Alexander Huls:

Blur your eyes, and they might have all been the same tedious, manipulative movie. I felt nothing watching these characters disappear off-screen, hurtling toward whatever lies beyond. I’m no sociopath. The problem is that death at the movies has died. The movie industry has corrupted one of cinema’s — if not all of fiction’s — most emotionally taxing moments into hollow formula, the kind of thing that passes in the blink of a plot point leading to a literal, if not figurative, explosive finale that takes up half the budget. Considering this, it’s odd that death’s killer is the new, risk-averse economic logic of Hollywood.

Hard to argue given the plots of so many movies these days — naturally, many based on comics. Hollywood has conquered death — and cheapened it in the process.

Oscars, The Grouch

I hate almost all awards shows.1 The one exception has always been the Academy Awards.

I’ve watched the Oscars every year for as long as I can remember. To those who know me as a movie buff, this shouldn’t be surprising. Still, I can’t stand the Golden Globes or that various other pageants you can find on random television stations during awards season. But the Academy Awards always seemed special to me. Beyond reproach.

But I fear I’m starting to lose that loving feeling.

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Brooks Barnes on companies like DreamWorks working with partners on their own tablets:

Entertainment companies have been surprised at how speedily children have taken to tablets, sometimes forgoing TV sets altogether. As a result, DreamWorks, Disney and their competitors are searching for ways to make it easier for users to find their characters on portable devices.

It’s a smart thing to try, but:

The DreamTab is not a toy. Switched into parent mode, it provides roughly the same computing power as an iPad, the companies said.

This seems like a mistake. “Roughly”? I bet it’s nowhere near as powerful at those price points. And people, be they children or adults, will not be fooled. I think they should pick one market and go after it. This is not going to compete with the iPad as an all-around tablet.

Ben Fritz:

After years of trying to convince consumers to buy movies online, Hollywood found a solution in 2013: Make it the only option.

Sounds like the ploy worked — but:

Digital growth just barely made up for ongoing declines in sales and rentals of physical discs. The total U.S. home-entertainment market remains well below its peak of more than $22 billion 2004, a drop that has squeezed the profits of every studio and led to widespread cost cutting.

And buried at the end:

Also helping digital sales, executives said, have been price cuts that mean most releases are now offered for $15 to $20.

In other words, digital sales of films are doing better because Hollywood created new (false) release windows and slashed prices — but they’re still not doing anywhere near as well as the DVD heydays.

I would credit two other things as well. First, Netflix is becoming less and less about movies, so services that are actually about movies, like iTunes, are seeing better sales. Second, with services like iTunes in the Cloud, I no longer have to download and store several gigabytes of data when I buy a movie. Instead, I can just stream it when I want it. Yes, I still “own” it, but I store it elsewhere.

So when a rental costs $5 but will only be available in two weeks, and a purchase costs $15 available immediately, I’m now buying more films again — especially because I don’t have to worry about where to store them. And $15 is actually now about the price of a ticket for one to the movie theater.

The Astonishing Triumph Of ‘Her’

I’ve been thinking about the new Spike Jonze film Her quite a bit recently. I really enjoyed it when I saw it last week, but the more I think about it, the more I like it. It’s one of those films that sticks with you and grows in your head. The best kind of film, in my opinion.

When I first heard the premise of the movie, it raised some obvious red flags. A guy falls in love with his Siri-like operating system. Oh boy. Assuming the plot wasn’t a joke being spread to obfuscate the real plot, the liklihood of such a film falling flat on its face seemed very high. Hollywood is generally incompetent when it comes to films about technology. And trying to mix emotion with technology sounded like a recipe for a total disaster.

And yet, Her turned out brilliantly.

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The Economist:

As the studios spend ever more on lavish prequels, sequels and “franchise” films, supposedly as a way to reduce risk by backing proven formulas, there is a growing danger that these movies will be nixed by jaded punters. Steven Spielberg, no introduction necessary, reckons that the studios could face “meltdown” if several big films flop at once. Studios are increasingly putting out just two types of film: mega-budget ones that can move the needle for the conglomerates that own them, and tiddlers for under $25m that can do nicely when they work. “Hollywood is like America,” says Kevin Misher, a producer. “The middle class has been squeezed.”

Mr Goldman described how, by 1983, the studios had all but given up developing their own ideas. Instead freelance writers, producers and other outsiders toured Hollywood touting ready-cooked packages, often with the stars already signed on and the script written. Now the studios, having cut their remaining development spending to boost their marketing budgets, are even more reliant on outsiders to design their product; imagine if Apple or Toyota did this. The studios are also looking outside for the money to finance films. A new species of intermediaries, such as Village Roadshow Entertainment Group and Skydance, have sprung up to bankroll projects.

The studios are now essentially giant marketing machines and not much more. Sort of sad, actually.

Adam B. Vary:

That kind of unmistakable branding is a precious creative commodity in Hollywood. “On any given weekend, you release a movie from Paramount or Universal or Warner Bros., but [audiences] are kind of brand agnostic,” said the senior studio exec. “But when it’s Marvel in this universe, I think that that brand is establishing more clout and more goodwill with each passing movie. That’s rare. Only certain brands really have that kind of following, where consumers really identify with a brand when they’re making they’re choice to go spend $15 on a movie ticket.”

There’s no question that the Marvel films under Disney all have a certain feel to them, which is impressive. At this point, I’d undoubtedly go see one even if I wasn’t familiar with the source material.

A.O. Scott on the state of cinema:

Equally hard to refute is the idea that we are approaching a horizon of video convergence, in which all those screens will be equal and interchangeable and the distinctions between the stuff that’s shown on each one won’t seem as consequential as it does now. We still tend to take for granted that a cable drama, a network sitcom, a feature film, a web video and a first-person combat game are fundamentally different creatures, but they might really be diverse species within a single genus, their variations ultimately less important than what they have in common. They are all moving pictures, after all, and as our means of access to them proliferate and recombine, those old categories are likely to feel increasingly arbitrary and obsolete. The infrastructure of a multiplatform future is before us, and resistance to it can look like an especially tiresome kind of sentimentality. Cinephilia is nostalgia. We might keep going to the movies out of habit, or because it’s sometimes nice to leave the house, but we are losing the old, sustaining belief that this is a special and exalted cultural activity, the supreme mode of participation in the popular arts.

But even as the studios, in the midst of a panic, trip over themselves to look dumb and greedy:

But within this landscape of bloat and desolation, there is quite a lot worth caring about. More important, there are filmmakers determined to refine and reinvigorate the medium, to recapture its newness and uniqueness and to figure out, in a post-film, platform-agnostic, digital-everything era, what the art of cinema might be. Like every previous period of decline — which is to say like just about every other moment in the past century — this is an age of wild and restless experimentation. Maybe even a golden age.


You might end up watching these at a theater, on a tablet or in your den, courtesy of Netflix or BitTorrent or your local cable provider. But you will not be able to mistake them for anything but movies. What is cinema? You know it when you see it.

The entire article is well constructed. In the post-Ebert world, Scott has become the go-to writer not just for reviews of film, but about film.

Rory Carroll and Robina Gibb on the shift away from Los Angeles for film production:

The exodus has been given a name: runaway production. Adrian McDonald, a research analyst at FilmLA, a non-profit organisation that arranges filming permits, called the flight “staggering”. Of the 50 top-grossing movies this year, just four were filmed in California. In 1996, 20 of the top 50 were. On-location movie production in LA has plummeted 60% in 15 years. Not even Battle Los Angeles, an alien invasion romp, was filmed here.

What happens when Hollywood is just a bunch of offices where men in suits trade money back and forth while tourists ride past them on guided tours of what once was? I give it 10 years max.

Pamela McClintock:

Generally, the studio is keeping budgets under $30 million, though movies Spielberg directs will be costlier. Delivery Man kept its cost down after Vaughn, who can command $5 million for a studio comedy, took a reduced fee in exchange for backend. The old DreamWorks would have spent far more to make the film. “They are being very careful and thoughtful about the movies they want to make,” says producer Frank Marshall, a longtime Spielberg confidant who has a producing deal with DreamWorks.

Who would have thought that Dreamworks, when it launched in 1994 with Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen as the new Hollywood moguls, would turn into more of a small, almost art house studio?

Derek Thompson talks to Harvard Business School professor Anita Elberse about her new book, Blockbusters:

Thompson: Would I be oversimplifying your thesis if I said: “In movies, music, TV, and books, people have learned that $1 spent on a blockbuster is better than $1 spent on a not-blockbuster”?

Elberse: I think that’s a good way to summarize the book. Another way is to say that, although there is no way to play it safe in the entertainment industry, a blockbuster strategy is the safest way to play. In investing, we intuitively think we should make a number of small bets. A blockbuster strategy is the opposite. It means making fewer huge investments. But it turns out to be safer.

I don’t actually agree with that generalization. Often in (company) investing, bigger bets are also “safer” because the companies that are able to command larger investment dollars are much further along in their business life cycles. Hence, discussions like this one this past week.

Also problematic:

Thompson: I think my friends are most familiar with the blockbuster formula playing out in movies, and my sense is that they hate it. They see big loud sequels and adaptations taking over and they want to know who to blame. So who’s to blame?

Elberse: There are a number of people who are negative about blockbusters, and that surprises me. Put yourself in the mind of an executive. They know everybody pays the same amount for a movie, whether the studio invested $10 million or $300 million. To complain about studios overspending is odd, because the price of the ticket doesn’t change. In what other industry do we complain about companies increasing their spending when they don’t raise prices? In video games, it’s the opposite. People are thrilled when companies spend more on the next [Grand Theft Auto].

Except that they do raise prices — they just raise them across the board for big movies and small movies alike. It’s why the reporting of box office numbers is so fucked up. Yes, movies are making more money, but they’re often not actually selling more tickets. The tickets just cost far more than they should at the normal rate of inflation. 

Justin Kroll:

Directed by “Man of Steel” filmmaker Zack Snyder, the Batman-Superman feature will open worldwide on July 17, 2015, with Henry Cavill, Amy Adams and Diane Lane reprising their roles.

I just don’t get it — from Affleck’s perspective. He’s turned out be an excellent director (and producer). He’s achieved what most actors aspire to be. He’s become Batman. And now he wants to go back to playing Robin

I’d be more excited if Affleck was directing the film with Christian Bale reprising his role. I know he said he’s done, but at $ome point, you have to li$ten.

Cromwell Schubarth sat down with Ravikant, a couple thoughts stood out to me:

On the other hand there are others who try to distinguish themselves just by brand. The more disappointing trend is the branding of celebrity investors or celebrity entrepreneurs. It leads a little bit to the Hollywoodization of Silicon Valley. Like that Bravo TV show, which just tried to make it look like it’s about parties and who you know, and who is attractive and who is at what event and who you’re networking with. Frankly, I think all that stuff is worse than useless. It’s a distraction.

Completely agree. When I actually worked in Hollywood, the thing I could never quite reconcile in my head was just how much time, energy, and money was being wasted on bullshit. I always thought Hollywood could be run so much more efficiently (and profitably) if some of the excess was simply cut. 

On the other hand, some of that excess is part of the allure of Hollywood. People want their movie stars to be larger than life — especially in an age where social media and the internet as a whole has a great leveling effect.  So the bullshit remains intact and is often celebrated.

But what’s great about Silicon Valley is that not only does it not need any of that excess to work, it needs the opposite. Efficiency is paramount. And excess is much more detrimental because it is just a distraction from efficiency. I suppose you could argue that some entrepreneurs being lionized inspires others to want to dream big, but too much emphasis is placed on the wrong ideals:

It’s especially disappointing when you see some company get bought for a huge sum and you don’t think that company is worth that. But it has a celebrity kind of presence, and it incentivizes people the wrong way. At the end of the day, what makes Silicon Valley work is technology and the outcome of making money. Those two things have to be healthy. It has to matter a lot more than who is the celebrity and who is famous and who goes to the best parties.

Back to work.

Alexandra Alter:

"It’s one of the few times in history that technology has reinvigorated an art form rather than crushing it," said Max Brooks, author of the zombie novel "World War Z," which was released in May ahead of the Brad Pitt movie in an elaborate new audio edition with 40 cast members, including Alan Alda, John Turturro, and Martin Scorsese. It sold 60,000 CDs and digital-audio copies. "Now, because there is such demand and the production value is so inexpensive, it opens the door for more creative storytelling." he said.

Interesting that audiobooks are pulling in Hollywood actors to read these — even when they have no involvement in the film versions. 

Also interesting, the movement of skipping print altogether:

Mr. Hewson has discovered that writing for audio requires different techniques from prose writing. Word repetition becomes glaringly obvious. So do unintentional rhymes. Location changes have to be telegraphed at the beginning of the scene, so that listeners aren’t confused. “Complex sentences, long subordinate clauses—they don’t work, people get bored and confused by them,” he says. “You’re looking for the writing to disappear so that all people hear is the story.”