Contributor to KC Confidential, Bob Lefsetz, checks in with these words this week:
This is what happens when your head is so far up your ass all you can see is your navel…
Let’s start from the beginning. The Oscars are irrelevant to everybody but those in the fading film industry itself – other than those who come out once a year to complain about this or that.
There, I said it.
How did this happen?
Well, films devolved from art to business.
Oh, they were always a business, but along the way studios and directors occasionally created art and therefore gained respectability. But TV threw a monkey wrench in the whole process so the industry went for event pictures.
Then it the 1960s found that by tackling stories too outré, too sexy, too deep, too dangerous for TV, people would be drawn to the theatre.
Sure, there was still lowbrow stuff purveyed, but it was films like “Bonnie & Clyde” and “The Graduate” and “The Godfather,” never mind classic comedies like “Annie Hall,” that drove people to the theatre, but even more, had America and the world, talking about them.
Those days are over.
Allow me to catalog the reasons…
Pure greed. Once “Jaws” and then “Star Wars” demonstrated how much money could be made, studios no longer wanted to hit singles, however profitable, they wanted home runs.
Marketing. In an era where it’s hard to reach anybody, studios spend upwards of a hundred million dollars trying to reach a potential audience, and they only want to do this if the film has mass appeal.
Therefore they don’t want to make any “small” pictures.
As a matter of fact, studios cut down production. You can shoot a movie in hi-def on your iPhone, but good luck getting a green light at a studio. So, you post your effort on YouTube, or you make movies and series for streaming services, like Netflix.
Yes, TV has finally killed the traditional movie experience.
But Bob, people still want to go to the theatre!
Yes, for a night out, the experience is more important than the film. And the experience, especially in this age of smartphones, can be so distracting as to convince people not to attend.
At home, it’s quiet. If you want to talk to your spouse, no one complains. And with the standard now a 65″ screen, in 4k, home viewing satisfies. Never mind that it’s on demand, i.e. the picture starts and stops whenever you want it to.
So, Oscar ratings continue to drop.
On this one night, they appeal to cineastes, but the industry is supported by lowbrows.
And they’re not interested in the pictures nominated.
Furthermore, the number of cineastes is decreasing, just like the number of symphony fans, they’re aging out. It’s a circle jerk, I tell you. If you win a big award the studio can advertise such, but an Oscar is barely more meaningful than a Grammy – which no longer gives you a sales bounce, which is employed by most musicians as a line on their resumé – to hopefully increase live bookings.
Once again, the audience does not care, and the victors rarely comport with the Spotify Top 50, which is what the majority of people are listening to. Then again, the Grammy voters, just like the Oscar voters, have contempt for this popular stuff.
So, the goal is to save the Oscars – which are out of touch with the film industry itself – and the way to do this is…
Like the studios in the ’60s and ’70s, Netflix and its compatriots give creators free rein, with cash.
The only downside is you don’t get points, but you get to make your project, which is even more important.
No studio wanted to pony up for “The Irishman.” And Netflix and its brethren need product.
We don’t need any movies – the middle man, the theatre owner might – but the public does not.
Most people are no longer addicted to the ritual of going to the theatre, but they are addicted to the ritual of consuming deep streaming series.
The film studios have lost their power. Except when they make television. Quick, name a studio head. YOU CAN’T! Unless you’re in the industry. But everyone has heard of Ted Sarandos, think about that.
Is there a problem of diversity in films… OF COURSE!
But films no longer drive the culture, TV does.
It started when there were a million cable outlets, and then HBO started making its own shows, once again to satiate the audience, to keep people subscribed, but no one in Hollywood changed, certainly no one at the Oscars.
What did they do? COMPLAIN!
It’s no different from the record labels at the turn of the century. But the film business always felt itself superior to the record business, even though it was Warner records that built the cable system, that threw off more cash than the studio. The Oscars could have seen the movie, it was hiding in plain sight, but it refused!
Disruption happens. Adjust, or you’re history.
Instead, we got filmmakers complaining about small screens, viewing experiences, as people started watching visual product on their smartphones, yes. Because they wanted the product so bad they couldn’t forgo it.
This was the silver lining in Napster/file trading…AT LEAST PEOPLE WANTED THE PRODUCT! It’s just a matter of how you give it to them and how you charge.
But no, a movie must be something exhibited in a theatre. And, since fewer people are going, we’ll raise the price, to more than a streaming television subscription.
(Get more of Hearne at kcconfidential.com)