Position Paper

Dec. 31, 2017

Where is Capra When We Need Him?

By Michael Leibowitz

Box office attendance has fallen to the lowest point in 25 years. Hasn’t the time finally arrived for fresh talent to produce and exhibit original masterful motion pictures to bring former and new cinema patrons back into screening rooms?

Cinemas used to be called dream palaces. Both the theatres and movies they showed were the creations of men who dared to dream big dreams. Today, the dream palaces have been replaced by multiplexes. The movies shown are more likely to be branded reboots and sequels than original celluloid masterpieces. The Jack Warners of the film industry have been replaced by Jack the Bean Counters. It’s no wonder that the public pays more attention to opening weekend grosses than to reviews. As a consequence, films are in a state of decline.

Movies have become immoral. The Hollywood establishment has bombarded the younger generation with sex, drugs and violence. At the same time, many of the baby boomers, who comprise 78 million of our population, are not interested in what is being offered at the multiplex. Reluctantly, they have sought other forms of entertainment.

The root for the decline lies with how Hollywood studios and production companies have evolved into a private club. Like many such clubs, Hollywood suffers from inbreeding. This comes from restrictive industry practices as not accepting “unsolicited material” from producers and screenwriters not part of the established “Good Ole Boys” inner circle. It has had the consequence of adversely affecting creativity resulting in the “fatigue” felt by the public for the films being exhibited, which has caused huge sums of money being spent on these movies in a failed attempt to increase box office revenues.

The films being produced by Hollywood are violent, dark and raunchy. It’s about the stifling of creativity and the subpar content replacing it. If you question what I am saying, just look at the movies at multiplexes on almost any given weekend. It’s Tarantino shedding some more blood after being bankrolled once again by the Weinstein brothers; Apatow having Rogen depict more tasteless humor; and Scorsese sickening audiences with profanities, to name a few. Capra is probably rolling over in his grave.

Hollywood no longer imposes self-censorship for the movies they finance. The Motion Picture Association of America’s ratings board has softened its standards in evaluating the appropriateness of content for children. Today, almost anything goes so long as the powers that be think it will sell at the box office. They have traded art for just cash. However, their strategy is backfiring. Attendance is down at the multiplex.

Donald Zuckerman, Director of the Colorado Office of Film, Television & Media, related to me that there are 100 million evangelical Christians who will not attend most of the motion pictures made today, because of sex and language issues.

It’s reached the point where a man can’t take his mother to the movies. Two men told me they couldn’t keep their eyes off their mother’s reaction to “The Wolf of Wall Street” as the women saw and heard the vulgar images and unspeakable words unfold before them.

It’s true that “The Wolf” grossed $392 million at the box office worldwide, but at a cost of subjecting audiences to indecency, not bargained for by most attendees. Undoubtedly, the film’s box office was to a large extent a direct result of the reputations of Scorsese, DiCaprio and Winkler.

Saved from decline by increased ticket prices, the annual domestic box office has been stagnating around $11 billion for years. Shouldn’t it have eclipsed $20 billion by now given the economic circumstances that we have been experiencing? Moviegoers should be flocking to theatres in unprecedented numbers not seen since the Great Depression as an escape from their everyday problems. However, too few attend films after their initial weekend release.

Theatre exhibitors are also to blame. They have made a decided effort to shift movie going to a more expensive affair by increasing ticket and concessions pricing; charging a premium for 3-D movies and luxurious seating; and serving higher priced food and alcoholic beverages in screening rooms. The objective is to get the few patrons attending to spend as much money as possible. Those seeking a low-cost entertainment experience have remained at home to watch films on demand or through streaming services afforded by Netflix or rent DVDs from Waterfall’s Redbox.

From a filmmaking perspective, the up and coming actors and actresses of the movie industry have no star power. They don’t elevate us to another level. They lack the style and grace of the Gables, Grants, Hepburns and Taylors of motion pictures’ Golden Years.

The “indie” films are the ones that end up being considered when awards season comes around particularly for the Academy’s best picture category. They are not representative of the mainstream movies being produced by Hollywood. These small films have no mass appeal. They perform marginally at the box office. As an example, last year’s Academy Awards best picture, “Moonlight,” grossed a meager $28 million at the domestic box office.

What is needed is a return to producing masterful movies with new actors and actresses who will inspire audiences along the lines of such great films like “The Sound of Music,” with movie stars like Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer of years gone past. At the same time, theatre operators must make it a “value” experience to attend a show for audiences to return to the multiplex. The industry’s “blockbusters” must once again be its Academy Award nominees and winners. Standing in the wings is a host of new filmmakers – actors, directors, producers and screenwriters – patiently waiting for their turn to show what they are capable of delivering on the silver screen.

However, there is much more on the line. It’s the very nature of filmmaking itself that’s at stake. How many times does one want to see more often than not an inferior version of virtually the same movie? And then there is “Fifty Shades of Grey” and its two sequels. How much more must take place before the baton is finally passed to this new breed of filmmakers who rise up to say… “Enough!?”

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