Suddenly the summer’s sour box office is the furthest thing from a Hollywood mogul’s mind.
What’s on the front burner now? Which A-list star will be accused of sexual assault next?
In the last 24 hours we’ve learned both director Brett Ratner (“X-Men: The Last Stand”) and screen legend Dustin Hoffman have been accused of predatory behavior. That’s on top of similar headlines clinging to director James Toback, actor Ben Affleck and Kevin Spacey.
The scandal that began with producer Harvey Weinstein’s fall from grace shows no signs of stopping. In fact, it might be speeding up.
It all comes at a terrible time for Hollywood. Consider:
- The industry has spent the past year savaging both Donald Trump and his supporters, alienating millions of movie goers in the process.
- Those aforementioned box office figures were disastrous for the industry.
- The era of the Movie Star is but a memory. Starry features like “Suburbicon” are crashing while horror entries with few, if any, recognizable names are the industry’s rare hits.
- The upcoming Oscar movie season might not ride to the industry’s rescue, even as “The Last Jedi” and “Thor: Ragnorak” promise a respite from the box office blues.
Is there any doubt 2017 has been the worst year ever for movies?
So what should Hollywood do to restore its tattered brand? It won’t be easy. The following seven suggestions would be a good start all the same. A few are aimed at wooing Red State America. Others will bring both sides together.
One More Celebrity PSA
What’s the single most annoying thing to come out of Hollywood in recent memory? No, it’s not the Lady Ghostbusters or that R-rated “Baywatch” flop. Not even close. It’s the parade of smug celebrity PSAs tackling everything from candidate Donald Trump to gun control.
It looked like the industry gave up on the tactic following Hillary Clinton’s humiliating defeat last year. Nope. We recently got yet another fact-challenged PSA last month. This time, the stars aligned to smite the NRA.
Enough is enough. No minds are being changed by these awkward, didactic clips. And we’re not impressed you ditched the makeup trailer long enough to record your lines.
Which means it’s time for one last celebrity PSA … with a twist. Here’s a sample script and suggested stars.
Julianne Moore: We’re here to say… we’re sorry.
Jack Black: We’re sorry.
Don Cheadle: Sorry.
Matt Damon: We finally realize how lame our relentless PSAs are, and how predictable.
TV Actor Whose Name You Can’t Remember: Condescending, too.
Mark Ruffalo: We just want to entertain you and tap into our creative souls in the process.
Scarlett Johansson: We’ve overstepped our job descriptions. Bigly.
Melissa McCarthy: And, in the process, ignored the festering boils growing within our industry.
Lena Dunham: Sexism. The casting couch. Hollywood so white.
Clark Gregg: That’s over now.
Jamie Foxx: Over.
Bradley Whitford: Over.
That blast of self-awareness might do wonders for the industry’s image. At the very least it’s a start.
Make the Oscars About … The Oscars Again
There’s a good reason roughly half the country immediately ignores the modern awards show. They’ve become first and foremost a place to lecture the country, not honor the industry’s stellar achievements.
Why would any Red State type bother to watch? Even liberals might yawn over the nonstop sermons.
That can change, starting with the biggest awards show of the year, the 2018 Academy Awards ceremony. The upcoming event is off to a bad start. Nakedly partisan Jimmy Kimmel is set to host for the second year in a row. That doesn’t have to sink the evening even if he went the full Stephen Colbert during his first Oscar gig.
Let’s have Kimmel stick to funny jokes, not political slams aimed at only one side of the aisle. In any given year there’s plenty of fodder for a quality comic.
More importantly, make the night about the magic of movies as it should be. Bring back acting legends like Jack Nicholson and Sidney Poitier. Crank up some great movie compilations to fire our nostalgia neurons. Celebrate the year in film without becoming a HuffPo op-ed.
The goodwill it would generate among conservatives would be considerable. And would any liberal revolt after being entertained for three-plus hours without a progressive lecture?
Give, and Give Some More
Actors are rich. Very rich. Cartoonishly so. Think the Monopoly guy without the threat of that “Go to Jail” card looming. Just read the sad details of Johnny Depp’s money “woes” and you’ll understand.
So what does that mean? They can give … ‘til it hurts. And maybe it’s about time they start doing just that. Now, many stars already give to charity. Some selflessly rallied after the horrific rains flooded Houston earlier this year, for example. Others do so quietly, steering some of their fortunes for noble causes without issuing a single press release.
Great. Now up the ante.
Challenge your fellow stars to give and give some more. Make it fun and social, and use a dollop of peer pressure to make it happen faster.
The stars can even encourage audience to do the same based on their own budgetary restrictions.
Is this a transparent attempt to curry favor? Yes. So what? Think of how many people would benefit from it.
Take a Page from the Indie World
Indie filmmakers tell personal stories that often lack mainstream appeal. Studios, by comparison, are seek the biggest audience possible.
Money is the obvious answer. The second answer is even more basic – to cover their costs. The modern studio film is outrageously expensive. One reason last year’s “Ghostbusters” reboot was considered a flop was due to its massive budget.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
Ask any indie filmmaker and he or she will share a dozen ways to cut down on production costs. It’s what they do on every movie, every time. There is no Plan B. They just don’t have the resources the big players have. And they act accordingly. Sometimes their cost-cutting measures make for a better product. Ingenuity has that effect.
Why does this matter?
Smaller budgets will allow studios to avoid mega flops … and let them take more creative risks. That means less remakes, reboots and sequels. If audiences see more original stories on their local movie marquee they might start heading back inside again.
Keep Naming Names
It’s been depressing to read about the sexual assaults happening across the Hollywood landscape.
Only some of the stars knew something was afoot. Others had much more information but stayed mum. Quentin Tarantino and Jessica Chastain jump to mind. Does anyone think they’re alone?
It’s time to open the flood gates. Start talking, stars. Share the stories you’ve heard behind closed doors. But, and this is critical, do so in a reasonable fashion. Confirm your findings. Don’t just blurt out an accusation on social media.
This message is especially true for the industry’s most powerful players. You will not lose your place in the Hollywood hierarchy by doing the right thing. We need your voices now. Speak up. Speak responsibility. Bottom line? Make sure the future Harvey Weinstein’s think twice before pawing another aspiring actress. Or worse.
Watch More TV (And Take Notes)
We’re experiencing a new Golden Age of TV. It’s happening while the quality of movies is on a slow, but consistent, downward spiral. And pop culture consumers are taking note. What inspires more water cooler chat, “Stranger Things” or the latest Tom Cruise movie? Can any movie compare to HBO’s “Game of Thrones” for audience enthusiasm?
It’s not even close. Not let’s examine why.
More original stories. Meatier roles for actors of all ages. Extended storylines that grow richer with every installment. Writing that leaps off the screen. Have we seen a movie this year with dialogue as tart as what we heard on FX’s “Fargo?”
For years TV chased movies for better storytelling. The roles have been reversed. Now, it’s time for film to play catch up.
Find New Villains
One of Hollywood’s moldiest tropes deserves a breather – the rich capitalist as the go-to baddie. He might peddle oil, own a luxury apartment building or simply suffer from greed on the brain. Either way, Hollywood screenwriters can’t help falling back on him over and again. It’s time to give this trope a breather.