship. “Even in this volatile period, or maybe because of this volatile period, I find it’s a very exhilarating period, because we can’t look backwards to chart our path forward. It doesn’t work. And there’s something very liberating about that.”

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  1. premarose2013 says:

    I have co-written and am producing a totally unique animated symph-rock-tronic operetta, The MicroCosmic Cartoon Show, that breaks the mold. My vision is to open the hearts and minds of young and old alike and inspire people to live their lives to the fullest of their potential. Personally and collectively, I believe that Humanity is hungry for stories that uplift us and that will bring balance and harmony to a hurting world. It is both magical and deeply penetrating.

  2. Mr. Paige says:

    The real problem is the “Monkey see, monkey say, monkey do” attitude in Hollywood. Once a certain type of film is successful, then all studios want to do is go out and reproduce the same type of success for a similiar type of film. As a result, writers get stuck writing within prescribed parameters, and essentially gain success for being a cheap imitation of a story already told. Since the success of “Twilight”, moviegoers and television viewers have been inudated with films about bloodsuckers and werewolves for the last decade or so. Time to stop kicking a dead horse. Time for some new talent, new topics, and more variety in television and film making in the industry. Kudos to young film makers like Brit Marling for bringing engaging stories and adding variety to the American film pantheon.

  3. KenD says:

    The operative sentence in this was, although not a quote:
    ‘But noted that there is little formal training for storytellers within the feature business.’
    That is just mind boggling to realize. There are tons of fine writers, but the studio system doesn’t allow writer centricity any power. To appeal to their damn four quadrants, they throw a dozen voices on every film, and the results end up as pure mush.

  4. Frank W says:

    Well, TITAN A.E. was not a failure in our household. My son LOVED it! We bought the toys and wore out the VHS tape. Had a fantastic soundtrack which we bought, too.

  5. ccd3476 says:

    Reblogged this on Cheryl, Freelancer and commented:
    New findings by a circle of submission finds response by story shift to coastline secret, the cutter’s velocity towards under covers, with both eyes and even glasses, behind the same yellow patterns of illumination by society’s greatest hunger, The Tee Shirt, connect by MacArthur Center, Norfolk VA

  6. Nanny Mo says:

    Also, I’ve seen in my own work that producers are afraid of offending anyone (and I mean absolutely anyone). There was a time when everybody got their lumps at some point, so you just sort of made fun and then knew your pet-cow would get it eventually. It’s really hard to make entertainment that NO one objects to, and when you do it’s milquetoast. Humor is based on offense and life should be about learning to give and take other’s viewpoints, but today in America it’s not, and entertainment pays the price.

  7. T. DeSantis says:

    I agree with Meledandri to an extent. Story and creativity is not easy but well worth every effort put forth. Beyond this, movie going has always been and will continue to be a social activity – people desire to connect; also to escape outside their daily orbit. This is global. Short term, let’s agree to take our collective feet off the seemingly ubiquitous boom-booming sound effects pedal and step-up the end-user experience in theaters. Movie goers deserve an engaging, welcoming, and safe “event” experience.

  8. Mike says:

    Could this have something to do with the plethora of zombie projects out there? Just askin’

    • Amen. Personally I think its a fight for space because one hand doesn’t want to give up monster films while the other is saying well we don’t need monster films anymore because we’re good with what we have otherwise. See, monster movies and remakes are only necessary in a SLOW market. Now the market is TOO FULL! So when you reach capacity what do you do? Cut out the stuff thats only needed in a SLOW market. What is that traditionally supplemented by? Romantic comedies. Switch out the zombie flicks for chick ones and what do you have? A happy moviegoing audience. On one hand you have a date movie but then on the other hand you also have your choice of not just monster movies but movies across the board in every genre to choose from. o.o Done! Then we can shake one another’s hand and win out like gangbusters moving onto the next project like things haven’t lost a step before the industry almost tanked along with the economy. Like say we got a new Batman coming out with Superman so why not do a Simpsons Movie 2? o.o <..>

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