Opining about the movie business, two-time Oscar-winning screenwriter William Goldman famously proclaimed:
“Nobody knows anything.”
By which he did not mean they do not know which way to point the camera…
“The lens faces the actors.”
Or how to get to the location…
“It was easy. They picked me up in a limo.”
William Goldman meant nobody knows what the moviegoing audience is going to like.
Nobody can ever guarantee a hit movie, or avoid making a failure.
Yesterday, I grumbled about an article in the paper trying to explain why the film Steve Jobs kerplunked at the box office. A journalistic analysis on Steve Jobs’ failure was required, despite the generally agreed-upon reality that…
They just know the movie’s grosses were considerably lower than had been projected. Which is not analysis. It’s counting. Analysis is what you say, at least in the case of the article in the paper, when you have nothing to say.
Today, I shall reverse the tables from the perspective of the audience to the perspective of “Mr. (or Ms.) Green Light”, the studio executive who, after hearing the pitches, is the final determinant – or determinator, one of those, or something else – concerning which movies will ultimately be made.
I have no idea how this happened; it is merely something I noticed. Somehow, either through collusion, cocktail party espionage, the Zeitgeist, coincidence, magic, something in the water, or an explanation I haven’t thought of, in the movie year of 2015, there are an inordinate number of movies, opening during the “Smart Movie” season – when movies are strategically released for Oscars consideration – all of which are based on actual historical events.
Steve Jobs, Bridge of Spies, The Big Short, Spotlight, Martian – wait, that one’s made up, sorry – Trumbo, Truth and Concussion.
Think about that.
In the course of less than two months, seven major motion pictures accosted the public, all based on actual historical events.
And my question is:
No, it’s not “Why?” I mean, it is “Why?” but it is not what I’m doing today.
Today, I am asking myself “What if?” As in,
“What if I were the all-powerful “Mr. Green Light” and these movie proposals were pitched to me?”
It was suggested in the yesterday-referred-to Steve Jobs article – and it is an interesting hypothesis – that…
“For years we’ve heard that branding is important in attracting consumer attention in an overloaded cultural marketplace. It’s one reason these fact-based have proliferated to begin with – if the big-budget world has its presold Marvel and DC characters to help it build a blockbuster, then grown-up dramas need a story people inherently recognize too.”
Fine. But I’m “Mr. Green Light”. And I have to decide.
So here we go. (I am writing this thing barefoot. But I can feel myself wearing soft, obscenely expensive Italian loafers. And leaning comfortably back in my chair.)
“Okay, boys. (Or, though less frequently, “girls.”) Whaddaya got?”
“The guy refused to acknowledge that his daughter was his daughter? I hate that guy."
Bridge of Spies
“A story about people nobody heard of that happened sixty years ago? Time is a ‘Bullet Train.’ We don’t remember what happened last week.”
The Big Short
“The ‘Sub-Prime Mortgage Crisis”? Yeah, that’s a ‘date movie’.”
“The guy’s a screenwriter? Who cares about screenwriters? Plus, he’s a Commie.”
“Ninety priests molesting little children? I do not see people leaving the theater with smiles on their faces.”
“Football is entertainment. Showing it turns the players’ brains into applesauce…?”
So what happens?
(Dan Rather and his producer crash and burn investigating George W. Bush’s Viet Nam war service in the Texas Air National Guard)
“Literally “Old news.”
So what happens?
Mr. "Green Light" Pomerantz green lights nothing.
A sensible decision.
And I'm fired.
Because you have to green light something.
Otherwise you are not in the movie business.
You are an office that says “No” that validates parking.
There are a lot of movie ideas out there.
How did these six historically-based concepts float in at the same time?
And why did anyone say “Yes” to any of them?