15 December 2005

Schadenfreude (SoCal Edition)

So, Hollywood is sad because box-office receipts for 2005 look to be down around 6–8%, eh? Let's look at a few reasons that might have happened, as noted in WaPo:

  • "Some Hollywood apologists note that 2004 had an expected $370 million infusion from The Passion of the Christ, which lured millions of conservative Christians who ordinarily do not go to movies. Discount 2004's grosses by that amount and 2005 is right on par, they say." There is more than a germ of truth in this. Of course, what that ignores is that 2004 was down on 2003 under the same reasoning… it's just a question of when one points and says "this is the baseline." And whether one has been Left Behind, as (fortunately) those "films" were.
  • Then, too, there's discomfort and inconvenience. The article quotes Richard Roeper as saying:

    One thing we sometimes overlook, especially people in the business, is the quality of the moviegoing experience. If someone's waiting through 20 minutes of commercials, you've got people behind you kicking your seat and talking on cell phones, do you think a lot of people might say, "You know what? I've got a great sound system, I've got a 50-inch plasma screen. I'm just going to wait three months until the DVD comes out"?

    Again, there is more than a germ of truth in this. The people who design movieplex seating must be the same ones who design airline seating. The ones who have no relatives or friends with back problems. (Ironically, Amtrak's seating does seem to acknowledge that some people would like a bit of back support.) The ones who don't know anyone who wears bifocals; the only way to get comfortable in those seats is to lean back as far as they'll go, which brings the screen up into the close-vision part of one's glasses unless one puts one's chin on one's chest.

  • There's a long-term downswing in movie attendance. "But those declines came amid a broader upswing in movie attendance since the mid 1980s, with the number of tickets sold rising from just over 1 billion in 1986 to a modern high of 1.6 billion in 2002." This, by the way, is also consistent with the long-term downswing in per capita unit sales of book-length fiction (but not in every category of book-length fiction).
  • Or it could be just that Hollywood produced a bunch of crappy films that even the most brilliant marketing campaigns (and there weren't many of those!) could have saved.

    The movies were bad, Roger, all of them. Even the little kid was bad, but he was a little kid, he had a couple of scenes, big eyeglasses, lisp, he's going to the Golden Globes. You know why the New Coke marketing campaign failed? Because nobody liked New Coke. The movies were bad. If the movies were unknown, I could help you, but they weren't. They were just bad!

    (Oops. That was C.J. Cregg {"In the Shadow of Two Gunmen, Part II," season 2, episode 2}, not the WaPo, but it's consistent with other comments in the article.) Bluntly, this is what happens when you let the S&M (sales and marketing) dorks get involved too early. The publishing industry has been having the same problem; how else can one explain the sales figures of Christopher Paolini when compared to Diane Duane or Diana Wynne Jones? S&M has its place,1 but only once one has a product to sell, or at least the foundations of that product. Marketing considerations should certainly help shape the final product—but, in the long run, they can't create it by themselves.

  1. Preferably somewhere near Hollywood and Vine. Or in the Village (whether Greenwich, or Portmeiron, or M. Night Shyamalan's).