Sunday, August 25, 2013

Book Review: Sleepless in Hollywood

Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (June 11, 2013)

 Lynda Obst has been a producer in Hollywood for 30 years now.  Her first credit came as an associate producer for Flashdance.  Her most recent credits are as an executive producer for two TV Land sitcoms, Hot in Cleveland and The Soul Man.

In Sleepless in Hollywood, Obst combines her experiences with the insights from many contacts in the industry that she worked under or with.  She looks at how Hollywood evolved from the Old Abnormal to the New Abnormal...because Hollywood was never truly normal to begin with.

The question that Obst asks is why are studios making fewer movies and, when they do make them, why are they almost always sequels or big budgets.

Until James Cameron made Titanic, and later Avatar, the studios never really focused on the foreign markets.  Now that they do, the foreign markets want the 3D movies and action films.  They want the films that are considered tentpoles...the franchises that are based on comics, etc.  An American comedy, which appeals to American tastes in humor, is less likely to do well overseas than a 3D movie that features a lot of explosions!

Obst writes that China and Russia are the biggest foreign markets so the studio decisions must appeal to them.  Pre-awareness, Obst writes, is what helps to market a film overseas.  If foreign audiences are not familiar, they won't bother seeing it.  Because of the pre-awareness factor, it's harder to get original ideas on the big screen unless it comes from the classics or indie branch of the studio.  The studios focus on the tentpoles, franchises, reboots, and sequels because they are easier to market and for filmgoers like myself, it is a real shame.

Essentially, movies these days must have pre-awareness, be able to sell overseas, and generate a sequel or franchise.

Because of the attention on the big budget films, Obst writes about the battle that the indie movies face.  They have to get financing and attention from somewhere.  This is one venue where Video on Demand is helping make films money but it also means lesser time spent on a theatrical run.

When it comes to getting films made, Obst writes:
James Cameron can make anything he wants, ditto Christopher Nolan, and now Ben Affleck and George Clooney, as producer and director.  The same is true of many others whose mere participation in a movie makes it marketable tent-pole.

Obst also looks at how many of the feature film writers are turning their eyes to writing for television.  Her brother was the agent that packaged Homeland to Showtime.  Shows like Homeland, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and The Wire are some of the best series that have aired in years.  While movies have dumbed down, television has grown smarter.

This book is one that Obst has written with affection, regret, hope, and humor.  Because of her unique position as a producer at Twentieth Century Fox and Paramount, she has access to explore how Hollywood has changed in the past 30 years.

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