Filmism.net Dispatch February 13, 2022

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If there's one thing Hollywood has always loved, it's more bites of the cherry.

They used to call it ancillary markets, and for most of Hollywood's history, right up until the early to mid 1980s there was only one; TV. In fact TV represented rivers of gold to the big studios - it could be argued they were in the TV business. They made movies and showed them in cinemas, but by the time TV came around in the 1950s they already had half a century of content (to apply a modern term to it) in their vaults, and a new medium to buy them.

Every time a movie played on TV the studios got a license fee, and for the rest of the 20th century those fees were the reason the big six studios could weather several years of expensive flops. And in the days before big corporations bought up all the studios and other industries from soft drinks to consumer electronics shored up any losses in the movie industry, that was no mean feat.

But it became a staple, and I (along with the rest of Generation X and my parents before me) remember the prime movie slot of 8.30 on a Sunday night very well. For most of my childhood and teens I was so familiar with my favourite movies on TV I could tell you from memory where the commercial breaks were situated in them.

The studios finally got another slice in the advent of home video, and it was so successful at the time it generated an entire midrange tier of movie production away from the major studios, one which casts a long shadow over the industry to this day because of the companies, people and genres born out of it.

It continued for a little while after the demise of the VCR when DVDs became a thing, but now when we look back, it seems like the DVD era had barely arrived when the industry was admitting that DVD sales were flatlining and the boom was over. Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc weren't even a twinkle in their owners' eyes and wouldn't become the cultural force they are today for another ten or more years.

It must have been a horrible time to be an accountant in Hollywood. TV was already dead because of the DVD era, and I remember when one commercial network after another announced with a flourish they were going to run just regular old programming on the coveted Sunday night slots instead of movies.

Suddenly all you had if you were a Sony, Comcast, Murdoch, et al was movie screens, and when we all had huge TVs with surround sound in the media rooms of our McMansions, hand wringing about the death of the cinema screen was already at fever pitch (and that was even without a health crisis that shut the world down for two years).

Of course, now the streaming services are a thing and for a little while starting in early 2020 they were all the traditional studios had, what with movie theatres bolted closed across the world.

But even without the lockdowns of the pandemic era, it means studios don't theoretically need the infrastructure of exhibitors (ie cinemas) for their product. Streaming is a virtual cinema where we can all watch what we want when we want, without the constraints of a limited number of screens or session times.

So even with Disney, Netflix and the rest making movies and shows as fast as they can to slap on the homepage of their apps, there's still an appetite for the rest of Hollywood's output.

Quick aside; it's a bit of a double edged sword because the streaming services are getting so rich (or are backed by extraordinary riches to begin with) they're already spending far more on their own content than the Big Six studios ever did put together, and it'll get to the stage where they just don't need the Paramounts and Foxes of the world.

However, the upside for the traditional end of town is that they own all the storytelling IP, and the best way for a streamer to get hold of it is to just reach into their very deep pockets and buy a studio. We saw it recently when Amazon snapped up the beleaguered MGM, and the idea of Apple buying Sony's film division has been buzzing around town for years.

But this essay wasn't intended to be a potted history moviemaking's ancillary markets. It was a way of highlighting how important secondary sales have always been to the industry. It's the reason big studio output is so family- and franchise-friendly now. It's not about box office revenue, it's about vertical corporate synergies to sell stuffed toys Happy Meals and Playstation games.

And the reason I wanted to bring it up is because I've seen a new one brewing. It's only tiny in the grand scheme of things so far, but it's happening. Remember a few months back when Avatar took over from Avengers: Endgame as the biggest film ever once again, after being knocked off the top spot following a quick re-release of the Marvel behemoth? It did so following a re-release in China.

Now, they can't just play beloved moves in cinemas over and over again... can they (in a fearful voice)? I mean, they do. If you add up how much The Rocky Horror Picture Show has made in midnight screenings over the years you might find even it eclipses Avatar. But the re-release is getting a new lease on life in the Name Cut.

The first few tweets calling on Warner Bros to release Zack Snyder's original edit of Justice League may well have been genuine pleas by real fans. But you can bet expensive marketing consultants deep in the bowels of AT&T (who owns Warner Bros) realised they were onto something.

The footage existed on Warner Bros backups, all someone needed to do was give Snyder an editing suite and a token couple of million bucks and they could not only turn the fortunes of the infamously poor film around, they could rake in more dough.

The line between a heartfelt, grassroots movement by fans and armies of fake tweetbots unleashed by the studio calling for the #Snydercut is probably lost to history, but suddenly a small but promising new ancillary market was born.

You might have considered it a one-off, a director genuinely wanting to share his original vision with the world and studio executives all chiming in about how they asked Snyder to do it because they love stories and want to give fans what they want, all while studio accountants stood in the wings licking their chops.

But you don't need me to tell you Hollywood ultimately wouldn't lift a planter pot off a trapped lizard if there wasn't any money in it, and releasing the Snyder Cut was a commercial decision first and foremost.

Mind you, it wasn't the first time we'd seen cinema a re-release. ET: The Extra-Terrestrial did it years after it first came out, Grease has done it a few times. Even Avatar did it about seven months after its initial release, purportedly featuring nine extra minutes of footage.

But Justice League was the first time it had been precipitated by a grassroots movement of rabid film fans*.

* Probably not completely a grassroots movement of rabid film fans

Anyway. the reason I got thinking about this entire issue was because I believed I saw it playing out again recently when the stars of the original Suicide Squad weighed in on a supposed groundswell of fans demanding Warner Bros (same studio, hmm...) release the David Ayer cut of the 2016 flick after our collective horror at how crap it was.

This story about it mentioned a tweet David Ayer had issued earlier asserting that the version of Suicide Squad we saw wasn't his, but that an edit of the movie he approved of did exist.

So again I ask you; is this a filmmaker making a public statement about his art and the people who wanted it to be better than it was responding to have their wishes heard? Or has some shadowy figure deep in a Burbank basement been quietly pulling these strings all along, recruiting Ayer himself into the fray with the damning tweet to generate an 'organic' call for him to release his own cut of the movie?

And has the same dark mage have a list of Warner Brothers franchise hopefuls that didn't quite land (Green Lantern? Catwoman?) on a list to go to work on next, creating a whole new ancillary market through brute social media force? Are we going to see tweets demanding the Travis Cut of Dredd? The Trank Cut of Fantastic Four ? The Kinberg cut of X-Men: Dark Phoenix? The Miller Cut of Terminator: Dark Fate? Maybe the Harlin cut of Cutthroat Island or the Stanton cut of John Carter?

Watch this space.

On screens recently, I watched two movies quite close together that really got me thinking about issues around gender and youth sexuality, and particularly the way they're treated in the media in both the US and the (far more liberal) Europe. I recommend watching them in a double bill if you can, but one might be a little hard to find. The first is the Norwegian film Turn Me On, Dammit!, and the second is the American indie/awards darling Eighth Grade.

I also heartily recommend One Night in Miami, another brilliant salvo into the vibrant conversation we only ever seem to get from cinema (as opposed to any other medium) about the African American experience in the politically charged US.

And to counter all that high minded social issues viewing I've been doing, I watched an exploitation classic from the late 80s who's video store cover I remember well but never actually took the trouble of hiring, Street Trash.

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