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  • Jeff Pollak

If You're A Movie Buff, Read This

This is the most fascinating non-fiction book I’ve read since I came across an English history book when I was about twelve years old. Seriously. Step-by-step, Ben Fritz takes readers from the infamous North Korean hack of Sony Studios to the present day as of his book's 2018 publication. Things aren't much different today.

When the DVD craze ebbed (remember Blockbuster?), studios were no longer earning as much dough from film rentals as they'd become used to domestically. At roughly the same time other things were percolating. The major film studios were gaining audience shares internationally from countries such as China. Marvel Comics, fresh out of bankruptcy and under new ownership, had new ideas on movie production. They began to create their own “tentpole” movies – meaning big event films popular to large segments of men and women aged 20-50. Marvel also created the concept of “cinematic universes,” in which comic book characters would appear in each other’s movies and money could be made by licensing the characters images to toymakers, clothing manufacturing and other industries.

Disney took notice and barged in. The major studios found their own “cinematic universes” too. They began to focus on those big event films and disregard the riskier “mid-range” movies such as rom-coms (romantic suspense), comedies, thrillers, etc. By the time this book was published, the major studios were releasing fewer movies annually, but taking less risk by focusing on these tentpole productions and bulking up their international sales.

Streaming video was also becoming popular with the advent of Netflix and, somewhat later, Amazon Prime. Movie studios began to move those neglected mid-range films to TV, and Amazon has carved out its own niche by focusing on smaller, more idiosyncratic independent movies. Hence, the "golden age" of television, brought about by comic book characters taking over the movie theater audience. (Life can be very strange.)

The effect of all this? Directors, actors, screenwriters and others have lost their prestige, and with that their economic power. The entire economy of the industry has and is continuing to undergo vast changes. Movie theaters, already at a loss from the pandemic, are having to cope with lost revenue from the shift to home entertainment in place of communal movie watching.

Is all this good? Ben Fritz, who covers the entertainment industry for the Wall Street Journal, concludes in this book that the future of film is different from what we’ve been used to growing up, but not necessarily bad. Read his book and you can come to your own informed opinion.

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