Friday, March 21, 2008

The Studio System Was Better In My Day

Reading this AV Club interview with Amy Heckerling, one thing caught my eye:

When I did Clueless, there was a big studio system that had marketing and distribution people who knew what they were doing, and had an idea of what TV shows movies should be advertised on, and did research into who liked which movie, and what they watch and what they read, and how much it costs to reach them. These people who knew how to make posters and advertisements. You know, I liked that machine. It worked.

Now, nothing she's saying there is incorrect. The Paramount/Scott Rudin axis of 1995 certainly did a very good job of promoting Clueless. But... here it is 2008 and you have a filmmaker talking about how much better and stronger the studio system was in the '90s. But in the '90s, you had directors talking about how much better things were in the '80s (when there were more small and mid-sized studios like Orion). And in the '80s, everybody was nostalgic for the '70s system, except that if you actually had to live through the chaotic process of getting a movie financed in the '70s, when the studios were all being taken over by corporate wheeler-dealers, you longed for the '60s when the old-guard studio bosses were still around. And, well, you see where this is going.

Apart from the tendency of filmmakers to be nostalgic for the time when they were still making hit movies, I think that ever since the studio system started to fall apart in the late '40s, the system has never fully gone away, it's just gotten a little bit weaker every decade. Studios today have less of an individual identity than they did in the '90s, but studios in the next decade will make the '00s seem like the last great gasp of the studio system by comparison. And, yes, you will hear Michael Bay or whoever's career implodes in the next few years expressing nostalgia for the strong studio system and enlightened executives of 10 years ago.

Addendum: Just to clarify, I think there's no huge co-relation between the strength of the studio system in a particular decade and the quality of the movies being made in that decade. (The '70s was a better movie decade than the '60s, after all.)


Jenny Lerew said...

I agree with your observations but I'm not sure of your conclusions. 2/3 of the way into your post, I thought "But it's true-the "nostalgia" of Ms. Heckerling is right in this case. Things have gone downhill steadily, decade by decade"(and by downhill I mean in exactly the way you define it-the increasing corporatization and distancing from on-the-ground dedication of the major studios in film production). But then you proceed to say it yourself. And I wonder if Heckerling would disagree with you-probably not.

It's a depressing situation but one that has no apparent cure. Many would write that 'the way things are going" is a natural result of the incredible costs of making a feature, but I'll always disagree. The quoted budgets of an average film are imho completely bloated and overstated, far removed from "real" costs. As part of huge corporations films have become more than ever a way of moving money around. Again, that state of affairs was in effect 60 years ago, but not like today--and the films themselves did matter then, and were paramount. I believe that by dint of reading any of Rudy Behlmer's edited memo and letter books on Zanuck, et al.

There are exceptions to the current templates, of course. And men and women like that of old do still exist but my god, their jobs are now so ridiculously complicated.

Anonymous said...

All this stuff sort of reminds me of what the principal in Buffy the vampire slayer said about nostalgia (not Snyder, the other one, who wasn't completely horrible, and who you didn't actually feel happy when he died): "In my day, kids actually had school spirit. Of course, in my day, we were all so annoyed by teachers telling us that things were so much better in their day, but still."