Surviving in Hollywood is becoming an adapt-or-die scenario for many entertainment industry insiders amid the disruption of the streaming era. Filmmakers and producers who once prided themselves on following their instincts and taking risks must dramatically change how they operate.
Some of the most influential names in the business have signed deals with streaming services, even some who previously said they disdained watching cinematic movies from home. But the adjustment hasn’t always been easy.
“Not long ago, profit in the film industry was based on a hit-driven business model. If a lot of people bought tickets to see a film in theaters, rented the DVD, or paid for a digital download, it sometimes made a profit, and was considered a hit,” Chris Moore, a film producer and director for almost 30 years, wrote in an essay published this week on Dear Producer, a platform for film producers to share stories and ideas.
But that old-school model of determining a film’s worth is no longer applicable in the age of streaming, he wrote. And it has big implications for the type of films now being produced.
“The current subscription-based business model removes the opportunity to create a hit,” Moore wrote about how streaming services make money. “In this new model for storytelling, volume is more important than quality.”
The old Hollywood business model
For Moore, an Academy Award–nominated producer who has tried his hand in multiple genres, the streaming business may be more secure for filmmakers, but it could come at a cost to creativity.
Moore described his creative producer role as “the ultimate form of middle management” that involves overseeing every creative decision in a film’s production, including talent, set design, and special effects, to ensure that the movie is delivered within a specific budget and time frame. Producers like Moore liaise between studio chiefs who do not have time to focus on the granular decisions that go into movie making, and department heads who make even more granular calls for each film.
Moore has worked on a wide variety of films, many of which were sleeper hits, ranging from Academy Award–winning pictures Good Will Hunting and Manchester by the Sea to 1999’s raunchy cult classic American Pie.
Moore’s three most famous films were also box office successes, but they all required an element of risk. He said Good Will Hunting and American Pie were “bets” that paid off, while he described films like his best picture-nominated Manchester by the Sea as “original and unexpected stories that could become hit movies.”
Old Hollywood had room for those types of niche, atypical, or even potentially controversial stories. All a producer or a filmmaker needed for convincing a studio to greenlight their next project was strong box office numbers. The business model was based on speculation, and everyone who “had a stomach for it” could play a part, according to Moore.
Movies’ loss of individuality
Streaming’s business model, on the other hand, is nowhere near as welcoming to risk-taking.
“If the company spends time and energy on only certain audiences, the numbers fall, and that company becomes a niche; however, subscription services cannot only cater to niches,” Moore wrote.
“They must try to be everything to all people, which places more value on the content platform and its library than the quality of each individual piece of content.”
Streaming providers are paid through customer subscriptions, Moore wrote, a departure from the old model where filmmakers needed their movies to do well if they wanted to get paid. And while streaming might provide people in the industry with more security, it also means that streaming services get paid “no matter the quality and quantity of the product.”
Moore wrote that the subscription economy has caused the industry at large to lose its “ability to place value on each individual film,” with a preference for low-risk, broadly appealing films and TV shows that cater to all subscribers.
The emphasis on safer mass-market content by streaming services is an open secret. Last year, Netflix asked creator studios to pitch content ideas that focused on “big, broad stories that can be told on a budget,” according to documents seen and reported by Insider, foregoing more groundbreaking projects and instead focusing on new riffs on content that had done well on the platform previously.
Many producers and other creatives are waiting to see how movie makers can make money in the streaming age, Moore wrote. He went on to urge filmmakers and remnants of the old Hollywood to take matters into their own hands and carve out a role for themselves in the new movie economy.
“If we want sustainability, we have to create a new business model that works within this new era of Hollywood,” he wrote.
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