Esteemed Hollywood producer Mike Medavoy has a taste for nostalgia. He grew up during the “golden age” of Hollywood, and movies haven’t been the same since, he says.
Medavoy produced hits like “Black Swan,” “Zodiac” and “Shutter Island,” and was inspired to enter the movie business after watching films featuring Humphrey Bogart, Spencer Tracy and Lauren Bacall as a child. But Medavoy says the quality of filmmaking suffered after creative control in the industry shifted.
“In the 1960s, the studios got taken over by the bankers,” he laments. Before that, it was “the creative people who decided on what got done.”
The industry as a whole changed during this time — Gulf and Western bought Paramount Pictures in 1966, and a year later United Artists was acquired by Transamerica (“basically an insurance company,” says Medavoy). From here, there was a change in how decisions were made, and movies started to look more similar to one another.
“It becomes a cookie-cutter mold,” Medavoy says. ”[Filmmakers think] what worked yesterday should work tomorrow, but the answer is: ‘No, it doesn’t.’”
What those filmmakers fail to understand, he says, is that storytelling is best when it isn’t formulaic, and that audiences won’t be impressed by a mediocre film — no matter how big the promotional budget is. “It’s not like you’re manufacturing a pair of shoes,” says Medavoy. “People will go to see something that they’re interested in. No matter how much money you spend.”
Formulaic films are reliably mediocre, he argues. In general, sequels get poor reviews and perform worse at the box office than original films. Medavoy has a suggestion as to why the follow-ups to hit films are so bad: “The thing about going to a movie, really, is about being surprised about how good it is.”
Sure, filmmakers will spend money to make sequels, and filmgoers will see them. But according to Medavoy, “because the studios are making the same movie over and over again, after a while people get bored.”
One recent exception to the rule of lousy sequels is the Chinese blockbuster “Wolf Warrior 2.” Released in July, it earned almost $800 million at the Chinese box office in less than a month.
“[Chinese filmmakers] are fairly long thinkers,” says Medavoy. “They’re careful about what they’re putting their money in.”
But besides “Wolf Warrior 2,” Medavoy thinks it’s unlikely many of the films produced in China will gain popularity in the rest of the world. “If you’re only going to make patriotic and nationalistic movies for China, it’s unlikely that [they] will play anywhere else.”
Even if Hollywood doesn’t have to compete with the Chinese film industry, Hollywood’s future is still uncertain. Streaming services are growing in popularity, threatening Hollywood’s traditional dominance. For Medavoy, new competition within the industry is a positive change.
“Continuous streaming is a good idea — anything that produces variety,” he says. “Not every movie needs to open up in 3,000 theaters. Some ought to open in five theaters, and expand if they’re good.” That way, he says, the focus is on producing high-caliber storytelling. After all, that’s what filmmaking comes down to: finding a good story and telling it right.
“What I really enjoy is telling a good story,” says Medavoy. “Something where you go, ‘Wow that would be really interesting.’”