Steven Soderbergh wants to push the reset button on Hollywood, and he will be ignored and scorned for his troubles. The film making industry has always been resistant to change, but that's hardly any different than any other industry that's been raping the public for trillions of dollars every decade. Despite the fact that several unions -- called guilds in the film industry -- have a choke hold over the studios and producers when it comes to money, the reality is the entire business is wildly out of control, and has been for some time now. Actors enjoy a bizarre climate in which the studios can't seem to stop giving them enough money to live on for their entire lives, only to later consider that a base level raise for the next big star. With the A-list now demanding $25 million or more per picture, it's little wonder why there are constant budget overruns, and fewer than one in ten films ever see a profit for the studio.
Contrast this with the most talented and in-demand writers, who have never earned more than about $5 million for their services. Also keep in mind that that kind of money for a script is incredibly rare, as is evidenced by the minimum a studio is required to pay, which is only now reaching about $70,000. That disparity has Soderbergh calling for salary caps on actors, which isn't such a bad idea. It wouldn't affect anyone but the highest paid talent, which is already so filthy rich that they could live ten more lives without seeing another paycheck. But that isn't the only problem.
Theaters have a rich history in building and sustaining communities, and real theaters are still a real treat to go to, because those people work really hard simply because they enjoy doing it. Today, movie theaters are really just an inconvenience. Sure, they are fun for blockbusters, but good ones are becoming so rare that I've only seen one or so in the last couple of years. If anyone had a choice, theaters would go the way of the pay phone. Notice how the telcos -- not exactly a neophyte industry known for being agile and responsive to the public needs and motivated by anything other than profit -- put their full weight behind cellular phones even when pay phones were a bedrock of their business. They saw the opportunity before them and got with the program, even when the potential to screw people over in even more ways than previously thought possible, and to make even more money, was anything but certain.
Given the choice between watching a movie in the comfort of their own home, with their family and not 50 noisy strangers packed side-by-side like meat on a rack, whenever they feel like it, for a third the price, it's a Forrest Gump moment. For many technological savvy people, three hours spent downloading a movie and burning it to DVD for keeps is time and money better spent than three hours stuck in an uncomfortable chair, chowing down on junk food that's just as expensive as the tickets were. Television was the first of the three ton stone blocks pulled out from under the theaters foundation. VCR's were the second, DVD's were the third, and now stupidly fast Internet connections and DVD burners are the final block that is toppling the entire deal.
The RIAA was scared and slow to sell music online, and as a result, people made an industry out of stealing and trading. The MPAA had the opportunity to learn from the MPAA's mistakes, but instead followed precisely in their footsteps. Soderbergh's co-panelist at the Tribeca Film Festival, a co-creator of BitTorrent, believes that 700,000 movies are traded each and every single day, and Hollywood still refuses to fully embrace the incredible number of people who are desperate for a way to get movies online.
The reality is, you can't say no to something like that. There is no choice to be made here. People want free speech, beer, and downloadable movies. You either sell it to them, or they'll take it from you. Period.
Human beings have demonstrated consistently throughout history that 90% of them will consent to being locked in a cage, just so long as they believe they have a choice in the matter. A lot of people who stole music before there existed a place to buy it legally, are now happily buying millions of songs from Apple, even though it's wrapped in a chastity belt called Digital Rights Management. So bent on protecting the rights of the industry coalition -- and not the people who actually made the content they are getting filthy rich off of -- most DRM ties you to a single device whether you like it or not. It doesn't matter if the DRM maker goes out of business, that's just tough luck. And yet people swallow it whole and beg for more; that's been proven already. So there is no excuse for not doing the same with feature films. There really isn't anymore.
Hollywood's problems extend far beyond the issues of piracy and actor compensation though. It's bent far out of whack when it comes to valuation of the totality of talent that goes into making movies. Writers get paid pennies compared to actors, directors have almost total control over a film when in television they have virtually no say at all. I've heard of message boards called trackers used by studio executives and producers where information on scripts is distributed with absolutely no care given to the potential consequences as to what is said there. One positive comment can start a bidding war over a piece of garbage, while one negative comment can cause every single studio to ignore the best-thing-since-bread-but-never-realized without ever even having read it. These are not rumors, either, we know they actually exist.
I can't believe I really want to swim in the same ocean as all these sharks and cons; I must be insane. But I do, and I'm trying. The previously mentioned contest is a step in that direction, and with just two weeks left to get things done, I won't have much time to put in to things like this for a while. I'll do what I can to keep up, and as far as I'm concerned, Soderbergh has my full support, for what it's worth.