The exclusivity wars : Whoever wins, we lose

Netflix and other on demand services of its ilk have had such a huge impact on viewing habits in such a short amount of time. Don’t know about you but I’m getting a bit sick of service exclusive content and I can see some unpleasant things on the horizon. Speaking of which, I assume you’ve heard about Adam Sandler’s four-film deal with Netflix? Basically, the theoretical comedian has made a deal to produce and star in four films for the company. Also, the sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon will premiere exclusively on the service. That’s great an’ all but what if you don’t have a Netflix account? What if you’ve signed up to Amazon Instant Video instead and can only justify one VOD subscription? Well, the answer seems to be “fuck you”. No terrible Sandler film or potentially great martial arts action for you. If these experiments are successful, you can bet that this’ll only be the start of it. Expect to see more exclusive studio deals with all new and back catalogue titles only appearing on one service. Fancy watching an X-Men film? Fuck you NowTV subscriber, Netflix has a deal with 20th Century Fox and all future, past and Days of Future Past X-Flicks will only be available there, so choke on it. Or, even better, each studio will create its own streaming service. Hooray for Paramount on Demand! Watch Transformers: Age of Extinction and Top Gun for only £7.99 a month! Not available on any other service!

This may seem like a bit of a leap and yes, this is all massively speculative, but I’ve just got a bad feeling about this. That’s not to say I’m completely blinkered. I can definitely see the potential. It means there’s another option for films to reach the masses. We could get showcases for directors the mainstream won’t take a chance on. It could be massive for the indie movie scene. We could get sequels to things that should rightfully have them but are deemed “too risky”, like Dredd. If they’re smart about this, it could be awesome. However, we all know how Hollywood can be, chasing the short-term gain over any kind of rational plan. This is an industry where you’ve got big cheeses like Jeffrey Katzenberg thinking along the lines of a pay by screen size system where cinemas only have films for 3 weeks and then it’s up for download. Of course, what ol’ Katzy hasn’t taken into account is how unenforceable the system would be and the fact that it would make cinemas pretty much pointless and ensure that they make even less on ticket sales than they do now. But that’s just it. They don’t think. With that in mind, why wouldn’t they go for something like this?  They’re already terrified of Video on Demand as a competitor for eyeballs and wallets. So why wouldn’t they ally themselves with the enemy and get a fat payday now so their executives can afford to go diamond parasailing or whatever the hell rich people do for the next few years?

Physical media is already dying so this digital only future may come sooner than you think. Sony posted record losses this year and most of the blame is at Blu-ray’s door. It sucks because I’m a fan of physical media. I like having a collection. I like the convenience of watching what I want, when I want. You don’t have that with VOD services. You’re at their mercy. Films and shows are taken down on a whim and with very little warning. I know some people selling their film collections because they have Netflix. Seems short-sighted to me. At least when you have a Blu-ray or DVD, you actually own the thing and its availability isn’t down to the outcome of various meetings with studios.

All of this stuff diminishes the advantages that streaming has over piracy. People won’t care about all the new exclusive films, because they’ll be ripped and reuploaded on torrenting sites mere hours after they’re made available in a bog-standard file that doesn’t do anything stupid like limit viewing options. If this continues, the only advantage that streaming will have is the fact it’s legal – and we all know how many fucks the general public give about that. Why bother paying per month for a limited library that may or may not have the things you like when you can get an unlimited HD file of something you actually want for free?

Let’s not forget what “exclusive” means: not shared with others; belonging or catering to a minority. It’s a rather worrying trend. So unless you want to spend a ridiculous amount per month, you might be seeing fewer films in the future and that’s pretty saddening.

Rebrand, Bomb, Repeat: Why titles matter

If you haven’t heard- the film released earlier this year called Edge of Tomorrow (quick plug, finger guns, cheeky wink 😉 ) will be renamed Live, Die, Repeat for its home media release. Logic being that since the film performed way below expected numbers, a rebranding is in order, presumably to start anew and give it a massive push for DVD/Blu-ray. They even went as far as changing the title on IMDB (UPDATE: it has now reverted back to “Edge of Tomorrow” but here’s a screenshot so I don’t look like a lying jerkbag). I have a problem with this. Now, I get the complete apathy you may have to this topic, but bear with me, ‘cos I think it speaks of bigger things than just a dumb name change.

…And it is a dumb name.  A lot of films don’t bother with taglines now for fear of not being taken super fucking seriously, but I’ve always liked them.”Live, Die, Repeat” is a great tagline. It’s to the point and snappy. What it isn’t is a good film name. Whilst the title “Edge of Tomorrow” does sound pretty generic, at least it rolls off the tongue better than “Live, Die, Repeat”, which forces you into a Shatnerian way…of… talking. Considering the film’s concept being a single repeating day, “Edge of Tomorrow” actually fits nicely and makes sense in the context of the film. Granted, the film should be called “All You Need is Kill” as that is the name of the source material, but I can see why they changed that one. It sounds like a parody of sorts.

The film underperformed but it got crazy good reviews. Several film sites I go to have had people excitedly talking about how much they enjoyed the film for months. I enjoyed it immensely. I suspect Edge of Tomorrow is a future cult classic. I’ve already seen far more people talking about over the past few months than I ever remember seeing when it came out in cinemas. It’s got word of mouth on its side here. It’s a legitimately decent film. Quality will out if you give it time. I just don’t see how a title change benefits anyone outside of the Warner Bros. execs and the marketing team. Let’s just count off the ways this may hurt the film.

1) Confusing: Yeah, the film didn’t rake in the cash they wanted, but a bunch of people saw this film. They saw a film called Edge of Tomorrow. It’s alienating those people who aren’t as fucking sad as I am and who don’t read film sites all the time and so may not know of the title change. What happens to the people who enjoyed the film and want to purchase it, unaware of the name switch? In general, consumers are like meerkats- one sense of something being off and they dash underground.

2) Negates some word of mouth: People have been reading about the “best film of the summer that they didn’t see”. Plenty of sites (including this one) sang its praises and urged people to watch it. I’m always trying to get people to watch stuff and it can be challenging. The name change alone invites this kind of possible scenario:

Gumbus: Hey, have you seen Edge of Tomorrow yet?

Merle: Nah, I looked for it on Amazon. It kept taking me to another Tom Cruise film called “Live, Die…something”.

Gumbus: Yeah, that’s the one. They just renamed it.

Merle: Oh, ok. I’ll get it later. *forgets*

3) Established name already: The film I and many other people saw in the cinema was called Edge of Tomorrow. There’s no way I can think of this film as anything else but that. Just can’t.

4) It’s a fucking shit name: It’s a fucking shit name

It doesn’t make sense. Surely they should be pushing it super-hard for the home release, with posters plastered with all the 4/5 star ratings it garnered. Box office bombs become famous for being just that. They appear on all sorts of end of year lists detailing the biggest box-office losers. The Lone Ranger suddenly became talked about because of how much it was costing Disney. Plus, here’s the thing- EoT didn’t do well, but isn’t a colossal financial failure. I could have possibly seen the logic if it had done so badly they wanted to distance themselves from the name, but even then I would have disagreed. Plus, box-office talk is mostly bollocks anyway. Eventually, most films make their money back via home sales, rentals, TV rights etc.

Ultimately, it shows a complete lack of confidence in the product. It’s like when Disney dropped the “…of Mars” off the end of John Carter because the film Mars Needs Moms had bombed the year before and their beep-boop logic told them that the “Mars” part of “Mars Needs Moms” was somehow something to do with the failure of Robert Zemeckis’ shitty-looking CGI nonsense that no-one wanted to see . I hate to bring up the phrase “artistic integrity” in a discussion about Hollywood, but it shows a lack of that too.

Titles matter. When I was in school, the practice of coming up with the title for your story before starting the actual writing was drilled into me. I get why now. It forces you to start shaping an idea. Titles are important and can change the meaning of a film entirely. Take Raiders of the Lost Ark. Since it hit DVD, the film officially became known as “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark”. You see how that’s not quite the same and not quite as good? Indy is one of the titular raiders of the ark, he just happens to want it for a good purpose. Having the film’s title be Indiana Jones and the…blah blah blah is not as concise. I know it’s to bring it in line with the rest of the series, but I see it as a Rambo situation. First one establishes a famous character (Raiders/First Blood), then it becomes about chronicling the adventures of that character (...and the Temple of Doom/ Rambo III). Plus, the film’s title card just says “Raiders of the Lost Ark” whereas the others have the “Indy” prefix.

I know all of this isn’t the worst thing ever and it doesn’t even come close to some of the completely dumb shit studios pull on a regular basis, but it is irritating. I can only see it being a needless complication to the marketing of a film that didn’t get its due, especially when it had the potential to enjoy the success that Dredd did when it came to DVD. I liked Edge of Tomorrow and want it to do well. Not only because I believe in quality being rewarded, but because Hollywood needs to pay attention to films like Edge of Tomorrow/Live, Die, Repeat/Whatever the Fuck and the only way they do that is if a film makes mad bank. If you can’t tell my position on it already, if you haven’t seen Edge of Tomorrow yet, you should get on that.

Photoshop ‘Til You Drop: The Decline of the Movie Poster

I’ve wanted to write a piece about film posters for a while. I’m sure it hasn’t escaped your notice that these days they mostly fall under the “Photoshopped Nightmare” category. As I’m the sort of adult who hangs these things on my wall and then wonders why the girls aren’t calling, it’s really disappointing that they’re mostly fucking awful. I’m not going to do a post about the tropes etc. because people have done that shit way too many times over recent years, plus if you’ve set foot in a cinema’s auditorium recently, you’re already well aware of them.

When it comes to blaming someone, people bark up the wrong tree. As is often the case, studios are to blame, not the designers. Check out this informative post that describes some of the constraints put on these people. Fair enough, it’s their actual job to respond to a remit and graphic designers are usually insanely put-upon to try and re-create some uncreative arsehole’s vague vision, but it still seems like a lot to deal with. Plus, the system in place seems directly opposed to any kind of creativity and almost custom built to produce the same grey glurge time and time again.

Much like everything else in the filmmaking process, posters are often focus grouped to death, which is a huge reason why everything looks the fucking same. Here’s the dirty secret about focus groups- they’re not the be-all and end-all. There’s years of documented problems with using focus groups, but they’re still used heavily and their findings are taken as gospel. If you haven’t seen Steven Soderbergh’s brilliant “State of Cinema” speech, I suggest you get on that. In it, he mentions the flaws of the testing system and how it affects everything to do with a movie’s release, including the poster. The thing is, people nearly always want what they’ve seen before. There’s the uber famous Henry Ford quote that springs to mind when he talked about this new fangled motor car he’d produced: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” It’s exactly the same here.

So, the thing that made me think about this all again is that particular Black Widow poster at the top of all this. If you can’t see what’s wrong with it, you need to go outside and see what a real woman looks like (or simply look down if you happen to be a woman, obviously). The proportions are preposterous. At this point, you may be thinking “Sure, but this is just the standard Photoshop problem that plagues magazine covers and the like- nothing new here.” Well, how come both the Cap and Nick Fury posters released at the same time and done by the same people don’t look as freakish? Well, we all know the reason why, don’t we? Women are often portrayed as purely sexual objects and fetishised to a ridiculous degree.  That particular Black Widow poster is made to appeal to the mouth-breathing teenage boy demographic who have no idea what an actual woman looks like and have brought themselves up on twisted pornographic caricatures of women thanks to the plethora of porn sites, video games and comic books that they indulge in. The fact that they felt they needed to give Scarlett Johansson, an almost painfully beautiful woman to begin with, a smaller waist, pixel perfect hair and zipper-busting tits is insane and speaks of problems way bigger than the simple marketing of a movie.

So why am I getting bent out of shape? Surely it’s the film that matters? Well, yeah, but movie posters are a grand tradition. Sure, the release of a poster seems more like an obligation on the studios’ part, but it still exists. The Internet and TV ads are presumably much more effective marketing tools but the poster is still hanging on in there. Shit, you need something to slap up on billboards and bus stops. To me, they represent a lot. As part of my work on this site, I have to find a corresponding poster to head my reviews and they nearly always suck. I remember seeing exciting posters for future films as a kid and just being drawn to them like a gormless moth. My parents used to hate taking me to the cinema because when it came time to leave, I would always lag behind and gawp at the colourful posters on display. In some cases, the film’s art is intrinsically linked to what I picture when I think of the film itself. Marty looking shocked at his watch whilst stepping out of his DeLorean perfectly encapsulates Back to the Future in a single image.The massive shark head coming up out of the depths to munch on a swimmer is Jaws to me. There’s no poster that I can think of it recent years that has made me want to rush out, buy it, frame it and hang it on my wall.

Surely the popularity of the Mondo posters and the minimalist designs shared on places like Tumblr and DeviantArt indicate that there is a market for interesting art out there? One of my favourite recent pieces is the IMAX exclusive poster for Iron Man 3 that I got from a screening, seen below. Sure, I understand why it wasn’t used for general release because it doesn’t really tell you anything about the film or feature ticket-seller Robert Downey Jr’s face or name, but shit, it’s leagues ahead of the theatrical poster where it looks like Gwyneth Paltrow has a broken neck.

DVD/Blu-ray cover art is normally even worse. Sometimes they won’t even use their shitty theatrical art and knock together an even shittier image for the cover. As a film collector with a weird obsession with aesthetics, it really bugs me. It’s one of the main reasons I buy the increasingly popular steelbook editions of films as the cover art is usually far superior to, and way more interesting than, the normal release because it doesn’t have to cater to the sort of people who impulse buy because the cover looks like something they’ve seen before.

So what’s the solution? I have no real idea. I don’t work in the industry. However, I will ask a few questions. As film posters aren’t the most important or effective thing in a film’s promotional campaign, why can’t they be a bit more experimental? Surely now’s the time to do it as nearly every poster looks exactly the fucking same? It doesn’t make any sense to me. They’ve got fuck all to lose and a bunch of things to gain.

How I would unfuck the film industry

It’s been said for decades, but only now do I truly believe it – Hollywood is running out of ideas. Take a look at the endless adaptations, sequels and reboots on the slate for the rest of this year. The thing is, it’s not like there’s less creative talent in the movie business. There’s no shortage of actors,writers, directors, composers, set designers, fluffers etc. it’s just that in general, studios are less willing to stump up the cash for riskier projects. There have been some massive flops recently, including John Carter and the more recent Jack the Giant Slayer to make investors think twice before reaching for their wallets. It’s the audiences’ faults really, when given the choice of something new versus something familiar, they’ll go for the same old toss every time. That doesn’t mean you should exclusively cater to that. However, that seems like exactly what Hollywood is doing. They churn out sequel after sequel and only bet on a new intellectual property if they reckon they can squeeze a franchise out of it. It must be noted that I’m talking about the big budget studio system, not the independent circuit or foreign imports or anything like that. Some have predicted an industry-wide crash. You know what? I wouldn’t be surprised. The amount of money spent on not only the films themselves but the marketing as well is enough to bring tears to your eyes. They’re relying on more and more arses on seats and it’s going to reach critical mass. Soon they’ll need entire continents to pay to see their film just to break even. Huge flops like Carter and Slayer will become more common and then everyone will be playing their credit cards close to their chest. To be honest, I think the film industry is going to be proper fucked in the near future.

I’m just one fella. I have no power or sway. However, given the opportunity here’s how I would singlehandedly save the films I love so much and probably have loads of sexy ladies coming up to me and want to kiss me on the mouth. So, how would I pull off my promising “unfucking”? If I found myself in a meeting with all the studio heads and influentials, here’s what I’d tell them:

1) Stop whinging about piracy

It has been years and they’re still banging the same old drum. I can’t believe that in space year 2013 we still have preachy little adverts in front of our films. If you’re in the UK and just super-duper lucky, you’ll get the double of John Hurt talking about “The Last Cinema” and then some characters from some upcoming kiddie guff reminding you of “moments worth paying for”. Here’s the dirty secret: every mass entertainment industry has to deal with piracy in some form. The music industry in particular has been plagued by it. Think: when was the last time you heard them complaining? It was a while ago wasn’t it? You know why? They adapted. They embraced new technology. They shifted focus onto promoting live shows and tours. Oh, they held out as long as they could with the old business models that had made them disgustingly rich in the first place, but eventually they moved on. iTunes changed everything. Convenience is a huge factor. There are always going to be people who want stuff for free, but I’d like to think that the public at large agree with recompensing an artist for their work. It’s faster and easier to download a single on iTunes than it is to search for a torrent, make sure it isn’t riddled with nasty shit that’ll nerf your computer and then manually change all the track information to put in on your iPod. Plus, with the iTunes route you don’t have to worry about that whole “against the law” thing.

Films haven’t really got there yet. We live in an age where many people have decent home set-ups with big ol’ HD flatscreens. They’ve just got to accept that some people would prefer to watch films in the privacy of their own homes. They’ve got to accept that most kids watch films on their laptops. There’s been a huge societal shift in how people watch their films. Home entertainment sales are ever-climbing and services like Netflix and Lovefilm are booming. Basically, they need to offer choice- and not the sort of choice between paying £9 for a new release or fucking off. Embrace the tech. Several films have done this already. The upcoming Ben Wheatley film A Field in England is being released simultaneously in cinemas, on DVD and on TV. I’m right behind this. Thing is, it needs to be more than quaint Britflicks. We need a Michael Bay blockbuster to adopt this shit. Fuck, get James Cameron in on it. It seems studios will blindly follow everything else he “pioneers”, why not this? Surely they see the benefit of leaving it up to people to choose how they want to interact with the product? Not everyone has a cinema down the road from them, y’know. Christ, more people could end up seeing your damn franchise spawning flick. More money. Fancy that.

2) Make the cinema experience better

This is a no-brainer. If you regulate it, they will come. I adore going to the cinema. I’ve loved it ever since I was a kid. Thing is, most of my cinema visits are marred by the general public. When I went to see Spielberg’s Lincoln, there was a couple of acne-assaulted gorps who talked throughout the entire fucking film. It’s very difficult to pay attention to the softly-spoken Prez when you’ve got that inane shit thrusting its way into your ear. That’s not to mention people and their FUCKING PHONES. I honestly don’t know why there isn’t a plastic box or a locker for depositing your phone as you come in. You get a thing like a valet ticket and get your stuff back at the end. People have proven they can’t be trusted to not check their phones for 90 minutes. It’s not phonecalls that are the problem any more. It’s the bright-as-fuck screens that catch your attention in the dark. I’ve seen what these people are doing. They’re checking Facebook or Twitter or some other such unimportant shit. It’s incredibly distracting. Listen, if it’s so important to text/sext/Facebook/whatever that you can’t spare and hour or so, don’t go to the cinema.

The issue is that people don’t respect the cinema experience any more. If studios aren’t going to let us view how we want and insist that we go to the cinema for our filmic needs, then they need to strive to make it the best experience possible. Don’t just use colourful CGI cartoon wankers to merely tell us that it’s worth paying for, prove it. Very rarely do I have an uneventful, nice trip to the pictures. There’s always some prick spoiling it for everyone else. Plus, there’s the added indignity of having to pay over the odds for one of the 45 super-regular 3D showings because the three 2D showings occur at batshit inconvenient times. Don’t think we haven’t noticed, you sleazy bastards. What I’m saying is, police every screening. Zero tolerance policy. If there’s an usher there, ready to tell people to turn off their phones and chuck out any troublemakers, people will be able to focus on enjoying the film. Hell, it may encourage audience to act like actual adults. “Yeah? Well, the economy’s still a big ol’ prolapsed rectum, so where are we going to get the money for all that from Ben, you smug twat?” I hear you cry. Shut up, I’ll tell you in a minute.

Everyone knows cinemas are too expensive. Thing is, people seem to bark up the wrong tree when it comes to blaming. They blame the cinemas and their ludicrously priced concessions. It’s not really their fault though. People don’t seem to realise that selling stinky hotdogs and vats of watered-down Coke is where cinemas actually make their money. Studios and distributors ask for an insane percentage of the opening week box office with the takings then working on a sliding scale, with the overall share ending up around 50/55%. Studios have started getting greedy though, reckoning they can force cinemas over a barrel and hold blockbusters to ransom, as exemplified with the recent Iron Man 3 debacle that nearly caused the film to not be shown in several big name cinema chains in the U.S. I would suggest that studios allow cinemas to walk away with slightly more of the overall takings, meaning cinemas can lower ticket prices. People will flock if admission is lower, I guarantee it. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve heard someone decrying the high price of popping out to see a film. Either that or make the cinema worth the premium pricetag by getting the studios to pick up the bill for the kick-ass ushers I mentioned in the previous paragraph. Cinema used to be the accessible art form, where anyone could take their minds off their troubles for a while for just the change in their pocket. It’s a shame it’s moved away from that. Time moves on, shit gets more expensive, I get that. However, I think people should be encouraged by the popularity of Netflix and the like. Low monthly prices and a fair selection of films for much cheaper than you can get anywhere else. Plus, it’s legal, so people don’t have to feel like scumbags.

I hate the modern film industry. Its avarice and mercenary nature seems barely hidden any more. There used to be an artifice of wanting to entertain, but that seems like a joke that steadily grows in irony, especially when you have fucking robots like this wax droid in charge of the next greenlighting decision.