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Films on the Web: Good News ?

When home video tape came along, a guy from Dearborn, Michigan had a bright idea: Why not license the rights to major Hollywood films and sell or rent them to home consumers?

The studios thought this guy was loco, but he offered them something like twenty-five thousand dollars for a package of top films he had cherry-picked, and, starting with 20th Century-Fox, one-by-one several other studios signed up. They soon realized they were giving away the store, and ceased being so generous.

Later, Bob Stein, a guy with very little money who lived near UCLA, had a bright idea: Why not license the rights to some of the biggest American classics, insist on access to the negatives to provide the best transfers publicly available, and put “additional material” on the multiple sound tracks on the newly-invented “laserdiscs”? He started a company called Criterion and acquired many of the biggest films for a license fee of around $10,000.

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Howard Suber has taught generations of screenwriters, directors, producers, and film scholars at UCLA’s celebrated film school for 46 years. Today, his former students are creating films and television programs and teaching film studies throughout the world.    Read more »



“Letters to Young Filmmakers is full of wisdom, insight, anecdote, and knowledge distilled from years of experience, relationships, and contempla­tion. His genuine understanding of how the film business operates makes his advice to young filmmakers sound, inspiring and, above all, useful.”

— Geoffrey Gilmore, Director, Sundance Film Festival, 1990-2010; Chief Creative Officer, Tribeca Enterprises.

“Wise, kind, and direct. Howard Suber’s advice is as piercing as Don Corleone  telling Michael who not to trust, and just as vital. I LOVE this book!”

— David Koepp, screenwriter Jurassic Park, Mission Impossible, Spider-Man, War of  the Worlds, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

“This master teacher of film provides us with a multitude of brilliant insights and sound, sage, advice. He has mentored generations of writers, directors, and producers with his intelligence and compassion for the art of film and the industry that sometimes manages to produce it.” 

— Tom Sherak, President, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.   Read more »


Contradictions in the System

The article linked below by Los Angeles Times columnist,  Patrick Goldstein (my favorite, because he’s so knowledgeable), discusses how the current crop of Oscar nominees are not getting the usual “Oscar Bounce” from their nominations, and he also talks about the contradictions between the kinds of films the studios make and the kinds of films that are nominated for Academy Awards.

Since, by definition, the majority of members of the Academy include most of the people who make the decisions about what films to produce, what we clearly have in the film industry in our time is cognitive dissonance, “anxiety that results from simultaneously holding contradictory or otherwise incompatible attitudes, beliefs, or the like.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald put the idea this way:

 “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

 For about the past five years in interviews about the Academy Awards I’ve found myself saying, “Isn’t it interesting how four out of the five leading nominees [depending on the year] are films that were turned down by every studio in town but are now being hailed by the same people who didn’t dare make them.”                Read more »



I read an article this past week that makes a big deal about 2012 theatrical revenues being up considerably over last year. Since it was written in mid-February, a time when total attendance is at one of its lowest points, and since the author of the piece had only five weeks of data, I consider it one of those situations where a journalist is desperately thrashing around to declare something is “news.”

Former student Eric Barker (whose web site is full of interesting links), has sent the link to the interesting piece below that demonstrates that 6 out of 10 Americans never or seldom go to a movie theater.

This relates to things I’ve said for a long time, when I’ve pointed out that we are no longer primarily “the American theatrical film business” since two thirds of the revenues from 70% of the top grossing films in recent years has come from outside the domestic market and, in addition, American theatrical revenues represent less than 20% of the revenues of the typical studio film.

I think declining reviews at the domestic box office are not simply a reflection of the declining quality of American films. Equally important, is Neophilia and temporal finiteness.

These are fancy terms I use tongue-in-cheek to express two points I’ve often made before.  Neophilia is a love of or addiction to whatever is considered “new.” It is, I think, the primary value of our society – of all modern industrialized societies, seen in consumer products, politics, belief systems and even academic disciplines.

The problem with Neophilia is habituation: nothing remains new for very long. Like Andy Warhol’s famous comment about “fifteen minutes of fame,” the desire for the new forces an ever-accelerating demand for something else that is new.             Read more »