Some months ago producer and former 20th Century Fox honcho Peter Chernin spoke to producer Lynda Obst for her book, Sleepless in Hollywood: Tales of The New Abnormal in the Movie Business, and here’s how he described things: “[The] studios are frozen…terrified, not necessarily inappropriately, to do anything because they don’t know what the numbers look like.”
What they don’t know, more specifically, is “how to run a P & L” — a profit-and-loss statement for their board members — “because [they] don’t know what the DVD number is.’ The DVD number used to be half of the entire P & L!” Wait…today’s home video “numbers” are mainly about VOD and streaming before DVD/Bluray, right? Bluray is niche and DVD is strictly bargain-basement. I realize that the collapse of the DVD market four or five years ago cut heavily into profits and that VOD and streaming sales are delivering…what, a third of what the DVD market was at its height? But studio guys can’t at least project what VOD and streaming revenues will be?
But all right, okay… mainstream Hollywood is “broken,” says Obst. The only kinds of films that are getting funded are pre-sold, mostly CG-driven, ancient-myth or comic-book properties aimed at lowbrow under-35 males.
And yet somehow a fair amount of good stuff is getting made. Somehow, despite what Chernin and Obst and others are all telling us, the mainstream 2013 slate includes several presumably smart, high-toned features that weren’t made for nickels and dimes and aren’t precisely aimed at under-35 idiot males: David O. Russell‘s American Hustle, John Wells‘ August: Osage County, Alexander Payne‘s Nebraska, George Clooney‘s Monuments Men, Paul Greengrass‘s Captain Phillips, Alfonso Cuaron‘s Gravity, Martin Scorsese‘s Wolf of Wall Street, Steve McQueen‘s 12 Years A Slave, Jason Reitman‘s Labor Day, Joel and Ethan Coen‘s Inside Llewyn Davis, Bennett Miller‘s Foxcatcher, John Lee Hancock‘s Saving Mr. Banks, Ridley Scott‘s The Counselor, Spike Lee‘s Oldboy, Luc Besson‘s The Family, Spike Jonze‘s Her, Anton Corbijn‘s A Most Wanted Man, Peter Landesman‘s Parkland, Diablo Cody‘s Paradise, Asghar Farhadi‘s The Past, Woody Allen‘s Blue Jasmine, Susanne Bier‘s Serena, Errol Morris‘s The Unknown Known: The Life and Times of Donald Rumsfeld, Ryan Coogler‘s Fruitvale Station, Ron Howard‘s Rush, David Cronenberg‘s Maps to the Stars and Neil Blomkamp‘s Elysium.
“I think the two driving forces [of what you’re calling the Great Contraction] were the recession and the transition of the DVD market,” Chernin tells Obst. “The 2008 writers’ strike added a little gasoline to the fire. It was partially driven by the recession, but I think it was more driven by technology.” So “there it was,” Obst summarizes. “Technology had destroyed the DVD.
“When did the collapse begin?” Obst asks.
“The bad news started in 2008,” Chernin says. “Bad 2009. Bad 2010. Bad 2011.”
“The international market will still grow,” Chernin projects, “but the DVD sell-through business is not coming back again. Consumers will buy their movies on Netflix, iTunes, Amazon et al. before they will purchase a DVD.”
Thank God there’s at least a Bluray market for connoisseurs like myself — for people who care about watching films (including older films) with the best image quality obtainable. who care deeply whether a film that should be seen at 1.66 has been Blurayed at 1.66 or whacked down to 1.85, etc. Thank God there’s at least that realm to play in.