Jewish World Review August 19, 2005/ 14 Av, 5765

Greg Crosby

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Blockbusters or Bust | Everybody's talking about how bad the movie box office has been this summer, how all the films that should have been blockbusters have gone bust. Sure, many films had big opening weekends, but then the attendance plummeted in the weeks following. No staying power. No repeat business. A big Lucas Star Wars flick or a new Spielberg film used to be a guarantee of phenomenal success, but not anymore. It seems the tried and true formulas just aren't as sure-fire as they once were.

Movie attendance keeps shrinking. Lots of people have lost that movie-going habit. Mature adults and families are not going out to the movie theaters as they once did — and why should they? Most of the time there's nothing out there worth seeing for many of us. The teens and young twenty-somethings, the prime target audiences for film makers these days, are the only ones that movies are really made for anymore. And now it appears that prime faction is just not enough to sustain the movie business. Maybe Hollywood should consider producing movies with a little broader appeal again instead of limiting the movies they make to one narrow audience segment.

It shouldn't come as a shock to anyone who has even a rudimentary understanding of business, ANY business, that if you narrow your prospective market you won't make as much money. Think of the garment industry. Supposing a manufacturer only produced jeans for 14 year-old boys because 14 year-old boys wear more jeans than any other age group. Sound dumb? Would you consider that a sharp business move? That's exactly what the movie industry has been doing.

Here's the thinking. People in a certain demographic tend to go out to movies more — so instead of attempting to address the OTHER demographics by creating product that might appeal to them (and perhaps increase the total market of movie-goers) we'll just cut them out entirely and ONLY MAKE MOVIES FOR ONE LIMITED SEGMENT OF THE POPULATION. Wow! You gotta go to Harvard business school to get THAT brilliant!

Teenagers and twenty-somethings have been going to the movies since the beginning of movies. The movie theater has always been the popular choice for a date or just somewhere to go for an evening when you wanted to be entertained. The difference years ago, was that movies were made that had an appeal to a wide range of ages. Yes, there were movies geared to kids, and movies specifically for teenagers, but there were plenty of other movies too. Movies for adults, and I don't mean XXX. I mean sophisticated stories with fully-defined complicated characters and grownup themes. Exactly the kind of stuff they don't produce anymore and the kind of stuff that has now been generally accepted as "golden age classics."

Hollywood used to be quite good at holding up a looking glass to the human condition. The best movies were pictures that dealt with everyday dilemmas and emotions. Not that all the films were dry serious dramas — great comedy did the same thing. Strong stories, interesting characters, situations and emotions that almost everyone could identify with was the formula that worked.

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"I Remember Mama," "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn," and "Cheaper by the Dozen" were pictures that focused on the seemingly simple (but really quite complicated) struggles and emotions of American families in the early part of the last century. The pure human drama of these stories holds up just as well today as they did in their initial release. I find it hard to believe that this type of well-written, intelligent picture done today wouldn't touch people in the same way that it once touched our parents and grandparents.

Our times have changed, but people are still people. People still laugh, cry, and think. There are millions of people who would love to go out to see a movie again that doesn't insult their intelligence. I know there must be plenty of ex-movie goers who crave that wonderful exciting feeling of sitting in a darkened theater with an audience; anticipating a new really good picture to come on the screen.

Like the line in "Field of Dreams," ("build it and they will come"), I believe that if the studios made the good stuff again, that the people would come. My suggestion to the movers and shakers of show biz is to make movies with a story and characters that real grownups can identify with again and see what happens. It couldn't reduce theater attendance any more than it already is, and who knows — it might even expand your market share and increase your bottom line.

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JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. A freelance writer in Southern California, you may contact him by clicking here.

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© 2005 Greg Crosby