Thursday, July 21, 2011

Jeff Katzenberg says today's movies suck

If you think the current crop of summer releases are bad….

You’re not alone. No less than Jeffrey Katzenberg agrees with you. Katzenberg, former head of Touchstone, Dreamworks, and currently grand poo-bah of Dreamworks Animation in a recent interview for Fortune magazine in front of a Brainstorm Tech audience bitched about all the subpar 3-D entries and blamed it on "a singular and unique characteristic that only exists in Hollywood, greed."

Ouch!

Okay, so lowered interest in 3-D movies hurts Dreamworks Animation, which is making all of its features in 3-D, but why quibble? (If we’re going to be real picky we might suggest that greed also exists on Wall Street but that’s getting off the subject.)

Jeff was just getting started.

Katzenberg asked for a show of hands of audience members who "would say the last seven or eight months of movies is the worst lineup of movies you've experienced in the last five years of your life." Tons of hands shot up. Mr. K. agreed. "They suck. It's unbelievable how bad movies have been ... right now today it's a particularly dreary moment."

And that’s before THE CHANGE-UP has even come out!

I can’t say that I disagree. This has definitely been a summer of bad sequels, bad teachers, and bad bosses. Even Pixar had a misfire. Every comic book hero other than Little Lulu has been brought to life. We were even subjected to another Jim Carrey movie. Star power has meant nothing. Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Will Ferrell, and even fan-favorite Mel Gibson couldn’t open a film.

Lots of people grouse about the state of today’s movies (when they’re not grousing about the movie experience – talking, texting, ticket prices, teenagers). But what’s significant here is that it’s Jeffrey Katzenberg, one of Hollywood’s OWN. Not just some disgruntled blogger idiot but a legitimate power player. He has to bump into the studio heads who greenlit these cow pies at Spagos, screenings, and ski slopes. He travels in the same circles as the creative community he just crushed. I applaud his candor. These were statements made not without risk. Labor Day weekend with the Hanks in the Hamptons might be in jeopardy.

Will his words have any effect? Of course not. If he was right about the movies sucking he was even more right that the industry is run on greed. I’m sure next summer there will be BRIDESMAIDS 2, TRANSFORMERS 4, and if we’re real lucky – ZOOKEEPER 2. Even Terrence Malick’s TREE OF LIFE 2 is on the fast-track to be released summer 2024.

But he said it. He didn’t blame the recession, Netflix, Carmageddon, Global Warming, the Tea Party, Ohio State football, or iPads. Today’s movies are bad this summer. And if nothing else, it will be a topic at Mastro’s. At least until someone brings up HARRY POTTER and how much money it’s making and everyone will feel good about themselves again.

34 comments:

Mac said...

Yes I thought the idea that Hollywood has the monopoly on greed was interesting, given the banking armageddon we're all in the middle of.
When you see the trailer for Zookeeper, you know what Katzenberg's talking about. You know you've seen exactly the same film before a thousand times. It's like a sausage factory - this recipe works, don't change it.
And I'm no movie snob, far from it -big daft popcorn movies are fantastic, but these days so many are drained of any originality, or afraid to deviate from the template of previously successful movies. Why on earth would you go to see Zookeeper? The trailer alone tells you you've seen it a thousand times - or the same thing in a different setting. You might as well stay home and watch an old favorite on DVD. You've also seen that before but the difference is that you at least know it's going to be entertaining.

Social Critic said...

"a singular and unique characteristic that only exists in Hollywood, greed."

-Methinks Jeff should shift his focus eastwards to Wall Street where he'll find greed in abundance, the kind of greed that doesn't cause people to lose $15 and two hours of their time but brings a nation to its knees.

Sally Slut Slays a Giant said...

It's hard to make a great, or even a good movie, when the people green lighting films are teenagers with the attention spans of gnats. They're not interested in story--unless by story the question is, how long before it blows up or someone's brains get splattered everywhere? Or maybe it's which one is the zombie and where are the vampires? Or maybe by story the question becomes, when is the first dick, fart, vomit, blah, blah, blah joke?

Yeah, movies suck. But until writers and directors start standing up for themselves and remind the powers that be that people still care about story, story, story we'll still get what we pay for: crap.

RCP said...

The industry run on greed? Old news. When Fatima did her shimmy in the 1890s - displaying her left ankle at one point I believe - it was such a hit that a sequel was immediately made - in which she showed her right ankle. They came in droves!

Greed is going to be a factor in any industry that can realize such profits. I know I'm being naive, but with all the talent out there - writers, directors, actors, designers - why is money wasted on films that everybody must know are going to end up in the "2 for $4.99" bin?

Chip said...

Aw, I thought Cars 2 was fun! I definitely would not include it in the "suck" category. Is Katzenberg talking about "sucking" financially or in terms of reception?

Bad week for me - first I'm told that a favorite wine of mine is shit, and now I'm supposed to hate a good movie. :)

Steve Zeoli said...

This may be a particularly bad year, but movies have sucked for the past decade. (Of course I'm generalizing, as there are, every year, some terrific films.) I thought maybe I was just turning into an old curmudgeon, so it is nice to know that JK agrees.

Mouse said...

I feel snarking about comic book movies and endless sequels is a bit misguided.

There is about 7 hours of Transformers movie in the universe, which is about as much content as half a season of Breaking Bad, which has three full seasons of worthy story.

"Sequelitis" is silly. You can tell great -- fantastic, even! -- stories in a sequel. It's not "unoriginal" if television shows can produce scores of hours of original, compelling content. Audiences LOVE to see more of their favorite characters.

It's the STORIES the studios are choosing to tell with their sequels that's the problem! The Dark Knight took tremendous risks. (Imagine Fox having so much guts in an X-Men spinoff. Yeah right.) The last three Harry Potters are probably the best three. Whether or not a flick is a sequel doesn't determine its worth.

Whitney said...

I would have taken Katzenberg's criticisms more seriously if Dreamworks animation hadn't taken sequels of Shrek much much too far. (I think that Shrek 2 was a better film than the first, but every Shrek movie after was torturous to watch. And there's a Puss in Boots spinoff coming, too. Ugh.)

Do a lot of bad movies get greenlit? Of course. But part of that is the economy. Financiers don't want to fork over money without some sort of notion that they'll get their money back. Unfortunately the "tried and true" method of building movies around stars and big franchises haven't necessarily worked.

If the movie studios would look have a bit more faith in movies and push for better premises, better scripts as opposed to a world where there's mainstream idiocy or arthouse Oscar bait... and very little in between, things might improve.

But Katzenberg's one of the people who created this environment. Until he swears he's going to stop releasing sequels... I'm not sure he's one to speak up.

purplejilly said...

This gives me hope that all the great ideas zooming around in my head can one day be made into something Mr. JKatz will like!
And hey, I just found your blog because a friend was talking about great writers, and Oriole announcers, and your name came up as one of both. My husband is a huge O's fan (and suffering terribly now) and so I thought 'let me look this guys blog up'. And it's great!

Anonymous said...

It's only going to get worse. "Battleship" the movie is coming. So is Monopoly the movie. Lord, help us. Can't wait for F-ing Chutes and Ladders.

Eduardo Jencarelli said...

I couldn't agree more with most of it. This has been a very underwhelming year, for the most part.

I do make an exception for Cars 2 though. It's a pretty harmless, but genuinely fun film. And you can't compare it with the likes of Toy Story and WALL-E anyway. It doesn't have the same goal as those ones.

I could blame it on rampant capitalism, but that would be unfair as hell. And there have been some REALLY GOOD films out there in recent years.

On the other hand, studios really need to rethink what is the REAL point of making films. Is it to tell a story, or simply to breed cash. You can't rely on only one of those. You have to do it for both reasons.

Studios need a serious makeover in leadership, with an eye out for more daring projects. And audiences need to relearn how to behave in a movie theater (I have every intention of checking out the Alamo Drafthouse, as soon as possible).

Also, you left out the part where they constantly feel the need to remake original creative films that did well overseas, in order to grab the audience that can't be bothered to read subtitles.

RJ said...

Ehhhh ... I think pronouncements like this are usually ridiculous. It's like people think Hollywood JUST discovered greed in the last 5 years. Please.

Bad movies were made in every decade. Nostaliga washes away the crap in people's minds. People just like to complain.

Anyone who says, "They don't make them like they used to," needs to try to do something else.

Mike said...

Gee, if only he were in a position to make a good movie...

JeffG said...

Those were strong words coming from the studio head who greenlit multiple "Ernest" movies and almost single-handedly created the career of Pauly Shore.

Garth said...

Fortunately in the city where I live we have an independent cinema, so we can sit down, grab a beer and watch great indie films all year round, regardless of the horseshit flying out of Hollywood and into the multiplexes.

Why aren't there more? This one is certainly doing a roaring trade...

Phillip B said...

Look, I even found something to like in THOR - so I am hardly a movie snob.

But I take to heart the comments of people like you, Mr. Katzenberg, Roger Ebert who are accustomed to watching a lot of movies. It can't be much fun to watch a dozen new releases each week..

Even accepting the traditional dictum that 80% of anything is bullshit, we seem to be closed to 95% -- and in real danger of breaking through the bullshit ceiling....

D. McEwan said...

I am so glad greed is now confined solely to Hollywood. And here I thought it was a universal emotion, like lust, bad taste, and self-aggrandizement.

I just read James B. Stewart's Disney War two weeks ago. Although it's mainly about Michael Eisner turning into Caligula, it isn't "glory" that Katzenberg smears himself with head-to-toe in the book; it's an organic substance that is more fragrant. (REALLY fascinating book!)

Harriet said...

Sweeping generalization time:

The most original comedy I've seen in 10 years is "Louie," a show that, as I understand it, is made with little to no network supervision. But it's also made on a budget that most people would consider physically impossible.

Again, from what I gather, that's an explicit trade off Louis CK made: Let me make my show, my way, and I won't ask you for a lot of cash.

The beauty of this is that the show doesn't need to be all things to all people. (And it certainly doesn't always succeed completely -- there's no writing staff helping punch up the scripts, so sometimes there's the odd gap in logic.) But on the other hand, when was the last time you saw a babysitter burst into tears because she was afraid her employer was a hopeless loser?

This is the opposite of a "four-quadrant" property. Hell, it might be more like a 1/8 of one quadrant property. But it gives me 30 of the most fulfilling minutes of television viewing I experience every week, and that's saying something.

But executives very rarely think in terms of what they stand to gain by spending (reportedly) $250,000 an episode for a (roughly) a million devoutly loyal viewers.

They'd much rather spend $200 million on a "Cars 2", meddle extensively with the story line to make sure it's got lots of international appeal, and opportunities toy tie ins, and blah blah blah, and then the end result is an aimless mess.

(Literally, "aimless", as in, what exactly are the characters aiming for and how are they planning to get it? I will watch anything -- film, television, sports, BBC-produced programmes about middle-aged guys bickering about cars and/or wine -- as long as you give me a reasonably clear idea what it is the characters want, and I have some faith that I'll enjoy watching the characters go after that goal.)

Because at the end of the day, if a group of executives are asked to explain why they spent $X amount of money, it is much easier for them to say: Well, we made sure we went after X, Y, Z corporate goals (even though it cost $XXX), than to admit: We made a show with this guy because he has a unique voice, and we thought it was a good fit for our network, and it didn't cost any more than running repeats of "Family Guy." Business objectives always carry the day in a way that actual, personal taste does not.

P.S. I know I've confused species here by comparing "Louie" with "Cars 2", which isn't exactly fair, but the mindset of network and film executives is more similar than not.

DJ said...

Even accepting the traditional dictum that 80% of anything is bullshit, we seem to be closed to 95% -- and in real danger of breaking through the bullshit ceiling....

Sturgeon's Law (I think his formulation was 90% of everything is crap).

Bruce said...

It was Hollywood that coined the phrase "greed is good" when making a movie about Wall Street. I'm not sure studio execs in the past green lighted anything except for the purpose of "breeding cash", it is after all what they do.
The question is are there a slew of well written, interesting movies that didn't get green lit and if the trash that's out there is making money we're screwed. Could we go back through the years and find the majority of 12 month periods have a majority of the movies that weren't stinkers, I think not, but every year we have a fist full of Oscar winning movies!

Johnny Walker said...

I can only assume that Cars is born out of the need for them to fulfil some contractual obligations. I hope it's the case, at least.

If the box office bombs this year, then we can only hope it'll ultimately bring about a change. The more frustrated artists there are, the more likely we'll get gold when the tide turns.

Chris said...

Do you find it weird when, in a show, an actor/actress mentions another series he/she's been in? (Without their character having any connection to the series).

I heard Jane Leeves say she liked Seinfeld in Hot in Cleveland and it sounded bizarre to me. What do you think?

Tom Quigley said...

Chris said...

"I heard Jane Leeves say she liked Seinfeld in Hot in Cleveland and it sounded bizarre to me. What do you think?"

Actually, it's when her character mentions something that relates to "the show about that radio shrink in Seattle" that you've probably got to start worryng...

cadavra said...

Those kind of bending-the-fourth-wall jokes are as old as movies themselves--even Garbo did it in NINOTCHKA ("Ve vant to be alone."). Personally, I find them hilarious when done well.

Wojciehowicz said...

Jeffrey Katzenberg is just doing the perennial poseur move of attacking the public's tastes by attacking the quality of entertainment. In the end, Katezenberg himself is one of the people who has brought us to the juncture of chasing every idea of what the public will want to see.

Of course we need to chase that. Has anyone put money into dog poop flavored ice cream? No? Why? Because no one would want it. It's a priori logic so obvious it could stop a bus. The problem is cynical sticking to what people think works on the one hand, and self-kneecapped abortive attempts at originality on the other. Between those two things alone, more of the same, and original but not too original, Hollywood would suck without any other defects. Of course, Hollywood has defects a plenty.

We could go over the endless accounting trickery, the celebrity mill mentality, the churn of talent because everyone thinks they can hit it big but there's not nearly enough work to go around for everyone, etc., etc., etc. But, Katzenberg is again part of that machinery.

It's not greed. Blaming greed is fashionable for juvenile people who refuse to accept human acquisitiveness. He's just tossing that out there to get the Morton Downey Jr. fist pumping audience effect. What he's really doing is throwing stones at the audience by way of bouncing them off the industry. Hollywood has just been a little more incompetent at chasing the moving target than in years past. People need to get a grip and remember that an economic situation such as that at present is going to raise anxiety and cause bad thinking. Katzenberg should just chill out.

RJ Battles said...

When Pulp Fiction came out I loved it because it was different and unexpected and had smart dialogue and fresh ideas, but I was stupid because I actually thought that people who make movies would see it and decide to improve the way they do things. I should've known that nothing would change, there would just be a few Tarentino copycats popping up (like Guy Ritchie).

I have a problem with making money or even flat-out greed, but it bothers me when people make movies and with all the money they have to spend they don't bother trying to make an interesting story or a fun script.

Ceramic tile said...

This may be a particularly bad year, but movies have sucked for the past decade. (Of course I'm generalizing, as there are, every year, some terrific films.) I thought maybe I was just turning into an old curmudgeon, so it is nice to know that JK agrees.

A_Homer said...

To paraphrase: Whenever I hear a Hollywood producer (or CEO, etc) complaining about the appalling level of this years models, I take out my checkbook. I think you're more correct about this being an attack on 3d and competition.

It's silly to hear complaints from either the Eisner/Katzenberg era, or the Katzenberg era and pretend that bankers, financial tricks and Hollywood are not all one bond that they participate in. It's as old as tThe joke about registering profit on a picture is old (no picture does apparently). Let's face it, Katzenberg appeared on the Apprentice, not some arts discussion. And he brought the "Ernest" series as well.

This is ancient stuff. A bluff. The discussion about movies becoming the need for things being blown up is as old as Second City TV's parody show about just that, blowing things up. Most of this discussion around the corporate take over of cinema was run through in the 1980s (product placement, sequelizing, bloated salaries > anyone remember Demi Moore's salaries? and the like...)
Each summer sucked. That's rarely when great movies come out.

The point is television improved greatly on non-sitcom levels, the more serious series (HBO, etc.) and keeps reinventing itself with shows like "Pawn Stars", "Storage Wars" and the like, which are free and can be disposable and fun. And while the "Madagascar" films were fine enough, the more flexible, TV cartoon series spin-off is excellent.

Going to a movie is simply too expensive an event, either to experiment with or to just see the same old formula. Television rules for the time being - that's the better news out of this.

Ian said...

I think you've confused "affect" and "effect." Time to dig out the Strunk & White.

Jonathan said...

I'm going to disagree with Jeff. Hollywood isn't run by greed. It's run by vanity.

Anonymous said...

The likes of Katzenschwartz and Harvey Weinberg are part of the problem, not that they'll EVER acknowledge it; PS- NO ONE wants another Tree of Life, not even Che Guevera supporter Sean Penn...

Kev86 said...

Sadly, it's all about marketability. Here's what's waiting for us :

Steven Spielberg presents Scrabble.

Tagline : You've read the words now see the movie.



Michael Bay's Trivial Pursuit 4.

Tagline : Forget the questions. The answer is always more explosions.


We might even get a Ouija board film directed by McG... http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1204977/

*sigh* It's just depressing.

steve2 said...

Digital has played a big part in the decline of movies. Movies are filmed with digital cameras now and broadcast with digital technology. In the old days, it was filmed with analog cameras and broadcast with analog technology as well. Film has been replaced by circuits. It's changed the entire feel of music, movies, TV, and photography. You don't have the same feel you had in the 70's and 80's for example. Going to a movie now is a different experience than it was back then because of what digital has done to it.

Donald said...

Yep, today's movies suck. They lack the depth and intensity that the movies of yesterday did. I've rented many movies from Netflix/Redbox lately, and I can't remember one that I wanted to see again. How sad.