At the annual SIGGRAPH conference on computer graphics a few weeks ago, Walt Disney Animation Studios chief technical officer Andy Hendrickson discussed the studio’s movie-making strategy: thin storylines + lots of spectacle = high profit margins.
Movie ticket sales have remained steady since 2005, but the number of titles released every year has grown. This, coupled with the decrease in high-revenue DVD rentals due to a shift towards streamed rentals, means releases are now getting less viewers. Disney Animation Studios’s solution is tentpole films. According to Hendrickson, ‘a tentpole film is one where you can seed the desire to see the film to everyone in every distribution channel. It’s the only kind of film you can spend $100 million marketing.’
He continues, ‘People say, It’s all about the story. When you’re making tentpole films, bullshit.’ This mentality speaks volumes about the films currently being released. It is painfully obvious that studios are more concerned with profit than storyline. Hendrickson’s comments reveal the true greed of the film industry. Of course, there are individuals still concerned with producing films for the sake of art and entertainment, but many are strictly concerned with profit margins and high grossing blockbusters.
When discussing how tentpole films don’t require strong stories, Hendrickson imparted this unbelievable gem about Alice in Wonderland as an example, ‘The story isn’t very good, but visual spectacle brought people in droves. And Johnny Depp didn’t hurt.’
Somewhere in Surrey Lewis Carroll just rolled over in his grave. Hendrickson is daft if he doesn’t think the strength of Carroll’s magical tale not only sustained it as a classic over the past 146 years, but contributed greatly to the success of ‘his’ film. I’m sure quite a few people would argue that the story is, in fact, quite good, and that it was their love of that story that brought them to see the film, not Hendrickson and company’s ‘visual spectacle.’
The truth is that there is room for all art. Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is an incredible story of whimsy. Hendrickson and company’s effects in the film adaptation of that story were fantastically stunning. But Hendrickson’s disregard for the art of another and his focus on monetary gain suggest that he only sees his art as a means to the end, the end of course being profit. Perhaps studios should focus less on tentpoles to support their numerous releases a year and more on making a few really worthwhile contributions to cinema.
Stay tuned for the next State of the Arts installment on women in television.