THE MARGINALIZATION OF THE MOTION PICTURE DRAMA
This article confirms what I’ve been thinking for a LONG time. But I genuinely feel that the studios’ reluctance to back meaningful dramatic and/or grown up fare has to do with certain cycles.
Bugs the hell out of me because those are the kinds of films that I actively seek out…and not just the prestige OSCAR bait either.
For the record…
PUBLIC ENEMIES is an experience that I’m genuinely looking forward to.
I enjoyed FROST/NIXON (four stars from me), STATE OF PLAY (viewed it twice), REVOLUTIONARY ROAD and GRAN TORINO.
I gave DUPLICITY (easily one of my all time favourites – saw it twelve times) a four star rating.
DUPLICITY is a comedy. But it’s incredibly smart, complex and substantial.
So you have to keep up and think at a certain level as it unspools before you.
Perhaps that’s why it didn’t kill at the box office…?
What if your idea of entertainment involves more than watching Ben Stiller get slapped by monkeys? The pickings are slim and getting slimmer.
In the wake of high profile dramas flopping at the box office – including FROST/NIXON, STATE OF PLAY, REVOLUTIONARY ROAD and AUSTRALIA – studios are increasingly gun shy about making movies that don’t offer pure escapism. Even the frothy, adult oriented caper DUPLICITY struggled to find a wide audience.
One producer who specializes in dramas says the climate is as brutal as he’s ever seen it: “Anything that can’t be sold as a genre film or wasn’t conceived as a franchise is dead.”
Even projects that might once have been considered OSCAR bait have fallen prey to executives’ squeamishness. PARAMOUNT turned down director Bill Condon’s planned biopic about RICHARD PRYOR, with EDDIE MURPHY attached to star. UNIVERSAL axed a drama starring NAOMI WATTS as a global activist.
“With the economy being what it is, no one wants to get blamed for a failure,” one agent commented.
“If you greenlight something that’s totally mainstream and it fails, it’s not your fault. If you greenlight an adult drama and it tanks, you lose your job.”
Who’s to blame for the sorry state of the adult drama?
Filmmakers fault studio marketers for not effectively selling serious fare. Producers blame the studios for making poor choices and spending too much money, setting dramas up for failure. Meanwhile, some executives say the films themselves simply aren’t compelling enough.
“Frankly, a lot of the dramas just aren’t as good as they purport to be,” said a studio exec.
To break through these days, a dramatic film needs to have more than simply an OSCAR winner or two and a worthwhile tale to tell.
“The adult drama today has to be more than a meditation on alcoholism,” stated ROBERTO ORCI, cowriter and executive producer of STAR TREK, who’s trying to get his own drama 28TH AMENDMENT off the ground at WARNER BROTHERS.
“You have to tell that story in a new way.”
It also helps if you can give your drama the commercial hook of a genre film – like last year’s hit GRAN TORINO, a meditation on tolerance wrapped in the guise of a movie with a gun toting CLINT EASTWOOD and a cool car.
“That movie worked because you could put a 30 second spot together where people said, ‘Oh, that sounds kick ass,’ ” said GARY FOSTER.
UNIVERSAL seems to be following a similar playbook for its JULY release PUBLIC ENEMIES.
The studio’s great, heart thumping trailer suggests an action movie more than a character driven historical drama.
As bleak as things look for the adult drama, many believe the genre is simply in the midst of a cyclical downturn and that it will eventually make a comeback.
“People are turned off to stuff that’s holding a mirror up to their lives,” said one prominent producer.
“But that will all change when we return to a more solid economic footing.”
Producer MARK JOHNSON agrees.
“You have to have faith in a mature audience. The strike zone may be getting smaller and smaller, but if you throw it right, it can still work.”