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Saturday, January 14, 2012

"Moneyball" and the audience for character driven dramas.

El Comandante is proud to be a union member.  This last week, I received my screeners of "The Artist", "The Help", "The Descendants", "Bridesmaids", and "Moneyball".  I also received the codes to download "The Iron Lady" and "My Week With Marilyn".  Cool stuff.  After all, I pay dues and hope to get work that can pay me in the thousands for only a few hours work.  It's not always about the money, it's the thrill of being a part of something greater than yourself, such as a big ass movie or television show.


For the past few years, I've been hearing about the dwindling audience for dramatic movies.  I'm not going to get into statistics, but it's fair to say that movies like the "Transformers" franchise get all the praise for their box office returns rather then their critical acclaim (not good for that franchise).  Although "Moneyball" and "The Social Network" did pretty well at the box office, they certainly didn't pull in the receipts of 90's dramas like "Schindler's List", "Saving Private Ryan", "Apollo 13", and "Forrest Gump".  Those films opened well. However, it was the word of mouth that helped those movies, eventually, achieve the "blockbuster status". Check Box Office Mojo for all the numbers when you can.  As an example, last fall, I saw plenty of billboards pumping "J. Edgar".  Clint Eastwood directing Leonardo DiCaprio in bio-pic.  Great credentials there.  It topped out at $36 mill.

These days, if you're film doesn't have a $50 million dollar opening, it probably won't reach the $150 mill mark to be considered a true "Box Office Success".  Consider that dramas with big stars attached hover around the $50-$75 million dollar price tag.  

"Moneyball" was tricky, because the previews led you to believe that it was a triumphant, feel good, baseball movie.  In a sense it was.  This wasn't "The Natural", "For Love of the Game", or "Field of Dreams".  Mainly, it was a character study about a man with many conflicts, who achieved something no one would have ever imagined: put together a playoff team that won 20 games in a row, on a shoestring budget.  It resonates well with many in the movie making business. 

So, how can the average person, especially women, identify with this story?  For starters, everyone has dealt with opposition of some sort.  The threat of losing a job, looking foolish, fear of failure, or being a single parent, are all issues anyone one of us has struggled with.  Right?  In order for us to be invested, a good film has to create sympathy for the protagonist.  I think the film did this, without hitting us over the head with melodrama or other film gags.

The film was rather quiet- no overbearing scores or dramatic musical cues.  The acting was superb in that the silences between Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) and A's manager, Art Howe (Phillip Seymour Hoffman)were so rich.  The film was an acting lesson in "less is more".  I don't want to say that the pace of the film was slow, because people will associate it with "boring".  Through moving images, as a good film will do, the life of the protagonist (Beane) was analyzed, leaving the audience time to take the journey with him.  A role like this is an actor's dream; something they can chew on.

I guess my issue with why this film didn't make a chingon of $$$ ($150 million and up) is, because Hollywood (like any business) is a "strike gold now" industry.  Development and slow growth is caca!  You give a show 3 episodes.  If the ratings suck: Adios!  The film opens at $10 million: TANK!  

I want Hollywood to continue investing in films like this.  For selfish reasons, it gives me the opportunity to land a role in a movie that I would be proud of.  Do you think anyone is going to make a film like "The Deerhunter" or "The Godfather" today?  HA! 

I also have to remember that my peers who would have flocked to see a movie like this 15 years ago, probably have families now.  It's tougher to get away to see a movie when you have a family to feed, mortgage, car payments, etc.  You have to get a sitter. Pay her $10 an hour to watch your kids for three to four hours.  Now you have to sport the cash for dinner and a movie.  We're talking about a $200 night out.  That's a car payment ese!  

Perhaps the direct to dvd or direct streaming option will no longer have the stigma attached that movies starring aging, action stars (that can't act), once did.  Things are changing all the time.  Years ago, no one would have thought that an A-List movie star would be doing television.  Commercials?  Sheeeeiiiiiiiit!  

It's all happening before us.  It's sad, because nothing can replace the experience of sitting in a theater, enjoying a wonderful film.  Only the video game and "sexting" generation will be able to enjoy this privilege while Tweeting, updating their Facebook status, or "sexting" someone other than the person they are on a date with, during the midnight screening of "Paranormal Activity IVL" or "Devil Inside MY CULO".


  1. LMAO! Awesome article.

    I agree. The character-driven dramas that are so under-funded these days can draw new audiences for years to come. Perhaps, it's all about making the fastest buck and leaving zero artistic legacy for future generations to look back upon with pride. So they churn out endless re-makes, and movies with zero character development or complete story-telling and depend on the visual effects team to come in and make it a BLOCKBUSTER. Hats off to those visual effects teams, absolutely no disrespect. But while the techno-wizardry of today will become outmoded in my opinion,

    (say 50 years from now will any movie-watcher be clamoring to watch a re-run of the blow-it-all-up-to-smithereens, blue vampire-werewolf-hybrid, robot-chasing, aliens-barfing-in-their-underpants type film that is selling out box office these days)

    and human stories told well will endure, transcend generational differences, and create more steady streams of revenue over time. Development, risk, and courage are what's needed...

    Or we can sit back and enjoy "Devil Inside MY CULO Part XICVL".

    1. Human stories will endure the test of time! Well stated Ms. Younge. It is my hope that future generations will take this heart. Keep preaching it!