Chances are you saw at least one movie this summer. Maybe it was your favorite superhero’s time to shine (again) or a sequel to that other movie that came out a few years ago that you really liked. Think about that movie and ask yourself a few questions.
Did this movie do well at the box office?
Did this movie do well with critics?
And since the answer to one, if not both, of these questions will most likely be an exasperated “no,” let me ask a follow-up.
Why not? Think about it for a minute.
Did you know movies come out in seasons? I did not until I came to Harding, but it is true. Movies that are expected to have a huge fan base, and therefore a bigger audience at the theater, almost always come out in the summer. (Think of your favorite superhero and look up in what month their most recent movie came out. See?) This is the time bigger studios come out with bigger, louder and cooler-looking movies. Because what else is there to do in the summer for fun? There are always a few movies that do well with both fans and critics, but this past summer has had almost none. Why is that?
The truth is that there is no one particular reason. One critic might say the scriptwriters are getting sloppy. Another might say the studio producers tend to get cold feet and cut out large parts of the movies. Yes, there is absolutely truth to all these claims. However, they can all be traced back to a single underlying problem: everyone making the movies has gotten more preoccupied with money than with the quality of the film itself.
Go back to that movie you saw this summer. Chances are it was one of the top-grossing movies of this year. As abysmal as some of these movies were, it is impossible to deny that some of these movies made a lot of money. Now this is not an inherent problem (the studios would never last without a strong focus on profit) but there is a certain point at which a director is forced to sacrifice quality for income.
Alfred Hitchcock, one of the pioneers of film, defined the art of what he called “pure cinema” as a blend of cinematography, acting, sound, motion and several other components to get an emotional response from the viewer. But even in the early stages of film, he recognized that the primary focus was money — and he called the directors out on it.
“It’s like a lot of films one sees today,” Hitchcock said in a 1964 interview, “They are what I call ‘photographs of people talking. It bears no relation to the art of cinema.'”
Hitchcock’s solution? Keep not only the audience but also the cast and crew in mind and on the edge of their seats at all times. For example, Marvel Studios has had some successful blockbusters, but it has also had some misses. Research also shows that disagreements among the crew are higher in the movies that didn’t do so well.
The good news is that this is changing. Director Alexander Mackendrick once said, “The only thing a filmmaker really directs is his audience’s attention,” and directors are starting to take that to heart. A good director needs to keep his audience in mind, so he can work his film around them. So the next time you are in the theater, ask yourself: where on the screen am I focused? If your eyes start to wander, maybe it is time to start looking elsewhere.