Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Hollywood don't make (good) movies no more, all they do is this...

All they do is this...
And by this I mean: push profit over passion, instant gratification, dumb down a nation and more — grime, crime and gore, introducing the latest whore, they leave you high, dry and wanting more. But more of what? CREAM, get the money —dolla, dolla bill ya'll!

Movies have come a long way since The Birth of a Nation, which was arguably the first Hollywood blockbuster. In 1915 when that movie was made it cost the equivalent of about $2.2 million to produce. Now the average cost of a Hollywood film continues to climb over $100 million. That is just a shadow of the more than $300 million that is estimated to have gone into the production of Hollywood's latest blockbuster, James Cameron's Avatar. It's also estimated that about $150 million was put towards the marketing of Avatar. And in the opening weekend along the movie brought in $232 million, so obviously there is big business in making movies.

Anymore it seems as if studios are putting out products that are just good enough for a theater run, with the anticipation of the shaking money maker — DVD sales.
Bonus features. Director's cut. Unrated. Deleted scenes. Alternate endings. It's all a lure to get you to fork over $10 to see the movie in theaters, but then turn around and pay another $18 to watch the same movie on your own time, but oh (throwing my hands in the air waiving them like Mrs. Beasley praising his name) there are these extra frills for you too. There it is, the engine propelling the vicious cycle.
Simply put; it doesn't pay to make a good movie. It just pays to make a movie.

Whereas the analytical movie viewer would watch a piece of art and wonder, why didn't the character do this or that? Well, now who cares; watch the director's cut and he or she will likely explain his creation and hold your hand as to erode any last shrivel of imagination and critical thinking skills that may remain. That's like showing a dog a treat and not making him at least sit in order to receive it. Spoon feed us our medicine, Hollywood.

So by pushing profits over passion, or better yet, making profits your passion, Hollywood has lost its griot abilities.
The ability to tell a good story is lost to the machine.
Time and time again, I find myself disappointed by the product Hollywood studios push out. They do such a good job marketing these widgets that I keep falling into the trap. One obvious solution; lower my expectations. Another, challenge Hollywood to step it up and yet a third option ... if you can't beat em join em, so anyone reading this who is willing to take a risk on a proven writer, you already know. (In case you missed it, that was a shameless self plug).

Armed with a bachelors in communications for Ohio University, with an emphasis in film history and appreciation, Patrick Dain lived and worked in Los Angeles for 3 years and before leaving in search of more pure pursuits. While in LA he worked as a story editor for Ben Stiller's Red Hour Productions.
"One of the things I learned while I was out there, is, it's a surprise that any movie gets made, said Dain, a man I have affectionately dubbed Mr. Movie. "If it's hard to make a movie it's damn near impossible to make a great movie."
What makes a great movie in his eyes is telling a good story. That's the root of what drew Mr. Movie his passion and the one constant in his life.

Now he too says, studios have lost track of that ability to tell a good story and put the money into flashy marketing, special effects and lose the substance, including character development.
"Now (studios) are too caught up in computer generated stuff and fancy camera work and you lose track of the overall story," he said. "Too much effort is put on trying to make as much money as quickly as possible to feed into the hype."
Of the many things he experience while being a part of the machine, is a since of bitterness, "you just kind of learn to poo poo everything," he added.

But Joshua Edwards still thinks good movies are being made when you look at production value, but the void is in the volume of original movies. As a junior agent with Los Angeles offices of Don Buchwald and Associates, a talent and literary agency, Edwards sees the talent side of Hollywood.

Although studios are making fewer movies these days, largely because the financiers — in most cases hedge funds and venture capitalists— are not willing to take as many risks in a down economy, production value is at an all time high with the use of emerging technology in both equipment and special effects, Edwards said. To lower the risk, those who fund movies opt to back projects like hero movies or adaptations because those usually have a bigger pay day. And studios spend less marketing something like a Shrek or a Spider-Man than they would a Hangover or another title that is new to the market.

So that means studios are making fewer movies each year than, say, the late 80s when studios were vying for their identity. Now names like Lionsgate, Sony and Paramount are recognizable and you have a general idea of what kind of movie is coming from each studio because each has carved their niche.
"If you define quality as originality, there was more quality back then," Edwards said. "Studios are making fewer films these days."

Because fewer movies are being made, there are also fewer acting vehicles for talent; and the movies that are keeping Hollywood afloat, many don't demand strong acting skills.
"You don't have to know how to act in the least bit to carry the lead in a (movie like) Transformers. The highest paid actors right now aren't doing movies that require strong acting skills," Edwards said.
Movies that made actors like Denzel Washington famous were acting vehicles. There were story lines that required actors who carried depth to characters. There was some subtlety involved.

Fact: Hollywood movies mostly cater to American audiences. This target group requires that you beat them over the head with details and explain everything, flushing any level of deeper analysis.
"In older movies there was a level of subtlety, you could put a camera on a character and have them think something and if they were good enough at their job the audience would understand," said Dain, Mr. Movie.
It's not that such acting is completely absent in what is being put out of Hollywood now, but it sure isn't as prevalent as it once was.

The major blockbusters of 2009 did not require great acting, although some did emerge. Most of these movies weren't even original movies, remakes, sequels and adaptations.
What I want from a movie is something that will challenge me to escape the often nihilistic confines of our corporately conducted lives. However, the Machiavellian industry and town that produces this supposed escape has failed me and you.
I'll admit there have been a few pleasant surprises in some movies of the recent past.
I agree with my pal, Mr. Movie; it will be interesting to see how Neil Blomkamp, the director and co-writer of District 9, becomes part of the Hollywood machine now. He has been knighted one of the up and coming directing talents.

I understand the machine is a necessary evil. Movies are made for both entertainment and to make money. However, as a means to that end, let the art of telling a good and engaging story rise to the top.
"The genius of a good movie, is if you can pull X, and I can pull Y, and you and I can sit down and talk about it... It's like a good novel or a good painting," said Dain.

The panacea would be simple in a Utopian society. Have less money involved. When you have so many millions of dollars being thrown around like peanuts it effects everything. Studios have no choice but to spend money on marketing and the hype machine, they are just trying to make their money back. The sector of the industry wielding power over that money is the actors, the high profile ones that bloggers make a name from, are demanding too much control; points off the back end, percentages of the gross, that in addition to the $20 million up front.
Knowing that big money will always be a part of Hollywood productions, my simple request is, tell a good story, man!
Tell a good story and let the people continue to dance.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Gecko Spotting

Randomly connected, a group of good people, we sat.
Me on the corner, legs bunched up, between a couch where my back was pressed closely against the soft cushion in order to make as much room as possible for my leg not to hit the table. Engaged in fruitful conversation to my right, the giant gecko ducked through the door.
As I began seeing Pau Gasol's face on American TV, then hooping it up with the world Championship LA Lakers, I always thought to myself — and may have even uttered to those around — "dude, look like the Gieco gecko!"
But once I finally saw him, in person, just inches from me... confirmed: Dude does look like a long ass gecko.
There he was, he had just come through the back entrance of NoBu, which is this pretty tight spot in West Hollywood. Not that I had much of anything to say to him, I tend not to be the kind of person to get star struck. You know, the whole he puts his pants on feet first just like me, but this particular star gets to play for a living and get paid a lot to do so. But I digress. I had nothing to say to the odd looking and freakishly tall man — he stands all of 7' —, but I felt an instant brotherhood with the young man. For one, although much taller, there is a band of brotherhood for those of us who see over most of the crowd. Secondly, I also gained that feeling of connection by knowing Gasol was restlessly recovering from a hamstring injury and had yet to play in a regular season game. He had to sit and watch for the returning champs first 11 games. That can be more torturous than the actual injury. A torn hamstring is mostly what ended my collegiate track career.
Conversations continued as the gecko walked off to his seat somewhere else in the spot. Soon after we were interrupted by a returning party member; "Gabriel Union is in the other room."
My spitfire of a comedian-all-the-time friend with whom I have a diversity of connections decided he wanted to go see for himself. I mean after all, it's Gabriel Union. Which equals, mother of my baby material.
His return was quick.
Explaining his about face; "It just felt weird," he said. "You can't just go up and look."
What are you going to do? What are you going to say?
I sure could have thought of a few things, but that's not my style. So we continued to enjoy the company and conversation of our group.
When the gecko returned, on his way out, he stood before me prior to ducking under the doorway. He exchanged a few bruggs (that's bro hugs for the uninformed) with a few guys who were seemingly associates of some sort. They mostly resembled now-professional, yet reformed "frat boys," trying to up his coolness quotient by knowing Pau Gasol. As this scene continued to unfold I thought, maybe I will say something to the man whom I deem the gecko.
Maybe a, "Congrats on last year's championship. Good luck this year."
"Hope you get back in the game soon. Rest up the hammy."
But no; didn't want to join the scene. So he went.
The very next night, this same man made his season debut against the Chicago Bulls after sitting out 11 games with a hamstring injury. He had 24 points and 13 rebounds in a 108-93 victory over the Bulls.
As this snapshot into my SoCal living concluded, I couldn't help but think about all the LA related songs I've heard over the years... "LA, LA, big city of dreams..." "Live and die in LA..." "We in LA, trick."
I made my way back to my car, which was parked at the Viceroy in Santa Monica. Long story. And there sat a Rolls Royce, presumably a Phantom. I have always wanted a Rolls Royce since first hearing of this brand of vehicle as a young boy. My grandfather's neighbor had an old school one and I wanted one, mostly because it rhymes with my name. However, upon inquiry about the one before me, it turned out to be the vehicle of David Duchovny, the producer, sometime director and maybe even part time writer for one of my new favorite shows, Californication. Rumor has it that he likes to hole up in this establishment and work on the show. He plays an eerily familiar writer in the show.
Man, I think I found some inspiration.
Photo by Mark J. Terril/ AP

Friday, October 9, 2009

GP is with me ... Global Perspective that is

The crisp crack of cool wind rushed past my cheeks as I briskly peddled my rented Velib from the 15th arrondissment back to the 9th. The journey began as The Frenchmen neighbor needed to drop off an envelope, never fully stating the purpose; it was a last minute kind of thing. We navigated our way through the streets of Paris, the three of us, with my host at the lead — mostly. We took turns up front. Traversing about 12 and a half kilometers, including a laborious uphill, took a little over 30 minutes. Alas, we came upon an old warehouse that looked like it could be or has been some type of factory where medium not hard work happens. The Frenchmen hopped the curb, stepped off the bike and flipped the kickstand. He dropped his carefully sealed envelope, in a small drop door. A quick rest to catch our breaths, relieve our legs and plot our return route, then it's back on our rented bikes — equipped with three speeds, a basket and bell — rushing back through the streets of Paris at a steady pace (pas de hill this time).

A brush of chilled early autumn air drafting from The Seine ahead hit my face, the scent unmistakable. I was quickly reminded, Carpe Diem — seize the day — "Holy, shit! I'm riding a bike through the streets of Paris, and across The Seine at 2:30 in the morning... This is fucking awesome!" My peddling slowed and I lived that moment.

My host, a friend of nearly a decade with whom I worked my first reporter job, has lived in Paris for the last three years. It was well past time for my visit.
Upon arrival, I quickly nestled into the traveler role — leaving the tourist characters to be filled by my cousin from Baltimore and her childhood friend, both who were also on the trip.
As a traveler on my first European excursion with a knack for observation and attention to detail, this trip opened my perspective, or at least further extended my authority for the perspective I already had.

I think I have seen what it means to have a smaller footprint. In fact just about everything is smaller there. The doorways. The stairs. The elevator. The hallway. The bathroom — ouch! I hit my elbow on the medicine cabinet, and it wasn't the funny bone. My fault for being lanky.
Somewhat in line with their footprint, even the people of Paris tend to be smaller. Hollywood ain't got nothing on them Parisians. Thin is in. Even the pregnant women. With just the bump in their belly and shapely hips to support the hump, frequently I found myself oddly attracted and a siring arousal in my loins.

The few that I saw, I understand why those women end up pregnant. Aside from the financial incentives given to French families for bearing children (a monthly allowance of 180 euros for families with three children), les femmes français
strutted as if they wake up in the morning, look in the mirror and say "damn it, I'm frickin awesome. I'm the shit — all up in here." Then they get dressed with that in mind. They do their hair with that in mind. They choose their shoes with that in mind. And they walk/ride to wherever they are going with that in mind.

And if you believe like I do that women set the pace for society, that attitude may also have something to do with what I perceived to be a culture and energy of enjoyment.
It may have been that extra pep in the step of the people who this observer could tell, were familiar with the give of the streets; that in contrast to the tepid steps of those to whom the land is foreign. Or it could be the displays of romance in the park, the lively flow of perky breast bouncing on heels or condom dispensers affixed to stone walls. Even the Ninja Turtle Men, (you know, the green-clad sanitation workers who dutifully picked up the trash, cleaned the streets, swept the gutter ... ), even seemed to have some enjoyment, if no more than just a little, in the work they were doing — or maybe that was the tunes coming through their ear buds that was causing joy.

Also noticeable was a culture of respect. Respect for the vagabond who by day lounges next to the ATM machine with a request of, "aide moi, svp."
"Peut-ĂȘtre," I was instructed to respond before grabbing another stack of Monopoly money — well at least those euros seem to spend like it's a game — and rushing on my way. This, I later assumed, was a way of instilling just a little bit of hope for the disheveled looking man instead of simply ignoring him as if he were subhuman, the way that is common place along the streets of any given American city.

If this is what socialism looks like at a brief glimpse, it's not looking so bad. OK, so it's rare to find hours of operation on many of the storefronts, there is the cultural acceptance of up to a half bottle of wine at lunch (had to make it sound like a complaint), and everyone smokes, all the time. Not that that has anything to do with Socialism, but really is all the smoking necessary? Regardless, absent was the anticipation of French arrogance that looks a lot like that thing they call swagger. And for what ever reason, be it the reclamation of self tour as was the case for two middle-aged married women from the Northeast or a simple escape from the monotony of a young life that has a plan of it's own, that swag is looking kind of familiar. The trip gave life.
Photo and words by James Joyce III