Monday, November 23, 2015

Is the THEATRICAL MOVIE BUSINESS HURT...


Or MORTALLY WOUNDED?


On November 19th, Variety published a piece by the former editor and chief, Peter Bart, in which he attempts to come up with some meaningful reasons to explain the recent poor box office performance of what he considers “good movies” and what the rest of the industry had generally considered to be potential Oscar nominees.  
The Online Variety piece is followed by comments from readers, which I highly recommend anyone interested in the subject should read to get a sample of all the different thoughts on this issue. 
Personally, I spoke with Peter Bart twice in my life. 
Both times at a party. 
I work in Hollywood, so no surprise there. 
Both times Mr. Bart was polite, genial, and the stories he told were very entertaining. And on both occasions, I also noticed he was a good listener. 
He was never too quick to interrupt whoever was speaking. And he asked questions rather than automatically taking the conversation back in his direction. 
He had what I would call a journalist’s ear -- someone who is conditioned to hear what other people have to say first rather than choosing to hear themselves speak. 
If I was wrong on the “journalist’s ear” thing, I could fall back on another theory about how Bart had the ear of a studio executive - someone who spent a lot of time listening to artistic people pitching him a story; and then the rest of his time listening as non-creative people give him the status of a production on one of the creative stories he was pitched. 
I believe Peter Bart deserves admiration because he is of the age when those who succeeded often times had to re-invent their careers twice. Never mind that nowadays those that are younger and want to succeed must re-invent their careers perhaps three times… or more. 
Bart was part of the first generation of studio executives where advancement in the entertainment industry wasn’t guaranteed, but the inevitability of losing your job was. He was a studio executive at Paramount during the worst of times (when such bloated productions like PAINT YOUR WAGON were being made); and the best of times in the film business (when the
first two Godfather movies were produced and released). 
In 1989, Bart segued from making movies to covering the Industry of making movies as editor-in-chief at Variety. It was a position he held for over twenty years.  
I believe one of the key reasons Bart initially got the job at Variety was because of his… insight. 
He knew the way the movie business was run from the inside. Not a lot of people ever have that perspective, plus his journalist background (before Bart became a movie executive, he was a reporter for the New York Times), made him a perfect man to usher in a new era for the daily industry newspaper. After Bart took over, Variety attempted (and at times succeeded) to cover the entertainment industry, not by rewriting publicists’ news releases, but by covering the business honestly, and with some... insight. 
Unfortunately, my personal take on Peter Bart’s Variety article is that he’s wrong. 
Not flat-out wrong, but still wrong in a way that his thoughts circle around, but never get to the heart of the problem plaguing the Theatrical Movie Business. 
Underlying Bart’s article is his core belief that what is happening is just part of a “cycle.” 
It’s the philosophy that movie executives in the past have sworn by to alleviate any bad run at the box office -- The holiday season we just had... The quarter we just experienced... Our last slate of films... All of it part of a Cycle. Play our cards right, and we'll be back on top again.  
What the theatrical business is going through is not part of a cycle. 
There are times when even the historians who believe in "cycles" end up concluding that an event can cause... 
A break in the cycle. 
And what was once there didn’t adapt to the new event, and now it’s gone.  
Extinction. 
If it’s hard to accept this analogy as relative to the topic at hand, then I ask you to consider this question – When was the last time you went to a drive-in theatre to watch a movie projected onto an outdoor movie screen while sitting in a car? 

In the days ahead I will introduce a “Sidebar” of my blog where I will detail my point by point responses to Bart’s different theories explaining this problem, and why I believe none of them get to the heart of the real problem. 
And at some point, (I’m not promising when) I will elaborate on what all the parties involved should do to really fix this problem before it becomes an extinction type change. 
I believe there’s time to manage this major transition in the industry where no one loses... and everyone wins, including Professional Screenwriters/Filmmakers, talent, theatre owners, and the major studios. 
And especially audiences that I know want to continue to enjoy movies in a theatrical setting.