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If Film's Worth Seeing--We'll Come

August 22, 1994|DON MANN | Don Mann is a writer and producer who lives Malibu. He is working on two feature film projects

So the executives in Hollywood are now blaming the moviegoing public for their poor performances at the box office ("A Squeeze Play Tags the Summer Box Office," Calendar, Aug. 2). I just won't accept that excuse.

Paramount chairman Sherry Lansing says: "There was only room for the home runs this summer. Audiences rejected everything else."

Producer Jerry Bruckheimer says: "Viewers seem to be returning time and again to their favorite films and have no interest in other releases."

Do they believe that a viewer would rather see "Lion King" three times than view the Disney film once and then take in two smaller films? If you make a good film, we will come. (However, good doesn't necessarily mean expensive. We will stay away from big films too. Remember "Days of Thunder"?)

As a screenwriter, I have learned that a good film has two characteristics necessary for broad-based appeal: empathy for the main characters and plausibility for the particular circumstances they are in.

If these two criteria were adhered to more closely, there wouldn't be as many flops. Rob Reiner has his first flop with "North." Why? Obviously few moviegoers in middle America had the desire to get a new set of parents, as Reiner's main character did. It wasn't plausible. The result? Poor box office.

As for the other busts of summer:

Paramount's "Beverly Hills Cop III" failed because no one wanted to see Eddie Murphy and Bronson Pinchot in that same old shtick a third time. "Baby's Day Out" is a rehash of a tried and true John Hughes formula that is totally implausible and plain worn out.

Disney tried to get us with "I Love Trouble," a love story about two reporters. Do you love trouble? I could not empathize with these two characters. No one else did either.

"Renaissance Man" had a business executive coming to the aid of the Army. I just don't believe it. "City Slickers II": While the original film had a very good premise concerning a man in a midlife crisis, the second has this same guy, who now has a cow for a friend, and he's going off to discover a lost gold mine. Maybe I'll see it on video.

Wasn't "The Cowboy Way" originally titled "McCloud"? By any name, it just wouldn't happen.

"Little Big League" and "Angels in the Outfield" are formulaic baseball fantasy films, forcing us to relate to unempathetic spoiled kids. I can remember back before "Bull Durham" when Hollywood execs said you can't make a successful baseball movie. Now we know you can, if you have the right story to tell.

"Wyatt Earp" has only grossed about $24 million to date. Why? Because moviegoers have already seen the story--in "Tombstone." How much has "Tombstone" made? I think you need to combine the box office of these two films to get an accurate take on their popularity.

As for the winners? They all had fresh, original plots with empathetic characters and enough plausibility to make them intriguing. Other films from other seasons bear out the "magic" of this formula.

The reason Steven Spielberg has been so successful is his radical divergence from the tried and true. "Jurassic Park" was the first dinosaur movie in 20 years. Even a film with as dark a subject matter as "Schindler's List" scored big, not because of its budget or director but because of its empathy and plausibility.

"Indecent Proposal" proved that it doesn't matter when a picture is released as long as the story is good. And so on.

If Hollywood seriously thinks that mid-range pictures can't possibly compete with big-budget films, I wonder why Disney would spend so much to acquire a company like Miramax Films, which has only been known for its success with smaller pictures. Quality product, fresh ideas and believable stories--not somebody's track record--are what make good films.

If there were 10 good smaller-budget pictures out this summer, as opposed to one "True Lies" mega-budget film, I would bet the returns at the box office would be comparable. What audiences won't sit still for is an industry that keeps raising ticket prices and then expects people to sit through banal films that have the exact same plot as half a dozen other movies.

Barry Reardon, Warner Bros.' distribution chief, says there will be a lot of pictures this summer that will lose money. If the studios refuse to concentrate on quality product and go on giving green lights to pet producers with ridiculous projects, just for the sake of making them happy, then yes, there will continue to be a lot of losers. But then, that's Hollywood!

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