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join the discussion: has hollywood really changed for the worse? If so, who or what is to blame?�

Dear FRONTLINE,

As the owner of a small independent record label, it is amazing to me how many parallels there are between the way the movie and music industries are run. Both live and die by the mega-hit, driven by a name artist. It is not the content that is of primary importance, but the marketing. Independent productions must achieve instant sales (like an opening weekend) or be forgotten forever.

Everything in the record business is 100% returnable. After 90 days, if it hasn't sold, it comes back. And just try to find room in the record bins. The same difficulties exist as with independent film distribution. The major labels require stores to take all of their releases in order to supply the hit CDs. They fill the bins with junk that doesn't sell. Eventually it all goes back, but this endless cycle squeezes out a lot of the creative music.

Obviously, most of us do not have the budgets to give adequate promotion, so the releases do not get a quick response. The business doesn't allow the slow (but steady) build through word-of-mouth, reviews and independent radio play. By the time the word is out, the recording is no longer in the stores.

On top of all of this, as with the film industry, the desired market are teenagers. They determine our tastes in music. If it doesn't appeal to this demographic, it will get very little attention.

Rather than belabor the point, the fact is the topic is really about the entertainment industry in general and the marketing of our tastes. Much of the record business is controlled by the same companies and motives that control the movie industry.

The one bright hope, especially for music, is the internet. It provides an avenue of direct marketing to the consumer and enables them to listen to the music. It helps get away from image and back to content. The challenge here, of course, is to avoid the rip-off to make sure the artists and the labels get appropriate compensation for their activities. This is easily a topic for another show.

Jimmy Durchslag
redway, ca


Dear FRONTLINE,

I'm not sure I agree that the movies Hollywood is producing today are any worse than they used to be. I think the problem is that those of us (myself included) who are generally disappointed with movies have grown up.

It's like saying that the fast food industry isn't what it used to be just because I don't enjoy it as much as I did when I was a kid. Which is why the existence or non-existence independant film is irrelevant. There are no are no fine restaurants for the masses, and McDonald's does not serve any unusual dishes.

Likewise, the film industry has always pandered to the masses (by necessity) and it always will. Furthermore, to say that the "lowest common denominator" is somehow an unworthy audience is an elitist view.

The fact is that moviegoers are generally young. If you are finding that you enjoy movies less and less as the years pass... Guess what? You're getting old. After all, I can't imagine that you enjoyed Frontline when you were younger.

Nathan Clark
menomonee falls, wisconsin


Dear FRONTLINE,

Since Hollywood doesn't appear to be represented in the discussion, I thought I'd put my two cents in for what it's worth. At least it's a good start on the truth, just keep in mind that it goes even deeper in the garbage than what I can tell you.

I'm a creative; I've been in Hollywood for about 17 years, during which time I've done creative on over 1,500 TV shows, a handful of features, mini-series, and too many to remember commercials and trailers. I do sound, editorial, graphics, concept, creative directing and producing in any combination.

Here's Hollywood:

Home to some of the finest and most talented people in the world and also home to more scum, thieves, losers and liar's than anywhere else on the face of the earth.

It's in a time now where everyone's hurting in one way or another. It's already died in a sense, it's just that no one wants to admit it because there are bills to pay. Stupidity, greed, and a lack of accountability where it matter's most have done a lot of the damage. It's a fragile business and a very expensive one.

It works something like this;

1. The corporations like Viacom. One thing matters to these guys, numbers (PERIOD).

2. The Studio Heads. The buffer between delusion and reality and the thin line it can be.

3. Depts., like Marketing, Research, Licensing, Development, Promotional etc etc....

4. More Depts. - Theatrical, Broadcast, Home Video, DVD, International, Acquisitions etc...

5. And More Depts. - Production etc.., Post Production etc...

It's 3, 4, and 5 that keep Hollywood in good health. Think of 3-4-5 as the bridge of wealth where millions of dollars are handed out to the hundreds of production and post production studios, Labs, Firms, Boutiques etc... for creating what you hope is entertainment.

This 3-4-5 area has always been a bit tainted here and there but never enough to sink the ship. This area is where the back stabbing, ass kissing and payola take place, some times referred to as the "Boys Club" (and that has nothing to do with the gay community either). It's also where good people with true creative brilliance, honesty and integrity work their hearts out.

What is now Hollywood came about during the greatest media event of our lifetime, the Internet. A very cool thing. What isn't cool is that the entertainment industry really didn't understand it and still don't. They made a big mistake by jumping in with both feet thinking there was a gold mine waiting for them and they all lost millions of dollars. Stupidity. PBS has less people running their network than Disney had running a search engine, and it failed. Think about that a second.

It started a gold rush like no one has ever seen. Viacom went on a buying spree, Liberty followed suit in the other direction and a lot of Tom, Dick and Idiots licked up the leftovers. They were all speculating on the same thing, money and the Internet. Beside the fact they were wrong, the damage they did to the industry was unbelievable. They have destroyed a lot of what was good - people and studios.

If they are successful it will be a goldmine. I think they're wrong; I'm certainly not going to sit and watch movies on my computer screen, are you?

That's about all I can tell you other than yes, we are all aware that you're being fleeced. Get used to it, because that's the way it's going to be unless someone like PBS can find a way to capitalize on the situation. Don't get your hopes up, though. You should feel fortunate that you have a PBS. What these people do, with what they have to do it with, is nothing less than a miracle. They operate on budget that wouldn't turn on the lights in Hollywood.

PBS represents the only thing in broadcast that you can trust. These people don't do it for the money - there isn't any - they do it because they believe in what it stands for, your rights! So the next time they ask for a few bucks send it to them.

PEACE!

The Cat
hollywas, ca

FRONTLINE's editors respond:

For more on how the Internet and digital technology are changing the movie business, see the "Dreaming in Broadband" section of this website.


Dear FRONTLINE,

Peter Bart of Variety, who has become the sage of the movie business, stated: "Ultimately, they [the entertainment conglomerates] are going to find a way of shuffling off the production function. They don't want to muck around with scripts and artists, for God's sake, that's disgusting."

One has only to understand this statement, watch this program, and carefully read through the material on this website to identify the future of the movie business.

Like all human endeavor, our ability to change and adapt and improve will once again circumvent the crushing creative control that the entertainment conglomerates exercise over what we watch in the movie theatre or on our television screens.

Imagine that it's 1966 again, and in a few more years, somebody is going to produce the 2004 version of "Easy Rider". It may not necessarily be a film, but it will be a hit in the sense that the property will redefine what entertainment can be, capturing the imagination of the "masses", and setting a new standard in entertainment that will change everything.

That day is coming. Get ready.

Matthew Robillard
toronto, ontario


Dear FRONTLINE,

I thought this segment was insightful and compelling given the limited nature of broadcast television, but it sounds to me like most of these rants against the show are from spurned or jaded indie filmmakers. Look, my kids love most of these films we often consider recycled drek (a la Planet of the Apes), but come on ... everyone knows art films can be commercial (a la Sling Blade) and on rarer occasions, commercial films can be artful ... (a la Fargo).

But was I the only one to notice the palpable fear and anxiety these executives possesed? Peter Guber looked like he was going to spontaneously combust at any minute. Can you imagine the pressure these people face with budgets that large? The real travesty, in my mind, is that this voracious appetitie for profits is destroying brilliant filmmakers like Coppola. He used to make films for himself, now he is busy trying to figure out what audiences want. Historically speaking, film audiences have always been unpredictable, and let's not forget that the studio execs believed that Star Wars was going to be a huge flop. The real issue here is that the studios know better, but they are targeting the one area of our culture we can make a difference, our kids. Let's all stop being miopic and stop dropping our kids off at the multiplexes and instead take them to Barnes and Noble.

Well done, PBS. Truthfully, I could have watched more on this subject, but again that is the limitation of television programming, it almost always leaves you wanting.

tim w
portland, or


Dear FRONTLINE,

The corporatization of Hollywood has had much the same effect it has in every industry: the dehumanization of the endeavor at hand. Because corporations exist only to please the shareholder, who "doesn't care about the product, only about profit," the product transforms to reflect that value, money. The only value humans have in this formula is the extent to which they can be manipulated to purchase the product. Whether that be through simply telling someone to buy something over and over again for the weak of mind, of whom the majority belong, or simply offering no other choice, which is what monopolies do eventually. Those of us over 30 and educated are left with only one choice, to not participate. But even then our lives and minds are bombarded by all the hype through TV ads, radio, billboards, attachment of corporate names to other products, or the inane conversation of our coworkers, literally EVERYTHING is saturated with corporatization.

The only relief I get from all this is the small glimmer of hope in your report that these megacorporations aren't making a whole lot of money off of this crap. That means that maybe, just maybe we aren't as stupid as everyone thinks.

Kirby Armstrong
sacramento, ca


Dear FRONTLINE,

Fascinating report. I'm not an MBA, but let me see if I understand the economics involved. Movies make money. Businessmen got wind of this. They moved into the movie business. Now, in a plot to turn a profit, they have focused their marketing efforts toward the largest and most lucrative customer bases and ancillary markets. As a result, the quality of films being made today have become deplorably low. This is news! If you look under your microscopes a little harder, I think you'll find a whole host of industries such as this which may have gone unnoticed and which you can focus your in depth reporting on for future episodes. Tell us something that anyone with a pulse doesn't already know, lest we begin to think that public television has succumbed to the same ills as the Hollywood marketing machine.

max factor
san francisco, ca


Dear FRONTLINE,

For a filmmaker, such interviews and discussions with top moguls from within the movie industry are invaluable. Some pay handsomely for private discussions around film festivals and the like just to get some inside information. Thanks to PBS it can be broadcast free to our homes at no cost at all. Thank you. The show was excellent. As a ray of hope to the indie filmmakers out there, remember this: You can market something big enough to lure in an opening weekend, but as you consistantly betray them weekly, you will eventually lose their trust. After all this is the entertainment industry and if you're not entertaining then your business isn't successful. Also a warning to Hollywood: Remeber James Dean - the candle that burns twice as bright burns twice as fast - when a business's profits increase 12-15 percent each new year, history tells us that evertything has an expiration date and science tells us everything has an equal and opposite reaction. Considering the extreme profits, the downside could be devastating! Remember Easy Rider in the seventies: the Studio's couldn't fathom how such a small obscure film could touch such an enormous audience, when all the studios were flailing to find a common ground with its audience. History repeats, yet this time I fear Hollywood won't bounce back so easily. Great, informative show. Keep it up!

Chris Sagle
la mirada, ca


Dear FRONTLINE,

We live in a society that values money over everything. Film making is an art. Putting a dollar value on art requires knowledge of art. Unfortunately, the MBA's that make the decisions about what the rest of us get to experience do not factor in the art.

Changing the current trends in what films get greenlighted and distributed will take leadership. Leadership requires courage of conviction. I admire people who put their ass (and money) on the line, for the courage of their convictions. Because in the end, the corporations will not endure, but the art will.

bill hagy
los angeles, california


Dear FRONTLINE,

Congratulations on a very interesting program that helped to shed some light on the maze of intentions that now go into making a movie. I thought that the quote "people can smell a stinker" was related to the fact that Hollywood recycles so many of its stories over and over. I have seen ads for pictures and I know that it will stink because it is obviously a retread of a stinker that suckered me in just a few years earlier. Once bitten, infinitely shy.

Another problem is that, in order to draw in a more diverse amount of people, blockbuster wanna-bes try to be everything to everyone. I have sat through movies confused as to if it was supposed to be an action, comedy, or drama.

I'm not so sure that the future of online movies is as rosy as some of your interviews seem to show. Many of the same companies that took over stewardship of the motion picture studios have also aquired major holdings in internet portals. The AOL-TimeWarner merger comes most strongly to mind. While there will be other outlets for films online, by owning these popular portals a company can position itself to control the media content that is provided to their users. And those portals have a LOT of users.

Peter Cullum
sallisaw, ok


Dear FRONTLINE,

All the media experts that Frontline interviewed sound like elitists. They decry the ěconglomeratizationî of Hollywood and the production of movies that aim for the lowest common denominator. It makes me nauseous. Why? Because the interviewees are, in essence, telling the viewing public it has no taste. The public doesnít know whatís good for itself. They donít appreciate creativity and a good story. What nonsense.

The public knows what it wants to see. Iím an average Joe, and I go to movies to escape (Matrix), laugh (Meet the Parents), and marvel at special effects (Shrek). I donít want to see a high-brow, Oscar worthy dissertation all the time. I want to relax and be entertained! Corporations understand this and they deliver what I want to see. I am sick and tired of elitists that claim they know better than I do about what I enjoy.

Geoff Sloan
cambridge, ma


Dear FRONTLINE,

AS a film lover I am upset that the squeeze in the choices of movies in the multiplexes have been further exacerbated by the death of most independent video stores. The proliferation of major chains such as blockbusters have made it very difficult for the few who enjoy non-hollywood fares. I am counting the days until the total convergence of cable and internet will make these stores extinct.

toronto, on


Dear FRONTLINE,

Dear Frontline,

Let us not forget the point of watching a film. While it is true that film is no more free of corporate saturation and inertia than a nike shoe, people go to the movies not because they want to be led or religiously imbued with the big-brained conventions of corporate executives, but to find a piece of themselves between the cellulose acetate and light. Many people cried when they saw the film Saving Private Ryan. I didnít. I cried at The Thin Red Line. What difference does it make? As long as film continues to give our own lives, in all its intricacies, pause to reflect on the space between one another, it will continue to remind us of what we have in common.

Ian Miller, Steambot.com

Ian Miller
chicago, il


Dear FRONTLINE,

I really enjoyed the program "The Monster That Ate Hollywood". However, I think that you bent the truth a little bit when talking about the history of Miramax. Your show implied that Miramax's changes occured when they were bought by Disney after releasing "Shakespeare in Love". The truth is that they were bought by Disney 5 years before "Shakespeare in Love" was released (bought in 1993, the movie was released in 1998). I personally found that they seemed to move away from small independent films a few years before "Shakespeare in Love" was released.

I'm lucky to live in Seattle, WA, where numerous small companies are doing their best to keep independent cinema alive and well. Landmark Cinemas has 20+ screens here in 6 or 7 theaters, most of which are showing indie movies. They often keep them on the screen for months at a time (rotating them between theaters). We are also blessed with an indie video store (Scarecrow Video) that specializes in independent film and brings movies in from around the world to meet this goal. Cinema Seattle runs a large three week film festival which plays hundreds of movies on many screens which don't yet have distribution channels. It is so popular that many of the showings sell out long before they are shown in a theater.

It would have been nice if the show could have covered companies of this sort and what they are doing to promote independent cinema. I know Seattle isn't alone in having this sort of film culture. Previously I lived in Philadelphia, which has similar companies (TLA Video and Ritz Cinema).

Alex Wetmore
seattle, wa


Dear FRONTLINE,

I was quite disappointed with this report. I was really hoping for some insight into the tension between creativity in filmmaking (from producer, director, actor, designers), and the marketing strategies within the film industry. What I heard instead was a redundancy in interviewee responses, a "dramatic" type of narration that was annoying, and film clips from movies that did nothing to enhance the program's thesis. There was much to be explored here in terms of "change" in the making of movies, but I never heard any dissenting views, and the list of interviewees was too small, I think, to present a diversity of thought on how the industry responds to the "vertical hierarchy" of the present.

I don't believe the question to be asked is "Has Hollywood changed?" (changed from what, and over what time period? I believe there are scholars who have responded and explored this question). And placing "blame" is a red herring, (or, if by blame, you mean accountability, the report fell far short in exploring this issue). For myself, the real story is what has changed (if anything), how has it been allowed to happen, and what are the continuing consequences.

Your report did not attempt any deep analysis of even the questions that were posed. I would hope that creative endeavours on the one hand, and corporate impact on the other, with their diverse views of "success" of a creative product, is at the heart of the story. While this may have been touched on, it certainly was not approached with any seriousness. And while the business of filmmaking might be seen as a "fluff" story, with its worldwide ambitions it may be much more substantial, as cultures protesting the "encroachment of American culture" seem to bear out.

Marilyn Oakes-Greenspan
seattle, wa


Dear FRONTLINE,

I agree with those that think this show was a little "watered down" and definitely the Allan Smithee writer credit confirmed. And I so agree with Elvis Mitchell's assessment that the multiplexes are becoming like the "Night of the Living Dumb." They are becoming like "an evening with the rude and crude" with their yammering all through the film, cell phones and pagers going off, and their smelly sneakers resting on the top of the chair next to you.

I am so glad I have invested in an widescreen HDTV and sound system where I can leave those types behind. With the success of DVD, sales of these kinds of sets are up and soon the multiplexes will be empty. At least with DVD I can eventually see some of the films made for the educated over 30 crowd. And full 1080i HD versions of these films make it hardly worth going to a theater just for the small increase in picture quality.

Brian Conrad
martinez, ca

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