Too many films or not enough?

Some how, I managed to relisten to a Mark Gill interview from back in Oct. He touched on a few subjects, but the one that hit me – as it did when I first heard it – was this idea that there are too many films coming out, and that is killing the business. Now, six months later, the studios are making less films and the indie companies have been cut down and the ones that are left are making less. So this year, or maybe next, there will be less films made or at least released.  Like it or not, we’ll have less choice in the future.

I can’t argue with the idea that there are too many movies being made. Ted Hope had a good article last year where he combined all the budgets of the films at Sundance and came up with a staggering number, money that will almost entirely go down the drain.

But from the audience point of view, there is an astonishing lack of choice in theaters. As I said in my last post, there were about 14 films at the local multiplex and the same 14 films available at all the theaters near here, and pretty much the same 14 films available nationwide.

Gill’s argument goes something like this: you are given a choice between a blockbuster, a chick flick, a comedy, a horror movie and a specialty film. If there are too many specialty films, it does two things: it divides the audience and it increases the cost of marketing, because, in addition to competing with the juggernaut of the blockbuster, a specialty film has to compete against other specialty films. I find this a very cynical stance.  Basically, he is saying that because specialty films can’t compete, there should be less competition.  Isn’t that like Coke saying that they need to improve their business by making less Pepsi?

Giving the audience less choice may help a specialty distributor cover the costs of their 24 Million dollar movie, but all it does to an audience is give them less.  The audience always has another choice that Gill doesn’t seem to include in his equation: they can stay home.  Most of them are already doing this.  Gill is essentially saying that he is only after people going to the movies already, and for him, the specialty film audience.  So his slice of that audience is getting smaller.  There is never ever talk about increasing that slice, or, God-forbid, looking at the fact that all the specialty companies are bidding on the same films instead of making films that are completely different in character from each other.  No talk about changing their production model or their M+A model because they simply don’t know how to do that.

But there are reasons that most people stay home and don’t go to the theaters and one of those reasons is that there is nothing in theaters that they want to see.  In fact, entire audiences has been disenfranchised from going to the movies BECAUSE they had stopped being catered to.  Over the last 30 years, blockbusters took over all the screens and basically what happened was this: when Star Wars started filling up all the theaters, the grown up movies had less and less space to compete.  This worked pretty well for the industry because it had complete control.  You could see Star Wars or nothing.

But the choices have grown.  I can stay home and watch French Connection again on my blu-ray player (which I intend to do tonight).   All I’m saying is, when you cut the choice, you cut the audience.   It’s a great way to keep costs down, but also a great way to keep audience numbers down too.  I think, in economic terms, this is what they call a deflationary spiral.

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