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The Fast Five: Anti-Trust is the Industry’s Latest Buzz Word and Ben Affleck Makes Movie Headlines Again

August 10, 2020
5 min read time

The name of the game this week is “anti-trust.” With the abolition of old laws and media consolidation leading to accusations of unfair business practices, anti-trust violations have never been trendier. Ben Affleck is also somewhat trending again over a movie that will have to make some difficult writing choices thanks to the personal actions of one of its characters, and there’s even some Netflix related goat news... if that's your thing.

Back in the golden age of Hollywood the studios had complete control of the industry, including the distribution and exhibition of their films. An anti-trust lawsuit eventually resulted in the Paramount Decree, which stated that the studios could not own their own theaters. But, you may be thinking, I’ve been to Disney’s theater in Hollywood! Here’s food for thought: Disney was not considered a major studio at the time and was not included in the law. Fox, MGM, Paramount, RKO and Warner Bros. were the only studios affected, which is one of the reasons a judge recently ruled that the Justice Department could terminate the law. Disney, the largest studio in the world, Sony, Universal, Netflix and Amazon are all exempt and none of them have purchased a cinema chain, so the rule was deemed unnecessary. The timing couldn’t be more perfect for these rules to disappear, as the pandemic has sent cinema chains teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. Now that studios are open to invest, it will be interesting to see whether the exhibition business is one they actually want to throw their money behind. The industry is worth saving because movies can gross a billion dollars in theatrical revenue and studios have been pushing hard to end theatrical windows so they can sell their movies direct-to-consumer. But if they owned the theaters, studios could release their movies theatrically but cut bait and go to PVOD whenever they want.


Gone Baby Gone and The Town writer-director Ben Affleck has signed onto his latest project, an adaptation of Sam Wasson’s book “The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood” about the tumultuous process that resulted in one of the best films of the ‘70s. The journey started with a string of success that resulted in a Best Picture win for Argo, when Affleck hit a bump in the road with the gangster movie Live By Night. After that film’s poor critical and financial performance, Affleck went back to acting and suited up as Batman. Now that he’s back in his wheelhouse, it will be interesting to see how today’s societal climate affects the writing process. Roman Polanski is a major presence in the story and will hang over the project like a shadow of an escaped felon. Do you downplay his role in the film or adapt the project faithfully and hope there isn’t a backlash against Polanski's inclusion? Will Affleck acknowledge the director's criminal side or stick to the story of Chinatown and risk outrage at lionizing him as a director? It will be interesting to see what approach Affleck uses with his take on the story, and whether or not the project falls apart once they try to cast the role of “Jack Nicholson.”


In other anti-trust news: When AT&T purchased Time Warner, the cable and internet provider promised that it wouldn’t use its position to benefit networks like HBO and TNT that it now owned. Well, AMC is yelling “j’accuse!” and taking the matter to trial. AMC claims AT&T is offering less money in their latest carriage negotiations in order to lure viewers over to HBO and TNT, while AT&T says that AMC is still asking for the kind of money it did back when The Walking Dead was a massive success and that the amount AT&T pays should be in line with what audiences are watching. So, who’s right? Probably both of them. With cable subscribers dropping every month, AT&T may be worried that raising prices will push more people to cut the cord and offering channels like HBO for free sweetens the pot—a deal that AMC doesn't get. On the other hand, AMC is not the dominant force it was when The Walking Dead was at its peak and AT&T does not want to pay that kind of fee for AMC’s stable of channels, including Sundance and IFC, if people aren’t watching them. 


It’s been one crazy year for movie lovers. It seems like forever ago when No Time To Die, the latest Bond movie, was pulled from its April release date and pushed back to November. Since that time, almost every theatrical release was either postponed, shelved or dumped onto PVOD and streaming. Theaters finally opened up to the first major release since lockdown began with the Russell Crowe-starring Unhinged and this past week has given us some concrete details on what cinema’s immediate future will look like as studios have finalized plans for their major releases. Warner Bros. will release Tenet worldwide over Labor Day Weekend in any country that has cinemas still open, including the United States. The movie will miss out on New York and California, but will be a major traffic driver for smaller cities that have low COVID numbers and have reopened theaters. Disney has gone in the opposite direction with Mulan and announced it will release exclusively on Disney+ as a $30 rental. Universal settled on a middle ground, cutting a deal that saw the theatrical window decrease to 17 days for their releases, allowing the studio to switch to PVOD or dump films onto Peacock if it doesn’t perform well. Which tactic is the right one? Nobody knows. They’re all shooting blindly, hoping they can recoup the production and advertising cost of these movies. If of Disney’s subscribers rent Mulan, then the studio will gross $300 million on the movie without having to share any of that cheddar. And that doesn't take multiple rentals into account. Alternatively, Tenet could turn into a spectacle that stays in the cinemas for up to a year, opening in new cities as it’s safe to do so. Keeping it away from rental or HBO Max could create the kind of buzz that reignites the fires of the theatrical industry. We shall wait with baited breath to see which approach works, but more than that, let’s just be hopeful for the day we can all sit safely in the theater together and quietly fume at that punk kid in the front row who won’t turn off TikTok.


So you’ve been hired to create a loading sound for an up-and-coming streaming service that plans to change the entire industry. What’s the first sound that comes to mind? Is it a goat? No? That would explain why you aren’t an Oscar® winning sound designer, because that’s the first thing that came to Lon Bender’s mind. He considered it to be Netflix’s version of the MGM lion. The short-list of sounds (that also included bubbles) was market tested and consumers overwhelmingly approved of the now iconic “Ta Dum” noise, considering it to be cinematic. That’s all it took for Netflix to go with their signature sound and every one of those consumers will have to live with the knowledge that they are responsible for the death of the Netflix Goat.


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