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Trends for 2016 That Worry The Film Industry

All is never completely well in Hollywood. In a world where technology is re-defining how we engage entertainment and media, you can never sit on your laurels – even if those laurels include movies like The Avengers or Star Wars. The truth is, there are things that keep studio executives up at night, and Variety Magazine pointed out five of the most troubling. Here’s their take:

Incredible Shrinking Stars
Norma Desmond was wrong. It’s not the pictures that got smaller, it’s the stars. Big names like George Clooney, Channing Tatum and Adam Sandler couldn’t save “Tomorrowland,” “Jupiter Ascending” and “Pixels.” Diminishing drawing power threatens that most cherished of Hollywood institutions — the passion project. Hoping to nurture relationships with the likes of Sandra Bullock and Angelina Jolie, studios greenlit such risky projects as “Our Brand Is Crisis” and “By the Sea,” losing millions of dollars in the process.

Netflix and Amazon Fail to Make a Stir
Streaming services can write big checks and field buzzy TV shows like “House of Cards” and “Transparent,” but they haven’t had a breakout movie. Netflix says “Beasts of No Nation,” a brutal drama about child soldiers, was widely viewed online, but it was barely seen in theaters. The company’s deal with Sandler also raised eyebrows after “Pixels” flopped. Amazon has been more tentative, launching its first theatrical release with Spike Lee’s “Chi-Raq.” Though the services have revolutionized the way content is watched at home, they haven’t made many revolutionary movies — yet.

R-rated Comedies Are Running Out of Laughs
Amy Schumer emerged as a bona fide star with “Trainwreck,” but most films hoping to ride raunch to box office gold derailed. “Vacation,” “Ted 2” and “The Night Before” left audiences cold,
and even well-reviewed “Spy” fell short of previous Melissa McCarthy efforts such as “The Heat” and “Identity Thief.” Nothing matched the success of 2014 smashes like “22 Jump Street” and “Neighbors,” and some studio executives fret that gross-out gags aren’t delivering belly laughs.

Feast or Famine
The hits were big, but so were the flops. For the first time, at least five films this year will top $1 billion globally. But even as movies like “Jurassic World” mint money, misses like “Pan” are leading to nine-figure writedowns. Fall was weighed down by adult dramas that cannibalized one another, leaving the likes of “The Walk” and “Steve Jobs” to wither. The year had two of the 10 best openings in history with “Jurassic World” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” but also suffered four of the worst wide-release debuts ever with “Burnt,” “Victor Frankenstein,” “Jem and the Holograms” and “Rock the Kasbah.” Not every record is worth breaking.

What do you think of their take?  And what are you seeing out there that should be keeping movie executives and producers up at night?  

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  1. Some of their noted “flops” were just not good stories—Pan was weird and a bit of a stretch as an origin story for such a beloved classic character; Jupiter, in my opinion, just failed to connect. Another interesting note is that two of the years biggest hits—Jurasic World and The Force Awakens—played heavily (and intentionally) off the original storylines of their predecessors, making a nostalgic connection with audiences who were (largely) willing to forgive a certain lack of originality and substance. Whatever their concerns, Disney seems to have struck gold with all the Marvel movies… every one is a great blend of stars, stories, and action with fun visual effects.

    1. Great points Eric. I’m friends with Scott Derrickson, who’s directing the upcoming “Dr. Strange” – and he’s told me about he extreme care the Marvel executives take in the supervision of their films. It’s no wonder they’ve done so well…

    2. Agree. The Night Before was one of the worst films I ever paid to see, and I only saw half of it because my wife and I walked out. It wasn’t about raunch, it was about script. Even my teenaged sons despised this film. Amy Shurmur respects her audience by believing they will laugh at funny things. The Night Before wasn’t juvenile, it was just insulting.

  2. They talk about the lack of credibility in the christian film industry (some of it earned). I’m not sure some of them have it either. Pushing junk that assaults the sensibility of normal people is bad. I also think their own bias and agenda plays a large part in their choice of what to give to the American film goer.

  3. My friend Amick Byram, who’s CEO of Oodles Entertainment – oodlesentertainment.com – sent me this response:

    1. Incredible Shrinking Stars:

    Maybe this should be called “incredible shrinking vision” instead.
    No matter the caliber of the star, there is a limit to how their name and talent can help a story that is either not in tune with the sensibilities of the public or just not a good choice of material to begin with.
    A great actor and a star name (not always the same) can enhance any project. However, the foundation is still “story, story, story”. If the foundation is not worthy, and the execution of the creative elements built on that foundation is lacking, no star can save that project. See…oh well, you know.

    2. Netflix and Amazon Fail to Make a Stir.

    The final word of the paragraph, “yet” is key. I believe they will both have their first hit with an acquisition, not a movie they develop and produce themselves. Netflix was in the bidding war for “The Birth of a Nation” at Sundance this week and lost out to Fox Searchlight who purchased for a cool 17.5 Million.
    Acquisitions is where Amazon and Netflix will start to find their way, and they will find it yet.

    3. R-Rated Comedies Are Running Out of Laughs

    Many R-rated comedies that are based on the latest gross out fads work on an occasional basis but are not a good genre to bank on as a producer or an investor.
    Elf, Clueless, Anchorman, Ghostbusters, Airplane, Trading Places, Napolean Dynamite, Home Alone, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, Dumb and Dumber, Galaxy Quest, and the list goes on…. all comedies based on story, character, and heart that were all money makers and rated PG or PG-13.

    4. Feast or Famine

    True this year. It was the high budget studio pics with already established titles and a few boutique films that seemed to do well. They gave the audiences what they wanted. Things are always changing in screwy bally-hooey Hollywood and success is an ever-moving target. But with the right fundamentals of a great story and non-agendized story telling, one can narrow the focus. To quote a very good movie, “Aim small, miss small.”

    1. Just watching Monday’s “Supergirl,” last night’s “The Flash,” followed by the addictive “The Curse of Oak Island,” is a prime example of why story reigns against flash and money thrown at it. Example: the writing in Supergirl is clearly done by people who twiddle their thumbs all day (texting), who’ve clearly never lived real life or had any adult interaction, and sadly, The Flash is devolving into that as well. I asked Kevin, “Do you think in next week’s episode Barry will talk about how stalkerish it was to have his ex call him saying there’s a man with a gun on the train?” and he said, “It’s getting so dumbed down they may just ignore it. Barry’s an educated CSI on the show, yet he can’t even see through this psycho (my word) girl?” Same thing with Supergirl, who could throw Cat Grant off a roof with a sneeze, yet she continually goes back for more abuse? In an age when women are supposed to be empowered? It’s nonsensical. I wouldn’t have put up with that when I was a college grad, and this girl who can rescue airplanes does, and acts juvenile, to boot? As does Barry and the other “kids” on The Flash. Which is clearly a reflection of the writers’ immaturity. But throw a camera in front of a bunch of dirty, plain-looking men staring down a hole, who never even find anything most weeks!, but who are doing something real, with a hook, in search of that ever elusive treasure, and for no money spent in comparison, you have a show that is even for a sci-fi girl is addictive, because you always wonder, “Are they gonna’ find the treasure this week?!” Yesterday I was dying of excitement just because the diver made it to the bottom of the pit, for pete’s sake, lol, so barely even anything happens on that show in an entire season, lol, yet it’s more exciting than the pathetic tripe that passes for creative works on TV. So, kudos to the Oak Island guys, they’re like the Seinfeld of reality TV–nothing happens but it’s such a cool show!

  4. I am not as plugged in to creating movies at the big studio level, but what I can add as a thin ray of sunshine is that as studios gamble larger and larger brand-oriented, franchise-building movies, there is an opportunity for mid-budget investors and mid-budget companies around the globe to step in.

    While a major studio can’t understand anything under $100M, there are many, many new mini-studios springing up to take the crumbs left under the table and race past these behemoths to make smaller but more consistent profits. And smaller means everyone involved in a project relaxes a bit and takes risks. Smaller means that original voices, stranger perspectives or narratives with “rough edges” make it to the final product. Minis like A24 or STX are stepping into the void left by majors to do the films the majors used to do. And the result is more “movies for grown ups” and original stories.

    Granted, this is at a smaller level that cannot compete with the Avengers that dominate every cereal box and Happy Meal, but it is happening more and more. In my world of animation, I see much more success and control with smaller studios around the globe — animation houses who can generate beautiful films for $20M and under.

    Would I like to make a Marvel movie? No doubt! But until that day, there are places to make good films. And GOOD FILMS are the ONLY formula that’s reliable. This seems obvious, but it should be stated again: Movie stars successfully open a GOOD FILM, not any film. Netflix will have a smash hit when they make something better than “Ridiculous 6.” And comedy, even with a little raunch, only works in the context of a GOOD FILM. The next 5-10 years will be a very interesting time for the big, slow, money-heavy, fear-based major studios, to be sure.

  5. Star Wars: The Force Awakens was probably the biggest hit in our family. We went to see this movie together and I was surprised at how my 17yrold and 21yrold sons liked it as well as my 13yrold daughter. Coming of age stories as well play big for my family such as the Divergent series, Hunger Games etc. What Hunger Games, Divergent and Star Wars have in common is a powerful story with universal themes that connect with all age groups. Story is the king maker with the flood of mediocre, predictable thematic films that no star can save.

  6. What we have to realize is that the cinema market has been shifting over the past 10 years in a dramatic way. A blogger from the New York Times reports “Over the last 10 years, there has been a 74 percent increase in the number of movies being distributed by companies other than members of the M.P.A.A. — to 469 in 2011, from 270 in 2002. That happened even as the film count from those big member companies — Fox, Disney, Sony, Warner, Paramount, and Universal — and their units fell 31 percent, to 141 from 205 over those same years.”

    The reduction in star power and the coming of age of Netflix and Amazon are natural occurrences of division of market share. It is well put in the book “The End of Power”, by Moises Naim.

    Diversity of actors, ability to be scouted, access to distribution channels, etc are reducing the overall impact of the mega studios. Much like Cory Edwards pointed out, there is a meteoric rise of smaller studios/production houses. Places that meet the investor face to face and combine films into slate of 3, 4, 6 films AND actually share profits with their investors.

    Animation will continue to rise and adapt to the market. Netflix and Amazon will hit their stride with “binge content”. And consumers will continue to access and buy creative content. Formats, styles, talent, methodology may shift but small, nimble companies that don’t put their eggs all in one basket will continue to grow, fracture, and inevitably conquer the market.

    Times are turbulent but as mentioned by others STRONG story and character will always prevail!!

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