Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Biz

If you caught yesterday's edition of Pop Culture America with John and Dave, you were privy to a rather spirited debate about the so-called "culture wars." If you didn't catch yesterday's Pop Culture America with John and Dave, you have made me sad.

Our guest made the case that Hollywood has a secret agenda to offend the people who make up the largest part of its films' potential audience, those with Judeo-Christian-based beliefs. "The bottom line is not the bottom line," he said.

As evidence, he pointed to the fact that even though PG and PG-13 movies make the most money, Hollywood persists in making R-rated and NC-17 films. Why else would they do that except to destroy the morals of America and attack the devout?

I had an answer. It's a little on the long side, though, so I couldn't really use it during our conversation.

But in the blogosphere, I got all the time in the world.

So here goes:

First of all, Hollywood makes very few NC-17 films. Not even enough to consider here. So that's a non-starter.

Let's stay in the real world. Let's take the box-office champion for this week. That would be Horton Hears a Who. More people went to see Horton Hears a Who this week (and last) than any other movie. Why not just put out dozens and dozens of Hortons, to the exclusion of all else? That would seem to be the sensible business decision.

It would seem to be, but it's not. The reason it's not is because movies are different from other commodities. Movies aren't peanut butter. Or ball-point pens. Or tube socks.

If you're marketing peanut butter, you know there's a certain amount of people in the world who like peanut butter and are inclined to buy it. Your job then is to get your peanut butter to as many of them as possible. The end.

If you're marketing movies, however, you know there's a certain amount of people who like going to the movies, but not all of them like the same thing. For example, I hope all the people who went to see Horton Hears a Who these past two weeks had a lovely time at the show, but I would rather be waterboarded than sit in a theater with a bunch of yowling kiddies while that soppy dreck galumphs across the screen. It is not to my taste.

Yet, the movie companies would like my money. Sure, there's more Horton money than there is from me and my like-minded ilk, but why play at "Choose-Between" when you can have both? Horton Hears a Who is a Twentieth Century Fox film. Earlier this year, the same company had the R-rated Aliens vs. Predators -- Requiem. Later this spring, Fox will release David Ayer's Street Kings and Marcel Langenegger's Deception, both also R-rated. Do they release R-rated movies because they're stupid? Or because they think they have a good chance of offending?

I don't think so. I think it's more likely that Fox knows that, big though a kiddie film like Horton might be, there are more moviegoing dollars out in the world. Maybe Deception won't hit the jackpot like Horton did, but it will appeal to a crowd that has no use for animated elephants or theaters full of screaming, incontinent kids. It will pull cash out of a reservoir that Horton is unable to tap.

Plus, movies can saturate. What was popular and bankable last year might not do so well now, especially if last year's hits have been copied ad nauseum. If movies were peanut butter, this wouldn't be a problem; once you like peanut butter, you tend to always like peanut butter. But even the same audience may sour on a movie type that once was boffo box office. Think about the cycles that westerns and sci-fi and yes, even family films have gone through in times past. Film companies try to stay ahead of such cycles, largely by releasing a variety of films. With a variety of ratings.

But I could be wrong. I suppose it's possible that a clandestine cabal of film producers gathers periodically to plot how their films can best be positioned to attack the cherished beliefs of the vast majority of those who plunk down cash to see said films, all profit be blasted.

I can't wait to see THOSE movies!

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