you’re not helping: Amy Pascal on bad movies

Sony Pictures Entertainment cochair Amy Pascal talked TheWrap’s Sharon Waxman, and something she said made me choke:

AP: To be fair to all of us, nobody sets out to make a crappy movie. Nobody says, “Let’s make this one bad.” You’re always trying to make it good. Now, sometimes you succeed in making it good, sometimes you really succeed at making it great, and sometimes you massively fail and make a bad movie. Which you …

SW: Which you still have to sell.

AP: Which you still have to sell.

Why? Why do you still have to sell it?

Imagine a Hollywood that worked like other industries that create products for mass consumption. You work on product development for months and years, and sometimes you end up with a dud. But you don’t put that dud on the market: you go back to the drawing board and start over.
Now, movies aren’t the same thing as toasters. Selling a movie that sucks isn’t the same thing as selling a toaster that will burn your house down. But when a studio head is able to acknowledge that, yes, some of the movies she is trying to get you to spend your hard-earned money and valuable time on is a “massive fail,” then seriously: What the fuck? Isn’t there another option? Isn’t there a way to cut your loses and not have to mislead audiences into seeing a movie that even the studio knows is a “massive fail”?

One idea: Make movies on more reasonable budgets, with smaller salaries for everyone involved at the high creative level — writers, directors, stars — bolstered by back-end bonuses that kick in only if a film does well. So movies that “massively fail” can be written off as failures and dumped to DVD, or not released at all.

But the studios won’t do that. Which makes something else that Pascal says to TheWrap infuriating, even though there is wisdom in it:

AP: I’m a complete believer in movie theaters. Movie theatres are the heart and soul of what we do, and always will be, because viewing movies is a communal experience. And the best experience that any of us has had at the movies is in a dark theatre with the lights turned off. Because in that experience, you can let yourself go, and letting yourself go and be transported is an essential part of the storytelling experience. When you are not watching it in the theater, you’re in control of how you are viewing it, right? You can get up, you can do this, you can do that, you can take it with you, you can a watch it a little bit here and there. You have not made yourself open to the storytelling experience. You’re in control of it. In a movie theater, you have no control, and there’s something great about that. It’s one of the few places any of us are comfortable giving up control, and that is why the experience of a movie theater is different than from anywhere else.

Yeah, and sometimes that control we give over comes in the form of a trust, that the movie we’re about to see is not a “massive fail.” And sometimes a studio knows that it is, and convinced us otherwise anyway. Not cool.

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