Zoe: Umm hi… What’s with you and using howdy?
Justin: What’s wrong with howdy?
Zoe: Howdy is for cowboys. You live in Ohio, not Texas. Ohio is like the most neutral state in the country. Whenever they need some small podunk town with some average-speaking, average-looking people for a movie, they choose Ohio as the location. It’s where “Glee” is set.
Justin: This is true. I can still like the word “howdy” though. I live close enough to Kentucky that I can sound southern and I lived in Virginia for two years.
Zoe: Sure, go with that. Anyway, do you have any ideas for us to talk about today?
Justin: Actually, I do, and it surprisingly came from Twitter.
Zoe: Another day I’m going to ask you to try to defend why on earth anyone gives a horse’s ass what everyone they know is doing or thinking or eating every second of every day in however-many characters or less.
Justin: It’s no worse than a Facebook status update. At least with Twitter you don’t have to sift through all the garbage that gets put on Facebook these days. It is what Facebook used to be… simpler.
Zoe: There is so much wrong with that, but I’m in a pretty decent mood all things considered, so I’m just going to tear myself off that subject and ask, So, what’s this idea of yours?
Justin: Well this idea came from several tweets from Kevin Smith, who is hilarious to follow on Twitter. He may be vulgar sometimes but that is just who he is and he has some great perspective when it comes to film. I would highly recommend following “ThatKevinSmith” on Twitter if you have an account. (Warning: He does tweet a lot.)
Zoe: Yeah, that’s not an idea, Justin, that’s a free promo for Kevin Smith’s Twitter.
Justin: Let me finish jeeze. Anyway, a few days ago a discussion started to take place between Mr. Smith and those who follow him. He started tweeting about how people need to stop caring about box office numbers and start caring about the films. His basic argument was that the only people who should really care about the box office are those who have a stake in the financial aspect of the film. Other than that, you should just enjoy the movie for what it is. Just because a film doesn’t do well at the box office, doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth seeing. Mr. Smith’s examples were Scott Pilgrim vs the World and his own Mallrats.
Zoe: As film enthusiasts, we can scoff at the box office stuff all we want, but it does have a huge impact on what we get to see and its quality. Right now, with the financial troubles the studios have, hardly any studios want to make, buy or distribute films that are considered risky at the box office, like Scott Pilgrim and Mallrats. On a related note, earlier this month the Wall Street Journal ran an article about the increasing power of the international market:
“The rising clout of international audiences is a sea change for Hollywood. Decades ago, a movie’s foreign box office barely registered with studio executives. Now, foreign ticket sales represent nearly 68% of the roughly $32 billion global film market, up from roughly 58% a decade ago, according to Screen Digest Cinema Intelligence Service.”
– from “Plot Change: Foreign Forces Transform Hollywood Films
Justin: That is an interesting factoid and I understand the financial crisis, however, if screenwriters and then directors, like Kevin Smith and Edgar Wright, have to worry about box office numbers, doesn’t that stifle their creative process? It’s a shame, because how can innovation happen when people have to hamstring their stories to make films that will do well at the box office? In my personal opinion, if someone like Edgar Wright cared about box office numbers, Pilgrim would never have been made the way it was.
Zoe: I completely agree; it’s a shame. But look, all artists have to deal with this sort of tug of war, whether they’re authors, screenwriters, directors, cinematographers, tv writers, or painters or architects. Creative types who are unique or “niche” voices have to either compromise themselves to make their work palatable to the mainstream, or they have to just struggle and work and pray that they can get it done how they like. It’s not as if there are only big-budget movies predicted to make over $100 million getting made.
Justin: So if you are an artist, of any sort, you are really going to struggle. I mean you have to start somewhere. However, how in today’s market, where everyone is looking for the next big box office hit, are you supposed to do that? Are you saying that everyone should just cave and make what the public wants to see? I already see that happening in the music industry, where I hear singers who have amazing voices, but instead of using them they fall into the mainstream pop. They lower themselves to sing what they think the public wants to hear.
Zoe: Absolutely. It’s a really bad trend. But I don’t think that all of this has to do just with the tight financial times, it just can’t. Artists always struggle with this balance; actors, singers, writers, all of them have to balance out the paycheck with integrity or work they find challenging or rewarding. It’s frustrating, the issue of “selling out” versus just thinking about their job as a job, nothing fancy.
Justin: That’s a whole other issue, about how to think about the job you have. Are you an artist, or are you a businessperson? If you land your “dream job,” what do you do, or not do, to keep it?
Zoe: You’re right. Back on track: Clearly, everyone has not given in like babies and gone mainstream. Most of people’s favorite movies are actually more like cult hits. Name a few of your favorites, Justin, which are creative, unique pieces that didn’t do well, money-wise.
Justin: Boondock Saints, Firefly and Serenity, Donnie Darko, Garden State, umm Fight Club.
Zoe: See, and more directors stick to their vision than you want to admit because you’re bummed out that people are so focused on gross. Think of directors like Tarantino (Kill Bill), Daren Aronofsky (The Wrestler, Requiem for a Dream), and Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy II: The Golden Army). They use their amazing vision to draw in massive audiences to movies they might never have considered if someone unknown made or acted in them. Inception is a perfect example at this time. C’mon, all big directors, writers, producers and actors start out not so big, being risky, but they prove themselves and, yeah, maybe they sell out, but lots of them can be subversive. Look at Drew Barrymore. She started her own production company (Flower Films) and they made He’s Just Not That Into You, but then they also made Whip It!
Justin: I guess I should remember, when it comes to creativity versus financial success, that even industry types can only think of a few people that can crank out “guaranteed” hits. I mean, off the top of my head, the only names I can come up with, on the production side, are Michael Bay and James Cameron. On the actor side, the names are almost the same as the top-paid list: Brad Pitt, Sandra Bullock… This is understandable because if you love an actor you are going to go see their films. Like we talked about before when we were talking about taste.
Zoe: If you’re still depressed, think about how many writers and directors and even actors are still fighting for projects that they’re passionate about. And I’m sure people would argue, but I think that the exposure and opportunities of film festivals still work miracles.
Justin: Yeah I see your point; there have been some great films that have come out of Cannes and Sundance. You know, at the beginning of this post I really was beginning to think you were a heartless capitalist pig, talking about how “with our financial troubles… blah blah blah.” But I really see that you do still believe that innovation can take place and not be stifled by the pressures of the box office.
Zoe: Umm thanks… I think.
Justin: PS. Seriously if you have Twitter and you don’t mind a bunch of tweets follow “TheKevinSmith”. He is a funny funny man.
Zoe: Stop plugging Twitter. Kevin Smith is not going to send you a “what’s up”.