Put America Back Into The Movies

 

Looking hard for a drive-in
Searching for a corner cafe
Where hamburgers sizzle on an open grill night and day
Yeah, and the jukebox jumping with records back in the USA
I’m so glad I’m living in the USA
Yes I’m so glad I’m living in the USA
Anything you want we got it right here in the USA
Linda Ronstadt, Living In The USA

 
Movie theatre owners this fall have received a wake up call from Hollywood, in the form of press releases announcing the news that Netflix will be releasing the next four Adam Sandler films on their streaming service and Weinstein announcing that it will be releasing day and date with Netflix, the sequel to Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.

Let’s face it, American movies have lost their collective mojo. As Hollywood turns it eye towards the emerging markets in Asia, with a couple of billion movie hungry consumers, it’s core is largely being ignored. What Hollywood really has failed to realize is that its product never really was movies, it was America itself. In its attempting to appeal flaccidly to global audience it truly forgot what it was really selling, the America dream…warts and all. Hollywood is looking for easy answers to a problem that could be revealed by Hollywood holding up a mirror to itself.

Sony, A Japanese company, controls the library of what used to be Columbia Pictures, Universal has in the last decade been owned by Canadians, then the French and now by a cable TV conglomerate, Warner Brohers by another cable company, Fox by controlled by the American/Australian Rupert cable magnate Murdoch, Paramount is ostensibly is controlled by a holding corp primarily involved in cable channels, Viacom, Disney is a melange of interests and focuses set in the cable universe. Among the majors, only the Canadian financed Lionsgate seems to have any real focus on making movies.

Hollywood basically has become a feedlot for the cable TV business. The problem is that due to the internet that industry is facing huge pressures. And they are looking for easy answers.

On top of the shifting sands of the cable television world is the sad fact that the majority of money made in the upper echelon of the Hollywood power structure in through packaging or agency fees. Packaging is putting actors, writer and directors together to make a film. Talent agencies package films often to maximize the upfront fees and agency commission payable to the agency, not to make a film that makes money. Investment risk is often placed with offshore tax pools or hedge funds and the risk is not borne by the studios themselves. In fact first monies in are paid to the studios in the form of distribution fees and expenses and the investors are forced to either recoup on the balance or the deal itself was from the onset designed as a strategic tax loss.

In short no one really is rewarded for making a good movies, the practice of crony capitalism and oligarchical business practices have eroded motive and quality.

The studios behind closed doors have looked towards the emerging middle class in China and has collectively decided to abandon an American cinematic focus, and in the process are eroding a hundred years of cinematic tradition and business. They will undoubtedly decided to abandon the theatrical market in favor of low overhead deal with the emerging behemoth of a distribution model know as NETFLIX. Netflix is quicker and easier in their eyes. They are making a profound strategic error. A theatrical release if measured has always been a key to enhanced ancilliary revenues. It is the studios influence for 3600 print releases that created the multiplex imperative and in that lies the seeds of destruction for both movie going and filmmaking. Hollywood has no interest in re-creating itself to be as it once was, a cottage industry…it is intent on feed the deal machine that offers huge upfront fees to the power structure that resides within it. They look at the foreign markets to support this corporate lifestyle and to appease this master they are removing America from movies.

The issue is that movies and America has been intertwined since their inception. You cannot have the same bravado, sense of action, pathos without acknowledging the American experience. Heck they are even diluting Captain American, the mist red white and blue action hero out there in order to do what they feel will make their message more profitable in foreign environs.

They are wrong, wrong, wrong.

We take a look at the rise of Australian cinema in the 70’s. Names like Weir, Beresford, Trenchard-Smith and Schepsi emerged on the world scene. What made their films special and so worthy of global attention was their unabashedly Australian perceptive. They told Australian stories, with for the most part Australian actors and unashamedly proclaimed their place in the world. The world accepted them because of the truthfulness of the stories they told and the sincerity of the stories origins. They defined Australia to the world.

American cinema has a deep identity crisis. It has for the sake of a quick buck to sell its soul,

There is hope but it does not lie in the rarified air of Hollywood. It comes from taking lessons from the past and using the example to re-purpose an industry who can realize profit from making films that serves the needs to an American market and only an American marketplace. It comes from re-inventing the theatrical marketplace, drawing from lessons of the past.

Companies like Pacific Western and Sunn International grabbed market share by using saturation marketing and four wall strategies (renting the theatre). They forced market share away from the majors and used secondary markets to build awareness and revenue for their films like “In Search Of Noahs’ Ark”, and “Where The Red Fern Grows”. Rural and sub-rural markets which where largely ignored by the studios went to these film in droves. They defined the market and without the support of video or TV made a profit. They sowed the seeds of their own destruction when they allied themselves with studios and spent more on productions.

Robert Lippert was a theatre owner who owner 118 screens in California. Dissatisfied with what he believed to be exorbitant rental fees charged by major studios, Lippert formed Screen Guild Productions in 1945, its first release being a Bob Steele western called Wildfire,Screen Guild also re-released many older B picture westerns and made 22 pictures under its own name. Screen Guild became Lippert Pictures, Inc. 130 features were released between 1948 and 1955. Lippert had a reciprocal agreement with the British company Hammer Films to distribute each other’s films in their own countries.

Lippert shaped films for a specific market, an American market. People Like Earle Owensby, Charles Pierce and William Girdler have shown similar models.

Alternative distribution has to come to rise. The American theatrical window has to be put back into place and has to be at least four months in length. You have to make American stories for an American audience. You have to make film at a price where the American market can return a profit.

Most importantly the American Theatrical exhibitors should take a stand and support independent distribution and production.

If they do not, they are doomed.