Shifting Sands: A Hollywood Titan Retreats

One of the dangers this industry has is that it has a tendency to forget about the realities it is facing when a blockbuster like The Avengers hits. For two or three weeks, after a release of a comic book movie all is right in the world. They are selling admissions, moving popcorn and a tsunami of soft drinks are being consumed. For a couple of brief shining moments all is right with the world. People are going to the movies. And that is good

But it comes to an end. A huge start and a slow painful finish. Don’t get me wrong, I love what the blockbuster does for this business. Unfortunately, as of late Hollywood has pushed the fate of theaters on the vagaries for tent pole franchises. In many ways these overblown comic movies have a similar effect as do anabolic steroids do for athletes. A quick fix to build muscle mass, but leaving behind a legacy of severe health issues.

Several years ago both Steven Spielberg and George Lucas warned of the risk of placing all your theatrical eggs in one basket. The collapse of a major franchise could spell doom for theaters. For the short term the tent poles seem to be coming down the pipeline in the near foreseeable future, but I do not know how long that will last.

One of the things I am curious about is the positioning that Disney is taking on the end of the Avengers Franchise. My instincts tell me that the Mouse would be foolish not to hold onto it in some form or other. What I think is more likely is that with the heating up of the streaming wars, Disney, in a moment of market need will announce another Avengers movie, exclusively for its streaming platform. If studios are anything, they are pragmatic.

My guess is that after the November’s launch of Disneys streaming platform the drama and the conflict surrounding the battle for streaming supremacy shall equal the drama and spectacle of an Avengers:Endgame. The heat and the intensity of the battle shall re-shape the entertainment ecosystem forever and weaken companies. Wall Street shall be focusing its Sauron like gaze in the goings on and shall engage in some interesting para-mutual gambling on the future of the movies.

The bias of the Federal government has been firmly made evident, with the eradication of net neutrality and with the ill timed letter to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences by the Department of Justice. This should not come as a surprise as these are the same people who announced a review of The Paramount Decree and most likely its inevitable erasing.

A couple of weeks back I encouraged industry support for Steven Spielberg when news sources announced he was suggesting changes to the rules of the Oscar on who gets nominated and who does does not. Now it appears that Spielberg much to my dismay has weakened his position.

In a recent letter to the New York Times, legendary director Steven Spielberg has begun speaking about his reported plan to ask the Academy’s board of governors to vote for a new rule that could counter the nominating motion pictures releases that were simultaneously released on streaming platforms and in movie theaters. “I want people to find their entertainment in any form or fashion that suits them,” Spielberg writes. “Big screen, small screen — what really matters to me is a great story and everyone should have access to great stories.” He goes on, “However, I feel people need to have the opportunity to leave the safe and familiar of their lives and go to a place where they can sit in the company of others and have a shared experience, cry together, laugh together, be afraid together, so that when it’s over they might feel a little less like strangers. I want to see the survival of movie theaters. I want the theatrical experience to remain relevant in our culture.” I agree strongly and feel that the Oscars should not be depleted by the machinations of the streaming players.

It has been reported by more than a couple of publications, that Spielberg would not be attending the Academy’s annual rules meeting on Tuesday night to advocate for a proposed rule that Oscar contenders must play in a four-week exclusive engagement in theaters. Currently movies play a one week exclusive engagement. I personally feel that in order to qualify for the top tier awards, a release should be in at least 400 screens and be held for two weeks.

It was also stated that Spielberg’s prime concern was not with Netflix, but with exhibitors who had refused to play Roma. AMC and Regal both did not play Netflix’s Oscar hopeful Roma as part of their best picture showcases this year. Spielberg made that comment that he wants all the players to come together and the save the motion picture art form.

This letter from Spielberg is disappointing. For me in order to truly want to save the motion picture art form, you first must ensure the viability and the integrity of the exhibition industry. When you diminish exhibition you diminish the movies as a whole. Symphonic presentations, in my opinion, should best be enjoyed in a concert hall. The movies should first be seen in a movie theater.

One year ago Spielberg made the following comments, “Once you commit to a television format, you’re a TV movie. You certainly, if it’s a good show, deserve an Emmy, but not an Oscar. I don’t believe films that are just given token qualifications in a couple of theaters for less than a week should qualify for the Academy Award nomination.” At Audio awards, Spielberg commented further, “The greatest contribution we can make as filmmakers is to give audiences the motion picture theatrical experience. I’m a firm believer that movie theaters need to be around forever.”

I am an admirer of Mr. Spielberg and am grateful for his many contributions to the movies. I am disappointed though with the diminishing of his position.

It was reported by The Hollywood Reporter that Spielberg was seen dining with Netflix head Ted Sarandos. I just hope Ted picked up the check.