David Louis Edelman David Louis Edelman

The End of Hollywood

If you’re the type of person who felt inclined to watch the Academy Awards last night, I hope you enjoyed the show while it’s still around. I tuned in for about an hour — mostly to see how Ellen Degeneres was handling her job as host — and found that I could predict about every award based on the politics and the pre-show scuttlebutt alone. Martin Scorsese holding an OscarIn fact, I correctly predicted the winner of every major award — including Best Picture — despite the fact that just about the only film nominated in any category that I saw this year was Little Miss Sunshine.

This speaks less to my amazing prophetic powers than the rote predictability of the Oscars themselves. They’re growing less and less relevant, and it’s only a matter of time before they become so irrelevant that people stop paying attention. I give the Oscars fifteen more years.

In fact, in case you’ve missed this decade altogether, it’s no secret that the entire Hollywood movie industry is dying. Why? Actually, the reasons are well-documented in any number of places, but I’ll repeat them here because I’m just that way.

  1. High definition television and DVDs. The obvious scapegoats. The movie theater chains made a huge tactical mistake in the ’80s and ’90s by putting an emphasis on building lots of multiplexes with smaller screens. The end result is that I’ve got a high-def TV and Surround Sound setup in my basement that rivals many of these lower end venues. It’s certainly good enough for your garden variety comedy/drama, and does a damn fine job on the mega-blockbusters too.
  2. Actors’ and directors’ exorbitant salaries. It’s an interesting phenomenon that now Hollywood’s profits are teetering, the A-list stars are commanding higher prices than ever. Why? Well, the less certain you are of making back your investment on a film, the more you’re willing to spend to make sure you can get that return. Ben Stiller might not bring in nearly as large a crowd as, say, Robin Williams did back in the day, but at least he’s still bringing in a crowd.
  3. Hollywood regulation. Robert Rodriguez wanted to give artist Frank Miller co-directing credit for his (brilliant, bloody) Sin City. The Director’s Guild of America wouldn’t let him. So, figured Rodriguez, who the fuck needs to be part of the Director’s Guild of America? He quit. It’s this kind of rigid bullshit that causes A-listers like George Lucas, Peter Jackson, and James Cameron to snub the system and work outside it. Look for more defectors from the Hollywood unions as their relevance plummets.
  4. A globalized workforce. Similarly, who wants to deal with expensive union workers in Hollywood when you can hire some non-union worker in Fargo, or Tallahassee, or Mexico City for that matter? The spotlight creative jobs in Hollywood will stay local (for a while, at least), but filmmakers will discover that you can outsource almost everything else. Why pay x for postproduction in Hollywood when you can get the same quality for 10% of x in Bollywood?
  5. Lack of edge. More multiplexes + higher salaries + union costs = more expensive films. What happens to movie studios when they need to get more and more butts in the seats to make back their investment? The same thing that happens to U.S. Presidential candidates once they make it through the primary season — they go scurrying for the middle. The studios and the movie chains start falling back on “sure bets” — sequels, popular franchises, formulaic comedies with bankable stars. Quality (which was never all that high to begin with) dips precipitously.
  6. Moore’s Law (i.e. more powerful computers). Films that once required a film lab, a team of special effects gurus, and a roomful of dedicated Silicon Graphics workstations are becoming the province of some dude with a $500 camcorder and a Mac. There’s only so much gee-whiz spectacle and panache you can fit into a 90-minute film, and Moore’s Law says that desktop computers will be hitting that threshold in a few years.
  7. New methods of distribution. In the old world, the only way to get your movie seen was to worm your way into the slippery network of nationwide movie chains, most of which won’t screen small, independently produced films. Festivals like Sundance made some headway in the ’90s opening film up to the smaller fish, but again it’s computer technology that’s made the difference in distribution. Why put up with the hassle of going through the traditional channels to distribute your movie when you can distribute it on the Internet via BitTorrent or YouTube, or just sell the DVD on your website?
  8. New methods of marketing. Just like you couldn’t get your film seen in the olden days without studio distribution, you couldn’t get your film heard about without studio marketing money and big media tie-ins too. That’s going away. Good-bye, massive Burger King promotions — hello MySpace guerrilla marketing.
  9. An unreasonable obsession with piracy that keeps the studios from trying new technologies. The MPAA has been gearing up its anti-piracy machinery in preparation for a similar onslaught that the music industry experienced. And like with the RIAA and the music biz, the studios will never win by threatening to sue the pants off their audience.

So what does a dying Hollywood movie studio industry mean for the movies themselves? Well, just because the movie industry we’ve grown up with for the past hundred years is dying doesn’t mean the movies are going away. You might be watching less of them at a cramped, overpriced, greasy theater next to the mall and watching more at home. You’ll see increasing market segmentation, more international faces, and the death of the Big, Loud, Summer Blockbuster That Pleases Everybody. You’ll see talents outside Southern California given a chance to bloom. You’ll see Hollywood itself change from the film industry’s Mecca to its mausoleum, kind of like Detroit and the auto industry.

How can Hollywood possibly reverse these trends? A few ideas:

  • Interactivity. Exactly how this would work I’m not certain. Perhaps a system where you can vote for the outcome of the film in progress, a la “American Idol.” The crowd wants our protagonist to get the girl in the end? He gets the girl. They’d rather kill off the miserable fucker? He dies. (The big hurdle here is that such interactivity is likely to be expensive and much easier accomplished at home anyway.)
  • Elimination of the theater release window. Hollywood is clinging desperately to the idea that major films should be given an exclusive window of opportunity to lure viewers into the theaters. Here’s a better idea — give away copies of the DVD with a ticket to the film. I guarantee if you don’t have to make that choice between paying $12 a ticket for a film you only see once, and waiting six months to pay $15 for a film you can view over and over again, you’ll spend more time in the theaters.
  • Serials. We’ve gotten used to the idea that every film should be an “event.” Why not take the long-term view and build an audience gradually over time with serials that release new episodes, say, three or four times a year? Keep the production costs low and give discounts for those who buy tickets to the whole run of the series.
  • One word: IMAX. You’re unlikely to be able to achieve the experience of watching an IMAX film at home until we’ve got the whole immersive virtual environment thing down, and who knows when that will be. So start putting some serious money into building IMAX theaters and financing IMAX films. I’m unclear exactly how the business model for an IMAX theater works or who owns IMAX in the first place, but Hollywood needs more IMAX theaters next to the mall and fewer multiplexes.

And if the movies do crash and burn, you could always stay home and read a book. Just a suggestion.

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  1. Lou Anders on February 26, 2007 at 9:41 am  Chain link

    Wasn’t it Coppola who said that anyone could paint but it took $ to make a movie, and that the true Picasso’s of movie-making wouldn’t emerge until anyone could make a film? I, for one, and thrilled to be living at the start of the real era of film.

  2. Josh on February 26, 2007 at 10:11 am  Chain link

    I just want to try and clear something up that’s confusing me…are we saying that the end of Hollywood and mega-blockbuster movies in theatres is a bad thing or something we should be cheering on? Out of the maybe four movies I saw in the last year, The Prestige is the only one I consider worth the effort. And I read the book before seeing the movie, anyways.

  3. David Louis Edelman on February 26, 2007 at 10:19 am  Chain link

    Well, I don’t know that there’s a simple moral judgment about whether the end of Hollywood is good or bad. I’m betting that we’re going to get better movies in the long run, so I suppose that’s good.

  4. Andrew Ferguson on February 26, 2007 at 4:31 pm  Chain link

    Great read!

    A lot of your reasons why it might flag or fail are really relevant and good points, but I’m not feeling the same about your ‘ways to reverse it’.

    Specifically interactivity.

    My opinion? Fuck interactivity. That’s what videogames are for. I have no interest in going to see a movie and having it ruined because the mouth-breathing NASCAR fans who also came to see it thought it’d be fun to vote for the main character to turn into a penguin. I can see it having limited potential for home release but still not much potential.

    Want proof? Compare the sales of Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books with all other childrens books. Sometimes, people want to be told a story.

    The elimination of the release window is a good idea and Soderbergh kicked that off with Bubble. I like the concept of free dvd with the purchase of a movie ticket. I’d be down with that.

    Serials make sense but I find IMAX prohibitively expensive. I haven’t been in close to ten years.

  5. David Louis Edelman on February 26, 2007 at 4:52 pm  Chain link

    Thanks for that, Andrew. You might be right re interactivity… don’t really know. But I thought, well, it works for “American Idol” and “Dancing with the Stars,” maybe someone can figure out a way to make it work for the cinema too. It wouldn’t lure me out to see “A Night at the Museum,” but then again, it might lure the kinds of people who watch “American Idol.”

    As for IMAX, I suppose theoretically the prices would go down if there were more IMAX theaters around. I remember reading somewhere that the IMAX filmmaking process is prohibitively expensive right now — you have to use these massive, unwieldy cameras that can only film 30 seconds at a time, or something like that. But I have faith in the march of technology.

  6. […] – The End of Hollywood “They’re growing less and less relevant, and it’s only a matter of time before they […]

  7. Andrew Ferguson on February 27, 2007 at 6:39 pm  Chain link

    @David:

    You’re completely right, it works amazingly for “American Idol” and “Dancing With the Stars”. I remember that originally caught me be complete surprise when it succeeded.

    However it is a ‘contest’ format kind of show. Movies follow more of a story format. I guess the best I can say is that personally, I would be opposed to that level of interactivity in film.

    I’m a bit of a hypocrite on that though, because I’m involved with a collaborative film project called A Swarm of Angels.

    Yeah IMAX tech is insane right now. It’s mostly because filming has to be done on 70mm film instead of the standard 35mm. It’s very specialized equipment.

  8. goldengod » Goldengod Weekly Roundup: Sleepy Edition on February 28, 2007 at 12:20 pm  Chain link

    […] The End of Hollywood – David Louis Edelman looks at why the Hollywood movie industry is dying and what they can do to turn the whole thing around. […]

  9. tommyspoon on February 28, 2007 at 2:46 pm  Chain link

    Speaking as an actor, and one who has had a teeny bit of exposure to the ‘biz, I can say that Dave is right on the money in terms of the road that Hollywood is heading down. But I think that the Oscars have a bit more then 15 years in them. (I’ll give them 25 if they keep doing what they’re doing now. Because it’s still a great show, and people love great shows.) One thing can save the Oscars in this country: shift the schedule. Have it begin at 4PM EST on a Sunday. Nobody will care about how long it is then!

    The entertainment future isn’t the PC. It’s Tivo. It’s OnDemand. People are tired of having their entertainment dictated to them. They want what they want when they want it, not when some programming executive tells them they can have it. Look for more “Bubble”s in the future.

    As an actor, the opportunities for work are only going to get better. True, the big stars may not pull down the big bucs, but there are all kinds of young talented people in this country that will work for next to nothing. And some of them might actually be good! The unions will have to change their ways because they will lose membership. I can tell you right now that you have more opportunites for work as a non-union performer in the Baltimore-Washington area then you do as a union actor. They may not pay as well, but they are greater in number.

  10. kendall on March 2, 2007 at 2:41 am  Chain link

    So David, who is working on the screenplay for Infoquake? I’m about 4/5 into your book right now and it would make a decent movie. Sure, there are a lot of opportunities for cool visuals. But it’s the characters who will make the story come alive on screen. Surely your agent must already be peppering you with offers to buy the rights. The trick in my experience is to find a producer/director who is passionate about making the story come alive on screen — and then turn your back and close your eyes and try like hell not to get involved. That’s not easy, giving up creative control, but dude you have two more books to finish and a movie will totally consume you if you’re not careful.

  11. David Louis Edelman on March 2, 2007 at 9:13 am  Chain link

    Kendall: There is a screenplay version of Infoquake floating around out there, and although it’s been in front of a few big names, I’m not holding my breath. I can’t imagine anyone buying the film rights until the series is complete, and even then I wonder how you could possibly get the book onto the screen without adding some major Hollywood bullshit. But hey, I’m more than willing to give up creative control if they’ll just write me that check. Hell, they can cast Will Smith as Natch and do a Burger King tie-in promotion for all I care.

  12. jj smith on August 26, 2007 at 1:39 am  Chain link

    Nice article. One BIG point you did not mention, though you touched on it briefly in the beginning (“I could predict about every award based on the politics “) is Political Correctness. It reached the Orwellian stage a long time ago and most people are sick of it. But of course PC is set up, not so that you won’t notice (that was the approach before), but so that you know you will be demonized if you say anything about it. In short it has alienated possibly its largest demographic, white males, particularly gentiles. What is the point of getting dressed to go out, pay a lot of money, and sit in a crowded theatre to have your way of life insulted by a bunch of spoiled brats; while at the same time receiving what amounts to a high-tech lecture from people who confuse their material success with being morally and intellectually superior to everyone else. I’d say that qualifies as a major factor in people losing interest.

  13. David Louis Edelman on August 26, 2007 at 2:02 am  Chain link

    Thanks, JJ. Now you’re getting in to questions about the quality of the content that Hollywood puts out, which opens a whole ‘nother six-pack of worms.

    Honestly, I don’t see political correctness as any more drastic of a problem than any other in terms of what Hollywood is producing. It’s all a question of pandering to audience expectations.

  14. jj smith on August 26, 2007 at 2:42 pm  Chain link

    Mr. Edelman, your webpage is too smart and interesting for me to believe that you believe that the audience is to blame. “pandering to audience expectations”? That’s the logic of Advertisment, giving the people what they want. But, of course, they don’t want it until you keep offering it to them, and more so when you throw a little blackmail into the mix. And that is what PC is all about, whether found in College text books or Hollywood movies.
    In any event, the whole point is that, aside from High definition TV and DVD, Overpriced Directors, Hollywood regulation, and all the rest, so much of the content is simply too mean and unfair to, not just a particular demographic, but Hollywoods largest demographic.
    Also, in terms of quality of content; I recently watched 3 movies from ’79 and ’80, Breaking Away, My Body Guard, and “A Little Romance”. Arguably 3 of the most endearing films ever made. But afterwards I felt so sad, because it became so obvious how far we’ve fallen. I don’t mean this as some nostalgic lament, but just as an example as to why people have lost their interest in what Hollywood is producing these days.

    In February 26th, 2007 at 10:19 am you said,
    “I’m betting that we’re going to get better movies in the long run, so I suppose that’s good.”

    Of course, I certainly hope you turn out to be right.

  15. reazon uk on July 13, 2009 at 11:15 am  Chain link

    ok this might sound “wacky ” or whatever but this is my vision of the future.The human race is getting increasingly dumb and so politically unaware of many things like civil liberties for a start.Today there is a huge increase in remakes of either old movies or comic books/video games.The standards of cartoons and comic books has depleted most people seem to agree on this and this is down to one thing: creativity and imagination and it is severley lacking in the modern age as stress levels for kids and adults increases and having too much time on your hands is seen as lazy.Where are all the good ideas going to come from?? i see a future where television shows constant re runs and repeats of old movies 24/7 to remind us of the good old days and “golden eras” etc; kind of like what will smith had to resort to in I AM LEGEND.The only thing current will be the news which will be probally more depressing then it is now ,the terrorist criteria expanded along with even more draconian forms of political correctness.Thanks to shows like x factor and britains/americas got talent the music industry will also suffer.You can see it already as upcoming artists look to label execs on what to sing,how to dress,who to work with etc .Instead of the labels being an outlet for the artists expression,the artist becomes the outlet for the corporate expression:eg; materlialism.21st century hiphop is the most obvious example of this.
    Till one day we have the extreme 1984 orwellian society,look at the generations coming through ,trust me we are collectivelly divided and dumb enough to let it happen!

  16. David Louis Edelman on July 13, 2009 at 1:16 pm  Chain link

    reazon uk: I respectfully submit that you’re smoking crack. Artistic expression and creativity has never been more prevalent or active than it is today. You just don’t see it in the major corporate media. Don’t look to the record labels, Hollywood studios and (soon) conglomerate publishers for cutting edge creativity. Look to YouTube, MySpace and the blogosphere.

    We’re not living in 1984, you’re just tuning in to the Big Brother channel.

  17. Michael E. Barrett on October 15, 2009 at 10:09 pm  Chain link

    It is sad to hear that a multi trillion dollar world industry, will eventually be put to rest. As a child I had millions of ideas that I would’ve loved to see become movies, and now that I think about it, when I narrow down my favorite ideas, I realized about half of them have been made into movies, just in a different way. Now I could be wrong about them being completely put to rest because as technology grows, we will and as we grow, our ideas will to. Ask yourself how did acting,story telling etc. begin? Imagination we have imagination and no matter how much we will try to bring our imaginations to life, we will never be able to truly replicate what we see behind our eyes lids and in our dreams. I loved turning the TV to see the preview of independence day but now I thinking about the the same things Edelman is thinking. I hope I live to see the next step of entertainment other than music.

  18. cpascal on March 16, 2011 at 3:51 pm  Chain link

    I think that the “end” of Hollywood will be the best thing in the end, as it will mean more worldviews will be represented in entertainment. Most Hollywood movies present views which are offensive to millions of people. It wouldn’t be so bad if they produced a body of films which fairly represented the variety of viewpoints in society, but just about every film is told through a very far-left lens, and conservatives are portrayed as either stupid or immoral, especially Christians of any denomination. That was a good comparison with the end of Detroit’s auto industry. Time was when imagining Detroit without the auto business would have been hard, just like it’s currently hard for most people to imagine Hollywood without the movie industry. It makes me wonder if Los Angeles will fall as Detroit has when the movie industry falls.

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