Is Happiness Even Possible In The Film Business?
MMMM Links & Ponders and other Rambles for Monday Nov 6
Here lies the rub: "We have chosen a very expensive art form to practice, an art form that is as much a business as it is a craft.” -- Darcy McKinnon
Is there no such thing as a happy marriage? Can business and art ever really get along?How do we grow satisfied with our lives? As artists and entrepreneurs, we often work first to express ourselves and our ideas. Yeah, filmmakers have a hierarchy of needs, which many totally ignore. We might look for outside affirmation, in the terms of financial success, critical praise, and/or awards. We consider and aim for enabling change, growth, and improvements, to ourselves, community, industry, and world. We try to help each other. But what if you’ve been able to do all that to some degree and you are not satisfied? Should you be? Is it about the quality of the work? Wanting to do better? But maybe you can’t make new work, at least not with the support you once had? Where do you go next? Do you just keep trying despite the obstacles? Do you reduce your efforts and just try to get the small wins now?
It’s hard to put aside that lifelong dream of making that film that can not be ignored. And yeah, some folks hit the jackpot and are satisfied from family or relationship or maybe a pet; I think that is as much about chemistry as it is about good fortune. But even being blessed with that, it may not be enough.
If this was way back then and I was still under 25 years old and could afford to live in NYC, I know this free (for 17-25 year olds) Film at Lincoln Center membership would make me VERY happy. But I am an Old. And in LA. And that’s the one good thing I can find about film culture right now? Oh well. Onwards.
Could I ever make that dream movie, the one that can’t be ignored, now? Not likely. Why? Well… Why don’t we have other types of business within our business? Maybe I am missing something but there seems to be only five types of film business:
blockbuster/tentpole/family – I put all these in one basket as they are designed to get everyone in the theater;
the Masters, which in this country seems to be reduced now to Scorsese & Nolan, and maybe PTA;
streaming programmers, which are the pale offspring of the first two, flavored with a general familiarity, but seasoned with a twist to make it current, usually an ethnic, gender, or age modification;
global action, muscle, and violence; and
European subsidized festival films.
Sure there are tons of other kinds of cinema, but they don’t feel like ongoing business, at least the kinds that work. We once had more. The cultural course correctors of indie cinema. The social impact documentary. These were steady performers of sorts. Perhaps the awards worthy prestige film. But do those exist any more if there is no way to do business on them?
And they could all still be so, except for the fact we are now dependent on the GlobalStreamingPlatforms for a large part of the sale or financing, and they are all interested in the first two categories, and only occasionally in the third, generally when it has the most famous of names involved. If you want to be profitable, you need to have the GSP’s as the significant part of your recoupment schedule and they won’t be if you are making those now verboten categories.
I was going to write last week of the Apple/Paramount deal for Killers Of The Flower Moon; it’s kind of mind boggling to read. Why that business and not the ones that could produce so many more films, some that would probably be as great? Sure, Marty is perhaps our greatest living director; he is one of the reasons I fell in love with cinema. And he had our biggest star… But I don’t understand that business. How does that deal make sense for anyone? And when that business exists and the other ones that could and yet don’t, I am just bewildered. I am falling down a hole where I feel I don’t understand anything anymore. You feel me?
“The studio people don't have the moral high ground. I mean, when you consider what these guys are being paid, compared to what their employees are being paid, or whatever you call the different roles. It's really staggering, the gap is staggering.” – Ralph Nader
It’s hard to capture the mix of pleasure and pain life as a studio executive was for me.
I was both very happy and very angry as a studio exec. I was very happy to get the films I supported made. I was very angry that there were so many flaws in the system, so few folks who truly loved cinema, so few committed to making things better, so few who were committed to using the opportunity we had to the fullest. Perhaps the greatest bruise was not being able to release or support films properly. It makes me ill to have such art and craft just dropped, treated as another transactional good. Perhaps though I should be grateful that so much is broken, for there is so much to fix, there is more than enough for us to be very useful. Or perhaps we will just all continue to be “useful idiots”. Sigh.
When I come across a list like this, of “underated” movies on Amazon, it too both makes me happy and breaks my heart. I have been gone from Amazon 3.5 years now. I resigned almost 4 years ago. 8 of the 10 films on this list are from when I was there. They make another sort of thing now – although I have to say I am deeply impressed with what is coming out of Orion Pictures (a recently acquired division of Amazon). American Fiction was one of my favs from the festival circuit.. but I digress. It was a wonderful opportunity to help support those films. It would have been a total delight to not just make them, but to also position them as they needed to be in the marketplace.
The FKATheFilmBiz total pivot to a reliance on the GlobalStreamingPlatforms has cost us in many ways. The fact that it limits free speech, you’d think would be a much bigger deal, especially in Washington, DC. But it doesn’t seem to be. In this era where the major companies are so huge and always global, and generally involved in multiple enterprises, they see a business need to limit what is discussed. We feel it what gets greenlit or acquired, but those companies can argue that they are just following their business needs, and the reasons they don’t want tales that speak truth to power or dramatize populist uprisings is just that the audiences love celebrity and true crime more. Some of us though, think it is because they want to keep their labor cheap in China and other territories, or that they want to be able to sell soap and shoes in all territories, whether those territories are authoritarian dictators that suppress human rights or not. Jon Stewart shut down his shoe with Apple because they would not allow him to speak openly about China or AI. At least some folks still stand for something.
You know how award races are often popularity contests more than they are about the work on the screen?