Thursday, February 19, 2009

Movie Magic

I love the movies, and in these days of sisomo I can see them when I like, where I like. I watch movies in planes, cars, at home, and in all kinds of theaters from large to intimate. Like most of you, I’m very selective about what I watch so I get the impression that most movies are pretty good. A false impression. If it were true, the economics of Hollywood would be transformed. You only need to go into a DVD store to see that for every movie that attracts an audience at the cineplex, there are hundreds, maybe thousands, that don’t. Forbes tells us that in 2000 there were 373 films released in the United States. Last year there were 604 but the number of tickets sold was the same. The same! Wham! What you just heard was the commodification trap snapping shut around the ankles of studio bosses. Welcome to HOLLYWONT. Okay, I have some sympathy for a business that has to live off creative ideas. It’s not easy as Saatchi & Saatchi people know, but I am bemused by the way Hollywood so often retells the same old stories in the same old way.

I’ve heard it suggested that there are 55 movies on the go in the U.S. that are remakes. That’s right. Versions of movies that have been made already. I’m all for reframing but just rehashing won’t cut it. Audiences are smart and (thanks to the Internet and the availability of the history of cinema on DVD in all its richness and variety) possibly know more about the movies than the guys running the studios. Worst of all for the studios, their audiences are thumb-happy. They’ll text a bad review halfway through a bad movie. They’re in control and they know it. That’s how you can spend $100 million on the Eddie Murphy movie The Adventures of Pluto Nash (I haven’t heard of it either) and only end up with $7 million in the bank. Ouch. That would have to be close to zero ROI – Zero Return On Involvement leading to Zero Return on Investment. Yes, the two are causally linked and that’s the core of the Hollywood problem. The stories they want to tell are not the ones that involve us like they used to.

It seems a strange time to be going back into their own past for ideas. My advice to the movie industry would be to get closer to their audiences. At Saatchi & Saatchi we’ve found that our greatest storytellers are also the ones with the greatest empathy. They know who they’re talking to and they know that as the world changes, the stories we want to hear are changing too.