Hollywood’s ‘New Abnormal’ and The Death of the Movie Star

As a byproduct of the New Abnormal, Obst writes that the movie industry has become increasingly bifurcated, between the aforementioned zillion dollar superhero franchise pictures, and comparatively micro-budget films produced for the indie circuit and cable TV's growing number of movie channels. (And increasingly, the Web.) The same digital technology that on a mammoth scale powers today’s superhero and sci-fi franchises is also making indie films increasingly affordable, Obst notes. Shooting digitally doesn’t require the expense of buying film stock, which allows for unlimited retakes of scenes. Digital allows a multitude of effects to be added in post-production, and errors airbrushed out. Editing can now be done much more quickly and easily on a computer than grinding on a Moviola. This is already having a dramatic impact on the industry, Obst writes:

With the onset of HD drastically reducing the costs of making independent movies, they can be made on a recently issued credit card, or long-saved Bar Mitzvah money, or by hustling friends or parents. This situation drastically diminishes the power of the “gatekeepers,” creates enormous opportunities for new distributors and opens the door to young talent via YouTube and other Internet outlets. We await filmdom’s Justin Bieber: Just as the savior of the music industry emerged from his home to the world via the Net overnight, our next Scorsese or Fincher is likely to be shooting something unimaginably cool on his or her family’s video camera that will pop up on YouTube and be instantly discovered the same way. It is inevitable.

We now have thousands upon thousands of tiny movies made on microbudgets, financed with personal credit cards. They are all vying to enter film festivals, and the very best of them will end up competing with studio films at Oscar time.

In “Hollywood Goes Bankrupt,” his own take on Obst’s book at Front Page, Ben Shapiro explores what the above passage means for conservatives wishing to break Hollywood’s ideological monopoly:

Everyone in Hollywood is liberal, until it comes time for them to work without pay. Then they’re downright Reaganesque. As less and less pictures get made, and more and more talented people go without work, the pool of labor gets ever larger. That means that actors who used to cost $500,000 per pictures will work for one tenth that. It means that writers with Oscars on their resumes can be had for a song. And it means that the liberal monopoly that controls Hollywood may be crashing down.

There is only one element of Hollywood that prevents this collapse: a monopoly on distribution. The distribution system in Hollywood is still upside-down, with distributors acting as gatekeepers for films. Most of these distributors are liberally-inclined politically, which means that they have no interest in conservative films. They’re profit-drive, sure, but they’re also used to working with a select clique of producers and directors and studios. They aren’t willing to take a risk.

But they can be paid to take a risk. And that’s where conservatives come in. With the means of production becoming ever-cheaper – it’s possible to make a movie that looks like a million bucks for about $100,000 – conservatives don’t have to expend tons of cash to get active in the artistic space. What’s more, they don’t have to build ground up – they can hire the same writers and directors who have been so successful in leveraging liberalism into great films.

Now is a horrible time to be the head of a movie studio. But it’s a great time to be a conservative looking to enter the movie market. All it requires for conservatives to make a serious play for the culture is a level of seriousness about the culture. Rather than sitting on the sidelines condemning the new flicks, it’s important to get involved in making flicks of our own – good movies, rather than politically-driven biopics. The market is shifting. And if conservatives have shown they are good at one thing, it’s taking advantage of market inefficiencies.

Peter Biskind’s 1997 book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls and accompanying documentary explored how the leftists who dominated Hollywood in the 1970s were able to crash the conservative studio system that preceded them. I doubt very much it was her intention, but in Sleepless in Hollywood, Lynda Obst has provided a roadmap for today’s conservatives to find their way in as well.

Who will break down the barriers first?

Update: "Mark my words," Aaron Clarey writes, linking to our post above, on his Captain Capitalism blog, unlike today, where Ivy League students earn an MBA in "Film Studies" while going deeply into debt -- "in the future the TRUE masterpieces and blockbusters will come from people who did NOT study the arts, but rather studied life and lived it."

Which sounds very much like the people who originally built Hollywood out of sheer trial and error and experimentation -- and equally importantly, their sheer love of storytelling on the big screen, and as a result, made far better movies than their much more credentialed but not educated successors.

(Artwork created using elements from Shutterstock.com.)