Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Fixing Oscar (from 2008)

From March 8, 2008...

Okay, Gary has now been all over TV apologizing for his bad behavior on Oscar night, and claiming that he has a “excitable boy” personality that comes out at events like this.

Now that Gary has apologized, all that is left is for the Oscars to apologize to all of us for such an awful show. That was the lowest rated Oscar show in it’s 55 year history on television - nobody watched it. Nobody. All of those people who were nervous about making speeches in front of millions and millions of people? They shouldn't have worried so much.

This is the “Super Bowl of Movies” - and nobody tuned in to see who won! There were a bunch of theories flying around right after the show, some people suggested the writer’s strike may have had something to do with it... but it would make more sense if the end of the strike *boosted* ratings - people would be happy that their shows were going to come back on... and there was nothing else to watch on TV! We were in the middle of a TV drought, so the strike should have turned the Oscars into a huge ratings hit!

When they began looking at other Oscar flop broadcasts they found the common denominator (because I’ve been neglecting you wonderful people for a week and a half, this is all old news - Nikki Finke even wrote a column on much of this stuff in the LA Weekly last Thursday) - it seems that nobody watches the Oscars when they focus on films that very few people have seen. When the Oscars feature those big blockbuster films like LORD OF THE RINGS, it’s a ratings hit... but when they feature indie flicks, nobody cares enough to watch. If you don’t have a team in the game, you are less likely to watch... and when you’ve never even heard of any of the teams playing, who cares? It’s just like writing a script - we have to care about the characters! In this case, the characters are the movies in the running.

And this year - nobody cared about any of the movies. Very few people saw any of the movies. And many people who did see them, hated their endings.

For people to care about the Oscars, we need movies in the contest that people care about.

Though this *wasn’t* a ratings element, if you watched the Independent Spirit Awards over on that cable channel on Saturday night, the Oscars seemed like a repeat! The same movies were nominated (more or less)! The same people showed up to collect their awards. It was just like the Oscars, only less cheesy. The Oscars were just a duplicate of the Spirit Awards - and why have two awards shows that are alike on the same weekend?


While I was watching the 95th clip show on the Oscars, the one that showed all of the Best Picture Winners from the past, I noticed something interesting. Up until fairly recently the past Oscar Winners for Best Picture had all been mainstream studio films - movies that were popular with the mass audience. Sure, there were some more serious mainstreams films here and there - but the majority were crowd pleasers. And even after the invention of the art house indie film, most of the winners were mainstream movies with mass appeal. So let’s look at the past Oscar winners and see how they relate to the five films in the running a couple of weeks ago.... Would it surprise you if I said that 11 of the 80 films were musicals? That’s right - musicals. We need only look back a couple of years to find CHICAGO, and our second Best Picture went to BROADWAY MELODY OF 1929 - one in a series of backstage musicals. More musicals have won Best Picture than any other genre! Were any of the nominees this year musicals? The first Oscar went to WINGS, an action flick about two pilots in love with the same gal - famous for it’s dogfight scenes. You know, the first big Oscar sweep movie was IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT - a romantic comedy. They say comedies never get nominated, but that’s only recently - YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU to ANNIE HALL... 10% of Oscar winners have been comedies. And *popular* comedies - YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU is a zany comedy. Somewhere in there was CIMARRON - a western. Westerns have won a few times, too. The key to winning Best Picture in the past seems to have been the epic genre film - from AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS to TITANIC to the LORD OF THE RINGS films - if you take a crowd pleasing genre and do the huge ship-breaks-in-half version, you have a hit film that wins an Oscar. GONE WITH THE WIND and GRAND HOTEL and several other winners are just big soap operas. Oh, and GONE WITH THE WIND is still the #1 film off al time adjusted for inflation - the most popular film ever made! And Best Picture!

Of course, you have to look at all of the non-epics, too. REBECCA is a Hitchcock thriller... and was Best Picture Winner in 1940. And FRENCH CONNECTION - the greatest car chase ever - won Best Picture. Other cop movies have won - IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT won Best Picture... it was a big hit film that combined the detective genre with race issues, and spawned a couple of cop movie sequels. THE STING is a comedy caper film - a massive hit *and* Best Picture Winner in 1973. It was sandwiched in between the two good GODFATHER movies, both based on a huge best selling novel that was part soap opera, part gangster flick. Oh, and both of those films were stand-in-line-for-four-hours hits. Funny that people blame JAWS for being the first blockbuster, when the lines for THE GODFATHER were just as long... and the lines for GONE WITH THE WIND were probably longer! Oscar Winners used to *also* be the big hit film of the year - the movies that *everybody* saw. And, I don’t know about you, but I didn’t see SILENCE OF THE LAMBS because it was art... I saw it because it was scary! Oh, and it later won Best Picture. They talk about the “Oscar bump” these days - the increase in box office just after a film wins Best Picture - but in the past, the Oscar Winners were already huge successes. The “bump” back then was people seeing the film for a third or fourth time. Oscar Winners used to be big hits!

For those of you running down the list of Oscar Winners - yes, there were serious dramas in there. They seem to be bunched around the wars - LOST WEEKEND and BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES and GENTLEMAN’S AGREEMENT right after World war 2, and THE DEER HUNTER after Viet Nam. There was also a period of social unrest during Viet Nam which turned popular movies upside down - a movie like MIDNIGHT COWBOY was a mainstream hit film (even though it seems like an art house film today). But these were still *popular* mainstream films - just in an era where what was popular was different than what is popular now. Times change, interest rates fluctuate.

The Best Picture Oscar used to go to a film that was both a mainstream hit *and* a great movie... but our last Oscars gave us 5 films that were not mainstream successes (JUNO - a foul mouthed teen comedy - has done well despite being sold as an indie film), So how do we make the Oscars relevant again? We can’t force the audience to watch NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN - and even when they do watch it, they just hate the ending and tell their friends it’s not that good. We can’t change the audience... So maybe we need to change the Oscars? Turn them back into what they were before...


So, my plan to make the Oscars relevant is to make *only* major release films from studios eligible. Lat’s say they have to show on 1,500 screens. See, we already have the Spirit Awards for all of those non-mainstream indie films, and part of my plan is for the Spirit Awards to be just as important as the Oscars. Maybe have the Oscars partner with them - and if you want to broadcast the Oscars, you also have to take the Spirit Awards. So you end up with *two big nights of movie awards*! And, ratings-wise, Saturday is kind of a slow night, so having an Indie Awards Show on Saturday could be a really good thing. People who care would stay home to watch, and people who are already home would have something better than whatever ratings-challenged show they’ve moved to Saturday night before cancelling. Think of the Spirits as a “pre-game show” - to get the audience hyped up for Sunday’s Oscars. This helps *both* awards shows.

But when you remove the non-mainstream films from the Oscar competition, it does two things - it makes all of the nominees movies that a large segment of the population has seen or at least heard of (boosting ratings) and it *forces studios to make good films*.

Right now, why would a studio want to make a version of any blockbuster that is actually good? They have no reason. Not to say that some aren't good - but even the greatest summer blockbuster just isn't going to be nominated for an Oscar. I think the BOURNE movies are all really good - both popular hits *and* really well made movies that even make you think. Were any of them nominated for Best Picture? You know, we often have some pretty good mainstream films - though ENCHANTED was nominated for Best Original Song three times and lost, it should have been nominated for Best Picture. It was really fun, and also damned good. Oh, and as a musical - it fits right in with past Oscar Winners. Every year there are *at least* 5 really good mainstream films - usually many more. None of these films have a chance of being nominated when there are these art house indies that have already won at a dozen film festivals. What we have are apples and oranges - and the idea that they can even be in the same competition doesn’t really make much sense. So why not have one competition for the apples and one for the oranges?

When I mentioned this one some message board, the reply was: So, you want TRANSFORMERS to win Best Picture? No. It’s still not about box office, it’s about quality of the picture. But we are going to look at the mainstream studio films - mass release films - and select which was the best of those films on Sunday night. The other films get Saturday night. Right now, a movie like BOURNE SUPREMACY has no real incentive to be “good”, except the people who make those films are intelligent enough to realize that people will want to buy their films on DVD and watch them again and again... and that making good films is what it’s really all about. But what if there was an added incentive? What if a studio could make a mainstream film that might win an Oscar and get that Best Picture bump at the box office, too? What if the folks who made VANTAGE POINT realized that the film didn’t just have to be a gimmick, but could also be in the running for Best Picture? What if, just by adding “quality components” they might end up with a film that not only makes money, but might also be in the running for Best Picture? Yeah, I know, easier said than done - but do you think the guys making TRANSFORMERS ever thought - “We might win an Oscar for this”? Of course not! They were thinking - we can make a crap load of money. There’s no way a mainstream film is going to be nominated. There’s no way a *popular genre* film is going to be nominated. Yet, one of the elements of a summer blockbuster is *scope* - large scale epic films are what summer is all about. And large scale epic films win Oscars. So why not do the *smart* version of TRANSFORMERS and be in the running for an Oscar?

Now, some of you are wondering what the smart version of TRANSFORMERS might be... and if that’s even possible. But when we look back over that list of Best Picture Winners form the past, all of those musicals and comedies and westerns and other genre films - they were good *and* popular. They were *about something* and had *great scenes* and *great characters*. Those things *could* be found in any film. Look at 28 DAYS LATER - a zombie film. Sure, like this year’s Oscar Nominees, it fell apart at the end... But it had great scenes about real human relationships. The scene where he risks his life to visit his home to see what happened to his parents. And that scene at home. Sure, it’s a zombie movie, but it’s also about larger issues. And deals with big character decisions - you have 20 seconds to kill that person who used to be your best friend once they have become infected. This is meaty, dramatic stuff... in a zombie movie. Any movie can be a good movie.

So, if you imagine a version of TRANSFORMERS made by Peter Jackson, could that have been Best Picture material? It would have been an entirely different movie. A better movie.

What if that July 4th movie would have other July 4th movies against it for the Best Picture Oscar. And, before they made the movie, they knew this. They knew that the competition wasn't oranges, but other apples. Right now, nobody cares if TRANSFORMERS wins an Oscar or not, because it has no chance... so it's all about the money. But what if the makers of TRANSFORMERS knew they were up against BOURNE SUPREMACY and PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN and IRONMAN and all of the other mainstream films? What if it wasn’t *only* about making money, what if it was also about being good? Now, wouldn't they start *thinking* about that Oscar? Wouldn't some studio guy realize that the Oscar bump on a big mainstream film may be another $100 million domestic? So there is a financial incentive, along with the old incentive of just being the best and rubbing the other studio chief's nose in it. "Our summer blockbuster was also *art*, and yours was not!" They would begin to think: “Hey, if we make better movies, we can make more money. We could get all of that free publicity from before the Oscar nominations, when they are talking about how good TRANSFORMER was, then the free publicity from the nomination... and all of the extra box office money while it’s one of the films nominated... then, if it wins? Mo’ money, mo’ money, mo’ money! And it costs us *nothing* to make TRANSFORMERS a better film - we just have to think about those art things, like good characters and good character scenes and making it about something. Instead of hiring a bunch of soul-less commercial people to make it, let’s find some people who can make it Oscar Worthy!” I think if every major studio release had a shot at an Oscar Nomination... and the free publicity and extra money that would bring in... studios would factor that into mainstream movies. They would take a movie like TRANSFORMERS and try to add in “quality factors” because there would be a reason to do that. A money reason.

And we’d end up with some really good commercial films - and that’s what I like. I think that’s what we all like. We want to see a good movie that we love. We want to see something that entertains us now and we think about later. Something that is art and commerce - not just one or the other.

I think that's what happened in those pre-indie days. No one was going to make a box office flop that won an Oscar - that would be stupid. Hollywood was a business even back then - and it was all about making movies that appealed to the mass audience and made a lot of money. But some guy like David O. Selznik was all about making big commercial movies that were *artistic*, too. A film that would not only make a bunch of money, but add a little prestige to his company. One of the things about the Golden Age of Hollywood was that all of those movie moguls were social outcasts. They were poor glove makers who moved west and made movies and made millions... but got no respect. So making a great movie would get them a little respect. Making a popular film that was “good” or even “great” made them into artists as well as businessmen. Today, money *is* respect, and studio heads are businessmen. Studios are owned by companies that make washing machines and television sets. They are all about business - and quality doesn’t matter because a crappy version of TRANSFORMERS makes as much money as a good version. So we need to appeal to the money side - to find a way to connect quality to money - and the Oscar Bump just might be that connection.

CASABLANCA, REBECCA, GONE WITH THE WIND, IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT - all of these films are still great. And they were commercial films - GONE WITH THE WIND is still All Time #1 BO champ in adjusted dollars. Oscar Winners used to be hit films - before the indies took over the Oscars. Oscar winners used to be both good and popular... before the indies took over the Oscars. So let’s remove the Indies from the Oscars! Let’s have two big nights of movie awards instead of one! Lets take a page from the past, and bring the Oscars back to Hollywood.

So lets turn the Oscars *back* into an awards show for mainstream popular entertainment and turn the Spirit Awards into another big thing. Mainstream, mass release films on Sunday. Niche movies, art house films, and indie films on Saturday. Two big nights for Hollywood!

Oh - and neither show can go longer than 2 hours. Period.

Oh - and like the Super Bowl, the commercials are an attraction, too... we open it up to 60 second spots for the hot new event films. You know, *good* event films. I would have loved to see an “Oscars Exclusive” clip from Indiana Jones. Imagine the ratings boost if the only place you could ever see that trailer was the Oscars? (Currently, rules prohibit movie ads during Oscars - stupid).

Oh, and no endless clips of past movies that just seem like filler material in a show that’s already an hour and half too long.

- Bill


cassandra said...

"We can’t change the audience... So maybe we need to change the Oscars? Turn them back into what they were before...OSCAR REVAMP"

Somebody is going to take this idea ... and run with it!

ObiDonWan said...

Sounds like a good plan.
Especially limiting the Oscars to 2 hours!
Even I might start watching them again...if they include pix I like and not snob-value pix.

Richard McNally said...

Your idea of having two separate film award nights, one for major studio releases, one for indie films, is interesting ... maybe fax it to the studios, or to the Academy? Minor point--in today's SS, a typo in second to last paragraph: "and adrenaline" for "an adrenaline." I've never seen a horror film. Cf. Annie Lenox: "Dying is easy, it's living that scares me to death." I have a second screenplay going and I'm tempted to just arbitrarily stop what I'm doing and try to think up an idea for a third so that I don't have to face that brain-dead desperation and vacuum of ideas that follows completing a work, where one feels as if writing a screenplay is totally beyond one's capacity, something one will never do again.

cassandra said...

Really Richard?

I believe that if you write one (really good) screenplay, then the other ideas in there (your head) are going to want some
act(ion) t(w)o(o).

aaaah, I so clever.


My first script is like dynamite!

Each tip I get from Bill…I work to find a way to weave it into my script.


And when it’s done…which won’t be long now…

about eighteen more writing days, and I'll be stacking those pages, querying those wonderful agents/producers...


I’ll start on another story I’ve been pushing away from my thoughts…about a Music Minister who blows (for real) the whistle (ie, a Political Leader) about the money laundering…in the Church House.

AS FOR ME AND MY HOUSE…the scary movie!

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