Hollywood is like a child, a spoiled child you can’t help loving but desperately want to see do and be better. Hollywood can be cruel and petulant, small and bigoted, hateful and depraved. But every once in a while you see what it COULD be — the talent, the charm, and the ability to inspire and create joy. So we keep coming back to them in the hope that if and when Hollywood ever grows up, they will be what they could be — what they once were, so many years ago.
Today, our spoiled child is in trouble and with only the best of intentions I’m going to see if I can’t take the sting out of the boo-boo with the best advice I can offer.
1. Hollywood Needs Movie Stars, Not Brands
You can trace most of Hollywood’s problems back to the death of the movie star. At first, the industry was thrilled with this development. No movie star meant no big payday, no ego, and none of the baggage too many stahs carry with them. The industry also found that, at least for a while, they could get away with this. Audiences were still packing theatres to see pre-packaged brands developed from high concepts, comic books, novels, and television shows. Sequels, remakes, and prequels were still sure-fire. Who needs to pay Tom Cruise $30 million to run around with CGI’d dinosaurs when just as many people will pay to see Jeff Goldblum do the same?
This was all well and good until the “brands” ran out. Now Hollywood is down to “The Green Lantern” and board games like “Battleship.”
Movie stars, on the other hand, are the most reliable brands out there. People come to see them and if you have enough of them and if you keep developing them, the inventory is limitless. From the 1920s straight through to right around 1990, if you built it with movie stars, audiences would come. Hollywood didn’t need to rely on “brands” because they built pictures around their stars.
Today we’re down to Sandra Bullock, Will Smith, and Denzel Washington — the only three people I know who can still draw a crowd based solely on their name.
Tobey Maguire, Rachel McAdams, Ryan Reynolds, Natalie Portman, Orlando Bloom — this endless parade of girls playing women and metrosexuals playing men no one outside of the 90210 zip code would recognize on a bet — are not draws. The concept might be a draw or the brand they’re bringing to life or the romantic comedy with a title based on the latest hipster-speak (“He’s Just Not That In To You”), but the actors aren’t.
Hollywood must start developing stars, and the first place to start is by studying up on what exactly constitutes a star. And by “star,” I don’t mean someone bubbled in Hollywood or the sycophant entertainment media considers a star — I mean someone THE CUSTOMERS consider a star.
We The People love Sandra, Will, and Denzel for a reason. She’s gorgeous, smart, womanly, classy and approachable, and the fellas are masculine, confident, classy, and non-neurotics who take charge. They also make films that deliver. Not all the time. But most of the time we the customers know that if they’re in it, there’s a better chance than not of bang for the buck.
What they are not and what no movie star has ever been is a child playing a grownup (the exception, of course, is comedians like Adam Sandler or Lou Costello). The Orlando Blooms will never be movie stars. Neither will the Michelle Williamses. And don’t get me started on Shia Le-what’s-his-name.
Look at your history, both recent and long past. Hollywood may have changed over the last few decades, but the people — the customers — have not. The human animal simply doesn’t evolve that quickly. Furthermore, stars shouldn’t represent who we are; we don’t want to see ourselves on the screen. Stars should represent who we want to be. Men want to be John Wayne and Robert Mitchum. Women want to Ava Gardner and Barbara Stanwyck.
Need I mention Sandra and Denzel again?
Currently, Hollywood is spending millions upon millions to buy the rights necessary to make films based on board games. What’s next, snack foods? “Wheat Thins 2: The Crumble.”
Put those millions instead into a farm system based on the old studio system. Groom talent. Teach people with natural screen charisma to act. Most of all, teach them how to behave in public with class. And then when they’re ready, get that publicity machine humming.
This system worked perfectly for over a half-century.
There are some very smart people making movies today, but not a one is smarter than the men who built this industry from nothing and created the kind of art and artists that will live as long as humanity itself.
2. Stars Must Stop Insulting the Customers
Class. That’s what the customers are looking for in their stars, class. George Clooney could be a star and was on his way, but then he started insulting the 60-plus percent of customers who dared disagree with his obnoxious politics. Julia Roberts was the biggest star in the world until she did the same. Harrison Ford blew his image in too many ways to count, Russell Crowe can’t stop being a jerk, and Mel Gibson couldn’t control his ugly demons. Tom Hanks was universally beloved as a well-known Democrat by all of us. Not so much, though, after he called WWII a war of terror and racism.
Politically and morally, most of your customers are right-of-center. But the good news is that we don’t care how our stars vote or even if they advocate for this cause or that politician. But when you insult us and trash who we are, our faith and country — that’s crossing a line that’s awfully difficult to return from. Goodwill doesn’t just matter when it comes to the face of your industry; it is everything.
Let me ask you Hollywood leftists this: would you buy Charmin if Mr. Whipple called you an anti-American, crybaby, Marxist hippie loser? Of course not. And yet, your spokespeople do this to over 60% of your customers at least three times a week.
3. Liberal Films Are Fine, Partisan Films Must Stop
What were you thinking making films opposing a War on Terror we were still fighting and still could’ve lost?
Hollywood didn’t even do that during Vietnam.
Do you have any idea how selfish, narcissistic, and treasonous that was? Do you have any idea how your propaganda encouraged the enemy, which means that more of our troops and innocent Iraqis and Afghans died as a result?
You have blood on your hands. Making those films was an act of evil, and if you don’t think openly fighting on the side of terrorists has hurt you at the box office, you’re out of your mind.
Last number I saw, Hollywood’s approval rating is lower than George W. Bush’s when he left office, 33%. And you deserve it.
Your industry is packed with immature, ungrateful, moral illiterates, and I suggest you get them under control, because they tarnish the industry as a whole.
Oh, and while you’re at it, maybe you could stop championing and defending that hellbound fugitive who drugged and anally raped a thirteen year-old girl.
The good news is that there’s nothing at all wrong with making political films. Just don’t make partisan films. All your liberal films have failed over the past 15 years because they’ve been heavy-handed and preachy. So…
Study! Learn! Hollywood has a rich history of political offerings that not only made money but also made a difference. Put your art first, your theme second, and your politics last.
4. Keep Politics Out of Children’s Movies
You loaded up “The Muppets,” “Cars 2,” and “Happy Feet 2” with political sucker punching and left a ton of money on the table as soon as word got out.
These are our children. Hands off.
5. Stop Marketing Exclusively to Teens
“The Help” made nearly $170M because it was an outstanding film, and it made a ton of profit because the draw was the story not some overpriced star surrounded by $150 million in special effects. “The King’s Speech” made $140 million for the exact same reasons.
When you’re making movies for adults, stop with the indie, nihilistic junk no one wants to see. We don’t want to feel bad. We want to be inspired, we want to be told to aspire, we want to see what life should be like instead of what it is.
“Rachel Getting Married and Being a Dark, Selfish, Drug-Addicted Slut” is not an adult movie. It’s a lazy, artless movie for immature, slackers who believe in nothing. Fortunately for the future but unfortunately for Hollywood, there aren’t enough of those people to create box office hits.
Adults do want to go to the movies. We just want to see grownup movies.
6. Go Back To Storytelling Basics, Crack the Code of the Classics
By “classics,” I don’t just mean the four-star Oscar winners, but also films that — critical acclaim or not — have stood the test of time. There’s a reason people still watch “Casablanca” and, yes, “Road House.” There’s a reason we all have “The Wizard of Oz” and “Rambo” in our home video collections.
What makes them so popular? What makes them timeless? What makes them beloved by each generation? I’ll give you the first two answers:
2. Universal themes.
7. Learn From the NFL
That National Football League does everything you used to do so well. The NFL is Hollywood just a few decades ago.
The NFL creates stars, demands and shows class, isn’t afraid of patriotism, and puts on hundreds of spectacular shows over the course of a season. The result is that their night to shine (the Super Bowl) buries Hollywood’s night to shine (the Oscars) in the ratings.
This is not an accident.
Even those of us who don’t care for the game of football (that would be me) respect the NFL greatly and feel an enormous amount of goodwill towards it.
Not everyone loves football, but we all like the NFL.
Everyone loves movies, but most everyone has contempt for Hollywood.
8. Learn How to Market Fresh Ideas
“Hugo” and “The Adventures of Tintin” going down in box office flames is inexcusable. Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg are two of the most important and respected directors in the history of the motion picture, and yet I have to read that both of these Christmas entries bombed because “nobody knew how to market them.”
Even more troubling is the collective shrug over this reality. I haven’t heard one person in the sycophantic entertainment media or the industry itself show a shred of concern over the fact that Hollywood was unable to market two films by two of our greatest directors because they weren’t handed pre-sold brands.
9. Stop Making Excuses for a Failing Home Video Market
Both the collapse of the home video market and the 25% decrease in what’s known as “the multiple” proves that you can only fool fewer and fewer people all of the time.
Again, the sycophantic entertainment media is doing you no favors in perpetuating the myth that piracy, Netflix, and Redbox are to blame. No one’s saying those things don’t contribute to the problem, but your main problem is that too many movies today just aren’t very good.
The multiple is down for the same reason home video sales are down: no one wants to see a bad movie more than once.
10. The Lousy Theatre Experience
Talkers, cell phones, ticket and concession prices.
You’ve got to fix this.
Right now, unless you’re the one doing the obnoxious talking, going to the theatre is a stressful and miserable experience.
Moreover, you’re charging us too much for tickets, and the theatres are absolutely gouging us for food and drink..
Presentation and follow-through is everything, and yet you let these incompetent theatre owners ruin the presentation part of a product you spent years and millions to develop and deliver.
The other thing you can do, Hollywood, is simply continue to ignore American audiences. We’re leaving you a little by little every year now, and this year you hit a 16-year attendance low. So maybe the answer is to just keep making your money overseas and work a little harder to sell your souls to the communist Chinese.
But that’s going to leave a huge market open here in the states, and someday, someone’s going to fill that market with the movies we want to see. There’s already a cottage industry out there learning their trade and cracking that code.
It doesn’t have to come to that, though. And you know as well as I do that, with rare exceptions, if a film flops in America, it flops overseas.
We love you, Hollywood — not who you are now, but who you once were and who you could still be. But if 2011 has taught you anything, it’s that we’re not going to wait forever.
2012 may well be a better year (I hope it is), but that won’t change the fact that the trend is not your friend and that you could be doing a whole lot better.