Tell good stories, B.O. will follow

Guest Column

As a young filmmaker, I am writing in response to the front-page story in this week’s Variety, headlined “H’wood asks: Has pop culture pooped out?”

I am pissed off, because I feel like I’m continuously reading articles posing questions about where the box office grosses are going, why Hollywood studios are suffering, and why piracy is out of control. And I feel the answer to all of those questions is blatantly obvious: Hollywood has stopped making good films.

When studio execs receive a new script, the first thing they do is pick up the phone to call the marketing department. Rather than focus on the script and perhaps getting an interesting, well-crafted story, we are left with a bunch of genre pics we’ve all seen 20 times before. Also, thanks to a marketing department out of control, all the best films are released within a four-week period in December, leaving the rest of the year a veritable Death Valley of choices at the box office.

Which brings us to piracy. One can debate until blue in the face the effects of file sharing, the Internet, screeners, and disgruntled post-house workers and never determine the impact on the piracy controversy. But the basic premise behind why people are stealing movies (and this is true of music as well), is that we are no longer making a good product and people are pissed off.

If only 1 in 20 movies is any good, people are not going to take a chance by forking out money at the box office. Consumers are going to look for other ways to get the product. If 50% of the films the industry delivered were great (which, in non-Hollywood terms, is a staggeringly poor success ratio), people would return to the theater in droves. If it’s a quality product, people will pay for it.

We have proof of this by looking at the figures. Why did “Pirates of the Caribbean” find gold this summer and sequels tanked? Because it was the most original film of the summer. Why is the cable audience growing while network is shrinking? Because cable has the ability and is producing innovative and interesting programming.

Why aren’t video games seeing the same piracy problems that music and film are experiencing? Because the video game market is investing so much in creating exciting, innovative, and good products, that consumers aren’t questioning paying the cost.

Now I’m not saying that every film should be “Gone With the Wind.” But there’s room for improvement in every aspect of the industry. There’s a difference between “Tomb Raider 2” and “Spider-Man,” and I don’t think it’s the budget, or the stars, or the marketing. It’s the product.

What is the most worrying fact is that the industry doesn’t see this and is moving farther from the solution. We constantly hear about giant media mergers and newly formed mega conglomerations. Many of the smaller independent studios and houses that were around just five years ago, that could develop new products, are now gone, eaten up by the studio machine.

I know it is not as simple as saying “let’s make good films now,” but we can be heading in the right direction. Find your good filmmakers. Let the directors direct. Let the writers write. And let the producers and studio execs do what they used to do: Figure out what the public wants, find the right properties, and work on the material. They’re no longer taking these steps because its a lot less work and certainly less risky to just pick up the phone and call the marketing department. But the future of this great industry depends on our change.

Filmmaking is story telling. Let’s worry less about market share and more about story, and the market share will follow.

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