Industry Report: Focus: North America
Intelligent Film Content
11/05/2011 - The Hollywood-based film industry has changed significantly over the last few decades. It has gravitated toward financing films with the following attributes: by Michael J. Critelli
Ability to secure a global audience
Film studios have concluded that the majority of their target audiences are outside the U.S. The film genres they will finance are action films with special effects, films featuring comic book characters, horror films, and cartoons. They also will finance sequels or remakes of successful films.
A focus on escapist content
The most popular studio-financed films present characters and situations not found in everyday life. They often present unrepresentative populations in atypical life situations. This is especially true of people of color, who see either heroic figures, such as Ray Charles (Ray), Malcolm X or Jackie Robinson, or their population's most isolated and criminal members. Tyler Perry is a notable exception. His films deliver a predictably large audience every single time, even though film critics, including African Americans, disagree about the quality of his production, direction and acting. His films attempt to present real people in real-life situations.
A focus on younger people
From ages16 on, young people make their own film-going choices. Adults above age 35 are perceived to be too busy to be attracted to high-value, low-priced entertainment like film. Studios target today's 26-35-year-old frequent moviegoers, not those who could become frequent moviegoers with content that appeals to them.
A focus on content attractive to males
Studios assume that because men earn more than women, they make entertainment choices for a couple or family, and that, among teenagers, more males than females will attend movies unaccompanied by adults. Accordingly, content is targeted at males, the leads in most stories are male, and the portrayal of women often fits young male stereotypes, as opposed to more accurate and complex portrayals.
A focus on white lead characters
Much has been written about the underrepresentation of people of color in lead roles in studio-financed productions. Studio perceptions are that white people have more disposable income for film entertainment and greater likelihood of patronizing a film if the lead character is white, rather than a person of color. They also believe, incorrectly in my opinion, that white lead performers have broader global appeal.
A focus on thrills and special effects
Thrills and special effects translate well across borders and cultures. Studios believe that the attention span of the younger target audience is low. They believe films need a thrill or special effect frequently throughout the film to retain interest and attention.
Why this narrow-gauged vision presents tremendous opportunity
I gave up trying to persuade studios or large independent production companies that feed their produced film content to studio-managed distribution systems to finance the production of our film From the Rough. The film was not of a genre believed to have global appeal, it was targeted at entire families, and to individuals across the entire age spectrum, not just 16-35-year olds, and featured a black, female lead actress and a diverse, multicultural cast. It also did not feature special effects.
Why do I believe the studio-financed film model only captures a small portion of the available market?
• The themes of aspiration to a better life by leaving a person's country of origin, adapting to a strange culture, learning to relate to diverse teammates and housemates, overcoming economic disadvantage, and achieving a seemingly impossible goal are universal and completely understandable to non-U.S. audiences.
• While women already purchase over half of all U.S. movie theater tickets, even more of them can be attracted to movies and to attend more films.
• Young people at all socio-economic levels are smarter and have a potentially longer attention span than studios believe them to have. Give them engaging content, and they have exceptionally long attention spans. Films do not need continuous action and special effects to engage them.
• Women and people of color are passionate consumers of great entertainment content targeted at them.
• Finally, as someone who ran a company with direct operations in 31 countries on every continent, I am convinced that aspirational and inspirational entertainment content travels well across borders, especially in major urban areas in which over half the world's population now lives.
I have been successful finding opportunities in "blue ocean" spaces, that is, markets, career choices, products and services, and entertainment choices that are less crowded and subject to competition. The market for intelligent films directed at broad audiences is tremendous and should stimulate more filmmakers to create content for them.