Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Awful Aughts

It's hard to dis the decade that transformed you and turned you into what you are but who better qualified to do it than someone who lived it? I was a freshman in high school in the year 2000 and out of college for a year and a half by 2009. When the decade started we thought the worst thing that had ever happened to America in our lifetimes was the Bill Clinton scandal, or, at least that's how the news seemed to act. Sure, there was the Oklahoma City bombing in the 90s, as well as the first World Trade attempt, and there was violence in Kosovo, Iraq, Africa, and parts of Eastern Europe but not here. Then 9/11 turned everything on its head staining American history forever after with the watermark of decline.

For film to be the medium that really reflects society American studios were null to really react to all this until the end of the decade. Television was far more prepared for portraying the loss and confusion of society than studios to this decade have ever been. Shows like Lost, 24, Battlestar Gallactica, Heros, The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, and much more began diving down into whatever scar had been left by what the US government was doing to deal with the attacks and these shows really exposed a crippling distrust in authority figures and an unravelling of psyches and a feeling of being lost now that the Statue of Liberty wasn't so shiny.

The main problem of this decade wasn't Hollywood's reticence to pretend like nothing happened but how they chose to deal with what they perceived had happened. I don't think at any other time in Hollywood's history except for the 1960s has there been such a disconnect between Tinsel Town and main street America. The main movement in the 00's was in big blockbuster releases of super hero films. 9/11 had happened, we were at war, we need a hero! A Dark Knight that has to be the bad guy in order to protect us. Not surprisingly, "the Dark Knight" struck a sort of cultural heart string that no one had been able to tap into before on such a mass level. The Dark Knight said, yes there's evil out there, pure evil, but the only way we're going to fight it is if we're willing to lose a part of ourselves in the process.

Then of course there was a lot to do with elves, magic, rings, and fairy tales. These escapist films, the "Lord of the Rings," and "Harry Potter" were geared more for a younger audience who understood a good vs. evil plot a little easier than the murky gray of something like "The Dark Knight." Don't get me wrong, "The Lord of the Rings" was a great trilogy and "The Two Towers" is perhaps one of my favorite films of all time, but the movies have not had the sort of long lasting affect I thought they would. It's unfortunate for such a great trilogy to have been released during the peak years of 9/11 and the start of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq because they will always be viewed in the context of, "Gee, wish we could just take Osama Bin Laden's ring and cast it into that volcano in Sweden." Escapism is a nice escape though, especially in dark times like the aughts.

The problem with this is that instead of looking forward to new stories and ideas studios have adopted a strategy of revamping old ones. Instead of looking for new talent and developing new stars, it seems they're more content with rebirthing "blasts from the past." Remakes were on the tips of everyone's tongue in the 00's, with Superman, Star Trek, The Day the Earth Stood Still, War of the Worlds, and many many more. It's hard to escape when you sit in a theater thinking, "where have I seen this before?" While not are remakes are held equal (Star Trek) I find the vast majority of them unfulfilling and disappointing.

Equally disappointing with the way studios run the film business is their reliance on reboots and franchises. In many ways these go hand in hand as one leg of the franchise might close with Terminator 3, only to reopen with the reboot of it in "Terminator: Salvation." Reboots seem to work like a turn signal after you've just slammed into a wall. They usually involve some sort of "pre" or "side" something in order to get started on where their going. It's all about brand and while Studios would love to make every original script they find, they know that there's a market out there for the predator/alien movies that can gaurantee them X amount of dollars and as long as they know that money is out there in the pockets of a potential audience members, they'll keep tailoring to that audience and ignore new/interesting stuff all day long.

All this boils down to the main problem in film and the reason why, despite so many successes, it's the worst decade of film making, is that it's the decade that killed independent film making and branded it into a marketing tool with certain asthetic styles, high caliber actors, and budgets that make real "indie" film making look like nothing more than glorified student films. It's this lack of competition between "indie" and "mainstream" that once made film going exciting, now makes it feel one-side.

For instance, of the 60 films that were shown at Sundance last year only 12 of them got distribution deal, 12! This lack of exposure to new film makers is only going to hurt the medium in the long run. Mainstream studio films benefit from the experience and fresh take of successful indie film makers and indie film makers benefit from the void of story telling that's left empty by the studios. When indie film makers now fill that void with their stories they will have no avenues to distribute them and get them out.

The smaller niche distributors are dead or dying. Where once Miramax would buy a movie in the 90's and turn it into "the next big thing" with the distributor's recent belly-up the likely hood of that happening or of another smaller niche distributor doing the same is very small. There has been a lot of debate as to newer mediums to distribute movies on and combinations of blitzkreig style marketing and distribution techniques, all these are requiring the indie film-maker to become more concerned about recouping their losses and in essence turning them into the corporate entities they are trying to overcome.

So what killed indie? As much as the studios are to blame Indie film has very much become a victim of its own success. It used to be that so much money was spent on equipment, processing, and editing that the only actors directors could afford were up-and coming ones. The only scripts indie producers could produce were "excellent" scripts and the likely hood of regaining at least something of what was spent was an acceptable risk because there was at least knowledge of an "art house" circuit of independent cinemas that would show their work. This doesn't exist anymore.

In today's world, none of that is true. Producing something is so cheap, editing is so easy and inexpensive, that producers spend more time trying to find A-list talent to help "sell" the film than whether or not the script is developed enough. SO, A-list talent signs on to lack-luster films that mainly just go on everyone's resumes and never really go anywhere else. Nothing is recouped, and investors are left only with the promise of their movie going to a film festival where even if it was a buyers festival like Sundance or Toronto, it would only have a 20% chance of getting bought. Other potential investors hear about this charade and next time an indie producer asks them or their friends for money the answer will be no. This is where we are now.

There is a lot of everything being made, some good, some bad and some just lost in the cacophony of too much product. In a phrase that's what the 00's were, "a cacophony of product," where it was getting so cheap and so easy to produce movies because of the digital revolution there were literally too many films out there--and still are-- for distributers to even know what to do with. Studio libraries back in LA are full of movies that will never get released because they've missed their "window." Ah, another crucial topic: the shrinking window. All tales are timely but the person deciding the time often cares very little for the tale and will shelve it indefinitely if they feel the public climate is not "right" for the film's release. Thrown in with the new Hollywood-indie style films being made by Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach, and once indie king Quentin Terontino, some of them still having problems getting their films released even with their connections, it leaves the rest of the pack in dire straights.

On top of all of this, an asshole director who has never director a critically acclaimed film in his entire life, Michael Bay, is on top of everyone's list of most wanted directors. Bay's success is really a magnifying glass on just how awful the 00's were. When movies like Pearl Harbor, Transformers, The Island, all critically destained movies, can get someone as much traction as they've gotten Bay it's no wonder literate directors everywhere are unnecessary. Bay is a great studio director because he knows the audience better than the studios and that audience is not a fan of art or story, they're fans of big explosions, they're the type of people who think Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas really is a replica of the one in ancient Rome, and they're the fast and the furious audience who take a girl to a movie just to have an excuse to go bang her in the parking lot afterwards. That's what, according to Bay and the studios, most of America is these days and they are that way because instead of raising the bar they've lowered it and that has more to do with film making than any other medium that's out there.

1 comment:

  1. I don't think this past decade was that bad. Obviously there are its detractors, but the good is still out there. While indie film is in a slump right now, it's the economy that is hurting it the most, and I'm talking about real independent film, not fake crap like "Juno". These smaller studios barely scrape by. They make all their money going to festivals, picking up films they find marketable, and releasing them. Sometimes they have the next "Pulp Fiction" or "Once", sometimes they don't. Very often though, they make just enough money off the few that succeed to compensate for the sore losers. Granted, this also creates a problem with this economy. Nowadays, people aren't seeing movies just cause there is nothing else to do. It's gotten so expensive, and money is so tight, you've gotta plan it and turn it into an event. With an average 3-D movie ticket price of about $15, that's a lot of money just for a night of entertainment. What this does, is smaller indie films tend to get overlooked by the general public cause these films aren't as well advertised on TV and such, and so no one just shows up at the theater and says, "What do I wanna see?" anymore, they already know going in. Why? Cause it's an event. The studios love this new method, they probably think this recession is fantastic for this reason. And even if the Average Joe American knew of these indie films, they'd still rather opt to see "Transformers" over something with more substance cause it's a brand, it's an event.