Last night I sat in a cinema in the East Village and yes, I admit, bought a ticket to see “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.” There I endured five trailers, four of which were sequels, while the other was a trailer for James Cameron’s absurdist exercise in retroactively turning “Titanic” into a 3D experience. It was certainly entertaining as far as “Mission Impossible” films go but nothing spectacular; nothing memorable or cutting edge.
Almost everyone I know is a cinema lover. That is, all of my friends, family and many of my acquaintances love the act of going to the cinema, though none are professional critics or filmmakers. These people are a good cross-section of the American population, too, with varying careers, interests, income levels, hobbies, tastes, etc. Only two actively pirate content, but even they are quite willing to drop money on a movie, whether it be at the cinema or a DVD (buy or rent).
To hear it from you, though, everyone is staying at home, asses firmly planted in front of the television or computer screen watching pirated movies—your movies. This is not so. There are plenty of other things to occupy a day: reading, dinner, conversation, the internet, sex, creative endeavors, TV shows (where a high degree of creativity is exercised), pornography, exercise, wanking, travel, and so on.
You already know this on some intuitive level, but your producers and corporate stockholders operate in a delusional vacuum in which there is a belief that more spectacle, more explosions, more adaptations of books, video games, toy franchises, graphic novels, more sequels, prequels, reboots, remakes, reboots of reboots, more shit thrown at target audiences, the four quadrants, at teenagers, at women, at young men embalmed in testosterone, more cookie cutter rom-coms, more test screenings, too many chiefs, not enough Indians (pardon the expression), more MBAs sitting in producers chairs, more accountants, more marketers, and less and less original, imaginative and creative content somehow will reverse the downward trend that you’ve arrogantly and deceptively pinned on digital pirates.
No. Actually, the box office numbers are down because you generally serve up shit, and it’s a wonder that the numbers aren’t even worse. It might be argued that the only reason the numbers haven’t completely collapsed is because the US population keeps growing, and enjoys sitting in a theater eating popcorn even if the film is largely rubbish.
And for the record, the reason that “Avatar”—despite its formulaic plot—succeeded with audiences is that it undertook a grand science fiction vision, though James Cameron laced it with cheese and cinematic cliches. You have mistaken “Avatar’s” success for its 3D projection, when in fact audiences wanted to experience a new and deeply immersive world. Suddenly, every other adventure, action and science fiction film is 3D, and when they fail to resonate on the same level with audiences, you wonder why? Well, because the films are shit—plain and simple. Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” was neither 3D nor formulaic (except for perhaps in a post-modern way) and it doubled “Clash of the Titans” (a 3D film) in box office receipts to the tune of $830 million. For you, however, the originality of “Inception” is irrelevant—in your arrogance, you believe it’s the exception not the rule.
Imagine for a moment, if you will, that highly imaginative writers and directors were relatively free to create the movies that they themselves would want to see—except Brett Ratner, of course. Don’t let him near a camera. The results would be highly individual but popular entertainment. Sometimes there would be failure, as with anything, but more often than not there would be success. You already gamble when hacks and hamstrung filmmakers adapt existing intellectual property; why not gamble on real cinematic artists and nurture their talent? Some of you are doing this—Harvey Weinstein, James Schamus, Amy Pascal and Megan Ellison (who is a maverick with her inherited fortune)—but too many of you are not.
There are hundreds, maybe thousands of Neil Blomkampfs out there, equipped with stories and cinematic vision, ripe for the picking. There are Edgar Wrights, Steve McQueens (“Hunger”) and Duncan Jones aplenty. Find them and give them a shot.
Look about you for a moment. Survey the artistic and creative landscape. Really dig deep into culture and you will see that, worldwide, there are individuals every bit as creative and ambitious as Christopher Nolan, and a good many more that have superior talent. The talent and vision is everywhere.
And if your marketing teams spent half the time given to marketing “Transformers” sequels (which, let’s be honest, really don’t need much marketing) on crafting great marketing campaigns for independent and lower-budget films, well, you would certainly see a rise in those box office receipts. The indie crowd will see these films anyways—so market them toward people who aren’t otherwise in the know about independent films, but might well dig them as cinema goers.
Hollywood was built by creative rebels like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, D.W. Griffith and Mack Sennett. After plateauing creatively, the industry rejuvenated by rebels such as Dennis Hopper, Francis Ford Coppola, Stanley Kubrick, Nicholas Ray, Roman Polanski, Arthur Penn, Sam Peckinpah and Martin Scorsese, to name a few.
Instead of going after those trafficking in pirated content or those who enable it (The Pirate Bay), why not see this as a chance to evolve (as TPB’s founder Peter Sunde suggested), to create on a grand scale, both with blockbusters and more independent fair? Instead of campaigning for SOPA, PIPA and ACTA, why not create films that are worthy of a cinematic experience and market them properly, instead of abandoning them if a market (supposedly) cannot be found?
There are plenty more auteurs out there for blockbusters and independent films, and I guarantee you that if you seek them out, give them a chance, and support them with full confidence and resources, that a new era in Hollywood will bloom. You will see people return to the cinema. You might not see a decrease in piracy, but this will never be something you can effectively control anyway. Your lobbying of Congress for SOPA, PIPA and ACTA will not staunch the flow of piracy. These mechanisms will evolve, find other avenues, and continue to defy your efforts. And the only thing you will be remembered for is providing the mechanisms by which our government can police and monitor internet activity like Big Brother.
That will be your legacy—not the production of great films.
So, it’s high time to get to work financing and producing great films again. You have all the resources and talent you need.
D. J. Pangburn