In the old movie The Graduate, a pompous man takes the young hero aside and says: "Plastic. That's the future." Or words to that effect. If we were going to rewrite that script for today's audiences, the man would have to say: "Content. That's the future."
You've probably noticed that there seems to be a gazillion devices for downloading, recording and playing back stuff. The ratio between these devices and the stuff that can be downloaded, recorded and played back seems, to me, hugely disproportionate. Hence, the desperate and sure to be growing need for more content.
The problem is that producing good content requires a lot of money and time, not to mention talented and creative people. For example, printing and distributing a newspaper is the easy part. The hard part is the gathering and editing of information, which is done by a staff of reporters, editors and photographers. No matter how technologically advanced the press and other machines in the building are, it is content that sells a publication, just as it is content that attracts audiences to the television screen, the movie theater and the concert.
Thus, if you are inclined toward creative work — writing, art, photography, acting, dancing, singing, computer graphics and design — take heart. There is a voracious electronic hole that's going to require continuous filling. Anyone who subscribes to a cable service knows how often content is repeated, not to mention all the hours sold for infomercials. That tells you there is a market for good content.
The main problem with movie and television production is cost. People in that industry are going to have to find ways to reduce those costs. Eventually they will have to fight with the unions and the agents. They should start by refusing to pay actors millions of dollars. There isn't an actor in the business today whose mere name on a marquee can attract an audience. Ergo, they are overpaid. Virtually all of them are interchangeable, as far as audiences are concerned.
When studios controlled the business, there were actors whose mere name would pull in an audience. People would say, for example, "Let's go see the new Clark Gable movie," or "There's a new Gary Cooper film. Let's go see it."
I don't think anybody today says, "Let's go see the new Brad Pitt film or the new Tom Cruise film." Clint Eastwood came close, but he's the only one. Today's mature audiences are more sophisticated. They want a good story. If it's a good story, it matters little who the actors are as long as they are competent.
Unfortunately, Wall Street financiers control most of the business today, and many of them have been sold the hogwash that some stars "are bankable" and some are not. That's hype from agents. The way to break the agent's back is to simply say, "We're only willing to pay this amount, and if that isn't acceptable, there are plenty of other actors who will take it." As indeed there are, for there are many more actors than there are parts for them to play.
The Lord of the Rings trilogy, one of the most successful movie ventures in decades, didn't have a single big star in its cast. Audiences go see James Bond movies no matter who plays Bond. The cast of the first Star Wars movie was virtually unknown until the film became a blockbuster.
I'd like to see the old studio system revitalized, run by people who know and love the movie business. The market is out there, but it can't be filled with mega-million-dollar productions. Current moviemakers will price themselves out of business. The movie theaters themselves will go under unless they get their act together.
But the thing to remember is that problems always present opportunities. Right now, the problem is content — not enough quality content. The young people who figure out a way to fill this need at a reasonable cost will be the media moguls of tomorrow.
Actually, despite all of our problems, it is a good time to be alive, though it is always a good time to be alive if you are in your teens and 20s. More serious people might think we are a wild and crazy people to make amusement such a vast enterprise, but if you're looking for opportunity, that's where it is.
"Content. That's the future."
January 14, 2006
Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.
© 2006 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.