Hollywood 2 a.m. A young movie executive is tossing and turning in bed. He gets up, flips on his laptop, and begins typing out a memo. No, not a memo — a MISSION STATEMENT. Suddenly, the answer to his moral dilemma becomes clear: fewer films, less money, more attention to artistic integrity. He entitles it ”The Things We Think And Do Not Say…”
Yeah, right. Not even Tom Cruise could pull off that scene. If Hollywood has a mission statement for 1997, its title is ”Show Us the Money.” The budgets being reported for some of the studios’ upcoming films are beyond staggering: $70 million for Alien Resurrection, $90 million for Volcano, $95 million for The Devil’s Own, $100 million for Starship Troopers. Not to mention James Cameron’s Titanic, rumored to be so expensive — upwards of $180 million — it took two studios to finance.
Meet the hot concept in Hollywood right now: the Event Movie. Twice or more the cost of ordinary studio films — and usually twice as dumb — these massive marketing contraptions come in a variety of genres and styles, all designed for maximum global audience penetration. Action Events burn big bucks on lavish high-speed chases and outlandish explosions (see the $104 million Speed 2, opening this June). Star Events bust their budgets on mixing top-dollar talent in must-see combinations (like Mel Gibson and Julia Roberts, whose salaries for this summer’s Conspiracy Theory added a reported $31 million to the bill before a single frame was shot). Special Effects Events blow fortunes on groundbreaking camera tricks, usually involving mayhem on a planetary scale (think Godzilla, who’ll be taking on Manhattan in a $90 million update for summer ‘98).
Event Movies are not necessarily a bad thing — hey, who doesn’t want to see the big guy stomp New York? — but the trend does have a dark side. As the studios spend more and more on these whopping mega-productions, less and less is left over for what used to be Hollywood’s mainstay — the mid-priced story-driven drama. And that means that audiences searching for such cheap thrills as intelligent plotlines, snappy dialogue, and characters they actually care about — i.e., the stuff Oscars are made of — have had to start looking elsewhere for their cinematic kicks. Like digitally enhanced rereleases of 20-year-old movies. Or films made outside the studio system.
It’s no accident that four out of five of this year’s Best Picture nominees (Miramax’s The English Patient, Gramercy’s Fargo, October’s Secrets & Lies, and Fine Line’s Shine) were produced not by one of Hollywood’s major studios, but by independent companies. Indie flicks also picked up three of the year’s Best Actor nominations, four for Best Director, and all five for Best Actress. The only studio production to snag a Best Picture nomination (along with Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Original Screenplay) was TriStar’s Jerry Maguire, a quirky, unstudiolike cautionary tale about a hotshot agent who suddenly grows a conscience and decides to change his shallow, moneygrubbing ways. A sports agent, not a Hollywood one.