Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Reflections on Independence

Over the years I've developed a list of top-10 smartest people I've ever worked with. Fluctuates, naturally. At times, it feels difficult to come up with ten.

Bill Mechanic, whom I worked for at Disney and who was a mentor to a number of the other people on my top-10, usually heads the list. He gave a speech this morning about the future of the movies which is reprinted in full at the Thompson blog and it is untypically straightforward -- the usual Mechanic mode being the gnomic and Delphic.

Some cool quotes:

Why he got fired from Fox:

Murdoch didn’t want to wait for ICE AGE to finish production. I didn’t have a foot out of the door before Fox tried to sell off the film. Luckily for them, they couldn’t get a deal done.

At the same time, Peter Chernin thought I was taking too much of a chance with X MEN. He called it my $70mm art film, since everyone knew that not only were comic book movies dead but you certainly couldn’t start one in a concentration camp. That wasn’t comic book fun. Maybe not, but most comic books are dark, so it was a question of being relevant, of being grounded.

Ironically, both films have lasted longer at Fox than I did and are now the most valuable franchises in the history of that studio, throwing off billions of dollars of profit.

But they also were, along with FIGHT CLUB, the leading reasons I was shown the door. My bosses couldn’t deal with the unconventional choices like those and others such as BRAVEHEART and THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY because the films weren’t pre-sold and thus seemed less predictable.

How the studios miss the point:
Admissions are down over the past few years and, perhaps most troubling, the audience that Hollywood spends the majority of time focusing on, the under 25’s, are the ones finding other things to do.

Take a look at this shift over the past decade. While use of the internet and video games have dominated leisure time activities, movie consumption is down or flat over the same period. And, more to the point, you can see that there is a 21% drop in film going amongst the core target audience and a 24% drop in the next key category, 25-39 year olds.

And yes, these charts beg another question: if the audiences are shifting, why isn’t the product shifting as well. Name 5 mainstream films this year that successfully targeted an over-30 year audience.

In that way, Hollywood in the broadest sense of the word is much like Detroit. It’s a manufacturer’s mentality that reigns, seemingly indifferent to the consumers it serves. Ignore whether the consumer likes our product as long as they buy it.

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