Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Of Course No One is Going to the Movies to See a Comedy

In what will now be a series of "how are you allowed to cover this business?  Do you know any actual humans?" responses to THR bone-picking articles and their "protect the industry!" take on news...  I guess I'm gonna talk about why no one is going to see comedies in the theater.

THR is confused as to why people are not going to see comedies at the movies, and talks about the theories being floated in Hollywood in what's turning out to be a dreadful summer if you aren't Ant-Man or a talking raccoon.

Let me help:

It's because there's no reason to see a comedy on the big screen.  It will be available via streaming within a couple of months, maybe for free.

There.  Very simple.

Look, the modern young adults grew up watching comedies on VHS and then DVD.  They would 100x rather Netlfix and Chill and have a service bring them food than leave the house (kinda sad, really).  Those of us who were older grew up in an era where going to see comedies was inexpensive, and if we forgot we'd seen the movie a week later, it didn't matter.  It wasn't a huge investment.  And, we all know if a movie is funny, it'll survive on home video/ streaming services pretty quickly.

Btw, Netflix isn't killing comedies *just* by producing original stuff (more on this below).  They, Amazon, and other services know they can bring those movies to us much faster than twenty years ago when the studios policed release windows far more tightly.  When I have a 40+ inch TV at home, it really doesn't impact me one way or another if I see a movie like Booksmart, which I do want to watch, at the theater or at home. 

If I wait the 2-3 months from release to Amazon - is it really going to be less of an experience?  Or am I going to miss out on all the CGI and surround sound?   Am I paying for spectacle?  Yeah, I mean, I guess I am.  TV looks really, really good these days.  Placed against the average comedy, what is going to be different about watching that at home?

As a purchaser of tickets for those movies, a back-of-the-hypothetical-napkin tells me it costs $24+ for two people to buy tickets for an evening show  - before food and beverage.  All told, an Alamo trip can add up to $65+ for two of us by the time I include tip.

For that kind of money, people standing around making half-assed jokes (see: Seth Rogan) are not a good reason for me to spend $70 for 2 hours of my life.*  that will make me say "eh..."  Honestly, for $70, I need a talking raccoon and a hyper-afro-futurist society with Danai Gurira being cool as hell in the middle of it. 

While I am sure the career side of having steady work for a few years (plus possible longtail residuals) is nice for producers and those getting the money, for those of us not in the business, THR gets it right.  The best comedy directors and writers have been in TV for well over a decade.  We're getting some really smart people putting together good TV shows, and they're doing it over and over.  And - honestly - over at the movies, I'm not sure the crop of behind-the-camera talent that was the last real boom of the mid-00's didn't burn through what they could offer pretty quickly.  You can't tell me from the outside that the trailers for This is 40 didn't look like the last gasp of an era and not what we signed up for.  And I can't think of anyone working in movies, aside from Lord & Miller, that I'd seek out their movie.

To that point: You and I both know the real work is happening on the better shows since, at least, Arrested Development.  Brooklyn 99, Schitt's Creek, name your show... I can get good character work and stay with *characters* for seasons at a time, seeing something other than a single premise (nothing new.  Sitcoms have been with us since radio).  OR, for episodic comedy or non-narrative stuff, I can watch Drunk History or something more off the wall - I Think You Should Leave is pretty great (but makes me miss Detroiters which was cut down in its prime).

For whatever reasons that TV is seemingly cheaper than making a movie, those high costs of movies mean that the comedy has to work for a broader audience to fill theatrical seats, and, man... I'm not sure that's where we've been with comedy for a long, long time.  Jim Carey may be the last screen comedian we all briefly agreed upon, and that was for about two years in the 90's.

But I do think something flipped.  The 80's and 90's were mostly a wasteland of LCD sitcoms with a few standouts.  You and me have mostly forgotten 90% of what passed for TV comedy over those twenty years, and would find it unwatchable today - but TV had lower stakes and got to start to specialize.  They took what should have been massive risks.  FX did Sunny, and (I'm sorry, but...) LouieArcher is still going.  They're shows with a specific voice and point of view. 

At the theater: a lot of comedies that aren't a comedic spin on or part of another genre feel like those bland family sitcoms.  Just with more pratfalls and drug use.  And the same 4 premeses trotted out over and over. 

Add it all up, and, yeah, every once in a while Jamie and I will say to each other "it's been forever since we saw a comedy", but... I can't tell you the last time I saw a trailer for something advertised as a comedy - and not also a cartoon - where I actually laughed.  That ain't helping anything.

*I usually make the calculation that I'm paying to go for dinner and a beer, and the price isn't really that different at the Alamo.  Their prices really aren't crazy.  But two meals, a soda and a cocktail can add up.


Stuart said...

I haven't read the THR article, but I do personally enjoy seeing comedies at the theater. I guess I like being in a room full of people laughing at the same thing. There's an energy from that you can't really replicate at home, no matter how nice your TV is.

But I also understand there's only so much an average household can spend every month to go to the novies. That's something I hope the theater subscription model will begin to alleviate.

The data I've seen so far seems to bare that out. Smaller independent films are getting more lift from subscription traffic than major blockbusters. I don't know if it will be enough to save comedies on the long run.

Paul Toohey said...

I feel like this does a great job of explaining why so few people are going to comedies, comedy movies lately aren't really movies. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3FOzD4Sfgag

The League said...

I am 90&% on board with this. It's a different angle on the gut feeling I was trying to express - that Seth Rogan standing around chuckling at himself just isn't... a movie. Stylistically, a lot of comedic movie making has dulled down to lazy TV 00's-era making - and doesn't do a lot of what Wright does with treating the movie of frame as something other than capturing people being funny.

I guess where I'm not onboard is where (a) if everyone followed this YouTuber's advice, all movies would be the same. Glad he likes Edgar Wright - but frankly I find his movies so self-aware of what they are, it wears on me by end of the film. But, yeah, finding ways to use the frame and remember this is a movie heightens the experience (see: Ghostbusters). (b) It ignores how many great comedies don't rely on the specifics of what this YouTuber finds funny. The Marx Bros. comedies still hold up 80 years later, and the camera is basically static, but there are huge visual gags.

But, to his point - move the camera. Remember what you could be doing with angles, with motion, etc... and don't just hope that because your producer friends find you funny, that's enough to move ticket sales.

The League said...

@stuart - I completely agree that the subscription or membership plan for movie theaters would change everything. It would very much be a decision of pre-sunk cost, so you might as well go check it out.

I am highly in favor of subscription plans for movie chains as a consumer and because I think it would generate some good data for theaters and studios instead of the current model of guessing.

Paul Toohey said...

I live three blocks from a Drafthouse (albeit maybe the 2nd worst, programming wise) and had Moviepass and only went there maybe 2 times. Even with movies being basically free, most of the mainstream fare and comedies didn't lure me in. Maybe I'm an outlier though.

I think in the long run the goal for Moviepass was to sell that data, but, they have basically failed (although I think they brought back their initial program recently).

The League said...

I think you're an outlier on movie selection, man. Stuart has some inside baseball knowledge on this stuff, so he knows how it's going.