November 12, 2015

6 Hollywood Studio Executives Discuss the State of the Film Industry

The Hollywood Reporter recently sat down with the major studio chiefs for an hour-long discussion of the state of the industry, and while it's definitely worth watching, because we love you so much, we went ahead and put together a list of 3 takeaways from the video, featuring Donna Langley (Chairman, Universal Pictures), Tom Rothman (Chairman, Sony Pictures Motion Picture Group), Rob Moore (Vice Chair, Paramount Pictures), Stacey Snider (Co-Chairman, 20th Century Fox), Alan Horn (Chairman, The Walt Disney Studios), and Rob Friedman (Co-Chair, Lionsgate Motion Picture Group) and moderated by Pamela McClintock and Kim Masters, Editor-at-Large and Senior Film Writer for THR, respectively.

Their discussion ran the gamut from cyber-terrorism to Star Wars and all points in between, and since an arthouse film is just as much a part of the culture as a superhero flick, its worth checking out the state of the industry, and listening in on the equivalent of a meeting of the five families from, fittingly, the second Godfather film. 

Hollywood is Increasingly Less of an "Old Boy's Club"

The rap on the movie business has always been that a bunch of middle-aged men have been sitting around making decisions about what America (and the world) is fed on the big screen, usually making these decisions over lunch. And while lots of deals are still made between the appetizer and main course, they increasingly involve powerful women, including Donna Langley, current head of Universal Pictures, and Stacey Snider, who is co-chair at 20th Century Fox with Jim Gianopulos. (Before that, she ran Universal from 1999 to 2006.)

"I got mad at myself. I failed as a negotiator because I gave up early. I didn’t want to keep fighting over millions of dollars...I would be lying if I didn’t say there was an element of wanting to be liked that influenced my decision to close the deal without a real fight." -Jennifer Lawrence

So 1/3 of the execs at the table were women, and when the issue of Jennifer Lawrence's essay on gender inequality was raised, the table was vocal that opportunities for women in Hollywood are greater than ever before, though Snider was quick to point out that she could "mentor more" and "enable young female writers and directors to have access" to the echelons of power. Snider and Langley also said that Lawrence's most salient point was how women are perceived in society, not just Hollywood; women are, it is felt, considered to be more accommodating and less likely to rock the boat, though everyone pointed out that stars are paid based on a number of variables, and several female stars, including Lawrence, have crossed the $20 million dollar salary line that also includes Sandra Bullock and Angelina Jolie. Her letter was prompted by an inequality of points on American Hustle, where her male co-stars received more backend than her, even though she was a bigger star. 

These numbers, though, probably seem academic to the average indie filmmaker or average citizen. They're a bit like the speed of light: comprehensible in theory, but yet, you know, not. I mean, why does light have to go that fast? What's the rush? That said, it's interesting to see that with the possibility of a woman in the White House, Hollywood is (maybe cynically, but, you know, Hollywood) is catching up, though women in the workplace still earn less, and the middle class is way behind the 1% that Lawrence and all the studio executives are a part of. Food for thought, y'all.

Elizabeth Banks on the set of 'Pitch Perfect 2'

"Variables" decide Directors 

The leap from indie filmmaker to Hollywood helmer is a huge one, and even tougher to make than the jump an actor has to make. Because while acting is generally seen as a matter of luck (some people just look good on camera; one has only to look at the proliferation of 'selfies' to see that sometimes the most attractive people can look downright weird on film, and vice versa. And the ineffable "x-factor" that makes one movie a hit and one a dud is the same thing that makes Jonah Hill an Oscar nominee, which probably Superbad's audiences were not predicting. Maybe Nate Silver, though. 

When it was posed to the execs that a young hot shot director (usually a male one, though there were other topics discussed besides gender inequality) can make a successful indie film and frequently find themselves waking up in charge of a tentpole picture, Alan Horn was quick to point out that the rather astonishing success of director and screenwriter Colin Trevorrow, 39, who helmed a short film in 2002, then the indie Sundance favorite Safety Not Guaranteed in 2012, then Jurassic Worldand will be in charge of the latest Star Wars film, was not an accidental event.

Colin Trevorrow on the set of 'Jurassic World'

Rather, Trevorrow had it in his mind, Horn said, to place himself next to Brad Bird, Steven Spielberg, and that Safety was a film made with the intention of showing his commercial chops, and ability to strike a certain, commercial friendly "tone." Like it or not, an experimental filmmaker is not going to get a franchise, and, in all likelihood, they wouldn't want one. There is a certain sensibility that a director has to have in order to make the leap into tentpole pictures, and some people, like actress Elizabeth Banks, who is directing the latest Hunger Games (as well as appearing in it) have it; this sensibility comes down to the indie filmmaker's ability to compromise, just writ large.

Any of the studio chiefs are not going to give the potential for billions of dollars to an auteur, and an auteur who directs a tentpole film usually puts their indie spirit to the side and makes a movie that is, as Friedman of Lionsgate pointed out, for ages "8 to 88," which is how he described the Twilight franchise, when he was asked about its status as a YA (young adult) film. 

"Do I Have to See it Now? Do I Have to See it on the Big Screen?"

According to Rob Moore, the proliferation of options in media has meant that, in his words, "the audience is evolving." Where once films played theatrically for up to a year, a practice that started to decline with the advent of consumer-grade VCRs and video rental outlets, the VOD of its time. "The audience isn't looking six months in advance," he continues, meaning that with so much out there, people are far less likely to maintain their interest in a film for the traditional period between a film's withdrawal from theaters and its release for home viewing, mostly because of the rampant piracy of films, which has evolved from the days of people taking video cameras into movie theaters (though those can still be found). But studios want to make money, and they also want to feel that their money has been spent wisely, on production values which are lost in many streaming, low-quality iterations of popular films. 

'Paranormal Activity' (2007)

In order to combat this, Paramount has initiated a revolutionary new program whereby the time between a film's theatrical release and its availability on VOD is drastically cut: the newest entry in the Paranormal Activity franchise, Ghost Dimension, opened on October 23 in 1,350 theaters, and grossed $67.1 million dollars in its first two weeks, including international sales (which, all the executives stressed, is a huge component of the Hollywood model, even more so than before).

And since the Paranormal Activity movies cost relatively nothing to make, by Hollywood standards ($10 million, which is not half of Jennifer Lawrence's salary for Passengers) there's a huge opportunity to see big financial gains. But Paramount is aiming to maximize its profits even further by entering into a deal with 7 major theater chains, including AMC, whereby 17 days after the film is only on 300 screens, it becomes available on VOD, and the theaters are compensated with a 2-4% share of the profits for their loss of revenue. 

Ironically, some of the chains involved did not want their participation publicized, because they feel like this business move will bring bad publicity (and in all fairness, it might). After all, when a movie chain is taking money to not show movies, it seems like "the beginning of the end." People get "emotional" about the movie going experience, about sitting in the dark with a hundred or so strangers and watching someone's dream play out, bigger than life (and then you can go get coffee and pie and talk about it).

No home viewing experience will ever replace the movie theater, but as this fascinating state of the industry talk shows, the suits are firmly in control of a fundamentally uncontrollable business, where some movies that are guaranteed smashes flop, and other tiny releases build on word-of-mouth make it in front of millions of eyes. It's why we make make movies, at the end of the day; to tell stories, to connect, to dream while we're awake. And in an industry that's changing every minute, no filmmaker can afford to be ignorant of any facet of the industry, even if they shoot films on their smart phones. Because as experience has demonstrated time and time again, movies are as unpredictable as dreams.

The more you know...

A public service message from your friends at No Film School.     

Your Comment

20 Comments

Elizabeth Banks isn't directing the newest Hunger Games, she is directing Pitch Perfect 3 however.

November 12, 2015 at 3:41PM, Edited November 12, 3:41PM

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Brad Jones
Director/Producer/Writer/Editor
513

You are correct; cut and paste is not my friend today. Thanks!

November 12, 2015 at 7:59PM

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Justin Morrow
Writer
Writer/Director

Great article. Thanks for sharing. Although they should have talked about race, not just gender. And not just blacks and whites, like asians, blacks, latinos, indians, native americans, middle eastern descendents... etc. Sure women are catching up and it's a slow process, but the majority is still Caucasian women. And why are there not more diverse filmmakers, alfonso cuaron, alejandro innaritu, emmanuel lubezki have won a crap load of awards the last two years, and they're like the only latinos in the industry haha. On another note, IMAX theaters are still the best viewing experience ever, and not the fake ones at AMC or Cobb. Cheers filmmakers

November 12, 2015 at 3:52PM

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I agree and was going to say the same thing. Unfortunately, it's just the way the nation works. Some of the most iconic filmmakers that aren't white seem to never get as far or as ahead. In the classes I teach, we discuss this and how telling stories that don't meld with the European diaspora might effect you as a filmmaker.

In the end, it's just a structure thing. Jennifer Lawrence talks about gender inequality and the world is listening, it's a wonderful thing, but African American actresses have been doing it for far longer. Halle Berry's speech from 2002 is as far back as I can remember (http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2002/jun/03/artsfeatures) and even before then it was a well known topic among black actresses that were always cast in a negative light.

It's good that Lawrence is talking and Hollywood is listening however, since America never listens to oppressed groups when they talk about oppression.

November 12, 2015 at 4:01PM

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Justin Gladden
Producer
362

@Nick V

I think you're missing the point. A lot of the minorities you quoted don't regard the film field as a career it is worth going after. You depend on luck to a great extent to even achieve a minor success while you can achieve a lot with just the right amount of discipline and persistence in the fields of science, medicine, technology etc, that's why you find a lot of Indians, Chinese and so on there (btw, I'm of Indian origin, too).

November 12, 2015 at 4:20PM, Edited November 12, 4:21PM

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Gerard M.
1267

@mariano von trani
"A lot of the minorities you quoted don't regard the film field as a career it is worth going after."

I wonder why. Maybe a big reason is because they understand there's not much space in that industry for them to have success. And that shouldn't be the case.

November 12, 2015 at 6:06PM

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Samuel Neff
DP / Editor
786

Being white is barely enough. There are real barriers to entry in Hollywood on the production side and it isn't just skin colour.

November 12, 2015 at 9:20PM

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Alec Kinnear
Creative Director
416

but it is another serious barrier to entry, that a group of people have to unfortunately deal with, ignoring the problem makes it worse and just continues the cycle of systematic racism. Cheers brother

November 13, 2015 at 3:01PM

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True. Very true in fact. But the reality is that no matter how hard it is for a white man, it'll be even hard for a white woman. If you're in demographic that society has put "beneath" that of a white woman, then it's magnitudes more difficult.

This isn't to say that the many demographics can't forge ahead on their own, like Bollywood and the dare I say it . . . . . Tyler Perry Studios model. But Hollywood as a whole is responsible for portraying the culture, and it is irresponsible for them to portray it as they have been.

It's a well known fact that a lot of progress in this industry is word of mouth, and if there's a lack of diversity in the industry then the words out of the mouths that are talking are more to blame than anything.

November 13, 2015 at 5:28PM

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Justin Gladden
Producer
362

@mariano von trani, dude step out of the dark ages it's 2015

November 12, 2015 at 9:38PM, Edited November 12, 9:38PM

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matt
880

Maybe you misunderstood me. I said film (direction) is overrated as a career opportunity for people with a cultural background from Asia. You can't plan success in this field, there is absolutely no guarantee that you may make it (otherwise everyone coming out of filmschool would have a career that pays your bills).

I still remember very well: my uncle once took one of my magazines about film in his hand, with a headline about digital visual effects on the front page and said: "Jurassic Park"... then he turned to my mom and asked: why don't you send him to engineering school...?

November 13, 2015 at 4:12PM

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Gerard M.
1267

Wow. A 1-hour discussion about the "state of the film industry" and we start with politically correct bullshit?

Gender equality & minorities are, of course, an issue, but this is not specific to the film industry so why not broaden the idea and bring in executives from all types of industries. This talk doesn't belong here... and the film indus has bigger fish to fry - trust me.

So I don't buy it; they're just trying to - subconsciously? - distract us (and themselves) from too harsh a reality: the film industry is in the sink because these execs have no taste and no artistic integrity, and the public - mindless as they can be - doesn't want to hit the theatre if they feel each new Hollywood prod is going to be shitty.

I'm not even 30 and yet I can reminisce over a time when people used to like going to the movies - and they would happily pay for a good film. Nowadays? The only people who go to the movies are dudes trying to get laid and couldn't find a better way to get the girl's attention, and groups of kids who have no interest in film as an art form but had nothing better to do and parental money to waste.

Facilitating the making of substantial films should be THE priority to the "film industry". 'Cause it seems to be getting worse every year...

November 12, 2015 at 9:35PM, Edited November 12, 9:41PM

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Raph Dae
Screenwriter & attempted director
618

It's not the execs fault, most studios are part of a company that is publicly traded. They have to make a profit for the stockholders that own the company or else they lose the jobs, profits sink, less funding is made for the projects, less people have jobs. And gender and racial diversity is not specific to the film industry, but it is important to every industry and shouldn't be ignored for that sole reason. Have a good weekend Raph

November 13, 2015 at 4:56PM

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Historically, cultural declines are associated with drastic economic and socio-political crises, so by concentrating too much on the money now, we burn the dollars of the future - inevitably. Societies that facilitate art and literature usually stand the test of time a lot better. Why do you think they were burning books in the Germany of the 40's?

I wish more people could see further than 12 months ahead of the present... and I wish that you could recognise that maybe it IS the exec's fault.

We get fed with bullshit one-liners like "you can do anything" and inspirational crap all the time, and then people who can ACTUALLY do "anything" because they own the beef and the honey, well, it's not their fault, all of a sudden?

I don't buy it.

Thanks, btw! Have a great weekend yourself =)

PS: my point was that profit shouldn't be the default metric we use to justify dooming practices. Especially when you can make money and make viable, intelligent decisions at the same time. It's just that it's harder to do both, of course...

December 4, 2015 at 12:22AM, Edited December 4, 12:24AM

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Raph Dae
Screenwriter & attempted director
618

I think it all goes hand in hand. Where else are we going to get a broader, diverse pool of content and content creators.

To be honest, one of the biggest reasons we don't see much diversity in Hollywood is because the diversity doesn't sell. i.e. look at the fallout that happened with a black Jedi as the Star of Episode VI.

Then, conversely, look at all of the kudos Netflix got for Beasts of No Nation. Fixing Hollywood will undoubtedly involve accepting the notion that stories don't have to run the gamut of the Western European/American diaspora and can involve stories from a diverse pool of experiences.

November 13, 2015 at 6:57PM

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Justin Gladden
Producer
362

It seems like Netflix has the right idea -associate a name with quality content, spread out funds rather than invest in a single tentpole and you can eventually control the majority of the market. Rather than fight this method maybe these studios should adopt it theatrically.

November 12, 2015 at 11:36PM

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Stephen Herron
Writer/Director
1587

It would be nice to see less tent-poles and more mid-budget films again. Just imagine if half of the $150 million and up films that have come out over the last few years were instead half a dozen $15-50 million dollar films...

November 13, 2015 at 12:59AM

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David West
Filmmaker
971

I agree! Honestly I feel I hear about really good indie films way too late and I miss their limited theatrical run. Anybody know where I can stay current with indie films?

November 13, 2015 at 11:12AM

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Caleb Price
Director
446

Definitely true about tent poles. Endless superhero streams of crap and overwrought CGI. The most powerful movie we've seen in the last year was A Royal Affair whose modest budget managed to flawlessly recreate the 1767 Danish court of Christian VII and which brought in all of $14 million. Ex Machina might be the next one. With a budget of $15 million, first time director Alex Garland managed to outbat all of Hollywood. Curiously both films starred also starred Alicia Vikander.

The distributors and their cozy relationship with Hollywood Studios have been strangling the art of film for the last thirty years. Until Netflix arrived, people outside of five metropolis could no longer see anything non-mainstream (in the sixties European film was big in the States before the best directors and stars were bought out and left to rot in Hollywood - Rutger Hauer, Alexander Godunov, Penelope Cruz). Lately some of the good ones escape and go back home (Ewan McGregor, Monica Belluci, even Keira Knightley) in time to contribute to substantial film.

December 17, 2015 at 2:36PM

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Alec Kinnear
Creative Director
416

Wish they would have talked about, oh I dunno -quality of movies.

November 14, 2015 at 6:00PM, Edited November 14, 6:00PM

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