A Reflection on the State of the Industry

From two people who are trying to change it.
By Dany Vasquez & Samuel Luna

Ask anyone who has talked to me in the past nine months about my current feelings towards the film industry and they might just warn you to back away. Much to the annoyance of everyone around me, I have not stopped moaning and groaning and dramatically predicting the beginning of the end.

Now. In my defense. While the months following the Oscars are always a bit lackluster, this year in particular the slump seemed to stretch deep into summer and even fall, when at least the prospect of the upcoming awards season is enough to bring back the excitement. And though I returned from TIFF completely reenergized and excited about the wealth of movies soon to be released, I can’t help but be wary about the direction Hollywood has chosen to take in recent years.

So despite my enthusiastic anticipation of the 40+ movies on my list, I need to make one plea to my beloved industry. Hollywood. Are you listening? Good. Enough with the sequels.

Enough with the sequels and the reboots and the remakes. Enough with spending so much time and energy on projects no one is asking for. Enough with wasting millions of dollars on trying to recreate the magic of something that was only magical because it had never been done before.

It was a bit of a jolt to spend the whole year with the mentality that there is simply nothing original being created anymore and then arrive at TIFF and see literally hundreds of creative and compelling movies from the most diverse range of filmmakers. And that’s when I realized that the problem doesn’t lie with the industry as a whole — but rather the gatekeepers of the mainstream. In other words, Hollywood.

In recent years, I’ve noticed a trend whenever Oscar season starts rolling around. I hear friends and coworkers talk about never knowing any of the films that are nominated and why these movies don’t reach the mainstream in the same way. And yet Hollywood insists on saturating our screens with films that usually lose money because the demand doesn’t quite match the expense needed to create them.

Meanwhile the indies and the arthouse films quietly chug away under the radar of the average moviegoer yet surge to surprising attention during awards season. The disconnect is honestly fascinating — even more so because Hollywood hasn’t yet seized on it.

My hope is that eventually the numbers will speak, and Hollywood will soon realize that putting their power behind smaller original films might just pay off. And don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying sequels and reboots and tentpoles should be all but banned. There’s absolutely a market for them — but to an extent. The possibility of an old favorite movie being brought back is always incredibly enticing for any fan. But studios need to recognize it is risky territory. And right now audiences may need a break from seeing half-assed attempts at recreating something once mighty — or worse, blatant money-grabs riding on old iconic titles.

Maybe by shifting the focus these next few years towards the new and the original and the groundbreaking, mainstream audiences will once again be on par with the pundits and critics and industry insiders in their viewing choices.

The past few years have definitely seen a rise in awards attention for small-budget and indie films that didn’t quite reach that level of mainstream attention. Look at Best Picture nominees Boyhood (2014) and Whiplash (2014), which led much of the conversation during that year’s Oscars. This year saw even more attention for indies with praise for Lenny Abrahamson’s Room (2015) and Alex Garland’s Ex-Machina (2015), which beat out such heavyweights like Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) and The Martian (2015) for Best Film Editing.

And there is simply no bigger indie success story than this year’s Best Picture award going to Spotlight (2015), edging out the massive frontrunners, Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) and The Revenant (2015).

It will be interesting to see if this year will continue the pattern, but with so many incredible films coming out of Toronto and Telluride and the awards season just beginning, I can’t imagine the conversation to be any different.

I can only hope that Hollywood will soon realize where the best potential is and that if they don’t wake up, they’ll be left behind. After all, with streaming companies like Netflix and Amazon wading deeper into the industry and smaller distribution companies like Open Road Films and A24 continuing to make waves, it’s either learn how to swim or get swept away.

So, Hollywood — is it time to swim?

 

Or is Hollywood just afraid to take a leap? The movie industry is only about a century old, and change is always a necessity for entities to continue on with their legacies. Audiences’ attention spans are now shaped by a technology-driven culture. Millennial viewers are not only the biggest pop culture influencers, but they have redefined how our society consumes and critiques movies — particularly through social media and the Internet. And Hollywood is still struggling to successfully cut through that noise.

Society today has more power than ever to influence what we see on the screen — just look at the rise in satirical pop culture that allows anyone to publicly bash or acclaim anything they get their hands on.

And because Hollywood continues to fail in providing worthwhile film experiences — instead relying on massive sequels and reboots — it’s no wonder that the Internet keeps bringing them down.

Two prime examples from this year were Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) and Suicide Squad (2016) — two films that were projected and marketed as major summer blockbusters. Sorry, Hollywood. We all disagreed. Despite the amount of money behind each project, both films were a disappointment to movie critics and casual viewers, alike.

Now this is not to say that the films had no entertainment value — after all, this could be the rise of a new era of cult classic films, similar to the critically-panned films from the 1980s we have all grown to love.

But sadly, Hollywood just seems to be putting all their eggs in one basket. Once they realize that the basket is too full and falls out of their grasp — well, then you’re left with a nasty floor with… well, cracked eggs… and yolk… Not a pretty mess to clean.

And we are left with seeing Hollywood as a money-making monopoly that worries more about their image and deadlines than authenticity. The focus is lost. So what is going on?

Where is the artistry?

Where is the love and creativity?

Are those in charge just too stubborn and lazy to take risks?

Time will only tell. Art is an expression, and film is an experience. And there are too many ambitious and innovative young minds being left behind. With the booming independent market, future creatives will soon rise against the major studios.

Hollywood: you better adapt before you become a forgotten relic. Because artists won’t stop until their dreams are heard.

Start swimming.

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