A Studio’s Real-Life Drama

Its first chunk of investor funding is almost gone, and DreamWorks, which garnered 10 Oscar nominations this year from two of its films, must find more, or reduce its ambitions.

Comments: 24

  1. Movies have become very expensive and often unsatisfying nights out. Theatres that were once grand experiences, larger than lif rooms with balconies and beautiful architecture, have given way to small, impersonal shoeboxes. Also, even worthwhile movies flit in and out - It was difficult to find a viewing of the 3-D blockbuster Hugo on Christmas weekend, just a few weeks after it opened on Thanksgiving.

  2. Will Google and Amazon be the next investors? Will movie production land in China?

  3. . . . a smaller slate of films on a small scale works fine for me. And if you could turn the volume down along with the bass, that would be great.

  4. Movie theaters have always made the majority of their money from concessions, which makes movies like War Horse that kids will be brought to, or Star Wars, big yielding exhibitor experiences. Equally popular but more adult audience oriented movies don't move as much merchandise. Those who complain about the degradation of the movie theater experience were not alive when most of these theaters employed crews of dozens even scores of paid workers ranging from student junior ushers to ticket takers and skilled, licensed projectionists. The only union strike the big studios never succeeded in breaking was the projectionist union, and they accused it of everything from harboring a murderer to being a Communist Front organization. It is now basically extinct. Theaters are run by managers more or less along the same lines as a Duane Reade or CVS, and with similar consumer experiences. Ads and loud volume for coming attractions are the most important revenue capture for the distributors, and candy, soda, plus popcorn is the profit margin holy grail for the theater owner.

    Only New Yorkers of a certain age will remember cinema as run by the quirky Dan Talbot of the New Yorker, or the elegant first run foreign and art house theaters run by Don Rugoff, but those who do likely spare themselves whenever possible the current experience.

  5. Once upon a time, I went to the movies twice a month. Now, it's twice a year. Their product is just not worth the price that they charge. Everything seems to be the same politically correct formula.

  6. The volume is painfully loud in theatres now and gives me a headache..
    I buy the DVD and watch movies in comfort with normal volume.

  7. I understand your pain. I have to take an Advil before I go to the movies or I'll have a splitting headache the rest of the day. This is entertainment?

  8. If conditions are so dire in the economy, it is time to cut costs.
    What about a .20trim across the board. Film making has always seemed neither a shoe lace endeavor or one with vast extravagance

  9. I can sit in my pajamas watching a giant HD screen with 6 channel surround sound and hit the fridge for a snack without disturbing others. Who would I go to the theater? In the 50's Cinemascope and other wide screen formats competed with grainy B&W TV but currently the theater screens keep getting smaller and TV's keep getting larger. It's as if the movie industry wants to phase out the theaters.

    Also new films are competing with the "long tail" of every movie ever made available in our living rooms. I agree with an earlier post in that I really miss the large elegant theaters of the past. Most of these we originally built for Vaudeville. My biggest shock was years ago when theaters started showing advertising. I'm paying ten bucks to sit through a Coke commercial? What happened to a Bugs Bunny cartoon followed by coming attractions and the main feature?

  10. A lot of us are nostalgic for a time when there were quality films for grown-ups available. The studios used to turn out hundreds of films a year; many of them were clunkers, but the good ones floated to the top and stayed there. Folks of "a certain age" lament that "they don't make 'em like that anymore." Quality films are still made, but the blockbusters that are shown on several screens in one multiplex and idiot films that generate huge profits (I even saw "The Hangover") don't leave much room for the little films that are special and memorable and so they don't make money and new ones don't get made. There was a time when a Robert Altman film or a small Woody Allen film like "Zelig" could be easily found. Not anymore.

    If the moviemakers are serious about wanting to make quality films, they should bite the bullet and commit a division to those special films. Will this happen though? Unlikely. With a generation more committed to watching "Dancing With the Stars" and shows like "The Biggest Loser," filmmakers may be smarter than they look. "McCabe and Mrs. Miller"--even "The Graduate," and "Chinatown" would probably have a hard time being made today, because too many Americans are simple too averse to thinking when they sit in front of a screen.

  11. As part of the younger set, I'll say this: If I want to think, I'll read a book. After a long, hard day in front of a computer crunching numbers and completing reports, all I want to do is decompress in front of something mindless and silly (aka, TV). When I want mental stimulation, I'll carve a couple of hours out of my weekend and curl up with a good book. Otherwise, I'm doing chores. I don't have the time or money to spend an entire afternoon on a movie that will probably not pay off for me or will leave me irritable or deflated.

  12. When you get used to not having your life scheduled to suit the show times of movies, it becomes difficult to adjust to that aspect alone. Yes, and the quality of the majority of films, well, they have technical value, but very little in the way of anything that could be called entertainment or education.

    The world was not always wall to wall media, and huge amounts of money.

  13. I used to go the movies all the time. Now, never. The experience is terrible. A darkened room with a shared experience is still there, but first, I have to forcibly watch and listen to a seemingly endless stream of advertising. The sound is often terrible. Prices prohibitive.

    The content is often terrible as well. I could care less about special effects, or three d effects. A good story with attractive actors is way to much to ask?

    I can watch the same stuff at home with a mute button, which is priceless. Better quality screen and better sound for a fraction of the cost.

    Quality movies should be produced, less expensively.

  14. I love the mute button.

  15. I am often amazed at how so many marginal or truly terrible films get greenlighted, and have to assume the executives at these studios are really incapable of not trying to repeat the same themes that once in a while result in a financial bonanza. They love a franchise and cater to an audience that rarely includes actual adults. The number of films my wife wants to see each year can literally be counted on one hand, and none of them are about aliens, comic book characters or horror. I find most of the topics so banal I have zero interest in going out to see any films. The advent of home theater only added to the issue of why people are buying fewer tickets. The best movies we see are almost always lower budget, smaller films that rely on character development, quality writing and interesting themes.

    Eclectic Pragmatist — http://eclectic-pragmatist.tumblr.com/

  16. I myself do not like those young adult movie but the money from those squeal/franchise makes possible to produce movies which you like (adult oriented movie).

  17. "Mr. Spielberg is by far the best-selling movie director in history..." Really? I wonder what James Cameron might think of that. Spielberg has directed 50 films, Cameron, 20. If you were to take average/film, Cameron would win in a walk--Cameron has the #1 and #2 highest grossing films of all time, Spielberg's highest is #20, Jurassic Park.

  18. This is what happens when the industry tries to hit it out of the park every time. Strikeouts.

  19. Films are "not like they used to be" is kind of a faux nostalgia stance; there are still plenty of intense indies and tight, non-grandiose, human-scale movies being made. Sundance is bigger than ever and thanks to digital technology, the ability to make movies has filtered down, economically, to people who could never do it before.

    The theatre experience being "not what it used to be" probably has more truth to it; amusing that commenters complain about the ads but haven't yet screeched about the cell phones/texting behavior, which has completely infested area movie houses.

    As far as the home alternative, that's not relevant to this topic: wherever/however you watch, there still needs to be product, and that's where the DreamWorks dilemma sits--can they re-tool for less expensive films? Can Spielberg & Co even think that way? Don't know. Don't really care, either; there will always be dreammakers intent on telling stories visually. Maybe it's time for the next gen filmmakers to grab a piece of the pie--using $$$ that would otherwise go to old "War Horses" like Spielberg.

    And BTW, with a net worth of half a billion or more, he could afford to bankroll a blockbuster or two on his own. But of course, he'd never do so....

  20. I agree about Spielberg bankrolling. One has to guess his proposed investors don't like the idea of lending his company huge chunks of cash while he keeps his own financial books healthy and whole. In times like this, with credit tight, everyone's expected to have a little skin in the game.

    Oh, and I'd dare say the investors at Reliant et. al. are pleasantly surprised at the success of War Horse and the Help, both forgettable pictures from a cinephile's perspective.

  21. It seems like the best time to catch a movie these days is the first viewing in the morning. Other times, your stuck with every phone wielding, food chomping, bratty chatty thug.

  22. Oh I think DreamWorks will continue because even if the economy is bad at least this company is bringing people to the theatres. This is gonna have to be a long-term investment and they're gonna have to get used to that reality.

  23. It's encouraging for independent filmmakers how many comments complain about the quality of movies -- nothing fresh, just recycled sequels, and so on.

    The reality is that good stories are out there, but people can't find out about them. My wife and I made a film that was a Critics' Pick here at The Times and is ranked at 82 percent positive by critics and 97 percent by audiences on Rotten Tomatoes.It tells a unique story, but even when you have critical appreciation it's almost impossible to get people in the door without the studios' promotional clout.

    Our film is G-Rated and everyone loves it. It has laughter and tears and audiences call it life-affirming. We even have a celebrity narrator, Ryan Reynolds. But though it was by far the most positively-reviewed Ryan Reynolds film in 2011, I'm willing to bet a box of popcorn that you've never heard of it.

    (It's called The Whale. There. You've heard of it now. Sorry about the popcorn.)

    Why so invisible? Well, when we walked into a theater where it recently opened there was a huge cardboard poster for Dolphin Tale that had been in the lobby for six months. Our film didn't have the budget for more than a two-square inch ad on page D-175. And the hyped power of social media hasn't exactly replaced the TV spots, billboards, and full-color newspaper ads yet.

    So keep looking for those better movies, folks. They're out there, but they need your help.

    Mike Parfit
    co-director, The Whale
    www.thewhalemovie.com

  24. Your film is probably really quite good, but it's small documentary, not nearly on the scale of huge dramatic films such as "The Help" or "War Horse." It's important to keep that in perspective. Even The New York Times review stated it was best for classroom viewing and family audience probably not suitable for wide general release to thousands of theaters.

    Great films are out there and sometimes they are big studio films and other times they are small documentaries, but audience gravitate to what interests them and studios make films that will attract audiences and box office success.