Last week we discussed whether or not piracy would be the end of Hollywood. The Powerwolf is pretty sure that Hollywood will survive piracy’s impact on the industry relatively unscathed. But what WILL kill the movies?
Hey there Powerwolf,
I read your recent mailbag on piracy, and now I’m curious. What, if anything, do you think could bring down the film industry?
Hanging around the film industry for many years myself, it seems like a really bad investment. I’ve seen small film companies get gobbled up by juggernauts like Deluxe. I’ve seen post houses get outsourced to India or Korea, or force their staff to move to whichever place is now offering tax benefits or face a layoff. Any of the thousands of people who work on each big studio film (aside from the most famous actors) are stunningly underpaid, with some treated as contract workers so the studio can avoid giving them benefits. Filmmaking requires famously long hours, usually 10, 12 or even 16 hour days, plus weekends and holidays. It seems like staff are burning out at higher rates and studios are shuttering their doors every day. All of this, of course, so execs can make more money on the bottom line. Life of Pi‘s post-studio, Rhythm and Hues, is probably the most famous example of the results of this burning the candle at both ends behavior, having shut their doors in advance of their Oscar win for best visual effects.
On top of that, investing in films is a millions of dollars gamble. There’s no sure way for an investor to know whether or not a movie will do well. Some films that seem like they’re destined to do well end up being terrible. (Give the Wachowskis free reign to make whatever they want? Cool! Oh…. Jupiter Ascending.) But sometimes that unscripted free reign and total trust in a filmmaker pays off exponentially with a critically acclaimed film that’s also a populist hit (Mad Max: Fury Road).
Marvel and DC thought they were too big to fail during the Golden Age of Comics, and we all know what happened to them. It was a years’-long road to recovery for both that DC is still arguably dragging itself through.
What do you think? Has the gamble finally gotten too big and put too many people’s lives and careers at stake? Will that bubble finally pop? Or will millionaires forever be playing games with fame and fortune via Hollywood?
I personally believe that even if the world was reduced to the apocalyptic wasteland seen in the Mad Max series, people would still be making movies with whatever equipment they could hobble together and distribute them to whoever would watch. Film-making is part of humanity’s DNA, just like any other art form. Cave-men were, of course, painting stories before there was an industry for it. There will always be a sizable fraction of the population that will go to great lengths to realize an artistic vision, regardless of how inconvenient it is, how little they are paid for it, or how abusive the industry is. (And yes. The film industry is pretty damn abusive already.) And this goes for every level of the business, from the un-credited VFX workers (of which there are many) to the rich investors who just wanted to feel like they were part of something special.
But speaking of the industry as we know it (a millionaire’s playground), cinema has also proven to be one of the more “recession resistant”. Despite raising ticket prices, going to see a movie is still one of the cheaper entertainment experiences available. During our most recent major recession of 2008 onward, box office totals have continued at a steady incline.
1941’s film Sullivan’s Travels famously explored this phenomenon, and Hollywood’s place during The Great Depression. Sullivan, a self-important movie director, realizes that uplifting films were one of the few humanizing and hope affirming experiences left to the population. Even if this weren’t true, there are enough people who believe it that artists would certainly fight even harder to produce content during rough times.
So I think, even if we hit a catastrophic depression, the surviving major studios would just start making smaller projects and distributing via Netflix or something at similar budget values. I really believe that if the film industry, as it exists, collapses, it will be because society has collapsed. Ian Malcolm famously said “Life finds a way,” and on the pyramid of human needs, being told a hopeful story falls just behind food and shelter.
Or at least that’s what we self-important artists tell ourselves,
What do you think could kill the film industry? Email us all your entertainment related questions and theories at firstname.lastname@example.org!