Talking Movies

July 28, 2019

“My business … repeat customers!”

Regular readers will be aware that repetition and novelty have been a recurrent topic here recently, and it’s time to think about the value of repetition as a business model.

 

Not all customers are created equal. This is a lesson that Hollywood seems to have forgotten. It’s said that Viennese cafes tolerated artists buying one cup of coffee and lingering for hours over it, taking up space they required for other purposes, because they knew they could sell the same artist a cup of a coffee a day for the next thousand days, whereas if they gave said artist the boot in favour of a newcomer that newcomer might buy two cups of coffee that day and then never return. Empty vessels make the most noise, and the internet over time has become a plaything for empty vessels deafening everyone else. Think on Snakes on a Plane, if you will. The jokes, the memes, the rewrites online by fans, which led, via internet buzz, to actual rewrites and reshoots to give ‘fans’ what they wanted: and these ‘fans’ then didn’t show up in cinemas. It’s easy and free to hit like, and make a comment, and josh about with strangers in a thread; it’s harder and costly to get out of the house and go see a dumb movie that has been made just as dumb as you calibrated it.

Customers are the ones who pay in to cinemas. President Bartlet declared that decisions are made by those who turn up. And yet Hollywood seems to be tacking away from that. Let’s take Star Wars. I saw each film in the only original trilogy on its re-release with my Dad. When the prequel trilogy came out I saw each movie twice with different circles of friends. When Disney took over Star Wars I was dragged kicking and screaming to see Han Solo go for coffee, the only time since Jurassic Park I’ve kept my eyes closed during a scene in the cinema; and not from fear but from displeasure – the whole reason I didn’t want to see the film was the blinding predictability of JJ Abrams not knowing how to get into the third act without killing a beloved character. And that was the end of me and Star Wars. From repeat customer to not at all customer. And the same thing happened with the Hobbit movies. I saw each Lord of the Rings instalment in the cinema at least twice. I didn’t see any of the Hobbit movies in the cinema. From repeat customer to not at all customer.

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September 9, 2018

You get Hoynes/Trump!

It’s been a nostalgic blast watching The West Wing from the start on TG4 this past week. Coming at the exact moment that Bob Woodward’s new book of nasty quotes and the New York Times’ anonymous op-ed painted a picture of the workings of a very different Oval Office it led to disquieting thoughts about Presidents Bartlet, Obama and Trump.

The Ringer recently produced a list of the 100 best TV episodes since 2000. I got the impression reading that one contributor would almost rather say ‘not anti-hero’ than ‘hero’ because if they said hero that would bespeak not being the kind of world-weary sophisticate who writes for The Ringer. This excerpt is fairly characteristic of them:

I don’t disagree about the Bartlet hagiography, but to me that’s almost a charm of the show; in the world of Walter Whites and Hannah Horvaths and the sociopaths of Succession, the idea of the “good guy we’re rooting for” is almost quaint.

But… if the media, especially the unlimited digital ink allowed by the internet, spends its time praising only anti-heroes, difficult men… and the Emmys and Golden Globes go only to shows on cable about anti-heroes, difficult men… and both the media and industry generally deride when they don’t ignore shows  (usually on network, like, say NCIS) that feature principled heroes, can both media and industry (as seen at every awards show) really get up on such a moral high horse when an anti-hero, difficult man becomes the President? If Obama now says Trump is a symptom not the cause, is the media and industry not partially culpable? Did they not prepare the culture to bring forth just that?

Years ago I wrote but never posted a lengthy piece based around a reading of a segment of Obama’s Dreams From My Father and the complaints on BBC of a Hillary Clinton staffer that Obama had had an unfair advantage because pop culture had prepared the way for a black President via Morgan Freeman and Denis Haysbert but there was nobody similarly making straight a path in the wilderness for Hillary. But if Deep Impact and 24 were literally held to have given Obama an advantage then surely The West Wing must have contributed mightily too. During the dark days of Bush Jr’s inarticulate incompetence there was a President who was charming, articulate, intelligent, a university lecturer; he was fictional, but you can’t have everything; and Bush Jr was replaced by a President who was charming, articulate, intelligent, and a university lecturer.

But then after a decade of anti-heroes, difficult men, what do you know but the American public went and elected one of those cultural icons as President – the anti-hero-in-chief. Where could they have got such a weird idea?

Oh, for one of those crassly commercial network notes now! “Can you make President Trump more likeable?”

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