Journalist-turned-producer Obst (Hello, He Lied: And Other Truths from the Hollywood Trenches, 1996) casts a sharp eye over recent developments in Tinseltown.
When the author arrived in Hollywood in the early 1980s, it was still possible to make smart commercial films based on original screenplays, like Sleepless in Seattle and The Fisher King, both produced by Obst. Now, she writes, studios depend on “tentpoles” based on familiar comic books, fairy tales or video games, laden with special effects and presented in 3-D. Movies for adults can only be made as independent films with tiny budgets or with the backing of big stars and directors. This is fairly common knowledge, but Obst’s book is more than the complaints of someone left out of “the New Abnormal” (so christened, she remarks, “because Hollywood, let’s face it, is never actually normal”). What makes it different is her savvy interviews with key players who observed this transition and her use of Paramount, where she went to work in 1998, as a case study. The reasons for the transition are simple: the collapse of the DVD market, which had represented about 50 percent of studio profits before online streaming began to kill it, “created a desperate need for a new area of growth”—and that new area turned out to be international. For years a steady 20 percent of the market for a Hollywood film, international sales now constitute 70-80 percent. Those audiences do not get our comedies, sports or dramas rooted in American history; they do get action pictures, and they continue to love 3-D, even as the U.S. market appears to be tired of it. This means that whether or not folks on Main Street want to see the next Transformers movie is increasingly irrelevant to the folks who run Hollywood.
Depth of detail and shrewd illustrative examples make this a must-read for anyone interested in the movie business.