Gavin Polone strikes again. Gotta love this guy’s brain:
Polone: Why There Are No Sure-Thing Movie Stars Anymore, But Hollywood Pretends There Are
by Gavin Polone
The problem with the idea of the “movie star” is that film studios buy into it. This results in good movies not getting made because they haven’t attracted a star and bad movies going into production because they did get a big name to sign on the line that is dotted. On almost every film I have produced, the final hurdle to being green-lit was getting a studio-approved actor to say “yes.”
On several occasions, studio executives have suggested that we should reimagine and rewrite the lead character of a movie, to the detriment of the film, just so we would have a better chance of securing a star; usually this involves making that character older or younger and on occasion changing its gender or race, which inevitably undermines the story. Studios see having a “star” in a film as an insurance policy against loss, but that’s like a policy written by a company with no capital behind it.
A 1999 study done by Rutgers University economics professor S. Abraham Ravid found that “there is no statistical correlation between stars and success.” And this study looked at movies released between 1991–93, a time when stars were regularly demanding far bigger salaries than they are now . Studios willfully refuse to accept this fact, needing everyone to believe in a star system, because it gives them an important wall to hide behind when a film bombs: “It isn’t my fault, I got Russell Crowe to do the movie.”
Actually, we’ve thought it always was. But we’re weird.
Polone: The Main Reason TV Is Now Better Than Movies by Gavin Polone
I recently stepped into an elevator where a woman was practically orgasmic recounting to her friends things Bryan Cranston’s character Walter White did and said during a recent episode of Breaking Bad. Later that same day, a guy next to whom I was seated at a poker table complimented me on a movie I produced. I asked him if he went to the movies often and he replied, “No, not as much as I used to.” I asked what he did now instead of going to the movies and he said, “I stay home with my girlfriend and watch Netflix.” When I asked him what he had been watching, he went through a short list of TV series — which included Breaking Bad.
Without doing a scientific survey of the entertainment predilections of the American public, I can still confidently say that there appears to be a preferential shift away from movies and toward television. I would bet that you have noticed that your friends are more excited for new episodes of a favorite show than they are for the release of a super-hyped studio tentpole movie. Sure, some of the reason for there being more good TV shows than movies is arithmetic: There are more networks producing series than ever, and also it is much more convenient to access those shows on your DVR or streaming service. But there’s more to it than just volume and convenience. The most significant reason TV is favored has to be the overall malaise that has taken hold of the movie audience, which is illustrated by the oft-heard phrase, “There is nothing out worth seeing.” Yes, there have been a few successful sequels this year likeThe Dark Knight Rises, and remakes like The Amazing Spider-Man,and sequel–remakes like Independence Day with Super Heroes a.k.a. The Avengers. But when was the last time you saw a non-animated studio film and thought, “That’s a classic,” something on the level of Goodfellas, Raiders of the Lost Ark, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, or Lawrence of Arabia? Of course there have been independent films that may have risen to that level. But when you’re dealing with a mass audience, it is the studio releases that reach the majority of moviegoers, and the studios don’t seem to be delivering the goods as they once had. This explains why in 2012 the number of theater admissions is going to hit a nineteen-year low, while the population during that period has increased from 258 million to 313 million. And I believe that a significant part of the blame for this downward trend can be found in how the studios have changed the process of deciding which movies they will make and distribute.
We all know that Facebook keeps an enormous amount of information on all of its users.
One of the bits FB collects is how many viewers any given status update has, and there’s even a way to find out. (No, I don’t know how to do it deliberately. I just know that whenever I go to the TVWriter™ FB page – or whatever they call those things now – it tells me how many people saw each post…and then, for purposes of comparison, I assume, it tells me how many people have seen what it says is, “your most popular post.”
For months, that “most popular post” has been something called: “Who Really Determines the Fates of Aspiring Screenwriters?” Inasmuch as this is one of the most informative and helpful showbiz articles ever to appear on the web and I put it on the Facebook page before TVWriter™ existed in its current equally on-the-money, helpful blog form, it seems to me only fitting that I post it here and now, so it can get even more exposure and help more hopefuls understand the Showbiz Game:
Polone: Who Really Determines the Fates of Aspiring Screenwriters? – by Gavin Polone
…Aspiring and established scriptwriters likely fantasize about a high-powered exec or producer personally discovering their genius after a cold read and calling their agents, demanding a meeting. And those dreamers might be distressed to know just how much of their fate — when it comes to getting a staff writing gig on a TV show, a feature-film assignment, or the possible sale of their spec script — is in the hands of inexperienced low-level executives, assistants, and even interns.
I started as an agent 25 years ago, and I remember sitting in the Monday morning staff meeting where we would talk about all of the scripts we had read over the weekend. A huge pile of scripts in front of you was a red badge of courage, and I felt superior to agents with smaller piles. (Nobody has paper piles any longer, as everyone reads on iPads and Kindles.) Back then, I would routinely plow through up to about 1,200 pages’ worth of sitcom, TV drama, and feature scripts over a weekend. While I might not have read them super-thoroughly, I didn’t skim them either, devoting 45 minutes to an hour to each feature. It was exhausting and life-killing. Today, I read a fraction of the material I used to and none of my peers do much more.
Here’s the short list of what I do read: For a project I’ve sold into development at a film studio or television network, I will read and usually write notes on each new draft; if the changes made to that script were small, I will only read the pages that have been changed…But other than that, scripts submitted to me as possible development projects are given to my development executive and our assistants, who write a synopsis and critique on each…
[I]f you are one of those hoping to break into scriptwriting and are disillusioned that your prospects may rest in the hands of someone just out of school and with little experience, I’d say two things:
(1) Fear not, since, in my experience, truly good writing always finds its way to the decision-makers because the young people who are reading the scripts are more like the audience than those of us they assist. We do listen to these early readers, knowing that in some ways the opinion of an assistant or intern has even more validity than our own.
And (2) No, there isn’t a chance in hell that I’ll read your fucking script, so don’t ask.
The details, many of which I’ve excluded for reasons of space, are what really make this article. So I definitely suggest you read it all. I’d also like to point out, as one of the commenters on the original article does, that while this is the way things are done these days that doesn’t make it the best possible one. It’s simply the reality we live with…for now.