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Whip It Good 

How To Cure Hollywood’s Summertime Blues, The Sequel

Thursday, Jul 21 2005
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Wow, moviegoers really, really hate the moviemakers. That’s the only conclusion I can draw after reading the hundreds of e-mails generated by my recent “If I were a studio mogul” column proposing a 12-step program to better box office. I made the mistake of asking for your suggestions and discovered many of you hold down real jobs in the Industry, a few boasted about living in flyover country, and there was that annoying guy who kept referring to “The Wood.” One reader found my motives suspect: “I sense that your article is an employment application disguised as an exposé of the shitty state of the art in show biz. It ain’t gonna work.” Well, I insulted everyone in show biz and I still received some job offers. So forget studio mogul or even newspaper columnist: Clearly, I can make more moolah as Mistress Nikki, the dominatrix who punishes very bad film people. Based on the vitriol spewed, you obviously enjoy whipping Hollywood as much as I do. As one reader reminded: “The studios did unto others, now others are doing unto them.”

 

So here’s The Sequel, what you would do to cure the box-office blues in your own words. (Sorry, but I had to add my own commentary or else my editors might not pay me for this column.)

Stop spending money on “movie spotters” who on a weekly basis go to count crowds, report audience reaction, and make sure commercials are in place. (Especially considering these poor saps are flogged, forced to watch endless reels of Danny DeVito films, and finally sent on a tropical vacation to Guantánamo as enemy combatants when they dare to report back bad news.)

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No more loaning out prints to execs for their weekly screenings in Bel Air and Malibu. (Yeah, make them pay full ticket price so they can expense it to shareholders.)

Forget all executive dining rooms, chefs or messenger services for execs. (You didn’t hear? After the Los Angeles Times gushed about his decision to sell DVDs on the studio lot at wholesale pricing, Brad Grey’s next PR move is to personally cook up made-to-order omelets every morning for all Paramount employees.)

Make movies without any special effects or product placement. (One reader noted that, if you weren’t familiar with the lead actor or just took off the Fox logo, then you’d think the trailer for the upcoming Transporter 2 was an Audi commercial.)

Advertise movies on the blacktop at intersections. Bring income to cities. (You must mean the Canadian cities where movies are actually filmed.)

Write comedy scripts that stand on their own instead of depending on or being built around some comic actor with known appeal. Will Ferrell can’t seem to do anything but mug and deliver lines in that “Will Ferrell way.” (Not to worry: Now that his agent jumped from UTA to CAA, Ferrell becomes just another top talent without a job.)

Move box office gross reporting to small news items way off the front page of the entertainment section. (But then the media would have more time and space to report on the daily Iraqi violence, the Karl Rove/Tom DeLay scandals, and other subjects not as widely disseminated as Jude Law’s “serious” apology for boinking the nanny.)

Reduce or eliminate the use of focus groups in altering films. So many movies stray from a coherent core of meaning by trying to appeal to various niche interests. Downright abominations are last-minute “fixes” to accommodate test audiences. (You mean The Passion of the Christ had a different ending? Where Jesus gets food poisoning at The Last Supper, misses the Crucifixion, and books an Expedia package to Ibiza?)

Add more color to the casting. With an African-American male lead in Will Smith, and a Latina female lead in Eva Mendes, Hitch did quite well. Hollywood needs to open its mind and its wallet and emphasize stories about other racial and ethnic groups and watch the money roll in. (But that directive banning Eddie Murphy and Margaret Cho from all live-action films won’t be lifted. Otherwise, I predict mass suicides.)

Give people the DVDs they want. More than 70 percent of people would rather sit at home with a DVD, pausing it, eating low-cost snacks, diddling with the volume control. If people want to watch DVDs, and they generate lotsa income for the studios, then stop making movies to fill theaters. Instead, make them for Pay Per View and release the DVD with extra stuff within a week of the PPV release. (Huh? What’s that you’re saying? Sorry, I went deaf during a screening of War of the Worlds in Westwood.)

No mandatory coming attractions for movies that will be forgotten next year. (But then what would we have to look forward to? The girls-of-Hustler edition of Fear Factor?)

Kill the long intros. No human being has gone to a film because it was from Warner Bros., Paramount, Universal, Sony or Disney in decades. (As long as this also kills terminology like “brand experience,” “brand equity” and “end-of-year bonus.”)

Shorten out-of-control credits. Contracts that call for credits are the studios’ problem, not the audience’s. One producer. No one cares who the drivers were. Less is more. (Except for those two increasingly crucial credits: the crystal meth dealer and the plastic surgeon in the starlet’s entourage.)

Make a new and honest ratings system. If either video stores or the MPAA wanted to actually help people, the ratings should be (in alphabetical order):

AC — Alleged Comedy

DSIB — Depressing Self-Indulgent Bombast

ML — Mindless

SM — Smug

UR — Unreal.

(I’ll add another: YWTTHOYLB — You’ll Want Those Two Hours of Your Life Back.)

No more deals peddled on the notion that there are only five people who can open a movie worldwide. Allot a greater percentage of annual budgets to developing new and unknown talent. (Isn’t this déjà vu all over again? “Just sign on the dotted line of this seven-year slave, er, studio, contract, Miss Johansson...”)

Return to the days of double features and selected short subjects (including Mickey Mouse), with an admission price of 25 cents. (I’d pay $25 to see Mikey Eisner get a few pies in the face while reading from his stinker book, Camp, about his learning those early life skills that helped him become one of the most hated CEOs in America.)

Good riddance to theaters. The experience of going to them sucks. They’re full of teens on cell phones. Who could watch? Fuck ’em. (What, and miss all the carnal knowledge going on in the row in front of me?)

Keep it simple, stupid. Slash bureaucratic overhead by 60 percent. Reduce meetings by 75 percent. Root out yes people and every brownnoser who can be found. Limit the maximum salary for any executive, including all perks and office redecoration, to $3 million a year. (Just wondering if Gelson’s or Whole Foods takes food stamps...)

Make cold calls on good colleges with creative-writing schools. Tell the students nobody is publishing novels anymore. (I can’t wait until grads from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop script the sequel to My Own Private Idaho.)

Take meetings with writers who have proven themselves in other mediums i.e. the bloggers on sites such as televisionwithoutpity.com, or the new writers featured in Zoetrope magazine, or the off-off-off Broadway playwrights. All are innovative thinkers and in many cases, damn funny. (Note to the Defamer guy, Mark Lisanti: Enough with the Ari Emanuel pic. But a photo of Kevin Huvane getting wasted would be a laugh riot.)

Redefine the role of creative execs. They should function more as book editors. It would weed out many of the idiots whose daily reading list consists only of their e-mails sent to and from one another on their Blackberrys and Treos while lunching at Maple Drive. (Hollywood definition of a book: Object used for shelf decoration.)

Eliminate the apprehension executives face each day that one bad summer opening weekend might lead to a mass firing. We need to assure them that their jobs are not constantly on the brink of being filled by the next dipshit high school dropout looking for easy money. Do us a favor and stay on Wall Street, you illiterate pricks. (Congrats — you’re my first hire. Because you’re too naive to last long in this business.)

Email at deadlinehollywood@gmail.com

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