Randall Emmett Taxpayer Funded Movie Industry

Randall Emmett and the Taxpayer Funded Movie Industry

I just read a fascinating story from the Los Angeles Times about how states are conned in the Taxpayer funded movie industry. Taxpayer funded movie industry, you rightly ask? I’m afraid so. How is that possible, you ask? Because we live in a free money, crony-capitalism country.

Basically, fly-by-night movie companies come to your state and film low-budget movies with aging name stars and get almost the entire thing paid for with tax dollars. From what I can tell, it’s largely a Ponzi scheme with the next state in line paying the overdue bills from the previous production. Let’s get into it.

Randall Emmett is Running the Show

Who is Randall Emmett? A movie producer who was accused of various sexual transgressions on his movie sets and in his personal life. This did not stop him from producing movies. He just started up a new production company making low-budget movies.

How is this a Taxpayer Funded Movie Industry?

The scheme is relatively simple. Many states are eager to have a movie made in their confines. They use Taxpayer money to “reimburse” film-makers who shoot in their states. The film-maker usually makes various promises about how long the shoot will take, where, and how many jobs it will create. The usual business mantra for fleecing states of Taxpayer money.

In any case, they film the movie on a shoe-string budget paying a high-profile, but usually late in his career actor, seven figure salaries for a day or two of shooting. They then lollygag on payments to the rest of people involved, including the law enforcement teams assigned to the set.

Then it’s off to a new state, with new promises, a few million dollars to pay off the old debts and a new actor. Rinse repeat. The movies themselves are largely trash although they probably generate enough money to make the entire enterprise profitable as long as there is another gullible governor lined up to dish out your money.

Scummy?

You bet. This is the world we live in. It’s easier to make a profit with Taxpayer funds and a bad movie than it is to produce a quality product.

The obvious problem here is that states are willing to dispense money to businesses on the promise of new movies, new factories, new jobs, etc. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The state and the corporations need to be separate for the health of both.

There should be no tax-breaks, no reimbursements, and no incentives of any kind to conduct business in a particular state or municipality. A business should only survive and thrive on the merits of its product or service.

Businesses and politicians are far too chummy, and it is not working for We the People. It’s not.

Tom Liberman

Is Rebel Moon Good or Buzzy and which is Better

Rebel Moon

I just read an article about the Netflix movie Rebel Moon: Part One – A Child of Fire and it brings to mind an interesting conundrum when producing entertainment. Is it better for people to like the movie, book, television show, play or other production or is it better for there to be a lot of buzz about it?

It’s a question I, as a writer myself, definitely think about. I imagine a lot of people making things in this modern age of social media think about also.

What’s the Difference Between Good and Buzzy?

Good is difficult to define and there is always the subjective versus objective debate. But, for the purpose of this article, let’s assume good means people in general and professional critics enjoy your work.

I’ll define buzzy as something people are talking about. Not necessarily in a good way. If something is truly terrible but intriguing, people will talk about it.

Rebel Moon is Buzzy

Judging by both audience and professional reviews, Rebel Moon isn’t very good. I’ve seen and read several reviews and also read comments by fans of the genre and they all seem rather disenchanted with it. A few positive reviews focus on the visuals and what not. With that being said, I think it’s safe to say Rebel Moon isn’t a particularly good movie but it is a certainly very buzzy movie.

People are talking about Rebel Moon all over the internet and mostly, although not exclusively in a negative way.

Good and Buzzy

Obviously, I’d love for my novels and short stories to be very good and to have people talking about them. That’s obvious but it’s not my question today. I think my novels and stories are quite good but there is certainly no buzz about them.

Financials

We can fairly safely say Reble Moon isn’t a good movie and it has a lot of buzz around it. It’s difficult to say if the movie is a financial success or not. Netflix is a subscription service and just because Rebel Moon shows hundreds of thousands of views doesn’t mean it is profitable. What makes it profitable for Netflix is if people are convinced to stay with the service or add the service because of Rebel Moon or its seemingly inevitable cavalcade of sequels and director’s cuts.

It does seem buzzy is better than good, from a purely financial point of view. This is not a universal rule though. There is some fatigue at play. If you produce the same sub-standard product again and again, even a huge amount of buzz doesn’t translate to profits, particular if you spend a great deal in production.

Fool me once, the saying goes.

Answer the Question Already

Would I prefer my novels and stories to get a huge amount of buzz on social media or would I prefer them to be good? It’s a fair question because sales for me are quite minimal. A few people have read my work and enjoyed it, or at least that’s what they tell me. If there was huge buzz about my novels and stories, I’d be making a significantly larger amount of money.

I’m never going to write anything I don’t like because there is no guarantee it will get buzz anyway. The question isn’t whether I’d write something bad in the hopes it gets buzz but which one I prefer. Buzz or quality.

To lay it out plainly. I write two novels, doing my level best to write them well. One is really good and one isn’t. The one that is good gets no buzz and the one that is bad gets a tremendous amount of buzz. Which novel makes me happier? The one that got buzz and money but makes people think I’m a crappy writer or the good one that doesn’t make any money but people really enjoy and feel they’ve gotten value from reading?

Conclusion

For me, I’d rather my novel be good than buzzy. That decision is certainly influenced by the fact I’m in a good financial situation even without huge profits from my novels.

The bottom line is my audience. People who read my novels spend a nominal amount of their money so that’s not as big a consideration as their time. It takes time to read a novel, many hours. Me, I want people to close the book, or device, and lean back with a satisfied smile. That was worth my time. I enjoyed that. I got value for my time and money. I’m glad I read that.

Tom Liberman

Raiders of the Lost Ark or Indiana Jones?

Indiana Jones

The latest entry in the Raider of the Lost Ark movie series; I mean the latest entry in the Indiana Jones movie series just released and I want to talk about it. Not the movie, the title of the movie. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny follows the pattern of every movie in the series since the original.

The question I’d like to examine today is if the movies suffer from focusing on Indiana Jones as opposed to the story in which he finds himself embroiled. Why is every movie except the first prefaced with the name Indiana Jones?

A Treasured Memory

Raiders of the Lost Ark is considered a classic by most reviewers. It is a valued memory for me and I suspect quite a few others of my age who were around in 1981 when it first released. I was seventeen and, in my little circle of friends, Raiders was everything. The boulder, we’d say to one another. The boulder.

Focus of the Story

While I do think there are plenty of people who enjoyed the subsequent movies, the general consensus is they never quite captured the magic of Raiders of the Lost Ark. I think the main reason for this is the sequels focused on Indiana Jones. We learned more about more about the protagonist and the story suffered.

I can say quite unequivocally that I found Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom to be rather lazy. Trying too hard to repeat the action sequences and largely failing. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was a nostalgic movie that focused largely on the relationship of Indiana Jones with his father and again, the main story suffered badly.

Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull found a more receptive critical audience but I found it more of an attempt to brand Shia LaBeouf as a new hero to the franchise. Lots of actions but not much more. No interesting story to propel the characters, to make me care.

The new movie is receiving rather tepid reviews so far but I can’t speak to it as I have not seen it.

Why Raiders is Better than Indiana Jones

Raiders of the Lost Ark is by far the best of the series and I think the reason is rather simple. Indiana Jones is marketable. The character is interesting and sells tickets. Focus on Indiana Jones, not the story. The audience wants to learn more about him and doesn’t care as much about an interesting story.

One of the things I suggest to people who come to me for writing advice is coming up with a story is easy. There are a million plot ideas. The stories behind all the Indiana Jones movies are just fine. It’s the implementations, driven by the name recognition of the title character, that fail.

I think the people who made the sequels to Raiders of the Lost Ark, like those who approach me about how to write a book, had a good idea. I’ve got a great idea for a novel; they say with eager eyes. Now what? That’s fantastic, that’s a great starting point. You can’t write the novel or the screenplay without the idea. Now, implement it. Five act play. Hero’s journey. Character arc. Voice. Theme. Inciting incident. Conflict. Have at it.

Conclusion

I somehow think if it was just The Temple of Doom, The Last Crusade, The Crystal Skull, The Dial of Destiny they might have been better movies. I’m probably wrong. Marketing is marketing. Making movies that make money is more important than making good movies. It probably wouldn’t have made any difference.

Still, I feel cheated out of some better movies.

Tom Liberman

Chris Pratt as Mario Incites Rage

Chris Pratt as Mario

In case you’ve been living under a rock or aren’t a complete nerd like me, I’ll let you know the casting of Chris Pratt as Mario in The Super Mario Bros. Movie is causing quite a controversy. Casting in movies creating drama is something I’ve spoken about in the past.

Daniel Craig as James Bond, Tom Cruise as Lestat, a plethora of culturally inappropriate casting decisions over the years, and now Chris Pratt as Mario. In this case the drama is more akin to the Cruise/Lestat controversy in that Pratt as Mario doesn’t seem to be a good fit. Let’s talk about it.

Charles Martinet

When we discuss whether a role is cast properly it’s often important to take into account how beloved is the character in question. When it comes to nerd love, Mario is near the top of the list. Many people, including myself, have fond memories of playing various Mario games over the years and the iconic voice actor Charles Martinet.

Martinet voiced Mario in the debut of the series way back in 1992 and his portrayal is, I say this not lightly, beloved. Martinet chose a light-hearted, fun-loving, and friendly interpretation for Mario. He deliberately didn’t take on a heavy Italian accent for the part. It wasn’t until the hugely successful 1996 Super Mario 64 hit the stores that he became famed for the role but he remained so for the rest of his life.

Pratt as Mario

I think it’s safe to say people were skeptical of Pratt’s ability to perform as Mario from the beginning; but it was the first trailer for the movie that really set people off. Pratt chose a more stereo-typical Italian accent and inflection and people were not happy.

It’s not only that Pratt went a different direction than Martinet but also he still largely sounds like Chris Pratt as Mario, not Mario. That’s not to say there’s anything inherently wrong with taking a character in a new direction, just that it’s clear Pratt does not sound like the Mario people are used to hearing.

There are also some dubs of the trailer in other languages where the voice actors sound not only more like the original portrayed by Martinet but also just a bit more natural and fun-loving. Pratt seems a little stilted compared to the other characters.

Video Game Fanatics

People love Mario. They love the voice of Mario. We are talking about people’s beloved childhood memories. Pratt as Mario finds himself in a difficult to succeed position. I don’t envy him and it took some courage to take the job.

That being said, video game fanatics are not going to lean back and pretend indifference here. For all the criticism on the two trailers, there are many who are willing to give Pratt a chance and wait for the release.

Bad Casting

Is Pratt as Mario simply bad casting? That’s a question not so easily answered. I do think Pratt is a stretch in the role but he is an A-list Hollywood actor and that brings in ticket sales. Was Tom Cruise a bad choice for Lestat? Many fans of the books will rail against him to their dying day but he brought in ticket sales and that’s an important consideration in casting. Will people who have no interest in Mario and the games come to the movie simply because Pratt is one of the voice actors? I think the answer to that is clearly yes.

Conclusion

Is Pratt as Mario a terrible decision? It kind of depends on the movie. If the movie is good, and the trailers do look deliciously fun and in the spirit of the games, then all will be well. If the movie is terrible, Pratt will not unreasonably be offered up as the scapegoat.

I think the criticisms are reasonable although perhaps overly impassioned. I will say this, I hope Pratt is great in the role. I hope he proves the doubters wrong. Not because I particularly like Pratt but because I like good entertainment. If Pratt is good, if the movie is good, then I get great entertainment.

Where do you stand?

Chris Pratt as Mario. Good or bad?

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Tom Liberman

Your Mind is Altered by Bad Fighting in Movies

Bad Fighting

The Most Dangerous Game

While watching The Most Dangerous Game, 1932 version, I found myself laughing at the bad fighting. Then I realized something interesting. What I considered poorly choreographed brawling actually fairly accurately depicted a fight between combatant with few martial skills.

The bad fighting took place between the main character, the villain, and several hired thugs in the climactic scene. The fighters ran at one another, flailed wildly, scored a few glancing blows, and ended up in largely wrestling matches.

Here’s the thing though, the bad fighting was actually more realistic than what we see in heavily choreographed fight scenes today.

The Thing about Bad Fighting

I can’t fight and I’m betting most of you can’t either. Sure, there are some people out there trained in boxing or martial arts skills but when it comes to a brawl with no rules and simple instincts, I think even some of them might end up in a mess of a fight like in The Most Dangerous Game.

While watching the climactic fight and giggling at the bad fighting, I suddenly realized the heavily scripted, well-acted, and brutal fights of today’s movies are actually the real bad fighting. My brain expects people to duck blows. My brain expects people to throw speedy and accurate punches whilst someone is trying to do the same to me. That’s the nonsense. That’s the bad fighting.

Why Bad Fighting is Good Fighting

You see, bad fighting is actually good fighting because it’s realistic. This 1932 movie got it better than almost every movie made today, although my brain failed to realize it, at least at first.

This got me thinking as well. I know for a fact I can’t fight, but in my imagination, when I confront that bully, I can suddenly fight like the badass women and men in the movies. I’m a lightning fisted, deliverer of thunderous blows. My brain actually thinks I can fight like that because the movies make it seem like everyone can do so.

I don’t think I’m alone in this fantasy and I wonder if all the brawling at sporting events, political rallies, bars, and everywhere else is to some degree a product of the bad fighting in movies, by that I mean the too good fighting in movies.

Conclusion

Maybe we’d all be better off if entertainment showed us how silly fighting looks when attempted by amateurs.

Asides

The Most Dangerous game starred Fay Wray, yes please, who filmed it during evening hours at the same time as King Kong and on the same location. That’s a long day.

I also found the final scene as Bob and Eve, Joel McCrea and Wray, are escaping via boat form the island interesting. Wray unties the boat from the post as Bob prepares to flee the island. She isn’t told to do so but simply does it without comment. She is largely portrayed as a capable woman throughout the movie despite being the damsel in distress. Something I’ve noticed in a number of pre-code movies. Was it the Code, designed supposedly to protect women, that turned them into helpless fools?

Tom Liberman

The Hays Code and its Effect on Strong Women in Hollywood

Strong Women in Hollywood

Way back in 1934 Hollywood Instituted the Hays Code which had a deleterious effect on the portrayal of Strong Women in Hollywood that seems to have lasted almost to present times. A while back, I wrote about the demise of the Hays Code but I didn’t examine its long-lasting negative impact on strong women at that time. My thoughts on the Hays Code and its correlation with the lack of strong women in Hollywood came to my attention last night when I was watched a Pre-Code movie called The Silver Cord.

In the Silver Cord a woman scientist, portrayed magnificently by Irene Dunn, is married to a young architect. He is offered a job at a prestigious New York architectural firm. She is, from the first moments of the film, a strong woman. She is a biologist working in a lab and clearly skilled and intelligent. When she makes it clear she will accompany her husband to New York and take a position at a laboratory that offered her a position some time ago, her boss laments her leaving but tells her she is the sort of woman who must have both a career and a marriage, that it is not a choice of one or the other.

I don’t want to get too wrapped up in the plot of the movie and how Christine, Dunn’s character, proves time and time again to be not only a strong woman but also a woman. She likes being married and very much cherishes the idea of motherhood. This is the sort of character long absent in Hollywood. She is not just a stereotypical male protagonist being portrayed by a female actor but she is a strong woman in every sense of the word.

Did the Hays Code destroy this sort of portrayal of women? It’s hard to argue against the idea. In 1933 a woman was being portrayed as a scientist, a wife, and a potential mother. She stands up to her husband and tells him if he cannot cut the Silver Cord of his overbearing mother, she will move on without him. That she cannot stand to see his career and life stifled, that is not the sort of man she can tolerate. Her soliloquy is bold, strong, and independent.

It was claimed the Hays Code was implemented to protect We the People from the degenerate influence of movies but one suspects it was fashioned, part and parcel, from the fear of white men that ideas, good ideas, were promulgating and influencing us. How often do we see that same mantra when it comes to censorship? We must be protected, like children, by the politicians.

If the Hays Code had not existed, how many movies portraying strong women might have been made in the ensuing eighty years? We will never know. We can only see the damage such paternalistic rules engender.

The Hays Code did far more damage than anyone can really calculate. Generations of strong women were not shown examples that might have fundamentally altered their lives. Generations of men did not learn of the sort of woman who makes a perfect and equal companion. What a terrible crime.

Tom Liberman

AMC Theaters versus Universal Films

AMC Theaters

AMC Theaters just announced they will no longer showcase Universal Film movies. Why are they doing it? Because Universal released Trolls World Tour directly to home viewers rather than offering it to theater chains first. Universal did this largely in response to the fact most theaters are closed because of the Covid-19 situation.

The stated problem for AMC Theaters and their CEO and President Adam Aron is simply the release of the movie in a way that bypasses the theaters. There is some truth in this but I suspect the bigger reason for the decision is that this particular release generated over $100 million in revenue. A number that is similar to the projected take for a widescreen release. This is a frightening confirmation of something the movie theater owners and operators have long feared, the end of their revenue stream.

More and more people watch their media at home and on their devices. This is undeniable. Hollywood revenue has remained relatively stable for the last eleven years after having nearly doubled in the same period prior to 2009.

Universal released Trolls World Tour directly to viewers and this is not particular strange. Plenty of content providers are doing the same but not for what are considered Blockbuster Movies. For companies like AMC Theaters the blockbuster has become the heart of their revenue stream. Independent movies continue to thrive but generate far less revenue than blockbusters. Meanwhile, streaming services like Netflix, HBO, and Amazon are taking a bigger and bigger bite out of their potential content.

AMC Theaters wants to stay in business. Universal Films wants to make as much money as possible and those two desires are now in conflict. Thus, the strongly worded letter from AMC Theaters. That letter, quite amusing if you read the whole thing, has this little gem within: Incidentally, this policy is not aimed solely at Universal out of pique or to be punitive in any way…. I chuckle. It is absolutely done out of pique and is punitive in nature. That boldfaced fib alone is enough to make me take Universal Film’s side in this issue.

AMC Theaters has legitimate concerns and they are desperately attempting to slow the movement of media consumption away from theaters and onto devices. Perhaps they will succeed. Maybe Universal, and other content providers, will ignore the fact they made as much from a non-theatrical release as they would have from putting the blockbuster in theaters.

Of course, if AMC Theaters goes through with this plan, they are also eliminating a major studio from their theaters and thus a large stream of revenue.

Personally, I think the steady decline of people viewing movies at the theater will continue and AMC Theaters will eventually go the way of Blockbuster Movie Rentals. Perhaps I’m wrong. Time will tell. What do you think?

Is AMC going to succeed in their threat to pull all Univeral Films?

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Tom Liberman

Nobody Thought they were Truman Burbank before Television

Truman Burbank

There are a number of people who think they are the subject of a Reality Show much like Truman Burbank from the Truman Show. They are delusional, certainly, but what is undeniable is that no one had such a mental delusion prior to the invention of television. Even after the invention of television it was not a heard about mental problem until after the Truman Show became part of the public conscious. What does that tell us about the human mind?

It wasn’t until H. G. Wells wrote the War of the Worlds that people began to see aliens and UFOs. No one saw a leprechaun until they read, or were told, about them first. This is reality, a concept from which the people who suffer these delusions are somewhat divorced. But then, aren’t we all? Our memories are faulty, our senses unreliable, and our confirmation bias on high alert most of the time. It’s no wonder people think they are the subject of a reality television show.

I have a friend who, despite being apparently sane, intelligent, and rational, firmly believes he is the subject of an alien experiment where he is the only “real” person on the planet and everyone else is part of the research. Is he insane? Or is his delusional normal? Is everyone delusional to some degree or another? Is he Truman Burbank?

We are, undeniably, the center of our own universe, just like Truman Burbank. When someone I know moves to a location beyond my ability to sense them, they essentially disappear. I have no idea what they are doing or how they are conducting their life until I see them again. We are, equally undeniably, not the center of the real universe. We are not the subject of alien experimentation or the star of a television show in which the rest of reality is an illusion designed to fool us.

What happens that causes people like my friend, or those with the Truman Delusion, to lose their grip on reality? If they continue to function in normal society, is it really that damaging? Do we not have functioning drug and alcohol addicts around us every day? If they can manage to keep their delusion, or addiction, from putting them in a mental hospital, what harm is there?

I’m not going to write a dissertation on these many questions. I think the problems of mental health and self-delusion are complex and not easily addressed. I’ll try to sum up my thoughts in a reasonable way.

I think we should all strive to do a better job of being critical thinkers. I am not Truman Burbank and neither are you. Don’t believe what you want because it boosts your ego, trust what evidence shows is the most probable truth. Be a critical thinker.

Take this attitude toward all things in life. What car to buy. What food to eat. For what politician to vote. What novel to read.

Tom Liberman

Great Movie Monday – Rollerball

RollerballI’m sometimes accused of being a bit of a downer and I can see how my relentless Libertarian, Randian opinion along with all my philosophical rhetoric might become a bit tiresome. I thought I’d break things up with Movie Mondays for a few weeks at least and list some of all-time favorite movies.

Of course, I can’t be completely frivolous and I’ll talk about why the movies I enjoy often have a Libertarian spirit. We’ll start with my absolutely favorite movie of all time and one that is right up the Randian alley of objectivism.

Rollerball (the 1975 version). I prefer to pretend the remake never happened. There was a remake? Really? Never knew that. Was it any good?

Rollerball tells the story of Jonathon E, played by James Caan. It is a dystopian future in which corporate entities have taken over the world and brought peace, health, and comfort to the masses at the expense of freedom. One thing about the movie I find interesting is while it promotes the ideas of Objectivism and Ayn Rand it is a world that is exactly the opposite of what she feared in 1950’s communist leery America. She feared communism not corporate corruption although she certainly recognized that thugs could take leadership roles in place of true people of achievement.

In any case, the point of the game of Rollerball is to show the futility of individual action. This is demonstrated by the sheer difficulty and violence of the game in which one man cannot excel long without being incapacitated by opponents. Jonathon E is the exception to this rule as he has become the one true superstar as he leads the Houston (Energy) team to victory. It is decided that Jonathon must be stopped and the movie is about the corporations trying to make that happen in various ways.

It is a raw film. In one scene a woman is sent to Jonathon as a lover but she is truly a spy and agent of the corporations. Before he leaves for the Tokyo game where the rules have been changed to promote more violence and hopefully the death of Jonathon this woman tells Jonathon that she is “supposed” to go with him. He throws her down and slashes her upper cheek with the spike on his Rollerball glove. This sort of violence against a woman is both shocking and telling about Jonathon. He is a man who will take enemies on without subtlety. Then, fearing that his private helicopter is sabotaged he flies with the team to Tokyo.

Eventually the corporations try to bribe Jonathon with his ex-wife and she pleads with him not to play in the final game because the rule changes have ensured that everyone will be maimed (no time limit to the game). She argues for the corporations with this line:

But comfort is freedom. It always has been. The whole history of civilization is a struggle against poverty and need.”

Jonathon replies:

No! No… that’s not it. That’s never been it! Them privileges just buy us off.”

Clearly a marker of the world we live in today.

Jonathon understands that individual achievement is what drives a society forward. One man or one woman with drive, spirit, and ideas. Sure, they form alliances and teams but it is the power of the individual that makes it all possible. Jonathon realizes that and so he goes on.

In the end Jonathon emerges triumphant by doing the one thing that can win the game. I’ll leave it to you to see the movie.

Tell me your favorite movie, and why, in the comments!

Tom Liberman