I remember when Titanic came out in 1997, it was everywhere – on billboards, rehashed through several documentaries, on popcorn tubs, on MTV, on the news, on posters, shirts, the word on every teen girls mouth – it was the event of the year. People became obsessed with Titanic – including myself as a kid, I once knew how many rivets were in the ship. You couldn’t get away from it, or that cheesy Celine Dion song. It was a completely dominant force of popular culture and remained the highest grossing film until Avatar in 2009.
Now in today’s Hollywood, everything is hyped to such a grand scale that nothing has staying power. If everything is big, loud and explosive then nothing stands out. The sort of fanfare once reserved for movies like Titanic is now expected of films on a monthly basis. If a tent pole film doesn’t make a billion dollars it’s somehow not good enough. As studios tear through their IP war chests, exhausting all properties to the point of arriving at Bay Watch and Pirates 5, they have finally lost the trust of American audiences. I feel we truly are headed toward rock bottom.
At the same time television has seen a renaissance. A huge reason for that is creative control. Once upon a time studios used to make mid budget films from original scripts. In the 90s it seemed like the spec sales would never stop. Studios would use their big expensive blockbusters to fund these smaller properties hoping enough of them would become hits to remain in the black (thus the term tent pole for blockbusters).
Today fewer and fewer specs are being sold. Studios are no longer stand alone businesses as much as they are part of larger conglomerates. These conglomerates don’t just want movies – they want theme park rides, toys, accessories. They want every film to be just like Titanic was in 1997 where people would literally buy White Star Line napkins and talks of building another Titanic was a serious consideration. Conglomerates want studios to be less about filmmaking and more about brand-making.
The ultimate problem for movies is that TV offers the creativity that modern moviemaking no longer allows. Marketing and non filmmakers hold too much weight in script considerations and story decisions. The movie writer today is a gun for hire to bring marketable IP to life, and is less so a unique creative force. While independent films and Oscar bait still gets made, even those cinematic gems are few and far between relative to a decade ago. Or, they’re being made entirely outside the studio system.
The American public is loosing faith in Hollywood films. At a time where TV couldn’t be better and show runners are almost as popular as some of the actors in their shows – the public couldn’t be bothered to shell out $15 for a mediocre movie. It’s time to make the creator king again. It’s time for creatives to get back some control in the movie making process. Until that happens, people will continue to reject stale Hollywood IP for increasingly better content on the smaller screen.