Do Audiences Want Tent Pole Movies or Story?

In an article on The Lone Ranger, Gilbert Cruz discusses how the movie represents what’s truly wrong with Hollywood blockbusters. Cruz starts by reporting how “George Lucas and Steven Spielberg recently took part in a symposium in which they predicted an imminent ‘implosion’ in the system as a result of the industry’s current obsession with blockbuster movies.”

There’s a sweet and sour irony in Lucas and Spielberg complaining about Hollywood’s obsession with tent pole movies, as they are both prominent in having created the phenomenon and, therefore, also the problem.

Throughout my forty-plus years in Hollywood I’ve argued that a far smarter business model would be as follows: instead of making one movie for a quarter of a billion dollars, make ten movies at twenty-five million dollars each. Five of the pictures will croak. Five will break even or produce modest profits. Five will go through the roof. The studio will have made its money back and earned also a splendid profit.

Ten times as many writers, actors, directors, editors, cinematographers, makeup-and-wardrobe artists, carpenters, electricians, etc., etc., would have work and audiences would have exponentially expanded alternatives available when they went to their local multiplex.

Why don’t the studios do this? Because it does not fit their overhead set-up, in which they rake a quarter or more of the budget off the top. This rewards them for wasting money and punishes them for exercising efficiency and economy.

What The Lone Ranger and other blockbuster debacles tells us yet again is that stars mean nothing, advertising and promotional campaigns mean nothing, special effects mean nothing. All that audiences care about is: story.

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