Disney CTO: Big-budget films should focus more on plot? "Bullsh*t"
|NEWS - MOVIE NEWS|
Exec Andy Hendrickson lets slip what attentive movie fans already know - Hollywood favors empty spectacle over a good story...
From the "Yeah, we knew that...but you're not really supposed to say it" file comes an assortment of pithy comments and bon mots from Disney Animation Studio's Chief Technical Officer Andy Hendrickson at the Siggraph computer graphics conference on August 7. During a discussion of Disney's (and, by extension, other major studios') strategy when it comes to feature film marketing and creation, Disney's CTO evidently decided that bluntness was the order of the day and let loose a carpet bombing of truth on the attendees that shed some light on the unfortunate opinions of those in charge of the public's big budget choices.
Attending the conference as a speaker to ostensibly discuss Disney's work in cinematic CGI, Hendrickson ended up making headlines by straying a tad off the beaten path when the relationship between special effects and plot became the topic of conversation. He prefaced his straight talk by pointing to figures that show that the average number of film viewers per release has been steadily falling for years. Interestingly, the actual number of moviegoers is not falling per se, just the average number per film. However, since the number of major releases keeps rising year by year, and the viewer numbers are flat, that means that the average picture is attracting fewer viewers. More light bulbs, but the same number of moths, as the saying might go. To make matters worse, streaming (through both legal and illegal means) has sharply cut into the once-enormous home revenue market that studios enjoyed during the DVD days.
How to combat this if you have a rational understanding of supply and demand? Cut back down on the number of movies produced, so as to keep more eggs in one basket and improve said films' quality. How to combat this if you're a big Hollywood studio? Well, according to Andy Hendrickson, you don't bother giving a damn about the story and just shove a lot of high-spectacle crap in it, because that's what makes the big bucks. In other words, bring in more brainless 'tentpole' films. (Transformers, anyone?) Cue Mr. Hendrickson:
"A tentpole film is one where you can seed the desire to see the film to everyone in every distribution channel. It's the only kind of film you can spend $100 million marketing."
Setting the creepiness of a phrase like "seed the desire" aside, that sentence is today's big-budget film marketing model in a nutshell. In other words, if a studio is going to make a 'big' movie, it's going to make it so big that the marketing blitzkreig that precedes it will attempt to make you feel like a fool if you were to even think of missing it. Alright, that's not so bad. Anyone with the slightest touch of cynicism towards the business knows that. Then there was this:
"People say that it's all about the story. When it comes to tentpole films, bullshit."
That one is a bit harder to justify. By airing that opinion in the way that he did, in public no less, Hendrickson is not only saying that a decent story isn't a priority in big-budget films, but it's not even on the 'to-do' list. The studios know that if they throw in enough explosions, half-naked chicks, robots, monsters, aliens, whatever... you're going to go see it, you sad, sad, little rubes. Is he right? Sadly, yes. He even outright admitted that line of thinking has prevailed within productions of his own company. On the recent (rather abysmal) release of Alice in Wonderland, the CTO had this to say:
"The story isn't very good, but the visual spectacle brought people in droves. And Johnny Depp didn't hurt."
Sure didn't. Despite a mediocre 52% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and bored shrugs from critics everywhere, Alice in Wonderland grossed over $1 billion worldwide and is currently the ninth highest grossing film in history.
It may be the one thing that everyone knows about Hollywood that no player dare talk about - the city is powered by simple, uncomplicated avarice. To reiterate, Andy Hendrickson is the Chief Technical Officer of Disney Animation Studios! He's not a critic, not a blogger. He's a studio executive, a company man, saying the things that studio executives are constantly accused of, but never admit. He might very well be a personal fan of well thought out plot lines - I don't know whether he is or he isn't. But Andy knows how the game is played and apparently has no qualms letting it be known, to anyone who will listen, how the system really works. Guys like him know that a gigantic portion of the moviegoing public will see anything as long as it looks 'fun' and the marketing barrage convinces them that it is something they shouldn't miss. So in that regard, Hendrickson is completely correct. A great story does not necessary correlate to great financial success.
But loud noises and pretty graphics nearly always do. It is the oft-gullible public and its herd mentality that have created success stories out of the rottenest dreck that Hollywood can trowel out. And since that shows no signs of changing, the people in charge of bringing you feature films have no reason to change their approach, which is to flood your local cineplex with a heavy rotation of expensive and soulless eye candy that make the peons giggle with delight. And unless the majority of film lovers decide they want more substance to their trips to the cinema (which I don't see happening anytime soon), that won't change. Andy Hendrickson, I love/loathe thee.
Anyhow, what do you Shadowlocked readers think? How do these admissions make you feel about Andy Hendrickson and the state of big budget features? Was this the refreshing candor of a 'no B.S.', straight-talking guy, or shocking arrogance on the part of a money-grubbing company suit? Comment away in the space below.
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