Blockbusters, Indies, Netflix and Great Books

The Blockbuster Is Here To Stay

blockbusters, great gatsby, di caprio

Were Spielberg and Lucas right? Have studios overdone the blockbuster? Their cautionary words were timely in view of the recent under-performance of The Lone Ranger and Pacific Rim. However, it’s rare to have a year where there aren’t a few spectacular failures. I would say 2013 is average in that regard, while actually having more films than usual grossing over 300M worldwide). In fact, July of this year was the biggest at the box office in movie history. Examples of successes include: Iron Man 3 (1.2B+), Despicable Me (666M), Man of Steel (641M), Monsters University (578M), Fast & Furious (741M), Oz The Great & Powerful (491M), World War Z (473M), and The Great Gatsby (330M). And we’re just over halfway through the year. While I think blockbusters are here to stay, I do think studios will want to try to control costs and try producing these tentpoles for closer to 100M than 200M, so 500M worldwide grosses aren’t required to make a profit. It’s worth noting that 5 of out of 8 top grossers are branded and the other three might as well be as sequels.

2013 A Good Vintage for Indies

woody allen, independent film2013 has so far been a promising year for independent films. Personal favorites have included Mud, The Way Way Back and 20 Feet From Stardom. I’m delinquent in seeing Before Midnight, Much Ado About Nothing, Frances Ha, and A Place Beyond The Pines. And I’m eagerly looking forward to Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, Sundance favorite Fruitvale Station, as well as the fall onslaught of prestige films, including Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Gravity, Captain Phillips, The Wolf of Wall Street, Saving Mr. Banks, and The Dallas Buyers Club and The Monuments Men.

TV Gets More and More Interesting

imgres-2On the small screen, it’s been exciting to see the paradigm swiftly shifting. Several Emmy nominations for Netflix sound the gong for the new television world order. I’ll admit to watching several episodes of Orange Is The New Black on consecutive nights with my wife (who then binge-viewed several more episodes without me). While I didn’t make time to watch more than the premiere of House of Cards, I am looking forward to seeing more. Though the Netflix model is groundbreaking, it’s also mysterious and missing a key element that one gets with “appointment” viewing. First, it’s interesting that Netflix has not shared (and doesn’t seem about to) ratings for viewership of its new shows, though we’ve seen some educated guesses. And what Netflix doesn’t have is the same-time viewing tsunami that will accompany a Game Of Thrones type show, where FB and Twitter spontaneously combust with audience reaction (“GOT OMG!”) I have to admit I’m more attracted to producing television than ever, given some of the great writing and acting I’m experiencing.

Literature is Alive

imgres-3Finally, I feel compelled to mention The Great Books program, which invited me to speak to its (mostly) middle school and high school students at its Stanford summer program (which runs simultaneously with its Amherst and Oxford sessions). I was amazed, inspired and humbled by the fervor for great literature demonstrated by these 8-18 years olds, many of whom are already better read than I will ever be. It was so refreshing to meet fertile young minds romping through the classics with such gusto. A grateful shout out to Great Books founder David Ward.