Getting Over Hollywood

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That’s how it goes, everybody knows

Leonard Cohen – Everybody Knows

As I got off the number 5 bus, my four year old self was excited by what awaited me. My mother decided that I should see my first movies. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and The World of Topo Gigio was playing in a double bill at the Astor theatre in the next town over from where we lived. The Astor looked like like an art deco castle, with a more than impressive marquee. My mother bought the tickets, and we walked in.

My nose was immediately seduced by the smell of popcorn intertwined with the soft moldy smell of soft drink soaked red velvet. I was hooked. I had some difficulty sitting in the spring loaded theatre seats but with my mother’s assistance I managed to sit down. We sat in our seats. The fabric and the decor yelled out to me, I was witnessing a ritual and a grand tradition. The lights faded slowly, soon that perky Italian mouse, Topo Gigio flickered onto the screen. I was enthralled.

There is only one true way to fully enjoy a movie, in a theatre with 300 plus seats,everything else is a diminished experience. I do not care what size screen you have in your man cave , what kind of sound system you have…nothing compares and no matter what anyone tells you…nothing will every compare to it.. Period.

Hollywood for the past one hundred years has been the torchbearer for the world’s cinematic tradition and legacy. For the majority of this tenure they have handled this responsibility well. That is no longer the case . They are in the process of purposefully gutting movie-going because the leadership within Hollywood feels that it will look good on their Securities and exchange filings. They are far less concerned about their audiences than they are concerned about Wall Street analysts.

Corporatism has a death grip on the movies and is in the process of bleeding it out.

In 1984, a study was conducted by a major Hollywood Studio. A group of economic analysts were asked one question, “If we had the ability to put the next chapter of the Star Wars saga directly into homes and could avoid theatres how much money would we make?”. The answer came back that in 1984 dollars the studio would net at least $125 million. Jaws dropped, accountants began to salivate.

Plans started taking form, they knew that the technology was not in place yet to do this…but one day would be. In 1994, Blockbuster was acquired by Viacom which shortly after would made a successful bid for Paramount. The march to vertical integration had begun.

Then came the release of the movie, Top Gun. It was the first movie sold on VHS tape priced for the mass market at $19.99.  Prior to Top Gun, movies on VHS were $60-$70 ($120 in 2010 dollars) and the Studios weren’t very happy with selling movies on VHS because they saw VCRs and rental clubs as a threat to their theater revenue, or at least that’s what they put out publicly. I strongly suspect the truth lies within the 1984 study, previously mentioned.. Top Gun sold so many copies at $19.99 that it completely changed the movie industry’s view of home video, and ushered in the “home video era” where consumers could inexpensively “own” a movie and watch it any time they like. This confirmed the findings of the analysts.

Dirty Dancing first released in 1988 was re-released for under $25 in 1998. The film sold like hotcakes and the die was cast The once vibrant video store saw a rapid collapse and theatrical windows began to get manipulated. Also in 1998 a DVD to the home service, Netflix was introduced. Also in 1998 Amazon introduced its virtual video store.

In the year 2000 Video sell-through revenue totals $8.6 billion, surpassing theatrical box office ($7.7 billion) for the first time. In 2002 MGM became the first major studio to permit its movies to be made available online on a pay-per-view basis, through CinemaNow and Intertainer. One of the first two titles offered is What’s the Worst That Could Happen? On CinemaNow, the movies are available both as downloads and streams, prices range from $1.99 to $4.99, and the movies are available to viewing for 24 hours after purchase. In 2003, Netflix surpasses 1 million subscribers.

In 2006 CinemaNow launches the first “download to burn DVD” service for major theatrical motion pictures. The 101 titles initially available include About a Boy, Agent Cody Banks, Backdraft, Barbershop, Cry Freedom, High Plains Drifter, I Spy, In Good Company, Scent of a Woman, and a number of independent films and concert DVDs. The next year , 2007 “Live Free Or Die Hard” is the first home video release to be accompanied by a “digital copy,” a companion disc with a copy of the movie that can be loaded on to personal computer or portable video device for playback. In 2012 Google Play began selling movies and television shows online and via Android devices.

Unless you were blind ,it was obvious what plans were being put into play.

Fast forward to today, the large theatre chains have been threatened by prosecution under anti-trust legislation. The timing of which is more than suspect and is testimony to the power the MPAA exerts on both sides of the aisle in Washington. An argument could be made that the anti-trust saber rattling could just be a diversion as Hollywood attempts to implement a strategy of full day and date with Netflix and other VOD purveyors.

Industry groups like NATO are not providing the leadership or strategy to combat what is happening. Eyes are turned to NATO and it would seem that they have been intimidated into a silence. I truly hope that is not the case and that collectively theatres can rise up and take back what is rightly theirs.

It is now imperative that theatres reach inside their collective industry and find the resolve to combat this kudzu like corporatism that threatens its existence. It is imperative that they look at developing alternative business models in order to rescue the movie going tradition. Other regional industries have done so around the globe. The Pop-up movement in England shows great hope in re-invigorating a tired industry. Theaters owner must go down the road of alternative content and build a model that ceases to be solely depend on Hollywood.

This week saw further confusion with the apparent collapse of the The Fantastic Four. Hollywood showed signs of falling its own sword.

It’s time for a change.