FRONTLINEthe monster that ate hollywood
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introduction: posted nov. 22, 2001

It's a scary story that could only have been conceived in Hollywood. It has "giant predators" (i.e., multinational conglomerates), "greedy villains" (studio executives), "huge explosions" (in marketing budgets), "futuristic technology" (broadband), and "heroic underdogs" (struggling independents). It even has a giant, bloodthirsty shark (albeit a mechanical one).

But it's not a movie -- it's a FRONTLINE documentary. It's called "The Monster That Ate Hollywood."

Whether the story has a happy ending remains to be seen -- and depends less on the creative people who make movies, the filmmakers and producers, than on business decisions made by huge, vertically integrated media companies. How those giant conglomerates have changed the culture of Hollywood -- and the nature of the movies we see -- is the subject of this FRONTLINE report.

"What's interesting about the business," says Richard Natale, a reporter for The Los Angeles Times, "is that it's no longer the movie business. Essentially, people don't make movies anymore. They make spectaculars. ... The reason we went to see 'Casablanca,' or even 'Jaws,' was because the story was really fascinating. The characters were compelling. We sat and ate our popcorn, we sat on the edge of our seats, we cried, we tore our hair out. ... We don't do that anymore at movies. It happens less and less. We go to movies to be bombarded."

Over the past six months, FRONTLINE interviewed a cast of Hollywood insiders -- veteran studio heads, producers, writers, directors, actors, industry analysts, and critics -- and asked them to explain how the business works today, what the future may look like, and whether the new business model makes sense.

The program traces how the trend of the opening-weekend box-office horse race got started -- remember that scary TV ad for Steven Spielberg's "Jaws" in 1975? -- and how the business is driven by star power, ever-increasing production costs, and marketing expenditures that threaten the studios' bottom lines.

It also looks at how the alternatives to Hollywood studio fare, the much-celebrated independents (or "indies") have themselves changed, in many cases swallowed up by Hollywood just as Hollywood has been swallowed up by AOL TimeWarner, Disney, News Corp., Sony, Viacom, and Vivendi.

"Miramax showed you could make a $100 million art-house movie," film critic Elvis Mitchell tells FRONTLINE. "And what that said to the studios was that, 'Oh, if we pretend we're in the art-house business, the independent business, then we can co-opt that money, too.'"

Here on the Web, we look further into current state of independent film, and where it may be going. In a Web-exclusive report, John Pierson offers a pointed commentary on what's become of the "independent" world. (A consummate indie insider, and the author of the indispensable memoir Spike, Mike, Slackers & Dykes [1996], Pierson has backed or produced dozens of first-time independent features, including Spike Lee's "She's Gotta Have It" and Richard Linklater's "Slacker.") We also feature FRONTLINE's extended interviews with indie filmmakers Allison Anders ("Gas, Food, Lodging," "Mi Vida Loca") and Kevin Smith ("Clerks," "Chasing Amy"), as well as an excerpt from film critic Emanuel Levy's book Cinema of Outsiders: The Rise of American Independent Film (1999).

Many believe that the future of the independents -- indeed, the future of Hollywood -- is digital. In another Web-exclusive report, The Atlantic Monthly's Charles C. Mann, an award-winning reporter on technology and the culture industry, takes us on a tour of various obstacles to be overcome before Hollywood's broadband dreams will be realized. Mann's piece accompanies extended excerpts from FRONTLINE's interviews with industry players and observers about how digital technology and the Internet are transforming Hollywood -- and filmmaking itself.

Finally, it has to be said that the relationship of Hollywood and our entertainment culture to the events of Sept. 11, 2001, has been on many minds. So, in addition to the links & readings accompanying other sections of this site, we've put together a selection of links to articles from several publications on how we view Hollywood -- and how Hollywood views itself -- in the long shadow of Sept. 11.

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