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MEET THE READER: Random Thoughts

Meet the Reader's Ray Morton provides some random musings on script coverage services, the death of the movie poster, the pay-per-view/VOD debate, and Doctor Who.

• Following up my last column defending the work of script coverage services: my friend and ScriptXpert colleague, the great Staton Rabin, pointed out that the screenplay assessments that ScriptXpert provides to its clients aren’t really coverage in the traditional sense at all – they’re really more like a mini-script consultations. Traditional coverage usually includes a synopsis (to fill the analyst’s employer – who has not yet read the script - in on what the piece is about); ScriptXpert doesn’t (because we figure the writer who we’re doing the assessment for already knows what his/her script is about). Also, traditional coverage only offers a critique of a script, whereas ScriptXpert also provides suggestions for revision and improvement. Staton’s point was that the service we (and a number of other similar companies) are offering is much more helpful and therefore much more valuable than simple coverage. She’s right and I only wish that I had made that point as simply and elegantly as Ms. Rabin did.

• A few weeks back, I went to see the Bob Peak exhibit at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills. For those that don’t know, Peak was a wonderful commercial artist whose vibrantly colored, intricately detailed, and incredibly expressive paintings adorned some of the most memorable movie posters of the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s, including those for My Fair Lady, Camelot, Superman, Apocalypse Now, Star Trek, The Spy Who Loved Me, Pennies from Heaven, and Excalibur. Driving home from the exhibit, I passed by a lot of billboards displaying the posters for current films, which made me realize just how far the art of the movie poster has fallen. In Peak’s era, movie posters usually featured grand illustrations designed to describe not just the cast of characters, but also the concept, tone, energy, and intended spirit of the film being advertised. Today’s posters consist mainly of uninspired headshots of a movie’s lead actors. These boring one-sheets tell you nothing about the film and all of them look the same, so that you can’t tell one movie from another. Another sign of what happens when the businessmen and marketers take over from the showmen.

• Some industry terms that I wish would quickly pass out of use: content (movies); content provider (somebody that makes movies); intellectual property (ideas); reimagine (remake by totally ignoring what made the original memorable); reboot (a do-over when you mess up the original); franchise (a movie series with lots of merchandising potential); multiple distribution platforms (movie theaters, TV sets, and your cellphone); original (unoriginal); and edgy (?). Sometimes it’s easier (and clearer) to just say what you mean.

• Some of the studios have kicked up quite a fuss with their announcement that they intend to offer some of their movies on pay-per-view -- the hefty price of $30 a pop -- only sixty days after the films premiere in theaters. Theater owners (who have already seen the average run shrink from several months a decade or so ago to just a few weeks these days) are balking and threatening to boycott any film slated for such a deal because they (rightly, it seems to me) feel that if viewers know they can see a film at home in just a few weeks, they will probably stop coming to the theaters. A number of prominent filmmakers, including James Cameron, Peter Jackson, and Kathryn Bigelow, have sided with the theater owners, with director Todd Phillips providing the most memorable quote: “If I wanted to make movies for television, I would have become a TV director.” My thought as I followed all of this: if the studios continue on the path that they are on and keep doing all they can to take the specialness out of movies (with the endless remakes, tiresome CGI and 3D, the lousy posters [see above], etc.), then they’ll eventually reach their goal and movies won’t be special anymore. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m certainly not willing to pay $15 a ticket for, buy a DVD of, or pay $30 for a one-time viewing of something that isn’t special. So good luck with that business plan.

• On a related note... Dear BBC America: one of the joys of Doctor Who is its intricately constructed and complex time and space-jumping plotlines. If you insist on interrupting such complex narratives with six long commercial breaks an hour (that for some reason you promote as being “limited commercial interruption” and that you make even longer by including behind-the-scenes footage from the show currently in progress), then you are providing me with no incentive to watch the show on your channel. There are plenty of other options, you know…