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« Fast Company Blogjam 2005: Co-Creation | Main | How many times can you say brand equity? »

August 26, 2005


Tim Grahl

Hey! Tinseltown 17? You wouldnt happen to live in Fayetteville, GA would you? That's where I grew up/lived up until a couple years ago.

Jeff Axelrod

Katherine, you make a good argument about the lack of compelling stories in Hollywood these days. As an aspiring Hollywood screenwriter myself, I've long lamented how there's been an overwhelming swing toward style over substance, especially where the big-budget movies are concerned. I swear, in some of these movies, the special effects guys must be telling the studio, "OK, this is the cool new stuff we can do with computers... now can you create a movie that'll use it?" They keep forgetting that the "most special" effect is the one generated in the hearts of the viewers. Create characters people can connect with, and give them a story people can care about!

"American Pie" succeeded where other teen sex comedies failed because the characters felt real (as opposed to the stereotyped caricatures you usually see in these types of movies), and the script was respectful of its subject matter... mixed in among all of the jokes were displays of genuine emotion and an eagerness to "get it right" in terms of the issues involved in teen sex. (Sadly, they mostly forgot about that when they did the sequel, and that's why it didn't do nearly as well.)

That being said, I wouldn't totally discount the "gas excuse," though it still doesn't get Hollywood off the hook. Higher gas prices don't just affect us when we're driving... increased production and transport costs have also made an impact in grocery stores and at retail, so we're seeing higher prices across the board for all of the things we need. Of course, what does that do? Cuts right into our discretionary income and causes us to look at non-essential spending, like entertainment, with a much keener eye.

So why is Hollywood still at fault? Movies generally have an easy time reaching their primary core audience for the movies they're releasing. But that core audience won't get you a blockbuster. Blockbusters come from movies that 1) draw repeat viewings from the core audience and 2) do a great job of reaching out to the secondary and tertiary audience.

Where this becomes Hollywood's fault is in the way they've been shrinking the window between theatrical and home video release. When movies become DVDs three months after theatrical release, it does three things:

1. It provides less incentive for the core audience to pay theater prices for repeat viewings, knowing they'll get all the repeat viewings they want in a relatively short period of time.

2. Word of mouth is a powerful marketing tool, but it takes time for word of mouth to not only reach, but convince the secondary and tertiary audiences to go see the movie. By the time they're convinced, the DVD may already be at Blockbuster or Netflix.

3. Marginal movies -- the ones where you previously had to give a lot of thought to whether you'd see it in theaters or wait for the video release -- become almost-automatic "wait for the DVD" movies.

Especially now that big-screen TVs and home theater audio systems have narrowed the quality gap between in-theater and at-home viewing, it starts to seem much more reasonable to do a $4 rental and some microwave popcorn instead of paying upwards of $10 a ticket *per person* plus concessions to go to the theater.

Have today's higher gas prices made us more conscious of our discretionary spending? You bet!

But with the shrinkage of the home video window and the growing number of "can wait to see" movies coming out, Hollywood's become its own worst enemy in terms of keeping people out of theaters.

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