Film still from The Way We Were
There was a very interesting post on Salon which posed the question: Does Hollywood hate adults? Which is what many movie-goers have been asking themselves for the past, oh, decade? Well, I’ve certainly been asking it for the last five years.
At dinner parties, I’ve always been the one to argue that film is still art, in spite of its commerce, and in spite of the manufactured “blockbusters” crammed into multiplexes. It’s supposed to make you feel, think, question and wonder, not simply serve as a vehicle to escape.
I was fortunate to have a childhood in a time when effects-laden hits (Jaws, Star Wars, E.T., An American Werewolf in London — remember that one?) co-mingled with thought-provoking films (Silkwood, Sophie’s Choice, Ordinary People, Kramer vs. Kramer) and adult-driven comedy (Blazing Saddles, Animal House). The advent of HBO brought these films (in repetition) to my living room. And while I don’t doubt the effects-laden films and comedies would be made today (they are probably in development to be remade, as a matter of fact), I think the people behind the thought-provoking films would have a hell of a time getting them funded let alone to the screen.
The error Hollywood has made repeatedly is assuming what the audience wants. Hollywood thinks along the lines of genre and foreign sales. Yes, foreign markets dictate much of what and who we see on the screen. Yet, what Hollywood has often failed to acknowledge is that the American film audience likes variety. Big films along side small ones. Smart films to counterbalance the silly. They also don’t consider that adults would like to go to movies without their kids (or, for those of us without children, to films that don’t draw kids). Grown-ups would like to talk about what they just saw, and that is so much easier to do when you don’t leave the theatre deaf from the bombastic sound effects.
As a screenwriter, I write smaller, more personal films. But that does not limit their genre. I’ve written dark comedy, romantic comedy, suspense, drama and psychological thrillers. But the important factor for me is the characters. Because, as much as we might want to escape into a film, I believe we also want to relate. We want to see ourselves — either who we are, who we’ve been or how we hope to be — on the screen. Which seems to make the road to getting the film into the cinemas harder than it should.
I’ve heard many adults say, “There’s nothing for me to see at the movies.” Which kind of feels like a punch to the gut to me, and I’m sure every other independent filmmaker who is struggling to get their work to an audience. Because, even if you are fortunate enough to get the funds to make your movie, getting it into theatres is another struggle. We haven’t quite gotten to the point of finding a good way to a strong on-demand release and “direct to DVD” has that unfortunate stigma. That leaves the independents to carve the new terrain. But, sometimes, it’s good to look back before moving forward. Hollywood should take a look at its past to understand where its future success will lie: films for a more sophisticated audience. Because it does exist. And it is hungry for content.
The past decade has been so tumultuous for America (and the world). And, unlike the Great Depression, we aren’t longing for escape on the silver screen. We are seeking connection. We can find that in laughter, as well as tears; in a small story or an epic. We want to watch ourselves and hope to see that we will be okay. We will triumph. We will love and succeed. We will laugh about it. We will come out the other side better than we were before. Mostly, we want to be understood. And wouldn’t it be great if Hollywood got that?
Update: I am currently crowdfunding my film, BLACK COFFEE, on Indiegogo. Please, check it out. The campaign runs through 15 October until 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time.