According to writer Mark Harris, Hollywood is in deep crisis. He says that the atmosphere in the movie-making capital of the world is so cautious that most executives are afraid to try new formulas. So moviegoers are left with a continuous repetition of the same titles. This year alone, Hollywood has produced “Spy Kids 4,” “Final Destination 5,” more “Harry Potter,” more “Pirates of the Caribbean,” more and more of what we’ve seen before. There are common themes that both filmmakers and brands return to, time and time again.
In his book, Mark Harris asks: How did we get here? Today he has been invited to talk to reporter Barbara Walker about his recent article “The Day the Movies Died” and maybe he will be able to answer that question for us.
BARBARA WALKER: Mark, welcome to our show and thank you very much for accepting our invitation to talk about the situation in Hollywood.
MARK HARRIS: Thanks so much for inviting me. It’s a pleasure being here to talk to you and your listeners.
BARBARA WALKER: So how did we get here? In your book you say that Hollywood has almost completely lost interest in making any kind of movies for adult audiences.
Mr. HARRIS: Well, I think one of the reasons is that it now costs, in many cases, more to market a movie than it does to make the movie: up to $40 to $50 million for a regular studio movie, sometimes more for a big adventure movie. And because marketing is so expensive, the people who pay for it, that is, the advertisers, can decide what movies get made in the first place. And what they want are movies that are brands , and there’s not a lot of room for adult dramas based on just the quality of the story.
BARBARA WALKER: I’m interested in the examples that you offer in your book, and I want you to explain something. You said the problem, that is, the fact that there are very few movies made for adult audiences can in part be found in one specific film, “Top Gun”, perhaps the biggest success by Tom Cruise.
Mr. HARRIS: Exactly. A movie made in 1986. I think that that moment, the “Top Gun” moment, in the mid-’80s, was a moment when movies changed from being about the content to being about the image. In other words, if you put all the right elements together – the star, the noisy soundtrack, the special effects, the poster, and the slogan – you can actually make a movie that will appeal to the largest possible audience, a movie that isn’t necessarily very good quality, but that a lot of people can identify with.
BARBARA WALKER: So after “Top Gun”, what kind of movies stopped getting made? What kind of movies for adults are we missing? Could a movie like “Marathon Man” or “Taxi Driver” or “The Godfather” be made and be successful now?
Mr. HARRIS: Well, it actually can be very good business to make adult dramas, like ‘The Godfather” if you make them for, say, $40 million or less. You know, if you keep the cost under control, you can do very, very well. So, you know, even a movie like “The Social Network,” still needs a movie studio to say yes to it and pay for it, and that’s what’s really hard right now.
BARBARA WALKER: There’s another thing that I want to talk to you about before I let you go. You say that in these days, when marketing is everything, the audience is divided into groups that are based on age and gender. And as I read that sentence, my goodness, it is so depressing to find out that women in Hollywood are basically treated like garbage.
Mr. HARRIS: It’s absolutely true. If you’re over 25, you’re old. If you’re under 25, you’re not. You know, as someone who’s much older than 25, I’m not happy about this either, but if you’re a woman over 25, you’re probably in the most neglected of those four groups. Movie producers really assume that unless there’s a Sandra Bullock movie, moviegoers would probably rather stay at home. And it becomes a vicious circle because, of course, the fewer movies that are made for adults, the more people will stay home.
BARBARA WALKER: One more point before you go. Weíve heard that a sequel to “Top Gun”, Top Gun 2 is in production. Is that correct?
Mr. HARRIS: That’s right, because all of the kids who loved “Top Gun” when they saw it in their late teens and early 20s are now the bosses in the studios. And that maybe is not such great news for those of us who love movies other than “Top Gun.”
BARBARA WALKER: Mark, I’m afraid that’s all the time we have for today. Thank you very much for this very interesting and entertaining chat.
Mr. HARRIS: Thank you.