Two recent pieces astutely cast light on the Hollywood’s stubborn predilection for mainstream filmmaking. A.O. Scott in the New York Times and James Surowiecki in The New Yorker discuss why mega-franchises like Transformers continue to dominate film production. In part, as Scott observes, this is the ritual of questioning summer schlock fare. More tellingly, though, both pieces ask whether there’s a failure of nerve by studios in their continuing reliance on action blockbusters aimed at the mythical teen and young adult demographic.
Surowiecki focuses on Kathryn Bigelow’s excellent war drama, The Hurt Locker, which received little marketing support for its release in summer blockbuster season. He nails the issue in writing, “Hollywood decided in advance that Americans weren’t going to watch this kind of movie, and then made sure they wouldn’t.” This is not just an unwillingness to take risk with a smaller film (on an admittedly uneasy topic, the Iraq War): it’s a failure of imagination from an industry that is supposed to be awash in it.
The global economic recession is fairly invoked as cause for contemporary caution by the media conglomerate-held studios. Yet the conservatism driving production and marketing decisions long predated the current crisis. Amidst a much farther-reaching transformation of media and fragmentation of audiences, the immediate-term thinking seems terribly short-sighted. The blockbuster mentality has been around for decades, guiding most studio operations at least since the late 1970s. At a time when diversification is a watchword for success across other troubled and evolving industries, Hollywood might do well to consider adopting it as a strategy for winning the future.