What Hollywood Should Be Doing (or Are You Experienced?)

Before I begin, I want to make something clear: This is NOT going to be another rant about how movies are crappy. There are articles and blogs and columns every day written by people saying, “We need characters to care about”, “We want interesting and original plots”, and “Stop doing Re-makes and sequels” and all that. In fact, I’m not even going to talk about “content” at all. Yeah, it seems odd, because the whole business of Hollywood, when you come down to it, is about “content”. They want to make money, but they have to have content, good or bad, to be able to sell. And not to diminish those arguments... because there is a lot of bad crap out there. Course, there’s also a lot of *good* crap out there… not to mention there’s also some Fantastic stuff out there. So all the other guys can bitch and moan about the content. I want… an Experience.

I love movies. I’m not that much of a film “buff”, contrary to what many that know me might think. I’ve always loved horror films, so if there was trivia to be known about that subject, I was looking it up. When I went away to Grad School, I got exposed a little more to “the classics”, both modern-day classics, and classic classics. Then living in Los Angeles, being surrounded by film history (you just need to be willing to look), plus working for a company that quality-tested DVDs… well, I got to see a lot of movies. I came to love more genres than just horror. In fact, I’d say my tastes are pretty wide about now when it comes to genres. I no longer qualify a “good movie” by the amount of boobs, blood or explosions that are in it… instead it’s a more general term I use: “I want a good story, no matter the genre.” And there is a LOT of films I haven’t seen before… a lot of “oh-my-God-YOU-haven’t-seen-that-movie” kind of films. Well, there’s only so many hours in the day, and for some movies I haven’t seen… there are some other obscure ones that I *have* seen. All in the search for a good story.

I am one of those guys that like to watch a movie to the end of the credits. For a couple of reasons, really. For one… there are some movies that like to put an extra scene at the end of the credits… whether it opens up the possibility for a sequel (not always a bad thing), is just a throwaway gag, clears up the last remaining plot question or whatever… I like to see that. Second… and this is a concept I first heard put into words when I saw Dark City in 1998 (an EXTREMELY underrated movie), it’s a sign of respect to all the people that worked on the film… especially if you really enjoyed the movie. A really nice concept, but to be honest… probably the weakest of the reasons that I stay. Third… it’s my “buffer” before getting back to the real world. When the credits begin, the freshness of the story is such that I don’t want to get up; I like to listen to the music that the composer wrote to accentuate the story and emotions. That music keeps the emotions going, and helps me feel like I’m still there, while slowly bringing me out of it at the same time. So when the final music fades and the rating card appears, signifying there is NO more to the film reels, I’m fully OUT of the world of the film story, and back in my theatre chair. (Or couch at home, wherever I happen to be watching it.)

As an extra bonus… staying to the end pretty much guarantees a smooth walk outside, as everyone else has already scrambled to be the first ones to their car, and get out to “avoid the rush”. Me… I tend to get there AFTER the rush, so it’s even smoother sailing. More evidence that “patience is a virtue”.

My brother is NOT one of those people. As soon as the credits even start (sometimes even before that), he’s already out of his chair and walking out, no matter how much he liked or disliked it. I’ve seen a few movies with him this year, and he always does that… and it bugs me. I want to just chill for a few minutes, and he’s saying, “Okay, we’re going… come on!” Obviously, my Movie-going practices and habits aren’t for everyone. Just get in, see the explosions and shiny things, hear the cool one-liners, and bolt. Fast-Track Living for a Fast-Tracked Life.

Can we slow down, please?

I don’t want the act of going to the movies to be a tightly scheduled thing. I like to be a little looser with it. If the movie starts at 1:40, and I happen to arrive at 1:48… well, then I’ll just come in to the Theater during the previews. Likewise, I don’t mind arriving a half-hour earlier and just chilling out waiting to start. Either way I’m totally cool with. I don’t consider myself “late” unless the actual movie itself has already started. In which case… I’ll catch a later showing. Because I *do* like to see every second of the story… even if it is just opening credits. (It too is the buffer from the real world… bringing us IN to the story.)

I’ve always considered “going out to a movie”… to be pretty much an all-day-activity… even though it isn’t. I’m not sure why I think that way… but I do. If the movie is 90 minutes long, well, you still have to drive to the theater, maybe grab something to eat (before or after), wait in line, sit in the theatre, waiting for it to start, then leave, drive home… and if it’s a Date, or you’re out with friends, well, there’s probably a little more involved, more time taken. So a movie that’s an hour and a half… could take up to 4 hours of your day. Or even more. That’s 4 hours… of an experience.

When you see a movie for the first time, you’re not just “watching” it. You’re Experiencing it. The filmmakers, actors, editors and everyone that worked on it can only DREAM of being in the position you’re in. Of seeing those jokes, shocks, plot-twists and revelations for the FIRST time. Your reactions to those moments are the closest to real-life, and (from a filmmaking perspective), the final solution to the mystery of whether or not a particular moment truly “works”.

How often have you seen a trailer for a movie, or heard about one, and said to your closest friend, “Dude! You and I *have* to see that movie together!” You don’t mean to say, “I’m going to buy a ticket at the first convenient time for myself, and if you happen to be there, that’s okay.” No… you want to go through that experience WITH that person, specifically. You’ll hold off going on opening weekend, until its convenient for BOTH of you, and then you’ll see it all for the first time together. So what happens when one person goes to see it, and the other one isn’t there? That other person feels “ditched”.

There’s a big difference between “I want to see that movie”, and “I want to see that movie with *you*.”

Even if the movie is really good, and you want to see it again, and go to the theatre AGAIN with that person to see the movie (2nd time for you, 1st for them)… it’s not going to be the same. Because you’re not Experiencing the movie anymore. You’re only watching it. Sure, you can keep your mouth shut and not reveal any details to your friend/date/whatever… But when friendships and relationships are built around “experiencing” things together… you’ve put a wall between the two of you. Some won’t consider it a big deal. I do. (As you may have guessed from reading these other blog entries… I tend to overthink things.)

I remember seeing a one-page ad in a magazine… I don’t even know what the product being advertised WAS, probably deodorant or something. It had a picture of a young couple sitting in a theatre. The caption said something like:

“First date. Popcorn is stale. Dialog is cheesy. Effects are laughable. Story insulting. Movie is horrible.

She puts her hand on yours.

You are watching the Greatest Movie Ever Made in History.”

Yeah, it’s all about the Experience. Even a movie that is laughably horrible can be a wonderful experience for you. Fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000 can attest to that. Now, the Hollywood machine can’t do anything about my bad dates, past or future. But they CAN help contribute more to the Experience.

Last movie I saw (without my brother), just before the movie started, I saw something that I had thought was lost to annals of film history.

A cartoon.

One thing I think a lot of people have forgotten is that all those old Disney and Looney Tunes cartoons… the ones that used to rule Saturday mornings back when there was a concept of Saturday Morning Cartoons… those 9-minute shorts that we’ve laughed at countless times as children and adults… those were shown in movie theatres. One cartoon before a feature film. Sometime in the 60s they stopped this practice, and now it’s a rarity or a “throwback” to make a new 9-minute short “purely for nostalgic value”.

Well, I want more.

I don’t want shorts that have been outsourced to Korea or something… I understand the half-hour animated shows have to do that, and that’s fine. But I think we can get 9 minutes of material created right here at home. Easily. For an animator trying to break into the business, I think they’re willing to give us 9 minutes of their blood, sweat and tears. I’ll gladly give him, or her, a chance to make me laugh or cry with their drawings. There are so many out there, you could have a different cartoon every week, and a different one in every state. So the cartoons that California sees are different from the ones that New Hampshire sees.

The old-time movie experience always had a cartoon. Kids would spend their Saturdays paying a nickel to see the latest adventure picture, and with it would be a new cartoon showing the hijinks of Goofy, Bugs Bunny, Donald Duck, Daffy Duck, Mickey Mouse, etcetera etcetera etcetera. There’s also something else they had: A live action short.

The live-action short could be broken into 2 categories… the Cliffhanger serial adventures, or the stand-alones. The stand-alones were just that, 15-20 minutes of a completely independent story… far too short on material for a feature film and sometimes a bit on the “propaganda” side of the fence, but enough nonetheless. The Cliffhangers, though… were the best. These were the 12-part stories… a new 20 minute chapter every week at the local theater… these were the stories of Flash Gordon, or Zombies of the Stratosphere, King of the Rocketmen… these were the inspirations that would become the Indiana Jones movies, and even Star Wars. It was the origin of the whole idea of leaving an episode at a crucial point (like oh… the hero hanging off a cliff), making the audience wait till NEXT week to see the conclusion… a practice so many TV shows of today are utilizing. Hence why they call those endings “Cliffhangers”. Well, I want those back in the theater. The Cliffhangers OR the stand-alones.

I’m sure a lot of bean-counters will say, “We’d like to, but they’re not cost-effective.” Well, guess what? There’s an incredibly easy, cost-effective way to bring them to us. In practically every state, there is at least 1 or 2 “filmmaking festivals”. Of which each one is inundated with submissions of short films (10-20 minutes long) from young filmmakers. These short films are rarely, if ever, seen outside of that festival circuit. Buy some of them for a song. Hell, say it’s a “competition” and the winner gets it presented before a feature film over the country, then it’s free. Put THOSE in the theatres. You’ll be allowing millions of moviegoers the opportunity to see some bright new quality material, and be giving some deserving young filmmakers the opportunity to be seen. How is this NOT a win-win situation? The exact same thing can be done for the cartoons. So many animators looking for a shot, but there is no market for it. Well, there IS a market for it, there’s just no means for those that want to see them.

The last component to achieve that Old Time Moviegoing Experience… Newsreels. Back then, that was how a lot of people got to see the news. Very few, if anyone, had televisions, so they got the news from the radio. If you actually wanted to SEE what the president looked like? Outside of the newspaper, really the only place was at the movie theatre in the newsreels. And the advantage over radio or newspapers… you could actually match the voice and the body together. Obviously nowadays, that wouldn’t be worth it to make newsreels showing the actual news. We get it on the Internet at the speed of thought, or on TV as its happening. So… the solution? Talk to the folks at The Daily Show. Or the Onion… go to the people that make a living satirizing the daily news and current events. Give us an extra 3 to 5 minutes of laughter before the feature starts. Shoot and project it digitally, and you can keep it more current then the newsreels of old. Hell, shooting and projecting digitally… there’s no reason you COULDN’T show regular news stories in the theatres.

You add on a cartoon, a live-action short and a newsreel in addition to the trailers that are there (and some places are showing COMMERCIALS. You’re giving us commercials? Give us this good stuff, too!) and I won’t feel so gypped paying $11.00 to see an 80 minute movie, no matter how flashy the explosions are. If they’re smart, they’ll add a 4 minute intermission just before the feature starts so people can hit the bathroom one last time. (I *hate* leaving to pee… I usually cross my legs and try to wait it out.)

(On the side note of “being gypped”… this is to the Cineplex owners. Go to the supermarket or a drugstore. Go to the candy aisle. See what they’re charging? Charge that. And dump your supplier, 75% of the boxes are air. Go to Costco and buy them in bulk yourself. Sell the NORMAL boxes of candy at NORMAL prices, and you won’t get anymore people sneaking in candy. Which means you’ll sell more and MAKE more profit rather than selling very little for way too much and making NO profit. Thanks to you, the youth population have become better smugglers than Han Solo.)

Hollywood won’t like this for the same reason that they don’t like 3-hour movies. Less times they can show the film, and less money they can make on it. (Funny, that didn’t hurt Lord of the Rings…) So, let’s compromise: Put all this in front of a movie 3 times a week. Friday night at an 8pm showing on the “big movie” that’s out (since each theater chain is owned by a different movie studio, they can decide which movie that is). Saturday night at the 8pm showing… and Saturday afternoon at 1pm (the “kid adventure movie matinee”). It will make going to the theatre (on the popular times) an “Experience” again. I’d personally be more willing to go to the movies on opening weekends, rather than waiting a few weeks until the crowds die down, as I usually do.

To be fair… we movie-goers, as a whole, have some work of our own to do. Very few people know how to be a “good audience member”. There are many of us that need to figure out how to sit down and shut the hell up. (Frankly, it’s the only reason and circumstance, I think, in which Lynching should be legal.)

Give us more time being entertained, more time to feel our date’s hands on ours, more time to be immersed and appreciate the hard work that the filmmakers, actors, writers, producers and bean-counters put into it.

You can take us to other worlds. Let’s hang out and take in the sights. Whaddaya say?

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