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06/23/2005 - Asleep at the Cineplex: What?s Wrong with the Movies?

As I look ahead in the first days of summer, one word comes to mind: malaise. Across the board we've got a big fat case of the blahs going on:

- The economy is doing okay, but no one I know is buying a Ferrari.

- The hot topic in politics is: Supreme Court (Yawn!) Judges.

- And no one believes Tom Cruise is really in love with Katie Holmes. (I'm not even convinced he has her home phone number.)

Nowhere is this "malaise" more palpable than at the Cineplex. No one is going to the movies. And no wonder. When I check the schedule of what's coming my way, it's one re-make or old TV series after another. The Longest Yard, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Bewitched, Dukes of Hazzard and The Bad News Bears only prompt one question in me:

What am I, Rip Van Hippie? I coulda sworn I saw these movies in the ?70s.

But the real problem is -- and I repeat -- no one is going to the movies. So it's not just me! This week marks the 17th in a row of lower than expected Box Office sales. Hollywood is in a slump. Full on. The worst returns since 1985. And while you might be able to prod audiences into coming out the first week of a movie's release with enough advertising (please God make the Bewitched ads stop!) there's no octane at the Octoplex. No fire. No zip. And when we're more interested in who Tom Cruise is not sleeping with than what movie he's in, it's a guarantee few will come back to see him in Weeks 2 and 3.

"Safe" is turning out to be not so smart. And the audience is catching on.

From my point of view as a spec screenwriter, I see this as an opportunity. The dawn of a new and more creative age. Maybe, finally, the current business model is about to die. Maybe the remake, the "based on" and the old-TV-show-turned-into-a-movie trend is coming to an end. The ticket buyers are voting with their dollars and they're saying: zzzzz. For those of us who write original screenplays, maybe our long national nightmare is finally over.

When I first got into writing screenplays and selling them to the likes of Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg, executives actively bought specs. They wanted original ideas and were hungry for a snappy hook and logline with a well-executed screenplay attached. What was missing was efficiency. Studios didn't like the idea of spending money on ideas they didn't generate in-house -- or own the franchise rights to -- especially given the "bidding war" mayhem that resulted in studios getting burned by their snap judgments. Nowadays studios develop from within, or use agencies to develop for them. Smart. But there are fewer screenwriting stars. Where are the big spec sales? The Shane Blacks? The Joe Esterhauses? By squashing the screenwriter, they've killed the golden goose.

And it's less fun of a business too.

I miss the likes of producers like Don Simpson and Dawn Steele, the gamblers who used to shepherd scripts through the system before movies became "product." When I see the "Behind the Scenes" on E! Channel of how, say, Flashdance came to be I get teary. Not from nostalgia of seeing moviemakers excited about connecting with an audience, but by knowing that Flashdance could not make it through the gauntlet today. The agents have become the de facto gatekeepers of the studios. And something like Flashdance, which needed work to get made, was developed from an original idea from the street up. It was molded into a winner -- and would surely be stalled at the agency level nowadays. Too much work! No guarantee it would open! And where is the tie-in to Burger King? But when was the last time a movie like it grabbed us by the Zeitgeist? There are fewer Heaven's Gates, sure, but there are fewer movies that excite us. These days, movies are just a piece of the mall experience -- a soft pretzel, an Old Navy t-shirt, then home to our DVDs.

The simple solution is to give more access to the spec screenwriters of the world, those like me, with an iMac and a dream. It's time to fire a few Accountants and let some Loose Cannons back into the business. And honor the screenwriter again -- and by "honor" I mean pay them the big bucks they deserve for fresh ideas. Stop making the talent agencies the unofficial development departments of the studios and take an active interest in new writers and new ideas -- ones that aren't of the pre-sold franchise kind.

And my feeling as a spec screenwriter is: be prepared. When the final results come in from this summer, new ideas, new scripts and new writers should be in demand.

Give us a chance. We can't (Yawn!) do any worse.

Blake Snyder can be contacted at: bsnyder264@aol.com and for more information about his book "Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need" go to: mwp.com or Amazon.


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