The end of moviegoing as we know it? The scourge of sequel-itis and the problems of blockbuster economics were the focus of a film industry business overview delivered Saturday by producer James Schamus as part of the Producers Guild of America’s Produced By NY conference.
“Last year was the turning point,” Schamus said. “The actual death knell of the business was heard by those with their ears to the ground…We’re in a fight for the survival of American film.”
Schamus’ provocative introduction was followed by a survey of Motion Picture News articles about the film business drawn from 1916.
Universal Pictures mogul Carl Laemmle warned in two-page trade ads about the mortal danger that feature-length films posed to the nickel-a-seat business of one- and two-reelers. Other stories weighed in on the “absurdly” wide release of the latest Mary Pickford film on 80 screens, the rise of ticket prices to 10 cents and even 15 cents, the innovative marketing approach of newspaper ads to reach “a higher class of clientele,” and the fact that “Intolerance,” D.W. Griffith’s megabudget follow-up to “The Birth of a Nation,” was a flop that bankrupted the Triangle Film Corp.
“It’s the same exact debate,” Schamus said, buttressing his point that everything old is new again when it comes to business trends in film. “We’re here, they’re there.”
Schamus turned his focus to 2017 during the Q&A that followed. Among the highlights:
- Hard as it is to make indie movies these days, Schamus sees real hope on the horizon with companies like A24 who are fostering a market for indie pics that wasn’t nearly as robust a decade ago. He cited his experience working with them this year on “A Prayer Before Dawn.” “They’ve done a tremendous job of locating and finding younger audiences who like to go to movies” and “nurturing those audiences to embrace alternative cinematic culture,” he said.
- He sees the burgeoning trend of theaters selling monthly passes in an effort to bring people into theaters more often “should be a net-net” for filmmakers, noting that it has been a successful model in France, despite “resistance from our NATO allies,” he quipped, referring to the National Association of Theater Owners.
- Concerns about the flatlining of the U.S. theater-going audience are valid but the industry needs to pay more attention to growth overseas. “The average age of the audience going to the movies in China is 20 years old,” he said. “The numbers are unbelievable. It’s been explosively growing (in international markets), we just don’t see it as much.”
- In keeping with the theme of his presentation, Schamus said the job of a film producer hasn’t changed that much over the 30-plus years of his career. When he was fired as the head of Universal’s Focus Features unit in 2013, he vowed to “get my fingernails dirty” again as a producer. “The job feels pretty much the same,” he said. “Oh look, there’s a tidal wave. Do I run or do I dive in to it? That’s kind of like the day. Then it’s time to have a drink and go to sleep.”