There’s been a lot of talk recently about the increase in the foreign box office. According to Screen Digest Cinema Intelligence Service it makes up to 68% of the approximately $32 billion global film market. As the global economy shifts so does the movie business. And the result? Hollywood is looking to make their movies more globally appealing. Or simply, less American.
You probably think I’m exaggerating.
Writer/director Adam McKay recently opened up about Paramount Pictures nixing his sequel to Anchor Man. The first one cost $20 million and made over $90 million. But only $5 million was made over seas.
“A lot of comedies and a lot of comedians don’t travel,” says Rob Moore, vice chairman of Paramount Pictures. “We need to make movies that have the ability to break out internationally.”
Not the first time I’ve heard this. American humor doesn’t play well outside of America. Hollywood–like any business–follows the money. This will most likely mean a decrease in comedies on the production slate. Especially comedies with any sizable budget.
Which will most likely mean any hopes you have of getting your comedy script made will rest on it being produced independently. And right now the independent distribution market is in the toilet.
Big movies have long been a Hollywood staple. What’s changing is the un-Americanizing of it.
Writers on the upcoming big-budget movie based on the Hasbro board game Battleship were asked to redo their script because their premise was deemed “too American.” It was determined it needed to be more global.
“I can tell you that no studio head is going to make a big expensive movie that cost $150 million or $200 million unless it has worldwide appeal,” says Mark Zoradi, a ex-president of Walt Disney Co.’s Motion Pictures Group. “You can’t pay back that production cost on the domestic model alone.”
Hold on to your hats, this is where it gets bumpy.
Adam McKay’s new comedy, The Other Guys, has a moment for Mark Wahlberg’s character involving Yankess shortstop Derek Jeter. The studio execs worried that the Jeter joke wouldn’t play internationally so they actually told McKay to re-shoot the scenes with international sports stars David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo, planning to release those versions abroad. That never panned out for Sony and the Jeter joke remains. But this could be a new model for filmmaking.
Can you imagine alternate versions of Citizen Kane, Taxi Driver, or the Godfather?
I don’t begrudge anyone. Hollywood has a right to try and squeeze every dollar out. It’s a business. That’s what you do. My concern is the quality or artistry of the movies that it begets. And more so, I worry about the movies that we’ll miss out on. A lot of my favorite movies barely got made at all.
Does the world really want big dumb movies? I say we make one as a test. No humor. Set it anywhere but America. Lots of action. And let’s make it 3D since that’s all the rage these days. I bet it doesn’t make one dollar.
Shit. You win again, Hollywood.
Apparently 3D is about to take hold, not just in our theaters, but in our televisions as well. Every major television maker is working on a 3D set for you right now. Many are already going into mass production. Samsung is boasting about 3D HDTV’s that are 1/3″ thick, touch screen remotes that actually show your television images while you press the buttons, built in ethernet, and software – or should I say, Apps. Espn has already announced a 3D channel. Footballs games in 3D!
Avatar was great. I admit it. Technologically speaking. Not so much story-wise. I saw the entire story in the trailer. Dude becomes an avatar, gets in good with the “bad” natives, then learns to love them, and ultimately has to fight with them against the evil people who originally sent him there. (i.e. Pocahontas, Dances with wolves, The Last Samurai) I’m not providing spoilers for the six people who haven’t seen this movie. That was literally in the trailer. But it was an event movie. It actually got people into the theater and I applaud it for that. In fact I only went to see it because everyone told me how pretty it was. I didn’t need to see it for the story.
The problem with 3D technology for me – and it is very much the case in Avatar – is that I’m not immersed into the world. Why? Because I’m wearing 3D glasses. Because every damn image is punching me in the mouth. Because I’m getting a headache. I’m not immersed into the movie because I’ve never been more aware that I’m being manipulated. And no, I don’t get used to it. Not even after two hours. You think I want that in my home? I don’t need all programming in 3D. It’s not really an improvement for me to saddle up to the TV with a pair of dork-glasses to watch the news with Brian Williams’ crooked-ass nose in 3D sitting in my lap like Labrador Retriever?
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t hate 3D. I just find it nothing more than a gimmick. Not to the point of Smell-o-vision, but I don’t see it as a game changing device that will affect all movies. Maybe one day it will get there. There is at least one TV coming out that employs Lenticular 3D. A process that does not require the use of 3D glasses. But that too has it’s limitations. If you’re not sitting directly in front of the TV you do not get the proper affect.
3D has yet to prove itself as valid addition to the filmmaking experience. (e.g. color film, sound, digital projection, CGI, THX.) Until it does it will remain a gimmick. And gimmicks fade.
Movie making seemed like a distant unattainable idea when I was a lad in the 90’s. Then one day I saw Clerks. I couldn’t believe something like was at my local video store next to Tom Cruise and Denzel Washington movies. Don’t get me wrong – I love Clerks. But the production value looked like something… well… I could do.
I began researching and learned the story of how Kevin Smith used credit cards to fund his $28,000 movie. Then I read about Robert Rodriguez and how he made El Mariachi. Still more accounts of low-budget filmmaking: The Evil Dead, Blood Guts Bullets & Octane, Open Water. They made it all seem so attainable. And yet, it’s not. Making a film is tough enough but you better have made the right film or you’re going absolutely nowhere with it. And after making two independent films of my own, I’ve got some tips to help you get there.
First, a disclaimer. I’m talking about actual independent movies. I’ll qualify that as under $100,000.
Start at the end. Seriously. Before you even start writing the script. If you want to make a great movie that does absolutely nothing for your career, ignore this step. If you actually want to have a career you will start with this. The only reason you’ve heard of any of the movies mentioned above is because they got distribution. If a distributor doesn’t think they can sell your film they won’t buy it from you. It doesn’t get much simpler than that. I can’t stress this point enough. In fact all my following advice stems from this one idea.
And don’t just trust that you’re movie will be so good that it will get into Sundance and some random distributor will be there to buy it. Sundance ain’t what it used to be. It’s full of “studio indies” staring famous people, made by famous people. You’ll be making the rounds at many festivals if you’re lucky. Many of them won’t be attended by acquisition people. But you can use any festival attention as P.R. later to attract distributors.