August 11, 2006

robb monn: quality is a niche market

After yesterday’s post, got this great email from good friend robb monn (you probably want to download his brilliant, creative commons-licensed album, hello mr. ohler), who has some thoughts about where Hollywood’s going. I love some of the things in here, especially, “Quality is still after all this time a niche market,” which is such a smart observation that it just kills me. Here’s what robb sent in full:

Do you remember how in Life (Conway’s Game of Life, that is) how the seeds grow and grow and then go black at the core and thenthe dead core expands too, catching the ring of vitality at some point and leaving only a few flitting bits oscillating?

My thinking is that the Empire is dying and it is dying right now when it is bigger than ever. As the core of the patterns die in Conway’s Life the circumference of the whole life-explosion is still growing and until pretty late in the death of the colony it is larger, by pixel-count than ever even as it dying more and more quickly.

Hollywood is spending Spiderman II’s money to make Spiderman III. It is what, three production cycles of total failure away from being broke? While there is more money than ever (or maybe not even that) if the apex of profits has been reached, or when it is reached, the fall will either be expected and very controlled or it will be profound and rapid, but either way I think that it will be a fall.

I don’t feel like they know how to fix the system. The problem is the same as it has always been: they know how to promote just about anything that is unchallenging so that it stands a certain chance on the P&E, but they don’t know how to make quality something that they can sell to consumers. Quality is still after all this time a niche market…. and seemingly it is more niche now than ever. The Third Man was a blockbuster. My grandparents (poor, 100% blue collar military family) dressed up in suit and party dress to go see each Hitchcock film when it came out. My other grandparents occasionally mentioned the 12 Angry Men with Peter Fonda that was produced for TV decades after it aired. While there has always been trash produced for TV and Hollywood that has done very well I think that there hasn’t been a time previous to today when high quality programming (which is often relatively cheap when compared to The Rock or Triple X, say) is always considered to have at best an outside chance of getting made much less being financially successful. If Hitch were making films today I think his getting Strangers on a Train on theater screens would be considered by his peers as equivalent to his winning the lottery.

I think blockbuster, all-pro-all-biz Hollywood is a decadent mode that like all decadence is rotten at the core, unsalvageable.