Thursday, December 13, 2012

Another one of my rants

Hollywood motion pictures are designed for young audiences. 18-34 is the only demographic the industry believes still goes to the movies. So they churn out big budget comic book films, franchises, raunchy comedies, animation, and adaptations of board games. Any movie targeted for someone older than the Mario Brothers is banished to an art theater. There it plays alongside HITLER VS. STALIN: WHO WAS THE BETTER PAINTER? and the latest Atom Egoyan movie.

The only time Hollywood makes films for adults is in the Fall/Holiday season. And those films are not produced because studios feel they have an obligation to the 70 million baby boomers who have supported them handsomely the last fifty years – no, they make those movies to win awards.

But they also throw us a bone with a comedy or two. There are only so many BLACK SWANS we’ll stomach. So what does Hollywood think we graying Americans want to see in our comedies?

Recently I was in a theater that showed SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK so the trailers were for older viewers. Three were comedies. Here’s what they were:

THE GUILT TRIP – Set Rogen (to attract some young people) goes on a road trip with his wacky obnoxious mother, Barbra Streisand. Hilarity ensues with such big jokes in the trailer as:

Barbra: "Don’t pick up hitchhikers. They rape."

PARENTAL GUIDANCE – Billy “Botox” Crystal and Bette Midler play wacky grandparents who have to wrangle kids. Hilarious moments like Billy getting hit in the balls.

THIS IS 40 – Another Judd Apatow yuckfest with sentimental scenes sprinkled in to take the curse off the plethora of gross jokes. Paul Rudd and Apatow’s wife (who I’m sure was the funniest actress he could find) in a romp over the heartbreak of turning 40. Hilarious trailer moments like Judd's wife walking in on Paul when he was on the toilet.

So is this what Hollywood thinks we want? Bat crazy grandparents and parents? Recycled old stars? Tired premises – buddy/road pictures, babysitting pictures, midlife crisis pictures? All with predictable endings I’m sure. Seth and Barbra gain a deeper understanding for each other and work out long festering issues. Billy Crystal winds up loving his grandchildren and finally learns the meaning of parenthood. Paul Rudd and Judd Apatow’s wife fall in love all over again and reclaim their youth in each other’s eyes. In all three cases it's all about second chances. Now I haven’t seen any of these movies and probably won’t… even though in the Billy Crystal movie he’s supposed to be a minor league baseball announcer (a fact not even mentioned in the trailer). You tell me how right I was predicting these endings.

The irony is Hollywood is trotting out all these musty conventions to the one age group who has seen them the most.

So why is this? Well, most of the studio executives are younger than this audience and has no affinity for what they want to see. There are very few older screenwriters working and those that are, especially in the comedy arena, tend to still be viable because they continue to turn out reliable formula scripts. Also, it’s not a priority. A film based on Hungry Hungry Hippos is (and I’m not kidding. This is really in development).

Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand driving across the country together? Unless there’s a 40-piece orchestra in the backseat and she’s singing every song Alan & Marilyn Bergman ever wrote, I’m keeping my twelve dollars.

51 comments:

nerkul said...

Have you seen the lines in a cinema? They're all young people. Hollywood knows its audience. And Judd Apatow makes the most emotionally honest films of our generation (so I forgive his inability to edit them).

RJ Hope said...

Ken, the reality is that Hollyweird now produces pictures that they think will make money. Some are artsy, but mostly the question is now: Is this film commercially viable? You mentioned Apatow, but he consistently delivers, so he gets to make these raunchy comedies that seems to be popular these days. I do agree that movies for the older audience are made for award season. Also,the formulaic films is what the studios want because they are deemed "safe". Unless you're Spielberg, Nolan, Jackson, or Cameron, or your script is based on some IP, your ambitious and/or artsy project is not getting made. I mean Hungry Hungry Hippos? Monopoly? Come on! Really? Movies are such a gamble, too expensive to make and market and studios want a return on this investment, just like the other industries that are not supposed to emulate.

Anonymous said...

"Hilarious moments like Billy getting hit in the balls."

You have summarized the career of Adam Sandler as an actor.

:-)

Jen said...

One of my movie rules is that if someone gets hit in the balls in a trailer, it's going to be a bad movie. It's pretty much foolproof!

yatesy said...

The studio that delivered This Is 40 put the script up on the net and I read it. It didn't really do anything for me. The only thing that is cool about it, is that Graham Parker is in it. Local girls is a great song.

RC said...

RC said...

The film industry is just that; an industry. It's a factory grinding out a product at the lowest possible cost for the highest estimated return, and targeted specifically for the most lucrative demographic. It's no different from a car company, clothing maker, or whatever. Disappointment lies only in the expectation that it will be something more than that. Most people in the US are not tasteful consumers of any other product; why would movies be any different?

Robert Pierce said...

Ken,

I've been reading and periodically responding to your blog for a while now and just wanted to let you know that you've inspired me to start a blog myself. I've found that it is extremely therapeutic, in that I found a way to make all the crap that has happened to me potentially funny for others, thus allowing at least someone to gain pleasure from the pain previously endurred.

So, thanks.

Kirk said...

I agree with everything you said except the casting. You mentioned "tired stars". But if you make a Hollywood movie where the leads are over 40, doesn't it follow that it's going to be cast with stars who have been on the scene for a while? I can't think of too many actors over 40 who are new to stardom. Or do you want movies where the main characters remain under 40, but the films themselves have an over-40 sensibility? I've never been a Billy Crystal fan, but I like both Streisand and Midler--their acting as well as their singing--and I don't see why they have to be put out to pasture. Better scripts for them to act in, sure, I'm all for that.

Brian said...

Ken, there've been half a dozen questions posted about the recent RSS change where only the first few words are shown of each post, and they've gone unanswered. Would you mind saying something about this? Even just a) I know about this and am trying to get it fixed, b) I know about this and want it this way and it won't be changing, c) I don't know what you're talking about, would be nice. I enjoy the blog and would like to keep reading it, but as it stands it irritates me anew with every post and I'd like to get a sense as to whether it'll ever be changing back to the way it was. Thanks much.

John said...

"The Guilt Trip" would probably get a better reception if Barbara ended up like Imogene Coca on her cross-country trip in "National Lampoon's Vacation". Or ended up like Imogene's dog (audiences definitely wouldn't have seen that one coming).

Bonus if they get Brooklyn Decker to replace Christie Brinkley as the girl in Seth Rogan's motel pool.

Emily Blake said...

The Guilt Trip was originally a spec called My Mother's Curse.

I am an action writer, but My Mother's Curse is the only straight comedy spec in my top ten of all time. It was really freaking great. I don't know how much of what I loved in the spec is still in the film, but if they kept most of it intact, it will be a great movie. The trailer makes it look silly. I hope it doesn't turn out to be silly. Then that would be one more great spec destroyed by over development.

404 said...

Damn. I was going to see that Billy Crystal thing, but now you've gone and spoiled the ending!

Ken Levine said...

Re the RSS feeds,

This is a question I've answered several times but happy to address it again. It has changed on purpose. I'm sorry for any inconvenience but it's only one click and you're at the blog. I hope you'll continue to follow me. Thanks much.

Ken

Barbara C. said...

"This Is 40" is supposed to be a quasi-sequel of "Knocked Up"...so they're hoping to draw in the people who loved "Knocked Up" as well as general Judd Appatow fans.

I agree, though, that it's all pretty predictable.

Ed said...

While Ken makes some great points, I'm having a hard time getting past knowing Hungry, Hungry Hippos is in development.

Will the trailer start:

"In a world...where very large animals have very large appetites...a team of friends must race together to save a planet from Hungry, Hungry Hippos."

benson said...

Well, we've got a chicken and egg situation here. We have only kiddie movies, so adults don't go, or adults don't go so we'll only make kiddie movies.

I've only gone to three movies in 2012. Best Marigold Hotel was wonderful (and I believe made some money), the kids dragged me to the Will Farrell election movie, which was funny at times, but generally not very good. And we saw Argo, which was great.

The Hitchcock movie and the Bill Murray FDR movie are supposed to be here early in January, so that'll be two I saw in 2013.

I guess what's disappointing is I always believed the boomers would have some economic oomph. But Hollywood doesn't seem too eager want to tap into that.

Tim W. said...

That was Billy Crystal???? I thought it was a movie about an older lesbian couple with Bette Midler and Joan Rivers.

@nerkul
"Have you seen the lines in a cinema? They're all young people."

You're assuming that the latter is caused by the former and not the other way around. I'm sure more adults would go the the theatre if there were more things to see.

Oliver said...

I don't really buy into this. I think Hollywood will release anything that will make a profit.

Superhero movies have huge cross-demographic appeal and are proven to make a lot of money. I mean, The Avengers made a billion dollars.

Same with CGI movies, which are usually reliable performers. Even the struggling Rise of the Guardians will almost certainly be profitable in long-run.

The reason studios release films for awards is because that's one way of making them stand out and become profitable. Every so often a low-budget film breaks out and becomes a monster hit (e.g. The King's Speech, The Social Network, No Country For Old Men).

Stephen Robinson said...

I thought the Boom Generation demonstrated that it lived a full life that was not just about annoying their adult children or doting over their cute grandchildren. There could be an interesting and engaging movie involving 60-somethings without having it based around their kids.

I don't see a lot of movies, which surprises people who consider me a movie lover based on my references to classic Hollywood. I think I love old movies because there was a period when they were genuinely "all-ages." The content appealed to adults and children -- not either/or. I'm sure there were teens who went to see "Casablanca," as well as middle-aged parents.

Murph said...

The joke in the trailer for This is 40 wasn't Leslie Mann walking in on Paul Rudd on the toilet. It was calling him out for pretending to use the bathroom to get alone time. How could this have gone over your head?

Brandon Silva said...

Hollywood has always made movies they thought would make money. Now days the people in charge of the dough are of the same generation that made Kanye West, P Diddy and Lady Gaga richer than the Beatles.

That's the problem. We're doomed.

Anonymous said...

Kirk said...
"I agree with everything you said except the casting. You mentioned "tired stars". But if you make a Hollywood movie where the leads are over 40, doesn't it follow that it's going to be cast with stars who have been on the scene for a while? I can't think of too many actors over 40 who are new to stardom."

Christopher Waltz didn't hit the big time till he was around 55, and he was certainly worth waiting for.
There's probably a lot of "new" middle-aged actors on the sidelines. Casting directors aren't that creative, because they answer to "scared money," and that's never very creative.

benson said...

It's the *pictures* that got small.

-Norma Desmond.

Mac said...

In THIS IS 40, like so many movies, they also put the redemptive third act bit in the trailer. We know it's going to happen, can we at least pretend that it might not? It's like saying "It's OK - they work this shit out in the end..." I guessed they might, so why would I bother going to see it? Why don't they work it out in an unexpected way and don't put that in the trailer?

So it'll make more money on opening night than I'll make all next year (and the year after) so what's the point in complaining?

XJill said...

@ nerkul - not sure what theaters your'e going to but I go the movies once a week and the crowd is pretty diverse.

Chris said...

Having just watched "This is 40," I have to comment. I can't think of any movie over the past three or four years that I hold in such contempt. Make that five years. Apatow is so out of touch with us and how normal people live that vast stretches of the movie don't make any sense at all. None. We might as well be watching an animated princess movie in which magic is part of every day life. I kept waiting for some reveal, for some indication that he knew he was writing a piece about elitist jerks and, like the Seinfeld crew at the end of that brilliant show, they get some sort of comeuppance. Nope. These are GOOD people. REGULAR folks. Just like me. And there's so much honesty up there on the screen that we get to see Leslie Mann's prepubescent chest as she emotes mightily. That's when I knew he was serious about this movie and that he was swinging for the fence with dreams of some sort of award to put on his mantle. So much honesty...so much truth...so much insight. Remember how out of touch people accused Mitt Romney of being? He's got nothing on Judd Apatow. Adam Sandler makes films of documentary realism compared to this clown.

RCP said...

At 51, I rarely shine up my walker and head outdoors, but I can't think of anything I'd rather see MORE than some over-indulged punks whining about turning 40.

I don't necessarily want to see films that "pander" to me - just films of quality and entertainment - whether they feature leads in their 20s or 70s.

Anna K. said...

Stalin.

Jeffrey Mark said...

All the worry about movies...sheesh, they all eventually end up on DVD and are found at flea markets for 2 bucks a pop. And most of them are the big clunkers Hollyweird churns out year after year. There they are, lost and forgotten on the ground at flea markets for cheap.

Tony said...

Movies are made all the time focused on demos outside the 18-34 bracket; they just don't make a lot of money. However, they are the ones who win awards. So, throughout most of the year, the 35-59 crowd complains that all movies are geared towards the younger crowds, and on Oscar night, the 18-34 crowd complains that movies no one saw win all the awards.

Tony said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lorimartian said...

I agree with RCP. I don't care if it's youth-oriented, just make my time spent in the theater meaningful and don't insult my intelligence. I really love Jack Black. He is multi-talented and entertaining. While The Pick of Destiny was on the stupid side, I enjoyed School of Rock, Shallow Hal, and even Nacho Libre.

One reason I haven't been to the theater in a while is the cockroach scurrying around when I went in search of something I dropped on the floor. Yuck. Also, my ears can't take the over-amped volume.

An aside: I hoped when Don LaFontaine died there would be an opportunity for some variety in talent hired to voice trailers. After listening to that overly-exaggerated delivery for 35 years, I'd had enough. But no, they found a sound alike. Is it Joe Sirola? Give me a break.

James said...

They should make a comedy about someone whose spouse dies and then comes back as a ghost or reanimated as a dog or a parrot and screws up the living person's love-life. That hasn't been done in months.

Dale said...

The last time I went to the cinema was to see the special effects I'd been told about in Avatar. The film itself was obvious from the start.
I no longer watch TV either.
I do watch DVDs. Mainly non English speaking films. I recently saw Depatures, from Japan. Lovely, totally unexpected film. I cannot imagine anything of such class coming out of Hollywood. I think it a shame with all the talent and no how available there. I cannot recall the last Hollywood film I really enjoyed.... I think Serenity.

As for modern American TV. Well I just saw NCIS blatantly rip off M*A*S*H in an episode called A man walks into a bar. A psych evaluation is performed on the team....
Why watch at all.

Dale said...

Know how.

Damn. My eyes!

Cap'n Bob said...

Never mind the movies on the screen, it's the bozos in the audience that keep me home.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

cap'n bob: allow me to commend to you Roger Ebert's Film Festival. He hand-picks the 12-14 films you see over 4 1/2 days, the theater (huge screen, sound, focus) and projection are perfect - and the audience is smart, knowledgeable, and engaged. After last year's event Ebert wrote a blog posting called "The perfect audience".

Of course, it's in Champaign-Urbana...

wg

Cap'n Bob said...

Thanks, Wendy. I doubt I'll ever be in that neighborhood, tho.

Johnny Walker said...

Fuck, I'm 35 next year.

Dale said...

To quote Tower of power, You're still a young man. :-)

Johnny Walker said...

Heh, I know. But I feel like I'm about to get jilted by Hollywood.

Dale said...

I just watched, Another earth. Hollywood can still surprise.

I am glad of it. Most of my greatest influences in life have been Americans. "Philly Joe" Coltrane, Quincy Jones. America has so much to offer other than a Spiderman reboot.

America, I am here listening and watching. Give me something other than gun fights and war.

Dale said...

Screw Hollywood. Do what you do. Follow your bliss. And good luck. I always read your posts.

I had the chance to be a rock star once. I chose to be a musician instead. I am going on 50, am not rich but everyday brings joy and astonishment.

:-)

A_Homer said...

Something parallel perhaps, that in fundraisers like the 1212 Sandy concert, it is assumed that the general and wider audience won't give up donations without a solid spectacle, to ensure a certain impact and level, which always means a center of old guard, now over-60s. But bear in mind, none of those bands have been in their prime or sold serious units in decades (McCartney, Stones, Who, Clapton, and so forth.)

Also, I feel Rogen/Streisand is ripping off the Albert Brooks / Reynolds 1996 "Mother" playbook. Both came at a certain mid-career point too. The problem is Brooks amazed in a kind of believable scenario, and his usual neurotic-laced insights matched to the plot of a sci-fi writer living back at home, etc.. Rogen's is gags, ROAD MOVIE with mom, etc...

Johnny Walker said...

Wow, thanks for the encouraging words, Dale. I'll take happiness over "success" any day :)

Little Miss Nomad said...

Let me prefaces this by saying I loved 40 Year Old Virgin and Freaks & Geeks and liked Knocked Up just fine. Thanks to a screener, I know This is 40 is actually far worse than the trailers. It's long, it's boring, it's self-indulgent, it's poorly structured, and it's an absolute waste of time any money. Clearly Judd was only surrounded by "yes" men who think he can do no wrong. It's really unfortunate.
And no one in the world under the age of 40 is going to see either of those other movies voluntarily.

Janice said...

The lines in front of theatres all being young people isn't so much because of the movies but because older people don't want to stand in a line for an hour in the cold just to see some freakin' movie.

Older audiences can and do come out for good movies. In the past couple of months my friends and I have seen Looper, Skyfall, Argo, Arbitrage, Bel Ami & Robot and Frank. At each one the room was pretty full of older people, there because those movies were worth seeing, and not all of them were "small films"

The audience is there, it's crappy movies that are keeping them away. We'd go a couple times a week if there were enough good ones to see.

Greg Ehrbar said...

No matter what the credits say, that's got to really be Billy Crystal playing Hitchcock. Pouty lips and all.

Rich D said...

The ads for THIS IS 40 make me think I am supposed to give a crap about Apatow's marriage, which I don't.

MuffinMan21571 said...

Ken, you sound like an older fart than Cliint Eastwood at this point... #tellittothechair

D. McEwan said...

"Cap'n Bob said...
Never mind the movies on the screen, it's the bozos in the audience that keep me home."


I gotta agree with Cap'n Bob. Peopel talk, text, I swear they netsurf. I don't remember the least time I saw a movie where I didn't end up shushing someone and/or asking them to turn their friggin' bright phones off.

" Janice said...
The lines in front of theatres all being young people isn't so much because of the movies but because older people don't want to stand in a line for an hour in the cold just to see some freakin' movie."


Does not compute. Who stands in movie lines at all? Why? You go online and buy your ticket, show up just before show time and go in. At the nicer theaters, you pick your seat when you buy your ticket. I haven't stood in a movie line in years. I saw The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Which Iloved) opening day, and the high-end version, 48 fps 3-D. Amount of time I spent standing in line? Zero.

"Lorimartian said...
One reason I haven't been to the theater in a while is the cockroach scurrying around when I went in search of something I dropped on the floor. Yuck."


Ew. Where on earth are you seeing movies? I don't go to movies a lot anymore, but I've been to three this month (out of 6 for the whole year), Hitchcock (Not very good, and more of a fantasy than The Hobbit. Well acted.), Skyfall (Terrific), and The Hobbit, and the theaters were clean, well-maintained, comfortable, and well-run. I haven't encountered vermin (well, non-human vermin) in a theater since I swore off "All Seats 99 Cents" theaters some years ago. Now the only times I encounter a cockroach while watching a movie is at home.