The golden age of television is here. Never before have we seen such well produced, quality shows from the comfort of our own couch, bed, or wherever the hell people decide to watch content these days. Right now is also a turning point for theatrical feature films. The most coveted films at the multiplex now either star an animated super hero, a live-action super hero, and/or some kind of sequel to these tired story-tells. There seems to be less and less original material coming out of Hollywood, a stark contrast to the exceptional material we are now seeing on smaller screens. Why is this happening now?
Original voices are not prevalent enough at the mainstream theatre anymore. Sure, if you are lucky enough to live in Toronto, Cannes, or have a subscription to the Sundance channel, you can catch some solid indie dramas produced by up and comers. Movies like Baby Driver (2017) by Edgar Wright might the exception from a popular cinema stand-point, but for most of us who get their fix at the local multiplex, we now find an assault on the senses, with sterile, one-dimensional popcorn fare movies, aimed at pleasing international audiences with watered down characters and heavily laden VFX narratives. Take the hiring of Warner Brothers Pictures CEO Kevin Tsujihara in 2013. He was the first CEO hired by a major studio to have zero experience in film and television. He was hired by the WB not to give opportunities for fresh voices, but rather do steadfast number crunching. It's paint by numbers for movies. But let's not be naive, here. This is a business first after all, as Harrison Ford once told me and an audience full of students, back in my University of Toronto Film Festival programming days. Movies just have to "Put asses in the seats," he told us before we screened a special screening of Firewall in 2006. Fair enough Hans Solo. The problem was, Firewall was a giant pile of shit. But his words of advice, were actually a sound prognostication for what was to come just a short decade later: the sharp decline of the middle class in Hollywood.
This is the Hollywood Studio Era era all over again. This is a time where narrative formulas and star systems have absolute authority, and studios only make films designed to cash out. It is the pornographic exploitation of the medium by big business. It sucks for anyone trying to make real auteur-like films on a bigger scale, or for those who want to see something other than car chases or giant robots fight each other for 2.5 hours. I'm sorry, I just don't see the difference between Spider-Man 1,2,3, and 4 and whatever other reboots that have been done or will be done. I am ignorant to many of these films, as I choose not to indulge in most super hero fare, but the optics are clear: money over art. In 2016 every single top 10 grossing box office film worldwide was either super hero, franchise based, and/or animation based; and 17 of the top 20, were of the same cloth. Go on Rotten Tomatoes and check how many of those films are "fresh worthy.” Not good.
Thanks to unsung heroes like Megan Ellison's Annapurna Films and her blank cheque approach to indie artists, we still have something decent to watch on the big screen. OTT players like Netflix and Amazon seem to be opening many doors for less mainstream stories (re: Okja, (2017). This is a good thing. The indie spirit will live on, so long as anyone with a camera has something to say. Had I been told that the medium would sell out fifteen years later, I still would have made my two features films in university, and pushed around a wheelchair full of camera gear around campus, lugging it from class to class, to fulfill my ambitious execution. But the fact is, we need a renaissance at the big screen just like the American New Wave did in the late 1960s. Tired of the same old stories, indie "newbies" like Arthur Penn, Roman Polanski, and Martin Scorsese ushered in a new wave of interpreting the craft to the masses. The main difference then was that Hollywood was on a losing streak. It had nothing to lose to give way to new emerging artists.
The last few years have told a different story -- but things are changing. Fast and Furious, Pirates of the Caribbean and Spider-Man are all worth billions, and we aren't just talking about North America anymore. There just happens to be a billion people across the Pacific who fancy American popular fare as well. What must concern Hollywood, however, is the terrible summer of 2017. According to Box Office Mojo, this is the worst summer season in over ten years, and August wrapped up as the worst August in twenty years with 225 movies grossing a combined 657.7 million. Have audiences finally put their foot down against these tired stories?
The platform for true original work has been dismissed because the cinema middle class is under siege. The lower class will always consist of those like myself, pushing wheelchairs full of gear around, but it is those middle players; the Moonlight's, Easy Riders, and Big Sick's I'm worried about. My prediction is that silicon valley will ultimately take over Hollywood, as it is already doing so with television, with Netflix, Facebook, Amazon, Hulu, and Apple replacing major studios in a creative producing overhaul. Hopefully then we won't see anymore Spider Man reboots or Hulk re-do's. Amen to that.