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How to Cure Hollywood’s Summertime Blues 

12 Steps to better box office

Thursday, Jul 7 2005
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If I were a movie mogul, I’d study that episode of Seinfeld when George realizes that, in order to be a success, he should “do the opposite” of everything he’s done to be a failure. Suddenly, life is good: He gets a girlfriend, scores a job with the Yankees, moves out of his parents’ house and into his own apartment. So, I’d order my Hollywood studio during these dark days of empty seats and unprofitability to do the opposite.

I know what you’re thinking: Me a studio mogul? On what planet?

Hey, if a superflake like Elvis Mitchell can go to work for a studio, then anything’s possible, even making an executive out of someone as warped as I am, especially considering two of my favorite films are Legally Blonde and American Psycho. But my point here is that, unless the continuing slump in worldwide box office is reversed, and quickly, the Industry will continue as the lowly loss-leader of Big Media. That means Hollywood needs to rethink its retread product, but even more its retro process, especially when a movie as bad as Bewitched is released without anyone saying, “This is just a piece of crap, and we shouldn’t serve shit like this to the public.” (Not to worry: Sony’s summer may now depend on that even bigger turd, Deuce Bigelow 2.) It’s not enough to say “stop with the remakes” or “stop with the programmers already,” just stop.

To prove to you that motivating the public to get off their couches and go into theater complexes ain’t exactly brain surgery, I’ll become a studio mogul for as long as it takes you to read this column. (Any longer, and I’d permanently risk losing IQ points.) My first order of business will be to recall the company jet from Camp Allen, the nickname given to this week’s annual Sun Valley investment confab for old- and new-media knuckleheads, where river rafting and hay rides help relieve the stress of computing just how much it’ll cost to keep themselves in perks after they’re fired for hiring Brett Ratner. Instead, I’ll pledge myself to putting money back into the portfolios of those shareholders foolish enough to still invest in Mammoth Media. After all, the S&P 500 stock index has declined less than 2 percent for the first six months of this year, yet shares of Time Warner, Viacom, News Corp., Walt Disney and Sony have plunged 9-to-14 percent.

First, some disclaimers: I like driving my beat-up Volvo (because I break into hives at just the thought of a $3,889-a-month car payment for a Mercedes S600). I hate reading screenplays or taking meetings (when I could be doing something useful like scooping the litter box). I enjoy apartment living (instead of worrying about nutcases from the public-access beach breaking into my Malibu mansion). I don’t have the right attitude about Hollywood (since I think it’s populated by overpaid and under-worked mental midgets; I suspect CAA, AMPAS and MPAA are terrorist organizations; and I wish Oscar would grow some balls).

That said, here’s what I’d do:

Get Rid of Everyone

You know how, when jury-tampering is suspected in The Untouchables, the judge in the Al Capone trial switches juries with another courtroom? To make over my studio, I’ll replace my inbred imbeciles with the execs in charge of a cool company like Target that successfully appeals to a mass audience by hiring expensive talent like Todd Oldham, Cynthia Rowley, Ilene Rosenzweig and Isaac Mizrahi on the cheap.

No More “R” Movies

I’ll show the door to any studio executive who even once asks a screenwriter to pen a script that’s a “Hard R” when common sense dictates the movie could appeal in a big way to the under-17 market (see Pirates of the Caribbean for successful model). I’ll tell them to find employment with the indies or HBO, where full-frontal and buckets of blood are considered integral to the artistry. Believe me, my shareholders understand that pictures that keep sex, nudity, violence, gore and profanity to a minimum appeal to the widest audience and make the most money.

More and Mostly Comedies

Let’s say I have a choice: I can make a $180 million movie based on a comic book, or I can make a $40 million original comedy. I say, no contest: Make the comedy. I don’t know about your life, but mine can always use a laugh that isn’t just based on a fart joke. Comedies are cheap to make, and hard to get right, but even the net-profit participants have been paid on Meet the Parents.

I’m Only Worth $1

 

I’ll restructure my salary, bonus and stock options to reflect some sanity, which means they’ll be based on my sector’s performance. I’ll challenge other moguls in the parent company to do the same. They won’t, of course.

 

Phooey to the Agents

The stupidest contractual terms in the English language are “pay or play” and “final cut.” There’s not a better time in history to break the stranglehold which agents have on the movie business, since even top talents are out of work right now.

I Don’t Want to Thank . . .

I promise shareholders to never make a money-losing movie with Charlie Kaufman or P.T. Anderson just in the hopes of winning an Oscar and feeding my ego.

Stop Dicking Around

I won’t let my studio executives fraternize with other studio executives. What happens is that these hopeless poseurs try to impress each other not with dick size or lap dances but with the amount of ill-conceived “coolness quotient” they can work into projects. This has nothing to do with making screenplays better, but all about bragging rights over dinner at Ago. Reservoir Dogs came out 13 years ago; get over it already.

No Nest-Feathering

The problem with Hollywood is that everything in this town works toward creating conflicts of interest, not controlling them. So I’d make a caveat at my Hollywood studio: no cronyism. That would solve the problem of studio execs constantly throwing work to friends, doing expensive favors for agents and groveling shamelessly with talent — all because these execs are preparing for life as producers after they’ve been fired.

Start With Screenwriters

I’d set up meetings with the top screenwriters, regardless of age or addiction, who’ve written the top grossing movies of the last 20 years. Then, I’d ask them what movie they want to make which would draw the largest audience possible. Finally, I’d pay them a flat fee for four months’ work and leave them alone to complete a 40-to-60 page treatment. I dare not do this with the top directors: I’d just get another Toys.

No Inside Jobs

Los Angeles Times Calendar writer John Horn just wrote about a Hollywood practice that has irritated me for years: actors’ personal screenwriters, whose sole job is to fill a film with insider stuff. It’s exactly why, more times than not, audiences feel like outsiders because they don’t get the joke that the actors are in on. Why anyone would want to indulge yet more indiscriminate puerility in the movie business is beyond me.

Fix Filmdom’s Image

Hollywood has a horrible PR problem, fanned by GOP electioneering to spread an anti-elite message and, in the process, destroy the movie business. I’d withhold the big money spent lobbying this Republican Congress and use it to underwrite an ad campaign reminding everyone how great films improve our lives. Unless, of course, Tom DeLay, Bill Frist, Karl Rove et al. don’t want to cure societal ills like bigotry, avarice or war.

It Used to Be Dishes

These days, the only business with a worse image than movie companies is the oil industry. So let’s get together. Right now, the biggest bite taken out of a family’s disposable income after food, shelter, clothes and education seems to be gas. I’d work with Exxon, Chevron, Texaco, etc. to figure out some kind of fill-up-the-tank incentive program based on movie attendance. Yes, it’s gimmicky, but Universal’s new money-back guarantee on Cinderella Man is a good gimmick.

OK, time’s up. I’d love to hear your suggestions. Just address them to me in care of Alien Nation since that’s where Hollywood will think I’ve taken up residence.

Email at deadlinehollywood@gmail.com

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