We Are The New Hollywood Generation: Our Time Is Now

Transcript from the ‘Hollywood, Unapologetic!‘ episode, written by Orlando Delbert.

I wanted to speak a little bit about the New Hollywood Generation, and our time is NOW!

I first wrote about the New Hollywood Generation several years ago when I was writing, “Pollyanna’s Tear Soaked Battlefields of Hollywood: A Survival Guide Against the Cynicism and the Hypocritical.” It was clear to me the motion picture industry was setting itself up in a similar way they did at the end of Hollywood’s Golden Age in the 1960s.

During the Golden Age of Hollywood, the world of cinema was ruled by the industrialization of the Hollywood machine. The major studios had complete control over the production, distribution, and exhibition of their films. The productivity and production quality was high because they were able to coordinate a standardized production system made up of stables of talent on contract, had complete control of marketing, and had ownership of many of the theaters nationwide. These factors allowed the studios to maintain a level of stability and highly efficient factory-like mass production.

After the end of Hollywood’s Golden Age in the 1960s, the film studios were greatly weakened. Production slowed dramatically. The advent of Technicolor and wide-screen processes such as CinemaScope, and VistaVision, along with films reliant on visually striking performances were produced through the 1950s into the 1960s. Musicals and historical epics benefited from the wider framing the new technology had to offer, as well as improved sound technology. By design, the studio moguls believed the epic in all its grandeur and flamboyance could compete directly against the growing popularity of the television set.

But “old Hollywood” was losing money. Life magazine called the 1950s “the horrible decade” for Hollywood. Filmmaking was growingly expensive. During this time, the major studios financed and distributed independently produced domestic pictures more and more. By mid-decade movies made specifically for television became a regular part of network programming. In an effort to save money, “runaway” film productions were being made abroad. By the end of the decade, the motion picture industry was at an all-time low financially which was developing for almost 25 years.

The audience share dwindled to an alarmingly low level by the mid 1960s. There was a desperation felt due to expensive Hollywood feature films that were unsuccessful in the box office. When Cleopatra was released in 1963, it was the most expensive film of its time. The budget went violently out of control, and was a huge blow to the historical epic motion picture genre. Anthony Mann’s, The Fall of the Roman Empire, which premiered the following year, was a box office disaster. Together with George Stevens’ 1965 epic, The Greatest Story Ever Told, and John Huston’s 1966, The Bible: In the Beginning . . . nearly crumbled what was left of “old Hollywood”.

Another factor adding to the dwindling audience in theaters was in part due to the baby boomer generation coming of age. The audience demographic went from a middle-aged high school educated audience to a younger, college-educated demographic by the 1960s.

The 1960s also became a time of tremendous social changes and of transitional cultural values. This was a turbulent decade filled with tragedies, assassinations and death, as well as a time of progression in civil rights, music, and technology. John Frankenheimer’s, The Manchurian Candidate, Stanley Kubrick’s, Lolita, and Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, were early examples that were reflective of the shift in transitional social values and relationships with the times. Arthur Penn’s 1967 release of Bonnie and Clyde showed a level of bloodshed and drama not seen since Hitchcock’s Psycho in 1960.

By the mid 1960s through the early 1980s, there was an artistic and commercial revival in American cinema. The major film studios were greatly influenced by a new generation of filmmakers. Many were film-school educated and had an anti-establishment mindset. But more importantly, they were young.

In an effort to appeal more to the new audience demographic, younger directors and producers were being hired by the studios. Many films made during this time were considered unconventional to what was made before in its choice of subject matter and it’s creative narrative. It was an attempt by the studios to tap into the market of the European art films and Japanese cinema that was gaining popularity in the United States.

1970s filmmaking was the decade of the auteur. The civil rights movement, the hippie movement and “free love”, more openness of drug use and changing gender roles, as well as the evolution of rock and roll, all had their impact on society. Audiences were challenged by the many offerings of intelligent cinema with complex and sophisticated storylines geared more towards adults.

The uncertainty of the Cold War, the defeat in the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal, President Richard Nixon’s fall from power, and the energy crisis were some of the events that had the public questioning the credibility of the government. Lack of faith in the way the United States was being run was growing.

The motion picture studios produced films that reflected those turbulent times, questioning a politicized spirit among the people, with growing hints of conspiracy paranoia and a dissatisfaction towards the government. They were able to tap into the suspicion and fear that were on the minds of the public.

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Today, a lot of focus (and money) is thrown into creating films of high spectacle, but lacking in intelligence. Outside of the independent and foreign film worlds, many Hollywood films are heavy in special effects but lack substance in story, which in turn feeds into the growing anti-intellectual strain that is currently growing in America. This is easily seen in the endless sea of reality shows on television, making micro-celebrities out of obnoxious people that are poor examples of role models, and are contributory in the dummying down of America.

At this time, Hollywood has reached a point of soaring costs in all facets of production for both film and television, which are continuing to rise, and dangerously close to imploding in on itself. It has become prohibitively expensive to develop films and television programming with high-production value for a smaller amount of money with the current business model in the most part. Too much is expected by the studios to turn a profit in a short period of time, and support a wide range of ancillary tie-in products such as toys and video games. But for every few summer tent-poles the studios are gambling on, the ones that are the financial successes have to carry the financial loss to the studios of the several that simply weren’t.

This single-mindedness approach by the studios has made it increasingly harder for moderately budgeted, intelligent and original motion pictures that are aimed at adults to get onto movie screens nationwide. A good new idea has become too much of a risk for the studios to want to attempt, because a film needs to be exceptional. And films that need to be exceptional to succeed are considered bad business, even though intelligent films can make a lot of money over time. But those films are more reliant on good reviews and by word-of-mouth to get people in the theaters, because they are considered more difficult to promote. The studios would rather spend upwards of $100 million on a franchise film for a younger demographic because it is easier to market and to tie in merchandising.

Then comes the fracturing of Hollywood motion pictures. When a story is split up into multiple parts and releasing them a year or longer apart form one another, in theory it allows for more money to be made by the studios: 2 parts, 2 films. But what happens is the story is at risk of being diluted. The first part often means the characters are telling the audience what is going on with a lot of dragged-out dialogue and description that slows the story itself down. This is by design to pad the motion picture’s run time, and defeats the impact one would achieve by using “less is more” which is at the core of good filmmaking; show don’t tell.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, is an example of a two-hour prologue with little payoff; political negotiations and monologues, and slow training sequences later, are all part of a set-up to only leave the audience having to wait another year for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2. In comparison to The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, both sequels are far less satisfying. Another thing to consider is that Mockingjay is based on a 390-page book, while Catching Fire is based on a 391-page book.

The logic behind this comes from the studios willingness to extend the duration of a potential lucrative franchise, which would mean a more guaranteed profit. When a film has the potential of becoming a blockbuster, they would sometimes produce two sequels back-to-back. It is believed that a larger production would be easier and more cost effective to shoot, than it would be to shoot two smaller productions, all in the name of a more guarantee of two blockbusters instead of just one.

As the films become more special effects heavy and dependent on pre-existing fans, and the stories become dragged out in the name of building enormous narratives to separate them in the hopes to double box office profits, eventually something has to give.

The business models are simply not keeping pace with the changes in how content is being watched either. Mobile technology has made it possible to watch programming in a non-linear fashion, as opposed to linearly on the legacy format of television. The networks and studios are not keeping pace with the generational shift that is happening now and has been happening for years. They are having difficulty trying to monetize the way young people are watching what they want, when they want, and anywhere they want despite the ubiquity of mobile devices everywhere. And the viewers are not happy with many of the rules to just get to the content in the first place. But this is part of an antiquated one-size-fits-all model that will not work as technology advances and demand grows for better on-demand content accessibility.

But a huge part of the problem is the lack of opportunity for young people. The industry in the most part has made it near impossible for young people to get in the door, unless they are young people of privilege who know someone within the organization. When there are few new opportunities, shrinkage occurs in almost every area for growth, including a diminishment in possible mentorships. There aren’t many term deals with producers anymore as well, and the ones that have them are more likely to keep them longer. The result is more of a homogeneous workforce, churning out a lot of the same types of projects over and over again. This is all relative in this context, because due to the large amounts of money that are at play for any given large studio production, a willingness to break away from the proven formulas means fewer movies are made. Fewer movies made mean more aversion to risk, which in the end means less people have their jobs at risk.

But this is dangerous for an industry as a whole. The current business models used over and over have many moving parts to them. The more moving parts, the more complicated the business and financial side becomes. This in turn causes the creative objectives to suffer because they need to be modified and often compromise the stories being told; the creative talent suffers. The challenge is to sublimate the business challenges to the people who are getting their hands dirty creating it.

That’s where the New Hollywood Generation comes in! Are you ready for the challenge?

A study released on December 21st 2016 by the basic cable network, FX found that the number of scripted originals hit a record high of 455 in 2016, 93 of which come from streaming online services such as Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix. This was an 8% jump from the 421 produced in 2015, and a 71% jump from 5 years ago.

The president of FX, John Landgraf’s team predicted the number of productions would reach 450 in 2016, also believes it is likely the number for 2017 would reach 500, and continuing into 2018. Since it is not believed the surge in scripted television productions is going to slow down any time soon, there are opportunities becoming available in our near future for content creators.

Yes, it does take years to get an idea from page to screen. But it starts today with each one of you deciding you’re going to create a project, right here, right now.

I see two trends developing now that we as the New Hollywood Generation can tap into.

The first trend I see is on narratives that are of a diverse openness and willingness to be inclusive of one another. Without question, there is a lot of this seen on television right now. And it’s just the beginning. This is the time to create projects that are far more fitting to our modern world, where we’re more genuinely accepting of one another, far more than just of one’s skin color or heritage, but also on gender, age, sexual orientation, disability, and true diversity and inclusiveness of thought.

And much like the 1970s, the civil rights movement, legalization of marijuana, changing of gender roles, and accessibility to streaming music, film, and programming, the opportunity to challenge audiences with intelligent cinema with complex and sophisticated storylines geared more towards adults is upon us again.

And also like in the 1970s, we have two wars oversees, the global “war on terror”, the reemergence and uncertainty of the new Cold War with Russia and China, the current election scandals, and the down play of climate change by many politicians, have the public questioning the credibility of the government. Lack of faith and distrust in the way the United States is being run has been growing.

There is a real opportunity for us as content creators to produce narratives that reflect these turbulent times. These stories can question a politicized spirit among the people. We can tap into the suspicion and fear that are on the minds of the public.

Not only is this a way to create change, it also allows for us to create a true society of content creators. We need to build a community not just on “tolerance” of one another but with a foundation and mindfulness for the inclusion of one another. By hiring people based on what they have to offer rather than on their family’s point of origin, we will, in turn, directly influence the way the studios finance and distribute films and television programming.

The second trend, which would be much harder to tap into for an aspiring director, would be to be at the helm of a more genre-specific project with the backing of a major film studio.

The studios have been looking at individual filmmakers as figureheads for the forward push of specific film genres for some time. Director J.J. Abrams with Star Trek and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and more recently, Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049, and the possibility of him directing Dune, feel more like they are creator-driven, and not so much like much of the comic book-based films out there that fall into a slice of a franchise.

Since the trend has been for the past decade, up-and-coming motion picture directors can get attached to film properties and multimedia franchises, it seems that some film studio executives are finally looking at the points I mentioned earlier in this episode, that it may be time to look at what has worked in the past before the current system implodes in on itself before it’s too late, as well as to hopefully appease a growing audience of more of a diverse ethnic make-up.

I offer these examples as points to look at and to hopefully help motivate you to get out there and create something that matters.

History has shown us that mass media can effectively influence change. As a community of content creators, we are in a unique position to influence change, and it is our responsibility to do so. Think about it. If more of us can get together to create films and television programming with a positive message, hire more people from broader backgrounds and not limit ourselves, or our potential, by identifying one another only by race, color, sex, religion, or sexual preference, we can influence the masses to be more open-minded. This will give us the ability to have a broader audience, as well as to influence others to tell their stories and, hopefully, to be less afraid to tell them.

The world is greatly influenced by what is seen on the screen and heard on the radio. Let’s be the “New Hollywood Generation.” Let’s give them something that will drive everyone to do something bigger and to make a positive difference in the world.

Something I’d like to leave you with: We are all in it together. Each and every one of you is an important part of our future. You are important to the lives of those who surround you. You are important to your communities. You are important to our industry. No matter what, remain optimistic and focused on your goal. Never stop believing in yourself!

And always remember: You are the key to your own success. Take a breath. Move forward.

Together, let’s create a revival; the resurgence of Hollywood, and bring back the auteur to cinema. Be an active part of the “New Hollywood Generation”! YOU are a representative of the “New Hollywood Generation”.

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