Thursday, September 8, 2011

Television: Where the Storytellers Go

I've seen two movies in the theater this summer: Bridesmaids (way back in May, while I was stuck in Titusville, FL waiting for the shuttle launch) and Love (which was only in theaters as part of a one night Fathom Event with Angels and Airwaves, who produced the picture). That's it. 

This in contrast to Travis, who has seen literally every movie released this summer in the theater. I used to be like that. When I was in college I would usually walk up to the Lowes Lincoln Center in New York City for the first matinee on Friday of whatever had been released that week. Of course, as I was only in New York in Fall and Spring, the movies released tended be movies I really looked forward to (and with this September's line up of releases, I may change my desire to go to the theatre). 

Yesterday, I read an article from the New York Times discussing the eroding summer movie attendance. People are just not going to the movies anymore and I'm sure we can find a plethora (been using that word a lot lately) of reasons for that. Everything from the costs of the tickets, the annoyance of people texting, calling and talking during the film, and also the quality of films themselves. 

I've watched a lot of films on DVD, streaming on Netflix, some new (meaning, I haven't seen them before), some from my own collection, so it's not like I haven't been watching movies. But honestly, you know what I have been watching a lot of lately? Television.

And by television, I don't mean sitting on my couch, zoned out, watching Keeping Up with the Kardashians over and over. I don't mean I've been watching TV. I mean, I've been watching Television.

Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Dexter, Game of Thrones, Friday Night Lights. 

My wife and I have been watching those and man, has that been some good Television. She and I recently finished the second season of Breaking Bad, during which we would look over at each other to find our mouths hanging open in either shock or suspense. 

I've heard this talked about before, the notion that Hollywood is no longer interested in the $40 million adult drama. They don't make them anymore. Instead, cable television has taken up the call and started taking those stories and refashioning them as a cable drama. And they're meeting success by allowing the creator to enact his vision, rather than trying to create a show by committee. As a result, the last couple years have seen a major resurgence of Television programming and have given us some of the most original characters and storytelling we've seen in a long time.

My question is: why can't we do the same for movies? If we're going to make movies like Transformers and The Green Lantern why not also spend the time to make their stories great. This belief that because of brand recognition we don't need to worry about story is lazy and detrimental to the overall business. It's the idea of diminishing returns. Superhero movies (even though Hollywood has now put the nail in that coffin) can still challenge us. They can still tell interesting and compelling stories, filled with three dimensional characters. Instead, the think all they have to do is put a guy in a suit, add a lot of expensive special effects and the audiences will flock to it. Well, considering The Help has earned more domestically than Green Lantern, you decide if that strategy is working.

Damon Lindelof (Lost) made a great statement about the character issue in his "Love Letter to Raiders" when he said: 

“And while we're on the subject of Dr. Jones, here’s another thing I love about him. He’s actually scared of stuff. This doesn’t seem like something that should be celebrated, but it’s actually quite rare for the hero of a movie to be scared of anything. Do you know what Green Lantern is afraid of? Fear. He is afraid of being afraid. Does that even make sense? Here’s what makes sense to be afraid of – Hissing Cobras and Gigantic Bald Nazis with mustaches trying to kill you. And it was perfectly OK for me to be scared of them because Indy was too.”

I spend a lot of my time working towards becoming a feature film director. I’ve never wanted to do anything else. However, I’m also now facing a time when many of the film I want to direct aren’t getting made. I don’t want to direct Green Lantern 4. As an audience member, I don’t even want there to be a Green Lantern 4.

I have great hope for this fall. Some amazing movies are being released, even in September, which is usually a pretty dead month.

But for me, as a consumer, you're going to have to really convince me, a guy who is married,  works two full time jobs (I consider writing a full time job on top of my day job), not a lot of money, and absolutely no desire to listen to people talk or text, to get me to come out to a theatre and watch a movie. It is absolutely not worth it for me to suffer through that for a bad film when I have so many other, higher quality storytelling choices at my disposal.

What do you think about the current state of cinema vs. television?

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