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Fan Made – Why it Helps to Love the Movie that You Remake

If there is one thing that people across the board are becoming tired with in Hollywood, it’s the lack of anything original on the blockbuster level.  Pretty much all the tent poles released this year during the summer season is either a sequel, a remake, or a reboot, showing just how repetitive the summer season has become over the last few years.  And that’s not to say that all types of movies of these kinds are bad; so far one of the best and most successful movies of the year is Avengers: Endgame, a sequel.  But the issue is not the quality of each individual movie, but rather the fact that there is little to no movies anymore that stand out as something wholly original.  Pretty much the one and only movie that fits that bill this year is Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood coming this June, and even a Tarantino release has an element of continuation built upon the director’s own cinematic universe.  Though it’s sad to see so little new ideas coming out each year from the mainstream of the industry, it’s also understandable in a way.  Movies that rely upon already established name recognition tend to be a safer bet, especially when the movie is expected to cost a lot of money, so that’s why they are more likely to receive a green light over something untried like a fresh new idea.  And this is something that unfortunately will always be true about Hollywood.  There are just not enough unique high concept ideas that come along that demand the $100 million treatment, and tried and true will always rise to the top in terms of being forwarded towards production.  Given all that, audiences are still discerning when it comes to the types of sequels, reboots and remakes that they like, and oftentimes this will become a big point of contention when audiences remark their level of satisfaction with whatever Hollywood is putting out.  Remakes in particular are a tricky brand of film to get right, and what it usually boils down to is whether it comes from the heart or not.

There is an interesting separation between successful and unsuccessful remakes, but the primary thing that defines the response to each movie is in how it matched up to the original.  The hardest hurdle that a remake must overcome is to justify it’s necessity for being; something that few movies ever get to do.  It becomes even harder when the movie being remade is a beloved classic.  For many people, there are untouchable movies that can never be tampered with, and even the thought of attempting a remake for these is instantly condemned.  But, with Hollywood becoming more and more hesitant to invest in newer, unproven properties, they are looking to more and more classic titles as a way to generate immediate box office.  From that point, it falls upon the filmmakers to deliver a movie that fulfills the criteria that the studios have set, while at the same time gaining the interest of the audience.  And in many cases, this can be daunting work.   For some filmmakers, the job becomes only that, and they deliver a movie that looks and feels like something we’ve seen before, but lacks anything else.  But, other filmmakers can take a familiar story and spin it into something that doesn’t feel like a rehash.  When this happens, we end up having a remake that not only matches the original, but may even surpass it.  And this is something that only happens when the filmmaker really believes and loves the movie that they are making.  For them, they are either hoping to reintroduce something they love to another generation, or take something that interested them but never quite reached it’s full potential and use their talents as filmmakers to do that film justice.  When a remake or reboot is approached in this fashion, that’s when it better appeals to an audience at large, because they can recognize that they’re not being fed the same rehash all over again.  Old can become new again when the filmmaker him or herself is just as much of a fan as the person in the audience is.

Currently, the ones who are putting the most money into remaking old titles is The Walt Disney Company.  Starting in 2010 with the surprise success of Tim Burton’s remake of Alice in Wonderland, Disney quickly realized that there was a market in adapting their own library of classic animated movies into live action, and since then a major chunk of their studio investment has gone into producing these nostalgia driven remakes.  The timing couldn’t be more opportune for the studio, since most of the audience that grew up with their movies, from the birth of home entertainment and the era of the Disney Renaissance, now are beginning to come of age and are having children of their own.  With a whole new generation of movie goers who are already a built in audience for these titles, it’s no surprise that this slate of remakes has made them enormous amounts of money.  The Beauty and the Beast (2017) remake is still the biggest March release in box office history, and that’s over heavy hitters like The Hunger Games (2012) and Captain Marvel (2019).  But, there’s also one thing that has stuck out with these Disney remakes and that’s the very mixed response that they’ve received from audiences.  Some do generally well critically, like Cinderella (2015) and The Jungle Book (2016), while others are severely criticized, like Beauty and the Beast and more recently Dumbo.  The same mixed reaction is also following the recent Aladdin remake, with fans split right down the middle either loving it or hating it.  No matter what for Disney, as long as they are making money, they’ll continue to make these remakes, but for a lot of long time Disney fans, this is a trend that is troubling to witness.  For them, they are seeing movies that are merely pandering to an already satisfied audience and what we get in return are movies that come no where close to capturing the magic of the original.

This is where the level of the filmmakers approach to the material becomes so important.  For one thing, if the director and cast are invested and want to do justice to the movie that they are remaking, it will help to go a long way towards making the movie stand on it’s own.  Jon Favreau in particular has demonstrated his enthusiasm for the movies he’s remaking for Disney.  With The Jungle Book, he took the basic outline of the Disney original and provided his own spin on the story that fit his own tastes as a director, particularly with the sense of humor.  No lines are repeated, but the movie does honor the parts of the original that audiences would be expecting, such as the songs like “The Bear Necessities.”  And he combine this with cutting edge technology to bring the creatures and jungle itself to photo realistic life in a way that can indeed blow audiences away.  His example shows that a director with an appreciation for the original can exceed the expectations of the audience by showing them a movie that is familiar but also groundbreaking at the same time; a formula he’s hoping to also repeat with The Lion King this summer.  Contrast this with something like Beauty and the Beast, which was directed by Bill Condon.  It becomes clear from the outset of that movie that Condon was just a director for hire, because he relies heavily on the audience’s familiarity with the original to carry the narrative drive of his version of the movie.  And everything in the live action Beauty and the Beast feels devoid of that loving touch, with every creative decision proving less effective than how it played out in the original.  When the animated version feels more true to life than the live action version, than you know that you’ve made a huge error.  And that’s the dilemma that Disney is facing with these live action remakes; is it worth making all that money when the audience is all too aware that they are cash grabs that in no way replaces the original for them.

The best way to ensure that a remake works in your favor is to show for audiences that there is a reason that this movie should exist.  Disney surprisingly found that to be the case with their remake of Pete’s Dragon (2016).  And that’s because unlike many of the other movies getting remakes, the original Pete’s Dragon (1977) was a movie that was flawed and forgettable enough to warrant a re-imagining.  Surprising, Disney gave the job to art house director David Lowery, who took the goofy musical with an animated dragon and transformed it into a dramatic coming-of-age tale that took it’s premise and characters seriously and emotionally; without songs.  And it worked.  Lowery saw something in the story that he could mold through his own style, while still being true to the core of what made the original work in the first place; the relationship between the boy Pete and his dragon named Elliott.  With that, he made a movie that both fans and newcomers could both appreciate, and have it stand on it’s own.  It’s something that all the best remakes share; the ability to be seen as it’s own unique thing, and it usually is rooted in a director finding their own voice in an already established movie.  Sometime it works best by filtering the story through another genre altogether.  For instance, Sergio Leone took the samurai films of master Japansese director Akira Kurosawa and re-imagined them as Westerns, with his “Man with No Name” series, themselves becoming classics of their own.  Leone didn’t remake movies like Yojimbo (1961) because he felt that they could be better; he remade them because he admired the storytelling and wanted to bring that into the genre that he was most comfortable with, the Western, because he believed these kinds of stories were what the genre had been lacking.  When the director is devoted to the remake of a popular film, the end result will reflect that through the passion they put into every frame.

There are instances where the director can be too much of a fan of the movie they are remaking.  That became an issue when director Gus Van Sant attempted a shot for shot remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960).  And when I say shot for shot, I mean that he recreated every camera angle and edit that was in the original, with the only major differences being the cast and that it was in color instead of black and white.  It’s a fascinating experiment on it’s own, but the end result falls into the same pit that marks all the rest of the bad remakes; it never justifies it’s purpose for existing.  Nothing Gus Van Sant does in the movie improves upon the original; all we are reminded of is how great the original movie was, and why it should never be remade at all, because everything still works perfectly as it did when it was first made.  I think that Van Sant was always aware of this as well, as he stated in interviews that he made this remake so that no one else ever would; effectively closing the door on any chance Hollywood ever would.  The only problem is that the remake itself still exists, and should never have existed in the first place, even as a deterrent.  Sometimes filmmakers try to be too reverential to the films they are trying emulate, and it robs their new film of an identity.  This was the case when Bryan Singer made his reboot of the Superman franchise with Superman Returns (2006).  The problem with his movie was the fact that he was trying way to hard to make the movie a spiritual successor of the Richard Donner originals that he undermined his own instincts as a director, and the movie ended up being a pretentious bore.  At the time, people wanted to see something new from Superman, similar to how Christopher Nolan’s Batmans felt different from Tim Burton’s, but Bryan Singer failed to make his own film work because he was trying to recapture something that wasn’t his in the first place and which audiences had already moved on from for well over 20 years.  It’s good to love a particular kind of movie, but in the end, you still need to make the case why it should be remade, and it has to stand for more than just a personal fulfillment.

But, for the most part, being a fan of the thing you make does work to a movie’s advantage, and it helps to sell that movie to a broader audience who are expecting something to live up to their previously held expectations.  That’s why you see a range of ups and downs from various franchises as they often learn the hard way that it takes a certain kind of knowledge about a popular intellectual property to translate it perfectly to the screen.  One of the most dramatic examples recently of a long standing franchise finally figuring out how to please it’s audience and transform into a better version of itself is conveniently enough the Transformers series.  For the last decade, Transformers has been under the stewardship of Michael Bay, who clearly has never delved very deep into the lore of the property he’s been asked to adapt for the big screen.  That’s not to say that Transformers has this deep, important mythos behind it, but when watching the Transformers movies, it’s clear that Bay is making a movie that satisfies his tastes, with little regard to what fans who grew up with these characters hold dear.  But, when Paramount, the company behind the franchise, decided to spin-off one of the most popular characters, Bumblebee, into his own movie without Michael Bay, something surprising happened.  The franchise enjoyed it’s first ever critical hit for the Transformers franchise, receiving the best reviews the series has ever had.  Part of what made such a difference was the fact that director Travis Knight had a vision for the story that was more closely tied to the style of the original animated series, complete with on model designs for the Transformers themselves, showing that he himself took this property seriously, and was not going to fill it with indulgences like Michael Bay had.  This was a movie made by a fan for the fans, with the Transformers themselves, namely Bumblebee, taking center stage, which had never happened to this extent before in the series.  And Paramount has taken notice, with Michael Bay no longer being eyed to make any future films in this franchise, to the delight of many.  Any franchise can reach it’s full potential when the person making it has a sense of the inherent character of what they are making, and doesn’t just try outshine it with their own self-indulgent character.

While most audiences have learned to be suspicious of remakes and reboots, there are plenty of precedents showing that these movies can work when the person behind it puts their heart into it.  Indeed, some of the most popular movies of the last decade have been movies that either re-imagined a beloved property, or re-sparked it into a whole new generation.  Look at the two franchise with J. J. Abrams involvement; Star Trek and Star Wars, both of which are clearly made by people with both knowledge of the properties they have been asked to shepherd to the big screen, as well as the creativity to try new things to help bring the franchises into a new era.  These remakes also restore things that were lost over time when the franchises became either stagnant or had completely lost their way.  Just like how Bumblebee brought back a playfulness and identity to the Transformers franchise, the Abrams Star Wars flicks helped to undo some of the bad instincts that George Lucas had let infest the beloved franchise during the prequel era by returning the series back to it’s practical effects utilizing, non-CGI enhanced simple aesthetic.   Many other examples show how giving these franchises over to fans has reinvigorated them in ways that make them work better than they have in years.  Prime examples include Ryan Coogler’s reinvention of the Rocky franchise with Creed (2015), which puts the beloved champion into the role of mentor; and also the Planet of the Apes reboot centered around the incredible motion capture performance of Andy Serkis as Cesar the Ape, taking a once campy franchise and imagining it as a harrowing saga about survival in a harsh, post-apocalyptic world.  What these movies show is that any franchise can live a long life in the hearts of audiences when the people behind them really believe in the movies that they make and have a genuine love for the final product as well.  I think that’s why the recent Disney remakes have been such a mixed bag for audiences.  They feel more like products of a machine rather than expressions of genuine art.  That probably why their best remake to date is the one that they cared the least about; Pete’s Dragon.  That was the only one where it’s clear there was much to improve upon from the original, and the director was also very willing to show how special it could actually be.  Finding room for improvement and exploiting it is what has separated the best remakes from the rest.  After all, everyone loves something new, even when it’s from something we’ve already seen before.

Enjoy the Show – The Audience Experience and the Impact of Appointment Viewing

It’s difficult to quantify just how enormous last weekend was in pop culture.  Within the span of just a couple days, we saw two of the most highly anticipated culminations in two of the most popular franchises in media finally premiere; one on the movie screen and the other on television.  For the big screen, we saw Marvel Studios’ Avengers: Endgame not only break box office records, but crush them, grossing $357 million domestic in three days, as well as an astounding $1.2 billion worldwide.  And then, a short two days later, the popular series Game of Thrones premiered it’s much anticipated climatic episode titled “The Long Night,” which presented a much hyped showdown that has been teased ever since the very first episode back in 2011.  Though one was wrapping up it’s story-line while the other was hitting it’s apex, the thing that they had in common was that these were moments that had been building up among their fan bases for nearly a decade, and it’s just by coincidence that they coincided on the same, late April weekend.  And the reactions to both were intense, becoming the most talked about points of discussion for the entire week that followed, and will most likely continue for months after.  But the other thing they have in common is that they show the power of communal viewership in helping to drive up the success of each film or show.  People came to the movie theater and tuned in to HBO because they wanted to be there right at the beginning to experience this moment in time with others who share their fandom.  Most likely, the biggest driving force is that people watched so that they wouldn’t be exposed to spoilers, but there’s also the fact that watching something together as part of a crowd experience has it’s own kind of appeal.  And that fan experience is something that Hollywood has tried hard to manage as the habits of movie goers and the demand for content has changed dramatically over the years.

The industry has given a term to the kinds of movies and shows that generate the kind of fan anticipation that we saw from this last weekend; that term being the “water cooler shows”.   This refers to the expected interactions that people have at their workplaces talking to their friends or colleagues about what they watched the night before on television or at the movies, usually taking place around the office water coolers.  They are just casual discussions between everyday people, but those water cooler talks do impact the hype built around event movies and TV episodes, with “word of mouth” becoming it’s own valuable tool.  The industry surprising relies heavily on these kinds of interactions to help get their products the right amount of exposure, but because they can’t influence every single viewer out there to say the right thing, it’s also can be an unreliable resource for building hype as well.  Social Media has helped give studios a better inlet into helping guide the fan to fan interactions; as evidenced by Marvel’s “Don’t Spoil the Endgame” hashtag that went around the internet prior to the film’s release.  And remarkably, fans responded in unison to the demands from the filmmakers to not spoil the details of the movie; even to the extreme extent like what happened to a poor fan in Hong Kong.  But, even with the tools that better allows for coordination within fan communities, Hollywood is still finding itself having to work at a disadvantage when it comes to bringing new eyes to their products.  Audience viewing habits, as they have always done, have changed from generation to generation, and right now we are witnessing yet another shift in that flow, and it’s one that is starting to entirely change the way we watch media in general.  This is the beginning of the streaming era in entertainment, and on demand entertainment is starting to bring an end to things like appointment viewing, which has been a staple of the industry for most of it’s history.  And now, the movie industry is beginning to wonder if it’s even worth putting so much money behind these kind of big events anymore.  The sad truth is that in order to make these colossal fan experiences happen, whatever production company behind it has to pour in a lot of money, and fewer of them are able to take that risk anymore.  But, by understating the appeal of sharing a moment of fandom with other people and stating that this kind of appointment viewing is the only way to experience it, it may be the only way to save the traditional movie-going and television viewing experience from going away in a world dominated by streaming content.

It helps to look back and see how Hollywood has developed it’s interaction with audiences over the years.  In the early years of the industry, studios not only produced the means of creating movies, but also the means of presenting them to the public.  Fox, Paramount, Warner Brothers, RKO, and other major studios all owned movie theaters across the country, and through this they were able to manage exactly what was going to be available to see in every market across the country.  It didn’t matter what was being shown, just as long as people were buying a ticket every day at one of their theaters.  Because of this, audiences would never stay and watch an entire program at the theater.  It was a more casual come and go as you please place to escape for people, and audiences were there more to see the movie stars and less for the stories, though this era did produce it’s fair share of great movies.  The advent of television and the breaking up of the studio system ended the monopoly of studio owned theaters caused the studios to rethink their strategies dramatically for the first time, and that led to the addition of gimmicks to bring audiences out of their homes for something that could only be experienced on the big screen.  Some of those gimmicks took hold, like widescreen, while others didn’t, like 3D and Smell-o-vision.  But, even though they helped bring viewers back into the theaters, audiences still behaved the same way as they did before, coming and going as they pleased.  It wasn’t until Alfred Hitchcock made his ground-breaking thriller Psycho (1960) that this audience behavior began to change.  Hitchcock demanded that every theater showing Psycho had to put up a warning for audiences stating that if they didn’t watch the movie from beginning to end, then they wouldn’t have gotten the authentic experience; referring of course to the movie’s famous mid-film  twist where the main character played by Janet Leigh is killed in the shower.  Word got around and audiences took Hitchcock at his word, and it turned Psycho not just into a box office hit, but a culturally significant moment.  And, because of it’s example, audiences began to change their viewing habits at the movie theater, making sure to arrive before a movie begins in order to experience the whole thing in one sitting, just in case it had a mid-film twist like Psycho.  Over time, this became the norm, and audiences have never returned to that original casual viewing in theaters ever again.

Though Psycho changed the way we watch the movies in the theater, it was really the era of the blockbuster that cemented the theater going experience as something paramount to the fan experience.  There were movies released over the next couple decades that demanded to be seen in the theaters, like Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) for it’s visuals and William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973) for it’s ability to scare audiences to death.  But it would be George Lucas’ Star Wars (1977) that would change the movie going experience completely that still has it’s ripples felt throughout the industry today.  Borrowing inspiration strangely enough from the serials of Hollywood’s early years (you know, those years when audiences came and went as they pleased) Star Wars built it’s narrative over multiple films, leading to the formation of a fanbase that not only kept returning to the theaters to watch movies over and over again, but also could be relied upon to return whenever they had something new.  Star Wars became the template for all future franchise building in the decades that followed, and you can see it’s influence in everything from The Lord of the Rings, to Harry Potter, to even the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Game of Thrones.  All these monster franchises succeed on their own merits, but the one thing that they all took from Star Wars is the notion of treating the audience as an integral part of it’s existence.  These franchises don’t just create movies or shows, they create communities, allowing fans to discover one another and bring them together.  And most importantly, they know how to satisfy and prepare it’s fan base for what’s coming next.  Star Wars in particular has accomplished this to remarkable effect, as evidenced back in 1998, when people bought tickets to a movie just so they could view a teaser trailer for Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999).  Couple this the fact that people would camp over several nights outside a movie theater just to get the best possible seats just shows how pivotal fan bases have become to building a franchise’s power within the industry.

But, there is something in the industry that has changed the way we watch movies and television, and part of this has stemmed from the many drawbacks that going to a movie theater has.  When we go to the movies, we have to accept the fact that we are going to be in a dark windowless room with a bunch of strangers, and not all of them are going to have the same kind of movie theater etiquette that you do.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had my viewing experience spoiled because the people behind me decided it was appropriate to carry on a conversation while the movie is playing.  Not only that, but there are all the other pet peeves like noisy kids, people kicking the back of your chair, a cell phone ringing during a quiet scene in a movie or worse somebody turning their phone on and the bright glare flashing right back in your eyes.  Also, not every theater has the best level of upkeep, and you often might find yourself walking through aisles with sticky floors and stray pieces of trash all around.  I myself had to work as an usher in a movie theater, and though I tried my best to be thorough, there’s only a short window of time to get the job done between showings, so some things would often fall through the cracks during clean-up.  Over time, the movie going experience has more or less become commonplace in our culture, and it no longer has the allure of being something special in our lives, especially in an era when multiplexes have put the old ornate movie houses out of business.  Because of this, more people are just content to stay at home and watch a movie from the comforts of their living room, with theaters reserved only for special occasions.  For a time, Hollywood could manage with this decline in audience satisfaction, because the movie theaters were still the only place that first run movies could be seen.  But with the recent increase in original content coming from the likes of Netflix and Hulu, with Disney and Apple about to take the plunge as well later this year, multiplexes are finally being confronted with the possibility that they may lose their audiences for good.

Here’s the conundrum for audiences going into this new era of film-making.  Streaming content has opened up a wealth of new things to be excited about, as platforms like Netflix are putting their money behind bolder and more risk-taking projects, the kind that movie theaters tend to shy away from because it brings uncertainty of box office returns.  At the same time, there is something that gets lost when people have all their content available whenever they want.  Appointment viewing is something we’ve taken for granted over the years, not really realizing just how instrumental a part it played in making someone a fan.  The water cooler talks that we would have at work, school, or wherever were all about sharing experiences and shaping a bond with others through a shared fandom.  But, that fandom usually built over time through anticipation for what was going to come next.  In the case of TV shows, you could have a week’s worth of hyping yourself and others up for what was going to come next, all of which was creating the result that more and more people had to watch the next episode all at the same time, or they would be missing out.  That’s why so many of these fan bases are so devoted, because for many of them, this has been a shared experience that becomes so much of their life.  But that’s starting to change now that we’ve moved from an appointment viewing culture to a binge watching culture.  Now people are watching all their shows and movies in big chunks, which while it still allows the person to appreciate the quality of the film or show, it takes away the feeling of anticipation that would usually come between episodes, when audiences were left to wonder over several days about what’s going to happen next.  It’s that down time to process the story that helps to give an extra amount of appreciation that we’ve seemed to take for granted.  Sure, Orange is the New Black and Stranger Things have their fan bases to be sure, but you wonder if Netflix had mandated a longer roll-out of their programming like you see on traditional TV for their shows that they may have grown even more audiences over time.  The Netflix model has also taken away some of the shared audience experience as well, as binge watching has become a far more solitary experience for people since they are doing it all on their own time, and not when the platform says they should see it.

For some, this is an acceptable change, because they were never happy to watch a movie in a theater nor a show at a time that was inconvenient to them.  And those audiences have finally found their ideal form of content consumption with streaming entertainment.  But, there are many fans who prefer the in theater experience more than anything else, and that has many people concerned that streaming platforms are causing the industry to abandon the traditional forms of presentation that have been so crucial in bringing fan communities together.  This is more so a problem with television than with movies, because TV shows are definitely skewing more in the direction towards satisfying binge watchers rather than appointment watchers.  It almost makes Game of Thrones feel like the last big hurrah for appointment viewership, because there really isn’t another TV series on any network or cable channel that has continually grown it audience to this kind of level.  In time, we may see an end to the idea of the water cooler show, as more and more people watch their television at different speeds, either all at once or over the course of a long period.  And that could result in no show ever reaching that same Game of Thrones level ever again, which could change the fan making communities that Hollywood relies on into something very different.  In order for the industry to retain a little bit of that traditional sense of fan appreciation, they should look at the things that Game of Thrones did right for so many years, which is build an anticipation of unpredictability over time.  When the infamous “Red Wedding” episode premiered, it shook the industry like never before, but what really worked in the show’s favor was that it let the moment simmer over a week before the next episode, allowing audiences to absorb the shock.  Now, Thrones fans know to not take anything for granted and to watch every episode from here out just in case something even more shocking happens.  That’s what each show should really understand, that every episode matters, and each one should have just enough time down time in between to let the story sink in.  With binge watching, you really appreciate the narrative, but with appointment viewing , you appreciate the moments in between even more.

The last thing I think that the industry should consider when reaching it’s audience is to make them excited that they are all discovering a thing together.  What really stuck out to me when watching Avengers: Endgame at the movie theater last week was just how intense the audiences reactions were.  It becomes even more than just about getting ahead of spoilers; it’s about feeling the excitement in the room with your fellow fans.  I know that there are some out there that hate it when people cheer in a movie theater, but when the film earns it and is specially formatted to allow for cheering audiences like Avengers is, then it works to enhance the experience overall.  There’s one part in Endgame that I won’t spoil, but it led to an almost continuous two and a half minutes of cheering from an enthusiastic audience, and it felt good to join in with them.  That’s something that I wish was spotlighted more when it comes to promoting these kinds of movies, because the level energy from an audience creates it’s own kind of entertainment.  Game of Thrones likewise is able to do that.  If you watch reaction videos on YouTube, you can see a wide variety of live responses to what happened in each episode.  Last week’s episode in particular, “The Long Night” has a moment at it’s conclusion where a character makes their big move, and some of the reactions online to this moment are just as dramatic.  There were some videos taken from bars and even theaters reacting to this episode, and people reacted to this character moment like the person had just scored the winning goal in the World Cup.  If HBO, or any producer for that manner, wants to find a way to create another show or movie that has the same impact, just look at what these large gatherings of people respond to.  Fan communities are a powerful force in generating the direction of entertainment, and finding exactly what makes them all stand up and cheer at once is the key to finding your biggest successes.  The past weekend showed us why it’s important to understand the role an audience plays and that appointment viewing is a necessary part in letting appreciation for an art-form grow over time.  Movies and shows are there to make us laugh, cry and cheer and it’s better to do it together than by ourselves.  Sometimes an audience just needs to let go and  trust that the wait will be worth it in the end.

The Fox and the Mouse – The Twilight of a Once Legendary Studio and it’s Future With Disney

It’s been a long, brutal process to get here, but something monumental has gone down in Hollywood.  As of last  Wednesday, March 20, 2019, one of the most legendary film studios ceased to exist as an independent entity.  20th Century Fox, once one of the “Big Six” of Hollywood powerhouses, is now a part of The Walt Disney Company in a record breaking merger that has created the single largest media company that has ever existed.  It’s hard to believe, given the long and storied history that Fox has had in Hollywood that is suddenly no longer independent, and this has both created much excitement within the industry as well as a whole lot of anxiety.  The ripples of this merger will be far and wide, and will no doubt change the face of not just the Fox brand, but also that of Disney as well.  But what is most interesting about this news of the Disney/Fox merger is how it’s sparked speculation about what’s coming next.  For one thing, it brings all of the remaining Marvel characters under the same roof, as Fox was the last holdout refusing to play along with the Cinematic Universe that Marvel Studios had been putting together.  There is also the speculation as to how this will affect the lineup of content on the upcoming Disney+ streaming service that launches later this year.  Now Disney has two studios worth of films to put on their channel, which could easily put them in better standing when competing with Netflix.  There is also a lot of people out there who are mourning the loss of another studio that was in charge of it’s own destiny and some see this as a severe blow to creative experimentation as fewer competition exists within the market now.  No doubt this is a major deal in the entertainment industry, but it more than anything allows us to contemplate 20th Century Fox’s place in the history of Hollywood as a whole.  The conclusion of this merger opens up discussion about what this means for the industry today, allows us to think nostalgically about what led this studio to become what it became, and think deeply about what the future will hold for Fox, Disney, and Hollywood in general.

To begin with, it helps to understand exactly how this merger came about.  Since 1985, Fox has been a part of the News Corporation conglomerate owned by Australian media mogul Rupert Murdoch.  Murdoch oversaw the studio during it’s largest expansion as it launched the Fox Television Network, as well as numerous cable TV stations like FX and NatGeo, plus news outlets like Fox News and Fox Sports, which were closer to Murdoch’s own long term interests.  In time, Murdoch turned what was once valued at $700 million into a company now worth north of $50 billion.  But, his time as head of the company was not without controversies.  Murdoch’s tactics of expanding his media empire have run into numerous federal roadblocks, both in America and in his holdings around the world, with some saying they are borderline illegal.  Plus there are the complaints that he’s responsible for inflaming tabloid journalism which many say has disgraced the integrity of the news.  And then you have the complaint that Murdoch has used his media empire as a propaganda machine to promote his own right wing politics.  It’s safe to say that this in particular has made the alliance between Fox and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. a tumultuous one, especially when 20th Century Fox has always considered itself a fairly progressive studio, even back in it’s early days.  But, in December of 2017, things were about to significantly change.  Murdoch, who now is in his late 80’s, believed that it was time to sell off his holdings in the studio that he had run for the last 30 years, and thus began one of the most contentious bidding wars in media history.  Five years prior, Murdoch had already split his company into two halves, one focused on the news side which included the Fox News and Sports networks bundled in with Murdoch’s numerous publications, and the other focused on entertainment which included the Fox Studio, the network and all the subsidiary production companies.  This was the big piece put up for sale, as Murdoch and his family would maintain the other division, which is honestly closer to his own interests, and for Hollywood, it immediately became the hottest property perhaps ever put up for sale they’ve ever seen.

But, the question became, was Fox too big for anyone to invest in; at least in the state it was.  Some worried that the studio as a whole would be stripped apart into smaller bits to be sold out to various buyers, in effect spelling the end for the studio completely.  But, two interested parties stepped forward to put up the money for the entire thing, all in one package; Comcast and Disney.  Disney, which has been on a shopping spree for the last decade, acquiring high profile assets like Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars, put in the first bid of $50 billion to buy Fox, which was well-received by many fans of Disney’s properties.  Fox retained film rights to several Marvel characters like the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, and Deadpool, all based on decades old contracts that predate Disney’s purchase of Marvel.  Not only that, but Fox also held onto the original, un-altered cuts of the Star Wars movies.  So, by buying Fox, Disney would have the means to finally give the fans what they wanted, though that of course is not entirely the reason behind Disney’s move.  Comcast, likewise, wanted Fox as a means of expanding their own media influence, as the cable giant wanted more exclusive properties under their own tent as more and more people are leaving cable in favor of streaming content.  The bidding grew more competitive as Comcast upped their offer to $60 billion (in cash), which seemed to be more favorable to the Murdoch family as it would close the deal quicker.  Then Disney made the risky choice of counter-bidding a combined cash and stock $73 billion offer, which eventually made Comcast buckle and withdraw.  To many Disney fans, the choice seemed obvious, because of Disney’s holdings of Marvel and Star Wars, both of which had deep ties with Fox in the past, but for Fox it was never a simple choice.  From the moment Murdoch made his choice to sell, the options for the studio remained between tolerable to outright destructive.  No matter who ended up owning them, they were never going to be they way they were ever again.

And I think that’s where a lot of the worry about Fox’s future lies for people now that the purchase has been set in stone.  Fox had no other choice but to lose it’s independence as a studio in order to survive in the years ahead.  In the end, aligning with Disney was probably the least awful out of all the options, but it’s not without it’s consequences either.  In the months ahead, as many as 5,000 or more jobs will be cut in the transition as Disney works to clear the redundancy that will inevitably occur with the purchase of a competing studio.  Because Fox and Disney have pretty much identical units operating within their company, like their own marketing and distribution wings, you can see how much of the company will have to downsize in order to form a cohesive solitary branch within the new studio.  And that means layoffs at both Fox and Disney, as the top brass are going to be picking out the best from the litter in order to maintain the quality of their corporate body.  Other casualties will be movies that were in the pipeline at Fox that no longer make sense in the calendar that Disney has prepared over the next few years, which includes several planned X-Men films that will be scrapped so they can reboot the entire franchise.  Still, the options wouldn’t have been much better for Fox under Comcast.  Comcast already owns Universal Pictures, and it’s safe to say that the same corporate restructuring would’ve occurred there too to reduce redundancy.  And the other option of selling off many pieces of the company to various buyers would’ve destroyed the Fox brand as a whole, so there were no positive options where Fox would have come out better than it went in.  Perhaps they believed it was better to be bought out by another studio who understood the entertainment business as well as they did than to be owned by another media conglomerate like they had previously been a part of, intent only on gaining a brand rather than helping them continue to function as a studio.  For years, Fox had tried to set itself a part as a trusted name in entertainment, and perhaps under Disney, they see their best avenue towards maintaining some of that trust.

Looking at how Fox got to this point seems to make a lot of sense when you look at their history as a whole.  20th Century Fox’s has lived a tumultuous life of ups and downs, booms and busts, and in spite of many troubles along the way had still managed to maintain it’s status as one of Hollywood’s grandest institutions.  The name 20th Century Fox today seems fortuitous, because it was formed out of a merger itself, way back in the 1930’s.  Fox Pictures was a small, financially struggling independent producer and it was saved by combining it’s forces with Twentieth Century Pictures, which was just started up by two former United Artist executives, Joseph Schenck and Daryl F. Zanuck.  So, if you’re wondering why the company had that peculiar, nonsensical name, it’s because of this deal over 80 years ago.  Under the guidance of creative executive Zanuck, 20th Century Fox steadily rose in influence in Hollywood, garnering a stable of contracted movie stars like Henry Fonda, Gene Tierney, Tyrone Power, Carmen Miranda, Don Ameche, and Shirley Temple.  And though Zanuck was a life-long Republican, his studio championed progressive, left-leaning movies that pushed the envelope, spotlighted the underdog and challenged the establishment, more than any of the other studios at the time, with films like The Grapes of Wrath (1940), Gentleman’s Agreement (1947), and Pinky (1949).  Zanuck was often seen as a transitional movie mogul for the film industry, as he modernized his studio in ways that many of the older studio founders had not done and eventually did end up falling in suit.  But, as Zanuck passed on his duties as the head of the studio to others in order to focus on more personal projects, that’s when the consistency of Fox’s output began to fluctuate.

Under the new regime of president Spyros Skouras, Fox entered Hollywood’s golden age with bold plans, but also bigger financial risks.  One of Fox’s most lasting legacies for Hollywood in general was it’s implementation of the widescreen Cinemascope process, which helped to standardize widescreen across the entire industry.  Cinemascope helped major studios compete against the rise of television and they put it to good use with their Rogers and Hammerstein musical productions.  Unfortunately, widescreen spectacles were becoming more expensive, and one production in particular nearly brought Fox to the brink of bankruptcy.  1963’s Cleopatra was a nightmarishly over-budgeted production that didn’t nearly recoup any of it’s costs, and many wondered if Fox’s big gamble had led to it’s own ruin.  Only a few short years later, they bounced back with the phenomena that was The Sound of Music (1965).  But, even with Music’s success, big flops like Star! (1968) and Hello, Dolly (1969) put them right back in the red.  Throughout the 70’s, it was a roller coaster ride of highs and lows, as every hit was followed with a flop.  And then, in 1977, a little science fantasy film from an ambitious young filmmaker named George Lucas put them right back on top; that film of course being Star Wars.  With Star Wars, Fox managed to stay afloat, though never quite at the top like they were during the Zanuck years.  Even if they remained afloat, their output still reflected their spend big in the hopes of winning big mentality, something that continued in the Murdoch years.  One famous gamble included the $200 million behemoth known as Titanic, which Fox regrettably had to sell off domestic rights to Paramount, believing that the film was likely to flop.  It didn’t, and Fox had to share the profits as a result for a movie they once fully owned at one point.  The same mistake was not repeated when James Cameron came to them again with Avatar (2009).

It’s that history of aiming high and taking chances that many people are worried will disappear once Disney takes full control of the company.  Creative risks in general are on the decline across the industry and removing one of the major Hollywood players from the equation is leading many people to believe that things are going to be further homogenized.  That is of course contingent on what Disney plans to do in the years ahead.  Disney CEO Bob Iger has assured several people that some things will remain the same after the merger.  He has stated that the Fox brand itself will not be dissolved and it will still exist as the 21st Century Fox moniker that it adopted a few years ago, retaining the same IP’s that it has built up over so many years across film and television.  The studio lot in Century City, California itself will remain open and functioning, and shows like The Simpsons, Empire, American Horror Story, and Fargo will all still run on Fox’s broadcast networks like they have for years.  And, to relieve anxious fans everywhere, Iger also stated that Deadpool will be the one character returning to Marvel that will not rebooted, retaining fan favorite Ryan Reynolds in the role.  But, in the short hours following the closing of the merger, Disney made swift changes that left a severe blow already in the industry.  One of the more surprising casualties turned out to be Fox 2000, a mid-tier division of 21st Century Fox that produced movies like Fight Club, The Devil Wears Prada, Life of Pi, and more recently Hidden Figures, Love, Simon and The Hate You Give.  Considering that Fox 2000’s slate of movies were often ones that were meant to stand on their own, independent of franchise building, and usually have something important to say, this loss seems especially hurtful because they made the types of movies that few others do in Hollywood.  It’s speculated that Disney found the necessity of Fox 2000 redundant and that the more prestigious Fox Searchlight was more deserving of preservation.  Regardless of what the reason is, this sudden closure will no doubt leave a lasting affect on the Fox brand, which has used their Fox 2000 label to beef up their catalog with some beloved classics.  Fox 2000 may be the biggest casualty of the entire merger, but it’s also a symbol of the cost that spreads through every department of the studio and the industry when deals like this are made.

Does all this make Fox a failed studio in the end?  Far from it.  20th Century Fox has one of the most storied histories in Hollywood, and it’s name will still live on through the movies that it has made over the years.  If Fox had never existed, we would have never had the introduction of Cinemascope, nor the wild conviction it took to make Star Wars a reality, or to create a hit movie about a planet run by “damn dirty apes.”  Their legacy is as integral to the growth of the medium of film as any other, and it would be foolish of Disney to not honor that long history.  And though Fox has had it’s many ups and downs, they’ve always managed to pick themselves up and continue to prosper.  It must be noted; financial problems are not what’s led Fox to this point.  Fox was put on the market by a billionaire ready to cash in a business that he’s helped grow for over 30 years.  At the end of Murdoch’s reign, Fox’s value has increased 700%, making it one of the richest studios in Hollywood.  It’s just unfortunate that, like Fox, most of the studios in Hollywood are owned by larger corporations and that they are often put up for sale whether they are profitable or not.  It’s only this time that we are seeing one of those “big six” buy up the other.  Fox has done well, but Disney’s growth is unprecedented, and that’s what’s put them in the position to have the capital needed to make a deal like this happen.  Fox shouldn’t worry about disappearing into the background.  MGM famously bought out once mighty United Artists after it went under, and for years they were both known as MGM/UA, until of course MGM hit it’s own slide.  Columbia purchased struggling Tri-Star as well and incorporated it into it’s own brand, ultimately before their own purchase by Sony.  Hollywood sees these kinds of mergers all the time; it’s just that Disney and Fox have taken it to a whole new level.  Fox will change, but perhaps their future is better guarded in the hands of Disney than it would have been under Comcast.  After all, Disney’s first and foremost a movie studio, so they know the value of what a studio is supposed to be.  One hopes that the good that Fox represented in the film industry rubs off on Disney, and that it’s influence may help the media giant take more creative risks that preserve the ideal that Fox strived for.  In the end, we can hopefully hear that triumphant Alfred Newman fanfare ring out just as strong as we “wish upon a star” as a part of our continued cinematic experiences.

The Problem With Green Book – How the Way the Academy Votes Leads to Unpopular Choices

In the wake of last week’s Academy Awards, there’s a strong impulse to shrug of the disappointment and look ahead to next year, because obviously not everyone’s picks are going to be the same and many people everywhere understand that the Academy doesn’t always get it right.  But, this year in particular, there seemed to be a much louder outcry than normal in response to the results of the 91st Academy Awards, and it’s one that in many ways exposes the true disconnect between audiences and the industry.  And it’s all in response to a little movie called Green Book (2018).  Immediately upon the announcement from actress Julia Roberts as she opened up the envelope up and read the movies name, there was a visceral negative response across the internet.  I myself was caught up in it, as you’d expect from my feelings on the movie from my Oscar picks last week right here.  The consensus generally came down to Academy having made the worst choice for Best Picture since the movie Crash (2005) won the award over the heavily favored Brokeback Mountain (2005).  Los Angeles Times critic Justin Chang had a lengthy rebuke of the Oscars written up in almost lightning speed a mere hour after the ceremony ended, and he thoroughly dismantled the decision with a special emphasis on how the movie represented a much larger trend of the Academy loosing touch with it’s audience.  It almost seemed like a fitting end to such a troubled lead up to the Oscars that the aftermath would spark it’s own level of controversy.  But what the Best Picture win for Green Book illustrated the most about the Oscars is the still unfortunate draw backs that the Academy continues to struggle with in a changing world, and how much of it stems from the archaic and largely antiquated way that the awards are voted upon; particularly for Best Picture.

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, founded by MGM Mogul Louis B. Meyer in 1927, has always put itself forward as the supreme authority within the industry when it comes to preserving the works of the past, establishing a level of quality within the market, as well as brokering good relations amongst all branches working across the industry.  As part of the establishment of the Academy, the board of Governors invites members from across the five branches (since expanded to 20) of the industry (Actors, Directors, Producers, Writers, and Technicians, etc.) and helps to mediate among other things labor standards, codes of conduct, and awards of merit.  This last aspect of the Academy’s purpose has evolved into their most primary of functions, being the distribution of an annual Academy Award.  Categories exist upon each branch, which gets to select a winner based solely on their discipline within the industry like Actors voting for actors and Directors voting for directors, and so on.  And then the Academy membership as a whole, which is now 6,000 strong, collectively votes together on the Award for Best Picture; the highest honor given out each year.  Now, with a large deliberative body like the Academy, you would think that a straight forward popular vote is what actually determines the winner for each category; but it’s not that simple.  A popular vote is best used when it’s between two choices, but most categories at the Oscars consists of 5 or more; with Best Picture reaching as many as 10.  What happens is that in many cases, the votes come down to each movie receiving less than 50% of the total vote, with the one in the lead sometimes even reaching as low as just a quarter of total votes, which makes it hard for the Academy to determine if that really makes it the Best Picture when it’s not even the favorite by a majority.  So, in addition to determining the Oscars by popular choice, they have also instituted another factor into their voting system and it’s something that in many ways just causing even more headaches for the Academy.

What the Academy uses to determine the winners of their categories, in particular the Best Picture category, is a weighted system.  In this, they allow Academy voters not only to select their favorite choice for the Award, but also their runner up choice as well on the ballot.  From this, the Academy’s accounting firm of PricwaterhouseCoopers tallies not just the results of the initial first choice vote, but also the one for the second choice.  When the initial vote for the category doesn’t result in a consensus winner that achieves the necessary percentage needed, the second choice factor is weighed in as an extra boost, and when everyone’s second choice ends up being the same, that could potentially earn the movie enough points to push it over the top.  This usually doesn’t become a problem when the races are far less competitive, but in a year like this one, where there was no clear front runner for the race for Best Picture, this weighed voting system starts to become a little problematic.  In the past the Academy has had to face questions over their voting systems before, particularly when it came to the acting categories.  Before, the Academy had a consensus vote determine the winners of it’s Leading and Supporting performances categories, which was the result of an unfortunate accounting anomaly in the 1931 where actors Fredrich March and Wallace Berry ended up in a statistical tie, despite an approximately 50 vote margin between them.  To avoid such an incident again, the Academy opted for the weighted system for many years to avoid another tie.  That was until then Academy President Gregory Peck instituted a change where a straight popular vote would determine the acting choices, even if it resulted in a statistical tie.  Now only the final tally would matter, and wouldn’t you know it, the first time this was put into place, it resulted in an exact tie between Kathrine Hepburn for The Lion in Winter (1968) and Barbara Streisand for Funny Girl (1968).  That’s the risk the Academy took, but in the end, they knew that the vote decided upon without question of validity.

Which is where the problem arises for the Academy today.  Do they continue to tally their votes in the same way, using their weighted system to avoid the potential of a statistically unpopular Best Picture winner, or do they actually go with the base number of votes like any normal democratic system uses.  This is not a new problem today, and in fact has plagued the Academy for several years now.  In many cases like Green Book, it seems like the movie that is generally liked but not quite universally loved is the one that benefits the most from the Academy’s voting system.  Green Book may not have come out as the first choice for perhaps the majority of the Academy’s voters, but it more than likely picked up the majority of the second choices on people’s ballots, and that in itself is what probably propelled it to the top.  In a field where the vote was split, the one that had the most second place votes gets the victory, and that’s the simple way of explaining how what happened, happened.  It wouldn’t surprise me that a similar thing happened with Moonlight’s surprise win over La La Land in 2017.  The vote came pretty close to begin with, and then Moonlight swept up the most second choices to put it over the top, despite the heavily favored La La Land likely being the winner of the first vote.  It’s a result that I’m sure most people didn’t expect would happen, and indeed no one balked at first when La La Land was mistakenly announced as the winner.  But, people are balking now because of Green Book, because it became clear to many that the system in which the Academy uses to determine Best Picture didn’t result in a choice that upset the order in a good way, but instead threw the Academy backwards in terms of progress, revealing more of the insulated, safe, down the middle of the road attitude that has put the Academy out of touch with the rest of the industry as well as most audiences who have long been watching the Academy Awards.

And why was Green Book the movie to inspire such a backlash.  The movie itself is a feel-good, harmonious look at race relations in America during the 1960’s, where a slick-talking and racist Italian-American played by Viggo Mortenson is shown the error of his feelings when he befriends the cultured African-American musician played by Mahershala Ali, and in turn helps that same musician find confidence in himself to embrace his own cultural identity.  In other words, it takes on a tough subject and presents it in an easily digestible way that offends nobody and only reaffirms the target audience’s own perceived progressive attitudes.  In many ways, Green Book feels very old-fashioned, like something that would have easily won the award 30 years ago, and you could argue that it actually did, given it’s many thematic similarities to Driving Miss Daisy (1989), another movie that distilled racial tensions down to a quaint difference of character; only it’s the white person driving the car this time.  Had there been no discussion of Best Picture surrounding it, as well as the politics that surround the Academy, Green Book might not have become this lightning rod post Awards and could have just been treated as a naive but unoffensive film that would have just existed on it’s own.  But, in a year that was in many ways seen as a breakthrough for African-American film-making, honoring Green Book above all others just did not fit the narrative that Hollywood had carved out for itself this year.  Here we were given a movie written and directed by white men that was telling a story about racial prejudice in America, and it did so through the eyes of it’s white protagonist, who I might add is depicted as a racist and is never really brought to task over his behavior in the movie.  Now, I’m not saying that the people involved with this movie should be condemned for making it the way they did, and there is nothing innately racist about their film either (quite the opposite).  But, when you stack it’s sugar-coated presentation against some of the more pointed and challenging films this year regarding race, the fact that the Academy awarded it above the others really shows how much they really didn’t get it this year.

For one thing, the Academy should have really taken into account how it’s newly admitted members of color felt about such a movie.  The Academy has made significant strides in improving diversity within it’s membership it should be noted, but it’s still a predominately white and male dominated collection of voters.  Many of the voting body of the Academy likes to think of themselves as progressive, forward thinking individuals, but their attitudes towards issues is often clouded by their own regards for their self worth and value for their own values.  This often leads to unfortunate self-serving injections of themselves as part of the solution to the world’s problems.  You could see this in past Best Picture winners like Argo (2012), where the Academy voters favored it not because it was a taught, well made thriller, but because it showed the film industry in a heroic light.  The same kind of out of touch, self-posturing can even be seen in the speeches given by winners as well, like George Clooney’s cringy Best Supporting Actor acceptance speech in 2006 where he stated that Hollywood was at the forefront of civil rights when it gave Hattie McDaniel an Oscar for Gone With the Wind (1939) long before the Civil Rights movement even began.  Right George; forget Dr. King.  Hollywood should take credit for stopping segregation in America (facepalm).  Essentially, the way the Academy votes is reflective of how they view themselves, and the voting body of the Academy is made up of privileged, well-meaning liberals who want their self-righteousness to be applauded and reinforced in a very public way.  They are attracted to movies that show the redemptive arcs of flawed characters, like the one in Green Book that delivers the obvious statement that “racism is bad” and celebrates the transformation of it’s “enlightened” white protagonist.  But, there is a problem with voting in a way that reaffirms one’s perceived progressive attitudes on important issues; it doesn’t allow for an outside perspective to have it’s say in the matter.

A lot of the outcry over Green Book‘s Best Picture win is coming from the industry’s representatives of color, who feel that the movie doesn’t come even close to accurately portraying the real situation in America with regards to race.  In particular, a large amount of criticism has come from the fact that the movie seemed to have been made with little regards to the African-American perspective that could have helped to make it more authentic.  The movie was co-written by Nick Vallelonga, the real life son of the character Viggo Mortenson plays in the movie; Tony Lip.  The film was meant to be a celebration of Lip’s long time friendship with Dr. Don Shirley, played by Mahershala Ali, and how their friendship became a bridge between racial divisions that was reflective of those across America over the years.  Unfortunately, Vallelonga wrote the screenplay without the consent of Dr. Shirley’s own family, and it’s clear that the script was more or less self-serving in presenting a more rosy picture of his own father rather than making about the friendship between the two.  The Shirley family has since disavowed the movie, saying that it is not true to what actually happened and that it especially takes too many liberties with regards to how both men approached racial divides.  What it essentially says is that the African-American experience did not matter in the making of this movie; all that mattered was that it was going to be this universal story about understanding that made it easily digestible for older Academy members.  And it’s that lack of regard for the Black perspective that really rubbed people the wrong way.  You could especially see that in Spike Lee’s own reaction during and after the awards, where he turned his back to the stage and even attempted to walk out after Green Book was announced as the winner.  Many other African-American representatives within the industry also voiced their doubts about the validity of Green Book’s nomination, rightly pointing out that their voice was not considered as part of the discussion, and this is the thing that has especially fuel the backlash against the movie.

So, with the combination of an absurdly complicated voting system and a voting block of privileged, out-of-touch Academy members who have no real experience with the actual issues that they are judging these on, you get the result of what is now the least liked Best Picture winner in over a decade, and maybe even ever.  Green Book‘s win is a perfect storm of all the bad things that the Academy is known for and it shows just how little their well meaning attempts at becoming more in touch with the times have actually not come to fruition.  It’s hard to get really angry at the Academy most of the time, considering their noble attempts to diversify the Academy and also the fact that an Oscar win means very little in the long run.  But, this year’s result is particularly troubling given the fact that it seems to intentionally ignore the concerns of people out there whose voices have long been overlooked, especially in a benchmark year like this one for filmmakers of color in the industry.  It’s particularly insulting in a year where movies made by black filmmakers, telling uniquely afro-centric stories that spoke to their own experiences, made such incredible progress in gaining mainstream success still ended up losing to a movie made by white filmmakers that tried to lecture us all on race, from a white liberal point of view.  Spike Lee was justified in his disgust, because it showed him that the Academy still wanted to address the evils of racism in America, but on their own terms.  Considering that movies like BlacKkKlansmanIf Beale Street Could Talk and Black Panther could be uncompromising in presenting a defiant African-American perspective and still succeed with mainstream audiences shows that the Academy’s position is greatly out of touch with contemporary tastes.  Hell, Black Panther was the year’s highest grossing movie; how can the Academy ignore those numbers.  That, above everything else, is what left a sour taste in people’s mouths over this years Oscars, regardless of race; that a powerful, insulated body of industry elitists still showed it’s unwillingness to hear from outside voices.  Even if consolations were given out in many of the other categories, the fact that Green Book, a deeply flawed portrayal of a very important subject, was given the highest honor the industry can bestow shows that the Academy’s problems extend far beyond just low ratings.

All Roads Lead to Roma – The Rise of International Cinema and the Awards Roadblocks that Still Restrict It

It was going to come to this point eventually in Awards season, and now with the Academy Awards nominations announced a week ago, the entire industry has to take notice and and answer the question: What is Roma?  The Alfonso Cuaron directed film surprised the industry by receiving a total of ten nominations, which it tied for the most with Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite.  This was shocking to some given that it outperformed heavy favorites like A Star is Born and Green Book, and did so without any marquee names attached other than the Oscar-winning director.  What’s more, the movie also has had to face the disadvantage of being a Netflix exclusive film, meaning that it did not run through the same expectant channels that the Academy usually expects all other movies to run through like theatrical runs and waiting periods before premiering on television services.  And it’s also a foreign language movie shot in black and white, which is another set of handicaps in garnering industry and audience attention.  And yet, here we are, a month away from the “Big Night” and Roma not only has had the strongest start, but is now carrying all the momentum at the moment.  And the large reason for this is because people are actually discovering right now just how great this movie really is.  I for one have known this since I saw it during it’s limited theatrical run last Thanksgiving weekend.  The movie blew me away, and it eventually topped my end of the year list here.  But beyond my own personal opinion, the movie Roma is garnering so much attention now because we are finally reaching a point where international cinema is finally rising above the limitations that they’ve been under in the world of Hollywood and showing that Awards front runners can truly come from anywhere in the world now.

To get a sense of how foreign language films have particularly been at a disadvantage over the years when it comes to winning big at the Academy Awards, it helps to look at how the foreign language film market emerged within the industry in it’s early years.  Before World War II, the film industry had exclusively monopolized theatrical distribution, so pretty much everything the played at your local theater had to be industry produced.  Thus, the studios were exclusively in the exporting business out into the international market; never interested in importing anything else from the rising film industries of Europe, Asia, or Latin America.  After the break up of the studio system in the post war years, exhibitors were now allowed to search beyond the studio mandated releases, and that opened up a market for those interested in seeing what the rest of the world were making.  As a result, many influential filmmakers from abroad came to people’s attention, like Jean Renoir, Ingmar Bergman, Akira Kurosawa, and Vittorio de Sica.  And the Academy took notice too.  Beginning in 1947, they began handing out special honorary awards to foreign films screened in the U.S. as an acknowledgement to the rising stars of the international scene.  But, the industry was still interested in promoting it’s own interests, and the foreign language Oscar more or less became a way to separate international films from what they considered the “real” contenders (i.e. the ones made within the Hollywood system).  In 1956, the foreign language Oscar became a competitive category, and it restricted every nation to submit only one movie for contention, despite the fact that many of the booming film industries abroad had many films that could be considered among the best made that year.  And that became an unfortunate inhibitor for many filmmakers over the years, because it enabled a Anglo/American advantage at the Academy Awards, despite the fact that many people recognized that better and more revolutionary films were being made outside the Hollywood system.

Most casual viewers didn’t care too much about this, because there had never really been a movie that challenged that status quo in Hollywood.  That was until director Ang Lee created his martial arts epic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000).  Lee’s ambitious film surprised the whole industry by defying all expectations for what a foreign language movie is supposed to do.  It was a runaway box office success, grossing $128 million dollars domestic, making it the highest grossing foreign language film in North America, even to this day.  And that success helped propel it to 10 nominations, which was second only to Gladiator that year, which had 12.  This year, the Academy finally had to confront the fact that a foreign language movie, made outside of the Hollywood machine and was popular with audiences across the country, was now a serious contender for the top award.  Despite the goodwill that the movie had across the world, the Academy still stuck with the pick of big budget studio flick Gladiator as their Best Picture, while making Crouching Tiger the shoe-in for Best Foreign Language Film.  Even so, Crouching Tiger still bested Gladiator in many technical categories in addition to winning the Foreign Language Oscar, so it made people wonder if that category had been set as a consolation for the movie instead of giving it the top award of the night.  Since then, more and more people have looked at the Foreign Language Oscar as something of a “ghetto” to relegate movies that don’t fit the typical Oscar mold from ever getting near the coveted Best Picture; a complaint also levied against the Animated and Documentary categories.  As other film industries across the world have grown more sophisticated and competitive with Hollywood, it shows the Academy as being more out of touch by putting Foreign Language movies in it’s own category, which only perpetuates this notion that these movies are less than what the industry values, and it only becomes more noticeable when a movie comes along that can’t be ignored.

It should be noted that like Ang Lee, Alfonso Cuaron is no stranger to Hollywood, and that elevated recognition has helped his foreign language film get more noticed than others.  Most of his films have actually been made in English instead of his native Spanish, and a few of his movies are big budget studio projects; including Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)and his Oscar-winning Gravity (2013).  It’s through the goodwill he has earned within the industry that has enabled him to return every now and then back to his roots where he can make a Spanish-language film like Roma, and have it garner the same attention as many of his other more high profile projects.  Also, Roma was financed by Netflix, a California based company with an increasing foothold within the industry, so it’s not exactly too far separated from the inner channels of Hollywood as you would likely expect.  And yet, there are still many things that it must overcome.  To this day, no film has won Best Picture without a majority of the dialogue spoken in the English language.  Sure, non-native English speaking filmmakers like Michael Curtiz, Fred Zinnemann, Milos Forman, Bernardo Bertolucci have all succeeded before at the Oscars, but they all did so with movies spoken entirely in English.  Even Cuaron and his fellow Mexican peers like Alejandro G. Inarritu and Guillermo Del Toro have yet to receive honors for films in their own native language.  So, if Roma does overcome the language barrier, it will be the first movie to ever do so, and that in itself will be a huge step forward for all international movies.  Sure, it’s a product coming from within the industry by a long established filmmaker, but think of how that would send a message to film industries around the world that they can receive the highest honor in film-making no matter what language is spoken throughout the movie.  It would also go further to break down the notion of what is and isn’t worthy of Awards within Hollywood itself.

But, beyond the language barrier, there is also the disadvantage about the value the movie has based on a little something known as “star power” in Hollywood.  It matters just as much to the industry on how well a movie can sell itself to audiences as the quality of the final product end up being, and this usually requires the movie to have something heavily marketable attached to it.  Most of the time, this is usually found in the number of headlining stars that a movie has, and the bigger the names, the more attention the movie will get.  Star Power doesn’t always represent quality, as some pretty terrible movies have usually had all-star casts attached to them before, but what the Star Power aspect does do is instantly give the movies a quicker way to be identified with the public, especially when you need it to gain the Academy’s attention.  That’s why you see the “For Your Consideration” campaigns for a movie like A Star is Born promoting their two leads, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, so heavily, because they know that their celebrity will bring more eyes to their movie, and more goodwill in general come Awards time.  Roma is almost devoid of any “Star Power” to speak of.  It’s nominated lead, newcomer Yalitzia Aparicio, has never acted in a film before, making her presence in this year’s Oscar race quite unexpected.  Her fellow cast members are also all mostly newcomers, with only fellow nominee Marina de Tavira having any established acting experience; limited largely to television roles in Mexico.  Their work across the board is exceptional in Roma, but even still, Yalitzia and Marina don’t have the same advantage that a Lady Gaga or a Emma Stone enjoys based on the privilege of their celebrity.  It’s true for a lot of movies made outside of Hollywood, because despite featuring some of the greatest performances ever committed to screen, most never can get their just recognition because of the celebrity factor perpetuated by Hollywood.  And this is one thing that both sets Roma apart in a beautiful way, but also puts it in an unfortunate disadvantage.

One thing that changes the situation, however, is that the industry itself is growing more aware of the international impact on the market.  Before, Hollywood catered to the Anglo/American sensibilities of it’s audience, because America and Great Britain were the two largest bases of movie going audiences.  But, with former third world nations developing into economic powers, like India and China, more and more box office is being generated in these markets, and that is leading to far more influence that those nations have on what movies get made.  China, in particular, now makes up nearly a quarter of all worldwide box office, putting it nearly on par with North America as the largest block.  Now, most movies made in Hollywood have a refocused sense of producing not just for domestic audiences, but those across the entire world.  And this is changing the make-up of the industry as well, with more representation being given to people from all cultures, and though the “Star Power” aspect still favors the traditional American model, that is beginning to shift in a different direction as well.  At this point, the Academy has to acknowledge the changing demographics of their industry’s audience, and see how following their old standards is perhaps putting them out of touch.  Some progress on that can be seen, not just with the wealth of nominations for Roma, but also with the nominations for Black Panther; a movie that not only is a breakthrough for African-American film-making, but also one that celebrates a distinctively African cultural influence.  And it’s a super hero movie, too (another precedent shattered).  If Roma proves victorious, it will be further proof of Hollywood moving away from the standards of the past; breaking from the rigid adherence to a single audience set and instead finally acknowledging that audiences around the world are just as important.

And, in doing so, it will hopefully finally bring an end to the Academy’s rather misguided attempts to create separate categories for specific types of movies.  Calling the Foreign Language film category a “ghetto” is not a term to throw about lightly, but in some way fits exactly what Hollywood has been doing all these years.  By separating movies into the category of Foreign, Animated, or other, you instantly hurt their chances of winning in the top category of the night, making the Academy feel they’ve done enough by recognizing these movies in their own category.  That seems to be what happened to a movie like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, as well as something else like Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), which wasn’t even nominated for Best Picture, despite going into Awards season that year as a heavy favorite.  Animated movies have had it even harder, with only three Best Picture nominees in the history of the Oscars (Beauty and the Beast, Up, and Toy Story 3).  The Oscars have had to change some of their rules before because of outcry from many people over the years, like the expansion to as many as ten nominees after the noticeable exclusion of The Dark Knight (2008) from the Best Picture race.   But even with that, the Academy seems to use these separate categories as a way of skewing the odds more in the industry’s favor by relegating these game-changing films into these separate categories so that they don’t disrupt the standard.  This became far too problematic when the Academy made their universally derided announcement of a “popular film” Oscar, which effectively said to people outside of the industry that even though your movie is popular, it has no business being in our Best Picture conversation, so we’re going to give them their own consolation prize instead.  We can’t just keep making separate categories to honor differences in the movies we see, but instead view all of them as equally worthy of being a part of the conversation.  Honestly, I see more good being done to the industry with movies like Roma and Black Panther than say what A Star is Born and Green Book represent.  Whether it be in another language, or in another art form, or from a popular genre, a movie should be judged on the merits of it’s art and it’s impact, and not because it just so happens to fall into a separate category.

Because it was my favorite film of last year you can bet that I am rooting hard for Roma to win Best Picture.  It is certainly off to a strong start, but as you can see from all the examples that I’ve given that it still faces an uphill climb.  And this is not even taking into account the anti-Netflix response that some in the industry have.  I for one believe that Netflix should loosen their own standards a bit by expanding the availability of Roma screenings across the country.  Sure, putting it out on Netflix’s service helps to get the movie widespread exposure that it otherwise wouldn’t have, but to understand the true majesty of the film, it needs to be seen on the biggest possible screens available.  Cuaron shot the movie specifically for 70MM, which is format usually reserved for epic scale productions, so viewing the film at home on a TV set really doesn’t present the full majesty of the film authentically.  But, Netflix put the money up for this movie when most other studios would have scoffed at the idea, so Netflix does deserve credit for making this movie a reality.  Roma is their biggest push yet towards gaining full recognition within the industry as a major studio, and with a win, Netflix will have their place at the table finally.  But, apart from that, Roma deserves to win purely because it’s just that amazing.  It’s Alfonso Cuaron at the top of his craft, and that’s saying quite a lot for the celebrated filmmaker.  A win for Roma would be a deserved recognition for a great film, but it will also show that a Best Picture winner can really come from just about anywhere, and not have to be sectioned off because it’s in a foreign language, or has no celebrity names attached.  If it doesn’t prove victorious, it will still live on as a great movie no doubt, but a win this year would make a definite statement.  Setting aside the larger political message that it could send (a film celebrating the daily life of average Mexicans, given the current administration we have), Roma could also open the door to a whole variety of movies gaining attention from the Academy in a way that none of them had the opportunity to have before.

Quest for Fyre – The Dueling Documentaries and Capturing Drama On and Off Camera

The Oscar countdown got on it’s way this week, but that wasn’t what captured the attention of audiences this week.  Instead, what became the focal point of people’s attention were a pair of documentaries premiering on separate streaming platforms.  Nothing unusual about a noteworthy documentary capturing people’s attentions, but the interesting thing about these two particular films was that they were both about the same thing, and were intentionally launched to directly compete with one another.  The movies in question relate to the notoriously failed Fyre Festival of 2017; an event that is surely going to go down in infamy even more now after the premieres of these documentaries.  Made almost simultaneously, we have the Netflix produced Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened, and from Netflix competitor Hulu, we have Fyre Fraud.  Though both movies show us pretty much the same true story, they are both wildly different in tone and scope of the event.  Netflix details the moment by moment breakdown a bit more, while Hulu better grasps the larger picture.  And both succeed at what they set out to do.  Really, you could even watch both movies back to back (as I did) and not feel too much repetition.  But, it is interesting that though they cover the same ground, their narratives play out much differently.  And it’s an excellent example of how to use the documentary form in different ways to tell a story.  Some documentaries often stumble upon their story when the filmmakers allow the story to unfold before them.  And then there are the other documentaries that collects material together and presents and investigative picture of the whole experience.  Both are valid ways of making a documentary, but seeing two presented back to back reveals a lot about how documentaries frame a story for better or worse.

For reference, the Fyre Festival itself is a perfect subject for such a medium.  The whole event was spear headed by an entrepreneur named Billy McFarland and by rap artist Ja Rule.  Having collaborated before with McFarland’s last start-up business, which was a credit card targeted specifically to millennial in urban hot-spots called Magnesis, the two planned to set up a new music festival that they wanted to rival the exclusivity of Coachella and Burning Man.  Their main selling point was that they were going to run this festival on a private island in the Bahamas that once was owned by Pablo Escobar, with luxurious accommodations and the hottest musical acts all performing on their stage.  They put together an unprecedented hype campaign utilizing viral marketing on Instagram, relying upon top “influencers” like Kylie Jenner to spread their material on their timeline.  Within mere days, they had already sold out their entire allotment of passes and accommodation packages, but there was one problem; none of the foundational groundwork had been completed yet.  Worse yet, after spotlighting the fact that their island venue was owned by Pablo Escobar, even though the island’s owners told them explicitly not to, they lost their licence to stage there.  They were a festival without a home.  And this created a snowball effect of mismanagement as construction delays set it in, substandard amenities were set up, and ultimately illegal money wiring was committed.  And this was before the guest even arrived, and when they did, things got even worse.  People who thought they rented out luxurious beach front villas found that they were staying in FEMA disaster relief tents, and instead of gourmet food, they were served cheese sandwiches in a Styrofoam box.  After day one, the festival was cancelled, without a single performer making it on stage.  Soon, Billy McFarland was charged with multiple counts of fraud from the FBI and he is now serving a 6 year jail sentence.  The after affects of the festival are still felt by those in the Bahamian community where it was held, and with the unlucky festival goers who realized very quickly how much they had been duped.

Both Netflix and Hulu cover all of this same essential stuff in their documentaries, but it’s in how they present it that we see their own interesting takes.  What Netflix offers particularly well is the exclusivity of their in the moment footage.  Netflix’s Fyre was made, interestingly enough, by the same team that had also been hired by Billy McFarland’s company to run the marketing campaign for the fest.  Because of this, they had exclusive access to document everything; from the pre-planning stage all the way to the festival itself.  The amount of material they got was amazing, because it’s clear that McFarland believed they were going to make history with this thing and he wanted it recorded for posterity.  The unfortunate thing for him is that by allowing so much access, much of his criminal activity was also captured on camera, and that’s where the incredible story unfolds.  Combine this with a wide spectrum of personal accounts from people involved after the fact, and you get this feeling of watching a disaster build moment by moment as if you are watching from within the eye of the storm.  Strange things can happen when people are aware they are on camera, and things can escalate or diffuse as a result.  In particular, it’s the individual interviews that offer the most effective element of drama, because it punctuates everything we see unfold and gives us the human element to go along with it.  The most talked about interview from either documentary this last week was from the festival’s producer Andy King, who reveals in a shocking revelation that Billy McFarland had asked him to retrieve a crucial shipment from customs by performing oral sex on the agent who had put it on hold.  Thankfully he was spared from having to go through with it, but it’s in that moment that the Netflix documentary hits it’s dramatic peak, because it puts everything we’ve seen into agonizing perspective.  King’s revelation painfully brings home just how destructive this event was to the people who lived it, and in particular, helps the movie to serve as a cautionary tale.

If there is one thing the two movies do share despite everything different, it’s that they have a common villain in Billy McFarland.  Both Netflix and Hulu’s documentaries clearly lay the full blame on the man who started the whole mess, but Hulu particularly seemed interested in examining just exactly why he was such a dangerous figure.  Fyre Fraud is much more of an examination of the makings of a con artist than an in depth look at how his festival fell apart.  though it still devotes a good amount of time to showing how the festival fell apart, the documentary frames it with a look at McFarland’s past shenanigans and how he was continuing to scam people after the fact.  In many ways, Fyre Fraud becomes a character study of con artist, and shows how something like the Fyre Festival inevitably stems from the flaws of such a character like him.  The biggest coup that Hulu got for their documentary was in getting McFarland himself to sit down for interviews, which themselves are fascinating to watch.  Seeing him try spin his own take on the events even while all the evidence is laid out in the documentary through both video footage and the paper trail found through the research, is reveals so much about who he is, and why he deserves a special amount of blame.  In those interviews you can see a man who has believed most of his life that he could coast on his ability to charm people.  But, charm only works when you have a level of trust to back it up, and by this point he has lost all trust in everyone he knows.  By movie’s end, you can see the veneer of his charm offensive wear down, and he becomes clearly exposed as the movie goes on, ultimately looking very uncomfortable near the finale.  Kudos to the interviewer for not letting him get off easy.  McFarland clearly is targeted, but Fyre Fraud also examines social media culture in general through their documentary, and how easily something like this was able to unravel because of how ego driven we have become when it comes to presenting ourselves online.  In that regard, Hulu points the finger at everyone; the event planners, the festival goers, and even those of us passing judgement on the people involved, even though we ourselves could have been easily fooled based on our own desires for a glitzy, enviable life.

Netflix found it’s story through a lucky bit of circumstance, while Hulu found theirs through an in depth level of investigative reporting.  And they both did a great job of doing it either way.  There are many ways to use the documentary technique for capturing a narrative that’ll grab a hold for each viewer, but the Fyre Festival documentaries show the most basic types that you’ll usually find.  One thing that every documentary has to tackle in order to work successfully is to capture a feeling of authenticity; or to put it another way, it’s got to find that element that element of universal truth.  The Netflix approach in many ways stems from the “invisible camera” approach, which is meant to make the audience less aware that they are watching a documentary at all.  Most documentaries at some point become a lesson in something, whether it’s to deliver a point of view, or present a demonstration of some key experience, or to teach us about something or someone important.  But, a particularly effective documentary can portray it’s subject in such an way that the experience almost becomes theatrical.  These are usually documentaries devoid of narration, or even sometimes context.  Sometimes the documentarians just let the cameras roll and then find their movie in the editing room.  This particularly worked for documenting the Fyre Festival, because so much was caught on tape.  There could be a cut of the Netflix movie where you could have done without the interviews, and people would still get the jist of how much a disaster the festival was.  In contrast, Fyre Fraud clearly wants you to be aware of it’s documentary format, and that helps to sell the broader picture angle better.  It uses actual footage sparingly, and combines it with a collage of images as varied as news reels to overviews of various people’s social media profiles, to hilarious “on-the-nose” inserts that helps to shape the intended message of the movie.  Both documentaries rely on a lot of established methods found in the medium, and knew which avenue best suited their own version of the story.

The late, great documentarian Albert Mayles always championed the idea of the “beautiful accidents” when discussing the work that he did.  He would know best about capturing the unexpected on film, because he, along with his brother David, were responsible for documenting another disastrous musical festival as it happened live; the notorious Rolling Stones concert at the Altamont Speedway, which was presented in their now classic documentary, Gimmie Shelter (1970).  Initially started as a chronicle of the Rolling Stones tour, the Mayles brothers soon found themselves in the controversial situation where they had their cameras rolling while the Hell’s Angels gang that was hired for security had pulled a knife on a rowdy concert goer and stabbed him, leading to his death hours later.  Having captured the moment as it happened, the entire focus of their work changed, and so did the narrative of their documentary.  The incident became the story, and Gimmie Shelter is now considered one of the most important documentaries of it’s time because of that.  A similar case happened with last year’s Oscar winner for Feature Documentary, Icarus (2017), which also started production one way and then became something else entire.  The film follows filmmaker Bryan Fogel as he set out to examine illegal doping in the world of professional cycling.  Using himself as the guinea pig, he eventually meets with an expert on the subject, who ran a anti-doping lab in Russia.  But, quite unexpectedly, as he worked with this expert scientist, he soon learned of the existence of the largest conspiracy of illegal doping in sports history, one that eventually led to Russia’s nationwide ban at the 2018 Olympics.  The best documentaries are not usually the ones that come preformed, but are instead the ones that just manifest themselves if the filmmaker is lucky enough to be there as a witness.  The Netflix documentary, though formed after the fact, benefits from so much captured footage, that it does have that feeling of a “beautiful accident” that Mayles had talked about, even though the stuff it captured was anything but beautiful.

But, there are also a lot of documentaries that find a lot of drama outside of what’s captured on camera.  Many great documentaries can find enough drama purely through the testimonials of the people speaking to the camera.  The interviews from both Fyre Fest documentaries show that to be the case, but there are many other documentaries that even further rely on the personal accounts driving the narrative, even without the aid of footage.  One potent example is the 2012 documentary The Act of Killing, directed by Joshua Oppenheimer.  The documentary is about the people who participated in the brutal mass killings in the nation of Indonesia during the years 1965 and 1966.  The people who committed the gruesome acts are interviewed, and sometimes even reenact their deeds in front of the camera, and they described what happened 50 plus years ago in vivid and unnerving detail.  What is most remarkable is that not once does the documentary ever cut to real footage of the atrocities, nor insert anything else like photographs.  All we have to go on is the words of these men, and it is harrowing all the same.  Their shame is palpable, especially when one man can barely get thorough his account of beheading another man without needing to throw up.  And this is where the power of documenting a story can still shine through even though it is far removed from the original events.  There are many documentaries that are captivating as historical trips when given the opportunity to re-contextualize for a more contemporary audience.  My favorite documentary of last year, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018), examined the life of long departed children’s entertainment icon Fred Rogers, and strongly connected his importance to a generation that’s come of age in an era that’s growingly polarized, in the hope of finding a common decency in humanity once again.  Many great narratives can manifest in the moment, but perspective also fills that out to, and remarkably drama can emerge even after the camera stops rolling.

Regardless of what tactics they chose to follow, both Netflix and Hulu produced two very enjoyable documentaries that really emphasize what a monumental disaster the Fyre Festival was.  It’s also interesting to know that Hulu intentionally wanted to get their documentary out before Netflix did.  One of the most interesting participants in the Hulu documentary is a former employee of the marketing team behind the festival, who also are responsible for the documentary on Netflix.  In a rather shocking accusation, he points out that his former employers knew quite early that this was going to be a disaster and yet still kept chugging along and gave Billy McFarland what he wanted, possibly looking for more interesting footage to shoot.  He essentially says that they were all culpable in this disaster too, and that their documentary is more about saving their own face rather than taking some of the blame.  Essentially, by including this extra tidbit, Hulu is giving the middle finger to Netflix, casting doubt on their legitimacy as a accurate account of what happened.  That’s a ballsy way to compete against your competitor, and upstart Hulu is really punching upward when it comes to Netflix.  But, it’s a win-win for both platforms in my eyes because both documentaries received a significant amount of buzz this week, with seemingly every part of the internet and entertainment mentioning it at some point.  And the conversation often involved people comparing and contrasting, meaning that both documentaries had been seen in the same short amount of time by a lot of people.  That’s good for both Hulu and Netflix, and for documentaries in general, because usually these kinds of movies don’t usually spark this much debate.  Overall, it does show the intriguing way in which the medium can successfully deliver a story, either with much of the drama depicted on camera or outside of it, and the disastrous Fyre Festival was just the right subject to be documented; not once, but twice.

FilmStruck Out – A Streaming Channel’s Final Days and Why Physical Media is Important

It was a fleeting life, lasting all but 2 years, but the streaming channel known as FilmStruck still left an impact on film fans across the world.  For those of you who were unfamiliar with the FilmStruck channel, it was a Netflix style streaming service that catered to the art house and classic movie crowd.  Created in early 2016 as a joint venture between the Turner Classic Movies cable channel and The Criterion Collection home video label, it was intended to give fans of both of these beloved distributors a chance to have on demand content available on a sleek and easy to navigate platform much like the other big dogs of streaming.  In addition to housing the vast libraries of Criterion and WarnerMedia, FilmStruck also provided exposure for hard to find and obscure films, like documentaries that have been little seen outside of your local library collection, exploitation pictures that have been long archived in mostly defunct theater shelves, and some movies so weird that they can only be discovered by those who just stumble across them on a whim.  The FilmStruck channel also provided original content like profiles on filmmakers and special behind the scenes looks at some of the most prestigious movies available to view.  It was a favorite service for many a film fan, but sadly, it was short-lived.  Like most other subscription based services, FilmStruck’s existence was reliant on seeing the membership base grow over time, and when it was not expanding as quickly as was hoped, parent company WarnerMedia no longer saw any justification for continuing the service any longer as part of their future plans for content streaming.  And just this week, millions of subscribers had to sadly watch as FilmStruck went offline, effectively ending it’s short life and closing access to a library of some of the greatest works of cinematic art in world history.

Now FilmStruck is not the first failed attempt to break into the booming industry of content streaming.  It seems like everybody in the media industry wants to have the next Netflix or the next YouTube, and we are starting to see from the failures of channels like FilmStruck is that it’s easier said than done.  That’s not going to stop the upcoming Disney+ or the Apple Channel from opening in a big way in the next year.  But what makes FilmStruck’s demise stand out is the outcry that followed it’s announced closure.  The subscriber base was very vocal about their outrage over the end of the service, and perhaps more than any other failed channel, the outrage had a very public face.  Many high profile fans of the service, including filmmakers like Guillermo Del Toro, Christopher Nolan, Rian Johnson, Alfonso Cuaron, and Paul Thomas Anderson as well as actors like Leonardo DiCaprio and Barbara Streisand, all voiced their outrage over the channel’s end, and co-signed a letter directly addressed to Warner Brothers’ Chairman Toby Emmerich to convince him towards saving the service.  But it was to no avail.  FilmStruck went silent on schedule this last Friday, and all the movies available on the channel have now quietly been shelved back into their selective libraries.  Of course, it doesn’t mean that all these movies are forever unavailable, since most can still be found on home video in a variety of places, but the convenience of having the library available on demand is gone, and the exclusive content especially lost for good.  The demise of FilmStruck also stands as a valuable reminder about the growing risk of relying too heavily on digital content.  At this moment, we the consumer have little say in what happens to all the media that is made available to watch on most streaming services.  What is available right now may not be available later, and how much of a loss to our culture may we find when a whole chunk of our cinematic output is lost due to a server shutdown, with no backup available.  That is the danger of relying too heavily on a digital only output for our content, and we are learning more and more about the value of physical media.

One of the most important things that the film industry has had to deal with over the years is preservation.  I’ve talked about it before in my article here, but it’s important to stress once again that throughout the years, we have lost many important films to the ravages of time.  The downside to physical media is surely the fact that over time things do decay and rot.  This was certainly the case with most of early cinema, which filmed most early movies on volatile nitrate film stock.  Many films have been lost either through fire, decay, or have just been thrown away due to years of not recognizing the value of preservation.  Hollywood has made a valiant attempt over the years to restore as much as they can of the films of the past, and while many have been saved, a few sadly ended up beyond repair.  Still, even after nearly a century of film-making, a few relics do remain and it gives us an ever crucial window into our past.  With today’s technology, we are able to restore films back to their original glory better than ever before, but it can only be made possible if the original elements are still in the best condition.  Many restoration experts will tell you that the best possible source for their efforts are the original camera negatives, which gives them the closest to the purest image possible.  From there, they are able to strike new prints with the highest image fidelity and have a source that will ensure the film’s survival for years to come.  Nowadays, we archive the source in a digital file as a quick reference for future distribution, but it’s equally important that those original negatives be archived alongside it.  If one is lost or damaged, we can rely on the other to create a backup.  Forgetting to do so may lead to a catastrophic loss that may leave a valuable work of art forgotten to time.

Thankfully, most archivists do just that, ensuring that treasures of the past are well cared for and made available for future generations.  But it’s the content that is produced today that gives cause for worry.  More often today, people are filming on digital camera and presenting their content on digital platforms.  It’s all convenient to use and a valuable tool for those who don’t have the luxury of being able to afford film stock.  But, when using digital content, one runs the risk of losing their material more quickly and not being able to get it back ever again.  You know how frustrated you can be when you’ve been working on a project for hours, like a blog post, a video game, or a film edit and then suddenly the power goes out and you suddenly realize you forgot to save your progress?  Well, relying far too heavily on digital content has the same risks when not properly backed up with either digital or physical copies.  Remember, digital content is encoded in zeroes and ones, and those can be corrupted very easily over time.  Also, with changing technology, we also run the risk of having our only backups becoming unusable on newer platforms.  Imagine an alien race searching our planet long after we are gone and trying to learn about our culture through the content that we created.  If our material was only available to view in a technology that is long gone extinct or has no power source available to make the viewer playable, then that cultural artifact is lost to history and those aliens will have a missing piece to their archaeological reconstruction of our cultural history.  It seems like an extreme example, but it’s happened throughout our history before.  Historians say that we lost a great deal of our understanding of ancient Egyptian history because of burning of the Library in Alexandria during the Roman Empire.  Had that not happened, we may have had more knowledge about the people who built the ancient pyramids and the mysteries they left behind.  Our knowledge of our own history is based on the things that are left behind, and when a whole chunk of our history is lost in a single catastrophe, it leaves a major hole in our understanding of the world, and that hole can easily be filled by speculation, tall tales, and falsehoods.

As of right now, we do have the benefit of two viable options for watching our content.  DVD and Blu-rays present a digitally sourced presentation through a disc based format, and it’s been available for the last 20 years and has been extremely successful as a form of providing home entertainment.  It has, however, been challenged in the last decade by the emergence of streaming content, which allows the consumer to watch movies or television through an online connection without a physical media interface.  Streaming has quickly emerged as a major alternative to distribution, and more and more companies are jumping aboard, making exclusive content only available to stream.  This has become a preferable source for many people, who simply just want to be able to watch something without leaving the comforts of home.  On demand content has already affect many businesses that were reliant on providing supplies of physical media before, such as Blockbuster Video, which dominated the video rental market for decades.  Right now, retail is feeling the pinch of online servicing taking much of their business away, and I have already observed a significant downsizing of the home video sections at stores like Best Buy, Costco, and Target, which used to have large sections devoted just to home video.  The fact that these retailers are rolling back the availability of purchasing physical media is troubling, because it makes us as a culture more reliant on services that are more at risk of disappearing once their value is deemed insufficient to the profitability for their parent companies.  And with that, we may be in for another period of a whole chunk of our film history lost because it was never backed up with something physical.

It also makes it a problem for those of us who enjoy the collecting aspect of physical media.  Some of us out there just like having a shelf full of movies, and in many cases, it’s the attractiveness of the package that makes us take interest in a movie that we’ve never seen before.  This is one thing that I especially like about the Criterion Collection label, because they not only curate this incredible library of movies, but they also take special care to make their packaging look visually pleasing as well; knowing full well that their target consumer takes pride in displaying their Collection as a centerpiece of their own home collection.  That’s certainly the case in my own movie collection, which Criterion now makes up an entire shelf of.  In many ways, there will always be a market for physical media, and there are hopeful signs that some formats that go out of style may have a way to return.  Take for instance the return of vinyl records to prominence in the music industry.  As more and more people chose to adopt mp3 audio as a preferred music listening source, it caused a downturn in the production of the dominant physical media at the time; the CD disc.  But, overtime, collectors began to seek out a physical format that could allow them to still play their music if something happened to their online libraries or their mp3 files becoming corrupted.  But, surprisingly, instead of returning to the CD’s of the past generation, the demand instead started to arise for an even older format; the nearly century old vinyl record.  One of the reasons why vinyls and not CD’s made a return is because they sound better, because of the uncompressed audio playback.  It makes me hopeful that not only will physical media continue to remain a viable source for movies and television, but that even long time traditional formats like 70mm could even come back in a big way.

But, that’s only contingent on what value the industry sees in making those formats available in the future.  The music industry saw the demand for a return to vinyl records, so they catered to it.  For movie and television, the growing trend is still heavily favoring the digital world.  There are sticklers out there like Christopher Nolan and Quentin Tarantino who not only film on physical stock, but also demand that their movies be screened through traditional projection as well, wherever they able to.  But, when you have streaming giants out there like Netflix who are challenging the industry itself to follow their model, the risk of loosing the necessity of a physical format for presenting film to an audience becomes far more likely.  This year especially, Netflix is pushing heavily for a Best Picture Academy Award recognition with their critically acclaimed film Roma, from director Alfonso Cuaron.  Roma already faced resistence from the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, as the prestigeous fest refused to screen the film due to Netflix’s refusal to release the film in theaters and instead premiere it right on their channel.  There are several within the Academy who also share the same defiant attitude to Netflix’s model, and Netflix has begrudgingly rolled the film into select theaters in order to meet the Academy’s guidelines.  I thankfully live near one of those theaters and gladly paid money to watch Roma on the big screen (perk of living in LA), and honestly I see the point of it.  Roma is a movie that demands a theatrical presentation, and I feel that Netflix is defeating it’s own goals by not showing the movie the way that it’s supposed to be seen.  At the moment, Netflix is in no danger of loosing money nor influence, but to push the industry so heavily towards embracing digital only content is endangering our chances of having movies that stand the test of time.  Netflix may disappear suddenly in the years ahead, and take the only source of movies like Roma with it.  It’s unthinkable now, but not impossible.

That’s why the end of FilmStruck is a wake-up call not just for people in the industry, but for film lovers everywhere.  All the movies we love and cherish could suddenly go away if we are not careful to preserve the treasures of the past and to have a reliable backup for every produced media that we create.  I for one have an extensive digital movie library through all the codes I have redeemed from the digital copies that come with the Blu-rays that I buy.  Because of that, I have the ability to watch all my favorite movies on the go, as well as the ability to pop a movie into my player whenever I have a disruption in my online connection.  The two should exist together just like that, but not exclusive from one another.  The danger of moving too heavily towards online only content is that we are increasingly reliant on seeing these service providers dictating more and more what they choose to make available for viewing.  Clashes between companies like Disney and Netflix has already led to the premature cancellations of beloved shows and a loss of a platform for some movies to be available to the consumer.  And as the number of streaming services grows, the cost of finding the content you want also rises, as you now are forced to subscribe to multiple channels just to be able to see their exclusive content.  Because FilmStruck’s content was so specifically geared towards a certain audience, WarnerMedia no longer saw the value in it, because it didn’t have broad audience appeal.  Thankfully, in the restructuring that has gone on, Criterion has stepped up and picked up the pieces, announcing that they would be launching their own streaming channel in the next year, with lesser but still very valuable support from their Turner Classic Movie partners.  It may not be as extensive a platform that FilmStruck was at it’s height, but Criterion can still provide a service that allows viewers to see those obscure and overlooked movies that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to find elsewhere.  It also gives them a valuable platform to tout their library of movies available to purchase on Blu-ray as well, helping to reinforce the importance of physical media in the broader market.  For us to leave behind a cultural legacy with the  movies that we create, we need to have real, tangible records of those creations and that’s why it’s important to support physical media now more than ever in this increasingly digital world.  Treasures, like those forgotten films rediscovered through FilmStruck, are meant to be found, but it only is possible when there is an actual treasure buried and not just numbers on a server that can easily be erased on purpose or accidentally.

A Defense for Ron Weasley – The Potterverse’s Misunderstood Hero and Why Second Bananas Matter in Cinema

The legacy of the Harry Potter films over the last decade has been a fruitful one for those involved with it’s creation.  Author J.K. Rowling  has further expanded the universe in which she has created into, among other various things, several spinoff books, a whole backstory franchise called Fantastic Beasts, as well as an online community network where fans of the novels can experience a connection to the Potterverse with a uniquely personal touch.  But central to all of that is the seven volume series devoted to the boy wizard himself.  Harry Potter’s journey captivated the world, both on the page and on the screen, and nearly a decade after the conclusion of that journey, audiences have been left with a deep attachment to the Wizarding World.  But the interesting thing is that it isn’t Harry as a character alone that continues to hold a special place in the hearts of all, but really everything in the series as a whole.  Audiences of all kinds talk about everything from the rules of Quidditch, to which house in the school of Hogwarts is the best, to their favorite side characters, and often it’s Harry himself that factors least within their fandom, partially because what more is there to say about him.  It’s the discussions of the characters that inhabit Harry’s world that I find fascinating, because it reveals so much about how people project themselves into the story.  Because Rowling set her story within a classroom setting, we naturally think about the types of people we knew ourselves in school, especially our friends.  Harry’s story is shaped by his friendships, and in particular, those of his closest allies; the resourceful and bright Hermoine Granger and the clumsy but loyal Ron Weasley.  Most fans put more value into Hermoine’s role in the story, but I would argue that Ron’s role in the story has just as much merit, and sadly he far too often is misunderstood as a hero, even by the author herself.

I thought it was a very peculiar stance made by J.K. Rowling when she gave an interview to Wonderland Magazine back in 2014.  In the interview, she stated that she believed that Hermoine should’ve ended up with Harry Potter at the end of the series and not Ron as she did in the books.  The  reason she wrote their budding relationship into the books is because it was something that was always part of her overall draft of the full narrative of the books, and over time as she soured on the idea of bringing them together, she still stuck by the original arc, because it was already too intertwined into the full narrative.  She also made a shocking confession earlier that she even considered killing Ron off before the novel’s finale.  Thankfully, she never utilized these narrative angles, but you have to wonder, why did she feel so negative about such a beloved character.  It perhaps had more to do with the way his character meshed with that of Hermoine.  Their relationship is certainly one of those “opposites attract” types, with the hyper intelligent girl falling for the simple minded boy.  In a way, I feel that Rowling felt ashamed of the point that, by story’s end, Hermoine ends up turning into some kind of reward for Ron because of his good deeds, and she didn’t want her independent minded heroine turned into a trophy.  In addition, it seemed from her statements in the interview that she didn’t view Ron as the ideal kind of man, noting that him and Hermoine were likely to have gone through numerous couples therapy sessions.  That last point feels especially unfair once she states how she would have preferred Harry to have been Hermoine’s instead, as if Harry wouldn’t have had relationship issues himself, especially given his baggage throughout the story.  Regardless of what excuse she gave in her interview, Rowling’s feelings towards Ron I feel stem from a far more problematic issue found within most literature and media overall, which is the dismissive attitude against side characters that sometimes are referred to as “second bananas.”

The “second banana” moniker has come over the years to refer to sidekick characters, particularly those that are intended to get a laugh from the audience.  The term actually originates back to vaudeville, referring to a performer who is the recipient of the punchline from the headlining comic; namely, the one who receives the banana.  A staple of comedy for many years, the second banana served the role of punctuating the gags, but sometimes the role could be less meant for a comedic situation.  Sometimes, the role of the second banana could be filled by an assistant to a titular hero, as a means of reinforcing the good deeds or grand discoveries they have accomplished.  Think of the value that Dr. Watson adds in witnessing the brilliance of Sherlock Holmes’ deductions.  Think of the guidance that Tonto gives to the Lone Ranger as they travel across the Wild West.  Think of the undying assistance the Alfred the butler lends to Batman.  Second bananas have a narrative purpose beyond just being comic reliefs.  But, for the most part, these types of characters continue to be valued less for their actual worth as an individual character and more for what they do to service the story or just the punchline.  Interestingly, sometimes the second banana rises out of the shadow of his or her more famous star companion and actually becomes the star themselves.  When you think of comedy teams like Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy, and Martin and Lewis, the ones that standout is the person who gets the biggest laugh, and it’s usually the wackier of the two that is the recipient of the punchline.  Sometimes the whole direction of the story rests on the actions of the second banana, especially when the main hero is in their darkest point.  And that more than anything, is what makes a second banana character sometimes the most important character in a story overall.

One particular place where you see a lot of emphasis put on characters of this type is in animated films, particularly those made by Disney.  They have especially influenced the growth of sidekick characters over the years, mainly due to the fact that they usually are the ones that end up being the more marketable in the end.  With Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937), they found their narrative drive in the comedic potential of the seven little men who give shelter and protection to the ritual heroine.  Down the line, they began to find that the sidekicks were the ones that audiences especially gravitated towards, favoring them in the toy tie-ins that naturally followed once the movie premiered.  Characters like Jiminy Cricket from Pinocchio (1940), Tinker Bell from Peter Pan (1953), Sabastian the crab from The Little Mermaid (1989), Timon and Pumbaa from The Lion King (1994), and Olaf from Frozen (2013) have risen out to be among the most popular characters of all time, even sometimes eclipsing their main stars, and becoming icons themselves.  Some of them get there by being the funniest character to be sure, but the best of them also stand out by having worthwhile arcs themselves.  Jiminy Cricket’s guidance of Pinocchio coincides with his determination to be a certifiable conscious, complete with an official badge.  Sabastian grows from being a hinderance to Ariel’s dreams to being someone intent in letting her be who she wants to be.  A fuller story benefits when the side characters go through as much change as their primary hero will.  One film, I would argue perhaps accidentally made it’s side characters the real heroes; Sleeping Beauty (1959).  In that film, it is the three good fairies who save the day.  They sacrifice their powers to protect Princess Aurora, they sneak into Maleficent’s castle without hesitation, and they are ultimately the ones who put the sword into the prince’s hand in order to slay the dragon.  The titular princess is almost an afterthought in the end.  While sometimes Disney misfires with these kinds of characters (the gargoyles from Hunchback of Notre Dame, for example), they nevertheless know that these characters matter a lot as a part of their on-going legacy.

So, to get back to the subject at hand, why does Ron Weasley not get the love as a character as he should?  The history that we associate with second banana types has something to do with that.  Ron is a character that is far too often played for laughs; more so in the movies than in the books.  He’s a mediocre student, a terrible spell-caster, and lacks a great deal of talent in most things that you would expect from a great wizard.  But, the thing that he makes up for amid all his failings is the moral compass that he provides through his friendship to both Harry and Hermoine.  Ron is Harry’s window into the Wizarding World, and he helps to steer him through all the negative aspects within.  It’s better as part of the narrative for Harry to have befriended someone who is so immersed in the this world that he kind of takes it for granted, never acting as a show off or making Harry feel that he should feel threatened.  This is apparent when Ron and Harry first meet aboard the Hogwarts Express.  Ron’s attitude towards meeting Harry is just the same as chatting with a new friend; no pretension about Harry’s celebrity status or how ill prepared Harry is for the world he’s about to enter.  He finds his value in helping ease his new friend into feeling like he belongs in this world he knows nothing about.  Much more importantly, he teaches Harry the real stakes of the Wizarding World, and who is worth trusting and who they should fight for.  Apart from the things that make Harry and Ron different, they do have one thing in common, which is an outsider perspective.  Ron is lower class and is looked down upon by the wealthy elite at the Hogwarts school, so while he himself is knowledgable about the world of Wizardry, he benefits very little from the fruits of such power.  Harry is born into the world a celebrity, but was raised on the outside, knowing nothing about what he truly represents.  That combination creates a mutually beneficial friendship for both, and combine that with Hermoine’s Muggle (non-magic) background and you’ve got a pairing of friends born through a shared desire to keep the others on  the right path.

If there is one thing that really defines Ron Weasley as more than just a second banana but in actuality a hero in his own right, it’s his position in the story as an ever crucial lifeline.  One thing that especially defines every hero’s journey is an inevitable descent into a dark place.  Famed scholar Joseph Campbell, who crafted the blueprint for the typical hero’s journey in his examination of the narrative, called this moment in the story the Abyss.  In the Abyss, the hero succumbs to either a tragedy or a temptation that shakes the hero’s belief in themselves, leading them to a point where they are on the verge of giving up.  Some heroes climb out of this moment by their own determination, but sometimes it takes a secondary element to help the hero see the light again, and sometimes that comes in the form of the sidekick who has stuck by the heroes side.  Sometimes, that comes from a forceful kick in the pants to bring the hero out of their despair, like you see from characters like Han Solo and Princess Leia in Star Wars (1977), who help a whiny little farm boy named Luke Skywalker believe in himself again after tragic moments like Obi-Wan’s sacrifice or learning the truth about his father.  Ron Weasley, though, owes more of his inspiration to another lifeline character named Samwise Gamgee, the famous companion of Frodo Baggins in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.  Sam, like Ron, has little in the way of talents, which makes him an unlikely guardian, but he more than makes up for that in his determination to never leave Frodo’s side, not even in the darkest of moments.  Over the course of Tolkein’s trilogy, Sam grows into more than just a buffoonish companion; he ultimately becomes the one who carries Frodo on his back to the summit of Mount Doom and pulls him back from the abyss once Frodo succumbs to the Ring’s dark hold.   Had Sam not been there, Frodo would have failed.  Ron fulfills the same role in his story, as Harry grows ever more withdrawn and angry during their many trials.  A particular narrative element in the book is that Harry and his arch-nemesis, Voldemort, have a lot in common, but what ultimately separates them is that Harry has true friendship, which keeps him empathetic and kind, and ultimately a believer that good will win out in the end.

Ron gives that support that ultimately keeps Harry believing in himself, but he does more than just steer Harry the right way.  One of the pleasing aspects of the story that J.K. Rowling crafted is that Ron himself discovers his own strength as the story goes along.  Ron starts off as a squeeling coward in the earliest part of the series, but after facing trolls, giant spiders, a whomping willow, and even menacing classmates and faculty, he ultimately has faith in himself enough to stand his ground against dark wizards by series end.  It’s particularly crucial at one point in the penultimate film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I (2010), when Harry gives the duty of destroying a Horcrux to Ron, knowing that at that point he has more of the aptitude to get it done in that moment, after Harry has been weakened physically and emotionally by the evil device.  With that, Ron overcomes the last bit of weakness in himself and ultimately serves as someone who can change the course of the story himself.  I think that when we look at the character of Ron Weasley, we sometimes get stuck in the image of that comic relief character from the earlier part of the story.  By the end, we almost forget that as Harry has grown into a hero, so has Ron.  By the end, Ron is just as likely to stick his neck out to save the day as Harry is.  The only difference by the end is that Harry is the one for a reason; the villain selected him as his foe.  I think that J.K. Rowling doesn’t in particular think she did a disservice to the story by involving Ron Weasley in it, and rewarding him with the same spoils of victory.  I just think she feels that by linking him with Hermoine that she ultimately didn’t satisfy her own desires for how she would have liked the story to end; that maybe she was just being too cliche with her choice.  But, I think in saying so, she is undermining the effectiveness that she had in making a sidekick like Ron more than just the average second banana in her story.

I for one, in the end, love the fact that he and Hermoine grow closer together throughout the story and by the end have cemented their love for one another.  He’s not perfect, but neither is Harry Potter for that matter, and I don’t see why J.K. thought any different.  Hermoine obviously has a mind of her own, and it’s apparent from the story that what drew her to Ron ultimately is his devotion to doing good even depite his limitations.  That, and I think that some of the push-back she would receive from Ron throughout the series also endeared him to her, as most geniuses want to be challenged.  What I like so much about Ron is that he does overcome that harsh stigma that follows characters of his type.  He becomes more than just the fool in the story on which the punchline is built; he becomes a hero in his own right by the end.  The real genius of J.K. Rowling’s series is that she gives that to just about every character as well.  Even the most absurd characters get their heroic moment, like Dobby’s heroic sacrifice or Neville Longbottom ultimately destroying the final Horcrux which leaves the villain finally vulnerable.  Ron especially gets to standout as a hero because, apart from a brief falling-out in Goblet of Fire, he never leaves Harry’s side.  We like to poke fun at the sidekicks and how worthless they sometimes are, but Ron Weasley is in that rare breed of sidekicks who is just as heroic as the hero he’s there to support.  One thing that especially makes these second bananas so important to a narrative is the fact that they sometimes are more interesting than the main hero.  Though that isn’t exactly the cases for the Potterverse, it is especially true in other media, where the story has to rely upon the supporting characters to add flavor when the main hero proves to be too boring.  I find that even though I do like Harry Potter as a character, I find Ron’s journey more fascinating, because of how undervalued his character type usually is.  The fact that he has a personality helps, which a perfectly cast Rupert Grint wonderfully supplies, and I can’t imagine what the story would have been like without him.  Probably not as good.  So, Ron Weasley shouldn’t be undervalued just because he’s not Harry Potter.  He’s a wizard with worth too, and the Potterverse as a whole might not have the same effect had he not gone above and beyond his second banana role in this story.

Leader of the Club – Mickey Mouse at 90 and the Magical Kingdom He Helped to Create

When you consider who the greatest icon to come out of Hollywood could be, the answer might surprise you.  It is not an actor, actress nor a movie mogul or filmmaker.  Instead, it is a little cartoon mouse named Mickey.  Sure, you have your Marilyn Monroe, or your James Dean, or your Charlie Chaplin whose images have transcended the work they have done and have inspired legends of their own purely through their existences alone.  But, Mickey Mouse is altogether different.  His impact is felt on all of us earlier on than any other entertainer in the world.  Apart from their mothers and fathers, Mickey Mouse is likely the first face that an infant will recognize due to the fact that for generations the first exposure that all children usually have to the world of entertainment is through watching a Mickey Mouse cartoon.  Though distinctively American in creation and in personification, Mickey is known and beloved the whole world over, making him one of the world’s most effective ambassadors as well.  It’s been said that the only things more recognizable worldwide than Mickey Mouse would be either Jesus or the Coca-Cola bottle.  But, it really makes you wonder, why Mickey Mouse?  He wasn’t the first cartoon character, nor the most prolific.  Some would even argue that he’s the least interesting cartoon character because he’s portrayed so often without flaw or negativity.  But, regardless of personal feelings towards Mickey, the true reason why he is held up in such high regard is because of the of his overall effect on everything, from the legacy and power of the Disney company, to his affect on pop culture, to even the personal affect on our childhoods.  And with the marking of his 90th year in existence, we are left with an even more profound question: what would the world have been if there never was a Mickey Mouse?

The most immediate impact that Mickey Mouse certainly has had is in the creation of the largest media empire in the world.  When Walt Disney first conceived of the character back in the summer of 1928, I don’t think he would have ever had imagined that the company that bears his name would have the kind of reach that it does today.  The Walt Disney Company is an undisputed industry leader, having arms devoted to the business of movies, television, theme parks, consumer products, and even hospitality and cruise lines of all things.  They are just about to overtake one of their competing studios in an unprecedented merger, and will soon add streaming entertainment to their ever growing portfolio of services.  But despite all the growth and the broadening of collective properties that are brought into the Disney company’s fold, there is still one constant, and that’s the presence of Mickey Mouse.  Mickey remains the symbol of the company, embodying the wholesome, reliable face that the Disney company wants the world to recognize them as.  Mickey’s power as a symbol is crucial for a mega-giant corporation like Disney, but he’s also held up in such esteem because of his significance to the company’s survival.  Walt Disney said so himself in one of his many television specials, “I hope we never loose sight of one thing.  That it was all started by a mouse.”  This has become the motto of the company itself, as they recognize that after all the movie premieres, after all the earnings reports, the new attraction openings, the product launches, the ups and downs, the surprises and failures, that everything that makes Disney what it is stems from Mickey.  It’s a statement to say to all those working in the industry and in particular to those at the Disney company, that you should always have eye towards the past while looking forward into the future.

For Walt Disney himself, he fully understood what Mickey Mouse meant to him.  After working his way through early animation studios in Kansas City, Missouri, Walt set out to Los Angeles to embark on creating a studio of his own.  There, he worked closely with another young, ambitious animator named Ub Iwerks, who helped  Walt Disney experiment with groundbreaking techniques like mixing live action and animation together.  With the help of his business savvy brother Roy, Walt soon opened his first animation studio in a back office in the Los Feliz district of LA.  Having put together a robust staff and gained some notoriety for his cutting edge Alice shorts, Walt soon developed a new series devoted to what he hoped would be a cartoon star on the same level as Felix the Cat.  That character would be Oswald, the Lucky Rabbit.  But, after producing a handful of Oswald shorts, Walt soon learned that his distributor, Charles Mintz, had effectively written Walt out of his contract and signed away all his animators (except Iwerks), leaving him with nothing;  not even Oswald.  On the ride home after that fateful meeting, Walt brainstormed what to do next and out of that came the concept for a spunky little mouse.  With Ub’s help, they created the first drawing of their new character and gave him the name of Mickey out of the suggestion from Walt’s wife Lillian.  They now had their character, but what would make him different than Oswald?  The answer was a voice.  After the breakthrough of synchronized sound in the movie The Jazz Singer (1927), Walt made a gamble of adding this technique to the medium of animation, and it not only worked, it made history.  But, what voice would do for a cartoon mouse?  Well, for Walt Disney, the answer was simple: he would perform it himself.  Walt’s falsetto fit the character perfectly, and more important, it gave him personality.   That’s why Walt had such a lasting devotion to the character, because Mickey was such a part of him, and essentially is what saved him in Walt’s darkest moment.

You don’t have to look further than the very hub of Disneyland park to see just how connected those two are to the history of the company and to the industry in general.  The bronze statue, dubbed “Partners” shows Walt and Mickey holding hands as they overlook the worldwide destination that they built together.  You’ll see no more a fitting representation of the bond between creator and creation in art outside of religious iconography.  But true immortality only benefits the creation in the end.  Walt Disney passed away with many of his ambitions left unfinished, and much of what the Disney company is today is quite different than what he would have intended it to be.  But, the Walt Disney Company still has an affinity for it’s past, and that’s no more apparent than in how they’ve maintained their icon for all these years.  Walt didn’t just give Mickey his voice, he gave him an identity.  Mickey Mouse became an icon because of the way that he embodied the every man hero that we all wanted to be.  That’s why he gained so much of his popularity during the height of the Great Depression.  The determination that Walt Disney put into the character to stand up for justice and pull himself up from the depths of despair gave hope to those who had all but lost it in those times.  The same proved true during the War Years as well.  Though Walt stopped short of putting Mickey in uniform (because he didn’t want Mickey to symbolize actions related to killing others as a part of combat), Mickey nevertheless represented the American spirit that helped unite the nation together.  You know Mickey had the right effect when dictators like Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin wanted him banned from their countries.  One of the most compelling instances of Mickey’s powerful influence in the culture came when Walt Disney made a goodwill tour of Latin America in the midst of World War II.  Upon visiting Uraguay, Walt brought with him a collection of shorts that the South American nation had rarely seen before then, as well as plenty of Mickey dolls for the children of the country.  Mere days after Walt’s visit, the Uraguanian government told the German ambassador to leave and that they would be cutting diplomatic ties with the Nazi regime.  All that, because of a cartoon mouse.

Naturally, the Walt Disney Company recognizes that Mickey Mouse is a powerful symbol, and they’ve been careful to guard his image over the years.  Apart from the use of the character for wartime propaganda in the 1940’s, Mickey Mouse has never been used for anything more to do with government.   He’s thankfully never endorsed a politician nor any political party.  Individual groups unaffiliated with the Disney company have however adopted the image of Mickey Mouse into their own iconography, and usually depending on the level of objections you hear from the Disney corporate offices will tell you just how much they themselves stand on most issues.  Though Mickey is meant to symbolize neutrality officially from the Disney company, his image has been used among a variety of things like advocating for the environment, for civil rights, and for the welfare of the poor and disenfranchised.  I can tell you having been to the LA Pride festival that I’ve seen many members of the LGBTQ community showing off their pride with among other things shirts and pins with a rainbow flag shaped into that distinctive three-circle silhouette of the mouse himself.  Mickey may not officially be an advocate for all those things, but the effectiveness of his ability to spread a message is certainly not lost on all these groups.  In particular, many advocacy groups like to use the symbol of Mickey Mouse because it helps their message reach younger minds who naturally grow more interested when they recognize a character whose played such a big part of their upbringing.  Mickey Mouse is trusted in ways that most politicians would dream about, and that can be both a blessing and a curse.  The reason why the Disney company chooses to not make Mickey Mouse an official symbol of anything other than their brand is because they don’t want there to be any backlash brought their way when certain positions face fierce opposition.  Mickey is often used as a means of undermining the good aspects of the company and the character, as critics and troublemakers like to break down something that is manufactured to be portrayed so pure.  You see this in stuff as harmless as t-shirts with Mickey covered in tattoos or giving a gang sign to more extreme aspects like showing in some media Mickey committing murder, involved in a sex act, or using hate speech.  Mickey is almost too powerful a symbol, and the best we can hope is that the desire to see him remain a positive influence in our lives wins out over everything else.

Despite Disney closely guarding their the image of their iconic mascot, they still do their best to keep Mickey in tune with the times.  That, more than anything, has kept the character relevant for 90 years and will likely continue to keep him around for another 90.  Mickey has changed little in some ways, but at the same time is also greatly different than how he started.  The whistle-blowing steamboat captain of Mickey’s debut short, Steamboat Willie, set the primary look for the character, but several changes like the addition of pupils in his eyes and a more pear shaped figure that is easier to animate have been added over the years.  There are certainly benchmark moments that cemented new eras for the character; one in particular being the “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” sequence from Fantasia (1940), which is widely regarded as one of the greatest examples of animation of all time.  Not every use of Mickey Mouse has aged well; I’m sure Disco Mickey is something that no one wants to remember fondly, Disney most of all.  But, the fact that Mickey never has fallen out of popularity after all these years is a real indication of the effectiveness that the Disney company has had with adapting the character over the years.  And the interesting thing is that Disney has done that sometimes by even returning to the things that have worked in the past.  Surprisingly, Mickey has returned more recently to a more retro look in recent animated shorts, with the color taken out of his skin and the pupils returned to their original black dots.  And when you look at most Mickey related merchandise, what ends up selling the most are the things that have sold well generation after generation.  I don’t think that it’s any mistake that one of the face options available on a newly purchased Apple Watch is one of Mickey Mouse designed to look like all the classic watches made throughout the years, with Mickey’s arms moving across the dial.  In some ways Mickey moves with the times, and then sometimes the times move to meet up with him.  That’s the power of a character who transcends all the rules and manages to endure no matter what else happens in the culture at large.

For me, Mickey Mouse has had a profound impact.  My journey into the world of cinema was, to say the least, all started by a mouse.  I had my first Mickey Mouse doll before I could even walk, and the first things that I likely ever saw on television were the Mickey Mouse cartoons that my parents let me watch on the then newly launched Disney Channel.  Since then, I spent many of summers in California, often visiting Disneyland, and some of the oldest pictures I have of myself are in the embrace of a Mickey Mouse walk around character from the park.  I have only worn watches with a Mickey Mouse face on it, and have numerous shirts in my wardrobe with some Mickey design on it.  Though my movie tastes have largely moved beyond just Disney related materials, I still hold a special place in my heart for the studio and their mascot, because they were the gateway to everything else.  And I’m sure that it’s the same for a great many other people out there, especially in the film industry.  Many people learned how to portray heroism through Mickey; because he embodied everything that made a hero great.  He’s also an embodiment of the every man ideal, much in the same way that the likes of Henry Fonda or Jimmy Stewart often represented on film.  Though not always used perfectly, Mickey Mouse stands as an ideal for good-natured civility in a world that desperately needs it.  One of the most profound moments ever on the big screen related to Mickey Mouse came not in a Disney film at all, but in a sharp satirical comedy from Preston Sturges called Sullivan’s Travels (1941).  In that movie, a jaded filmmaker embarks on a soul-searching mission to go out into the country and find a sense of the real human condition in America, warts and all.  He casts aside his wealth and influence and lives life as a hobo, becoming more cynical and frustrated with how Hollywood seems to overlook the real plights of the average person.  At the end of the movie, he ends up in  a chain gang of prisoners and all of them are brought into a room and treated to a film after a long days work.  And it happens to be a Mickey Mouse cartoon.  The director, played by Joel McCrea, is stunned to find these downtrodden souls suddenly filled with joy and laughter when watching the cartoon, and for a moment, he too forgets his sorrows and laughs along with them.  From then on, he realizes the real effect that cinema has on uplifting the hearts of everyone and has faith renewed in his art-form once again.  The fact that it took Mickey Mouse to make that profound change is a real testament to how impactful he can be on one’s personal journey.

Like most influential things in our culture, Mickey Mouse is many different things to many different people; a symbol, a corporate logo, an ideal, a nuisance, a role model, a teacher, a celebrity, an icon, a relic, a revelation, and for many people, a friend.  90 years has made the character so monumental across the world mainly due to the fact that he is passed on through the generations.  Our parents and even some grandparents have known only a world with Mickey Mouse as a part of it, and for most of us, he was an essential part of our upbringing.  Most parents even intentionally bring their fondness for Mickey Mouse into the rearing of their own children, keeping that tradition going in the hopes that they can have that as something that helps to bond their family together.  Few other characters become a part of our lives the same way that Mickey does.  Walt Disney may not have realized it at the time, but he had stumbled upon one of the greatest assets to humanity that the 20th century likely ever produced.  The fact that Mickey has gone on to symbolize goodwill across the world is one of the greatest accomplishments that he’s ever had the privilege of being a part of.  Imagine a world where Mickey Mouse never came into being.  Would Walt Disney had found success with something else, or would he have faded into obscurity having given up on his dreams?  Would another cartoon character have excelled in his place?  Would the power and influence that the Disney company now yields have been scattered differently throughout the film industry?  Would America and Western democracy have battled back tyranny had they not had as powerful a goodwill symbol as Mickey Mouse?  The world would have likely been very different.  Historically and culturally, Mickey Mouse is an indispensable part of our lives.  That’s why, as the Mouse hits that monumental 90 year mark this month, we all are reminded of the personal effect that he had on our own lives and for most of us, it’s filled with fond memories.  Whether you are putting on your mouse ears, or watching “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” for the hundredth time, or getting that ever crucial picture at Disneyland, it’s a celebration worth rejoicing over as that little Mouse named Mickey is still going strong.  Come along, sing the song, and join the jamboree; M-I-C-K-E-Y-M-O-U-S-E.

The Haunted House That Blum Built – How an Indie Producer Saved Horror and Changed Hollywood

It’s hard to think of it now, but there was a time when it looked like the Horror film genre had lost any and all credibility in Hollywood.  For much of the late 90’s and through the 2000’s, the horror genre was plagued by a number of mediocre films that were neither scary nor entertaining.  More telling, the complete disdain that the industry had for horror films could be seen in the way that the studios were simply just making films for a target audience, namely young adults 18-25, and no one else.  This led to the dreaded notion of PG-13 rated horror movies, that were far more reliant on jump scares rather than actual violence and gore.  And this wasn’t always the case with Hollywood horror.  There had been decades of noteworthy horror flicks that had left a major impact on the industry.  Starting from the Universal monster movies of the 30’s, all the way through B-movie horror of the 50’s and 60’s like George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968), to the slasher movies of the 70’s and 80’s like John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980).  The genre even became so admired in Hollywood that it won the coveted Best Picture Oscar with Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs (1991).  But, like most other genres, Horror saw a decline when studios tried to interfere too much in the direction of where the genre was headed.  Soon it became less important creating memorable monsters and spooky atmosphere and more about hitting those cheap scares, or trying to one up themselves in the over the top gore.  Mostly, the horror films of the 2000’s fell flat because they pretty much all look and felt the same.  Sure there were exceptions like The Blair Witch Project (1999), The Ring (2001), and Saw (2004), but even those were undermined by lackluster, play-it-safe sequels.  Towards the end of the decade, the consensus was that horror was just not as effective at being scary like it used to be.  But, that would change once someone came along and changed the industry standard.

In walks Jason Blum, and his newly formed production outlet, Blumhouse.  Blum, probably without intention, has become the most valuable name in the Horror genre today, and has brought back a bit of prestige to this long neglected genre.  Though there are a lot of factors that have led to Blumhouse’s success, none is more key than the business model that the company has set out to identify itself with.  The Blumhouse model simply involves producing films on a controlled small budget with complete creative freedom for the directors and releasing them wide through the studio system.  By doing this, Blumhouse is able to have an output that is artistically unique without carrying a whole lot of financial risks, making them easier to sell to the major studios as well as to theaters across the country.  Because of this, the cost to profit margin has been extremely beneficial to the production company, with each film grossing significantly more than what they cost to make.  And with the huge profit margin, they have been able to build a great deal of personal capital which has allowed them to grow their business and increase their output.  Today, Blumhouse is not only putting out quality horror films, but are venturing into genres of all kinds; comedy, romance, family, even Christian drama.  They even recently announced a joint production with Dreamworks Animation (tentatively titled Spooky Jack) which will be their first venture into cartoons.  They also have also delivered several documentaries and TV movies, mostly for HBO so far, which has shown that they are not just a one trick pony within the film industry.  Even with all the continued success, the stated business model still drives the output of the company.  They don’t spend more than they need to, and they are keenly interested in discovering new talent and giving them the tools they need to make a mark in Hollywood.  That’s the key to making a difference in Hollywood; showing a commitment to a working strategy.

It wasn’t an overnight change for Blumhouse and the industry as a whole, however.  Blumhouse was launched in the year 2000, but it didn’t see it’s first theatrical release for 6 years.  It wasn’t even the intention of the company to take a look at horror, but that changed when a little project named Paranormal Activity (2009) dropped into their lap.  The found footage style film was not a novelty at the time, since Blair Witch pioneered the technique nearly a decade earlier, but under the guidance of the Blumhouse model, this little haunted house flick would prove to have a significant impact on the industry.  The movie cost a paltry $15,000 to make, utilizing unknown at the time talent, a single location, and cheap digital cameras.  The movie’s stripped down, cheap look actually proved to be it’s biggest blessing because it made the movie stick out greatly among all the other “polished” horror movies.  The jump scares didn’t feel cheap because they appeared more natural through the limitations of the presentation, and the lack of CGI manipulation helped to give it that ever crucial element of authenticity.  In the end, Paranormal Activity actually became even more monumental than Blair Witch, because it cost less and made even more, which only emboldened it’s creators to trust their instincts going forward.  Hollywood soon took notice once they saw how much return Blumhouse got on it’s investment.  Naturally, the sequels followed, but the quality of the finished films didn’t matter as the business model continued to ensure positive dividends on their side.  They were certainly continuing to figure things out from a creative standpoint, but ensuring that they weren’t making any rising financial decisions early on really helped to set up the foundation that would carry them forward over the next decade.

Since Paranormal Activity, the continued focus of Blumhouse has been less on building their capital, which has been steadily flowing for them for years, but instead to procure and propel top tier talent to and from their company.  Their goal has been to convince the industry that they are an artist friendly outfit, and that directors, actors and producers will have more creative freedom under their tent than they would anywhere else.  This became especially beneficial for the horror genre as one of the first directors to make the jump over to Blumhouse was James Wan, the creator of the Saw franchise.  After leaving his series behind, Wan was ready to explore a different side of the genre with the more subdued and eerier project, Insidious (2010).  Insidious was a very antithetical style horror film compared to everything else at the time, because it was a quiet, low key film which used silence and atmosphere as more effective ways to build tension and chills for it’s audience.  It was also a movie that calls for a lot of patience on the viewers part, which is a risk, but one that pays off well if it works.  Thankfully it did, and James Wan was able to carve out a new trend in the horror genre that he otherwise wouldn’t have had if he shopped his idea anywhere other than to Blumhouse.  Since then, other directors have sought out Blumhouse as the place to get their unique ideas off the ground.  You wouldn’t have had horror flicks with a noir sensibility like Sinister (2012) nor another with political commentary like The Purge series had Blumhouse not embraced new concepts through their model.  The most interesting aspect of their artist friendly ideal is that they’ve attracted filmmakers who feel they have been compromised too much elsewhere.  You can say that Blumhouse has single-handedly resurrected the career of M. Night Shaymalan, with his recent hits like The Visit (2015) and Split (2017), and that’s only because it seems like he’s finally getting back to the movies that he wants to make again, with their support.  The financial model has helped Blumhouse to build significant capital, but in attracting the talent they have, they’ve ensured a treasured reputation amongst filmmakers that will greatly help them in years ahead.

Perhaps the thing that is especially noteworthy about Blumhouse’s intent on attracting new artists into their fold is that it’s also opened the door for voices within the horror genre that we’ve never been able to see before.  This was very evident with the production of comedian Jordan Peele’s directorial debut, Get Out (2017).  Not only did the movie manage to become a hit with horror fans, but critics and industry insiders took notice as well, mainly because of the film’s content.  Unlike most other horror films, this was a movie that tackled it’s subject with a clear intention to provoke discussion and take very clear shots; in this case, with the very touchy issue of race relations in America.  Peele used the horror genre as a clever mirror held up to society, and framed the tropes of the genre in a way to make the cutting commentary even more insightful.  More than anything else, this opened up a very crucial door for the genre as a whole because it introduced a distinctly African American voice into a genre that has largely ignored it.  It’s surprising that it has taken this long for a horror movie from a black perspective to have been made, or at the very least become mainstream.  African-American audiences are some of the most reliable consumers of the horror genre, so it seems like a no-brainer that there should be one made that speaks with their own voice, tackling issues important to their community.  Hollywood took notice of this breakthrough and honored the movie with several Oscar nominations, including a Best Picture nod.  Peele won the Oscar for his original screenplay, a first for a black writer, and for the first time since Silence of the Lambs, horror had been recognized by the industry as prestige entertainment.  The most positive aspect of Get Out’s success is that it has convinced places like Blumhouse to look into other disenfranchised communities to find new voices to add to their every diversifying body of work.  Blumhouse, maybe unintentionally, might have broken the glass ceiling that has kept the horror genre a predominantly white, male centric world and shown that it can indeed be a genre that can carry a million voices within it.

But, when your business model involves taking creative risks rather than financial risks, an open production company like Blumhouse still needs to be moved in the right direction before it can fully make a significant change happen.  Jason Blum recently put himself into hot water recently with a not very well thought out statement that he would like to “make a female centric horror movie,” but there just aren’t enough women directors in horror right now to make that happen.  This rightfully sparked outrage from female critics and horror movie aficionados alike, who felt that Blum showed a very narrow-minded outlook on the relationship between women and the genre at large.  He’s not opposed to the idea of more female-centric horror movies, but his words showed how little effort he’s put into changing that situation.  First of all, he clearly hasn’t been looking hard enough, as there are plenty of aspiring and budding female filmmakers who are huge fans of the horror genre.  Secondly, you don’t have to look just for women who work exclusively in the horror genre; there are filmmakers out there who would gladly make the jump into horror if it allowed them to bring their own unique voice into the genre.  Apparently, Jason Blum did make the attempt to court director Jennifer Kent, who made the cult horror hit The Babadook (2014), over to Blumhouse, but she refused and this seemed to convince him that women directors were just not interested to a great extent in horror.  He thankfully went back on his statement and reassured that he’ll try harder to bring a female voice into Blumhouse’s future output.  But this is something that’s indicative of an overall problem with the genre, which has sadly objectified women throughout the course of it’s history.  Women are not opposed to horror as a genre, but they have clearly lacked control over their own representation in the genre and it’s more important than ever that they be given that opportunity.  With the kind of clout that Blumhouse has right now, they can make that change happen, but they also need to realize that they need to look harder than they already do.

Despite their recent hiccups, the overall direction that Blumhouse has moved Hollywood in is a positive one.  Not only have they opened the door for more diversity in the creative talent behind their movies, but the industry is taking strong notice of their successful financial model.  More and more film companies are seeing that more modest budgets for movies with unique character is the best way to generate profit in the long run.  Also, allowing artists creative freedom helps to manage the high costs of the movies because actors and directors are more likely to take a smaller salary if they are allowed to do whatever they want instead of asking for 7 or 8 figure paydays for movies that they know full well are going to be garbage and are just using their name recognition to boost box office numbers.   Blumhouse has already made a name for themselves as a likely place for actors who want to make their first directorial effort, like the already mentioned Jordan Peele as well as Joel Edgerton with his horror thriller The Gift (2015).  Their model has already clearly had an influence on their nearest competing rival, the Michael Bay created Platinum Dunes production company.  Platinum Dunes spent much of it’s early years following the already uninspired horror film formula of the mid-2000’s, largely being responsible for critically panned remakes of horror classics like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), Amityville Horror (2005), Friday the 13th (2009) and A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010).  But, thanks to the Blumhouse influence, who they co-produced The Purge (2013) with, they have changed their focus to reflect the new direction that horror has been moving towards.  Their recent hit, A Quiet Place (2018) reflects that, with a modest budgeted production built on atmosphere and crafted as a pet project from an already established star, John Krasinski; written, directed, and starring him and his real life wife, Emily Blunt.  Whether or not Krasinski would have made his movie there or somewhere else, it’s clear that Platinum Dunes wouldn’t have taken on the risk had they not seen Blumhouse’s success with like-minded films before.  As a result, you can see the way that more and more of the industry is seeing the benefits of Blumhouse’s model as a way of maximizing their output with all the future movies they have in production currently.

So, where does that leave Blumhouse in the future.  It’s clear that even though they have certainly become synonymous with the horror genre, they don’t intend on relying just on that alone.  They are already venturing out into other genres and while at the same time continuing to leave their mark with horror movies.  Their more long term goal is to make their business model the ideal for all Hollywood, especially when it comes to finding new talent.  They already have reinvigorated the careers of already established directors, like James Wan and M. Night Shaymalan, and have propelled the likely all star filmmakers of tomorrow too.  They are responsible for discovering director Damien Chazelle with his debut film Whiplash (2014) which was one of Blumhouse’s first non-horror theatrical releases and their first Best Picture nominee.  Chazelle of course went on to become the youngest Best Director winner in history, so you can see just how well a launching off point Blumhouse can be for fresh new talent.    But most horror film fans are grateful to Blumhouse for bringing the genre back to it’s basics.  Relying less on visual effects and more on atmosphere, Blumhouse horror seems much more in line with the roots of the genre, which always were more effective when dealing with the constraints of a modest budget.  That’s not to say that Blumhouse is making horror feel old-fashioned, but rather using the idea of not spoiling a good idea with too much film-making.  They are also revolutionizing the genre with fresh concepts never seen in the genre before like pointed social commentary directly from the minds of oppressed minority groups.  It’s also telling just how much trust they’ve earned within the industry when they are being trusted with carrying established genres into the next decade like Halloween and Spawn.  Both as a creative factory and as a role model for the industry at large, Blumhouse has managed to accomplish a lot over the last decade and it looks like their success will continue for many years to come.  More than anything else, they are beloved by horror fans around the world for helping to bring prestige back into the genre and show that these are films that are much more than scary movies, but worthwhile and provocative entertainment just like with any other genre.