Features and Columns

Talking Heads: We’re Part of the Problem

By  · Published on February 11th, 2011

Every week, Landon Palmer and Cole Abaius log on to their favorite chat client of 1996 as ArtHouseParty and Jonesin4Indy in order to discuss some topical topic of interest.

This week, the two wander into dangerous, job-threatening territory with the question of whether movie websites are helping the boon of remakes, reboots, and otherwise unoriginal flicks hitting theaters.

There’s a story crisis in Hollywood. Are movie websites partially to blame?

Cole: So I’m feeling a little crazy from the early year slump, and I’d like to throw out a crazy theory.? All that talk about Hollywood running out of ideas and relying more and more on known entities?

It’s our fault.?

Landon: ? ?I knew I shouldn’t have bought so many Hasbro toys as a kid. I always felt it would come back to bite me in the ass.?
Cole: ? ?Exactly.? Plus, you probably shouldn’t write for a website that’s among dozens that runs 5 stories about known entities to every 1 non-known.

Those numbers are made up, but I doubt anyone will argue that people are writing more individual posts about Trust than they are Dark Knight Rises.
Landon: ? ?Yeah, I know. I should really stop writing that Criterion Collection column?.
Cole: ? ?Okay, okay. So it’s not your fault.? But movie sites out there will run a rumor about who might possibly get cast in a theoretical role for a movie like Superman but maybe, only maybe run casting stories for original flicks.

That’s after their 5th story about what the cape will look like.

?Landon: ? ?Not that casting rumors ever count as news, but I don’t think many people will get excited in the same way beyond this-director-working-with-this-actor. It’s the fact that, with existing properties, everybody and their pet pigeon has a notion of what the property IS and what it SHOULD be, so it seems like news because everyone feels they have a voice even though all the voices are speculating?.

?Cole: ? ?So one theory is that movie site runners are just as susceptible to bias favoring recognizable stuff as audiences are.?

?Landon: ? ?Yes, it’s something people feel they already have a stake in even though the actual news value is in contention. But also, tent pole flicks have such a big life, so far beyond themselves before they’re even released, and when they finally are released we feel a responsibility to see them (even if they suck) because we’ve invested so much time into them already.?

For instance. I like zero of the Transformers movie, but I will see Transformers 3: Turn Off the Dark because I feel like i should simply by its size and presence.

?Cole: ? ?By the way, thanks for agreeing with my strange premise from the get-go.? I appreciate that.
Landon: ? ?I don’t like confrontation?.
Cole: ? ?Maybe that means it’s less insane. There’s little doubt that websites with millions of readers tend to focus on stuff they know because writing about stuff they don’t is difficult (to impossible).? That’s nature. Nothing wrong with it.

The question is whether studios look at all those posts (positive and negative) as confirmation bias and see it as yet another reason to go ahead with that Red Sonja reboot they’ve been planning.

I’m not sure we can really know that.

Landon: ? ?True, but that doesn’t need to stop us from pretending we know the answer?.

??One thing that’s always bothered me is the uncertain point where film journalism unwittingly becomes an extension of advertising, where it’s promotion disguised as news, not by the fact that journalists have a hidden motive, but in mistaking what “news” really means. That’s become somewhat pervasive?.

?Cole: News and promotion go hand in hand now, though.? When we write about that new Michael Caine movie, people read it, and it’s been promoted. Right into their brains.

?If you have a title that people already know (like a reboot, sequel or remake) it has a longer promotional life (and people tend to want to post more about it), and it drives traffic, which drives the decision to keep writing about it, which drives more traffic.?

If a producer looks at how well known their title is doing as far as market saturation, he or she might just be inclined to take that as proof that remakes are a sure thing.

Or at least that they have a head start.

?Landon: ? ?That’s true, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with promotion. It’s essential. It’s important not only for us to relay information about what our readers want to know, but to get behind films (little or big) and creative people that we support. And there is some sort of direct call-response relationship between what we do and the industry that is rather undefined but does mine potential interest in certain projects…?

?Cole: ? ?So we’ve proven correlation. But not causality.?

But I don’t really care, because it’s late on a Thursday (the professional movie watcher’s Friday), and it’s time you and I got a virtual beer together.
Landon: ? ?What’s the PBR emoticon??

?Cole: ? ?Damn. I thought of one last important question.?

Before you pour out that emoticon, if movie websites are part of the problem (of Hollywood going back to the well more and more), how do we become part of a solution that supports and encourages newness and originality?

I ask you because I’m assuming you haven’t already had three virtual beers.
Landon: ? ?I have but I’ll type slowly….And take my virtual keys please.?
Cole: ? ?Only if you share your opinion responsibly.?
Landon: ? ?We do need to realize the power we have, even if it’s limited. If we want to advocate for originality, we can. If there is a franchise that is worthless, ultimately one does not have to report on it and by proxy “promote” unoriginal cinema. This doesn’t make for good business of course, and I’m knowingly speaking from a certain vantage point of somebody who doesn’t do this for a living, but if the point is to advocate for good cinema than do that, but if the point is to give the news you think your readers want (because news is always selective to some degree), then do that?.

I guess it depends on what you think the responsibilities of what we do are.
Cole: ? ?In other news, Fred Cavaye’s latest thriller Point Blank just got a distribution deal from Magnolia.?

Also, I have some killer pics of the Spider-Man stunt man running between an old toyota and a tow truck on a busy street.
Landon: ? ?Ah ha, so one can do both! What a neat idea.?
Cole: ? ?I’ll assume my grandmother has taken over your computer, since she’s the only person left that says “neat.”?

Landon: ? ?That’s wizard, Beav!?

Cole: Which leads to our question for next week: what is my grandma doing at your place?!
Landon: She’s my designated typist. I am virtually wasted.
Cole: ? ?Great. Now we don’t have a question for the next installment.?

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Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector [email protected] | Writing short stories at Adventitious.