Why Matt Damon is Right About the Film Industry

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Why Matt Damon is Right About the Film Industry

Film

The Hollywood star explains that the phasing out of DVDs and the associated loss of income has led to a change in the films produced

The Hollywood star explains that the phasing out of DVDs and the associated loss of income has led to a change in the films produced

Matt Damon

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Having seen my fair share of major cinematic releases over the past few months as a film reviewer for the Luxembourg timeI couldn’t help but notice that something was wrong with post-Covid cinema.

Films have never been so explosive – yet scared to experiment or stand out from the crowd. Where before I might have summed up the influence Marvel Studios has on the industry is writer, actor, and producer Matt Damon who, in between eating spicy chicken wings, tactfully explained why the Big budget movies seem so dead behind the eyes.

In a whimsical (but admittedly well-curated) online talk show, actor Matt Damon offhandedly diagnoses the contemporary film industry — and explains why films are just like that now. Appearing on ‘Hot Ones’ last year, the academy winner took a break from gorging on hot sauce to explain that “DVD was a huge part of our business, our source of revenue, and the technology just made it obsolete”.

“And so [with] the movies that we used to make,” he continues, “you could afford not to make any money when they were shown in theaters because you knew the DVD was coming after the release and six months later later you would get a whole different piece – it would be like almost reopening the movie. And when that disappeared, it changed the kind of films we could make.”

What Damon makes clear in the interview is that mid-budget movies are a dying breed. Such a mid-range film, as CNN suggested in an article earlier this year, fills that space somewhere “between an arthouse indie and a big-budget thriller.” Think Goodwill hunting Where Alone at home Where Shawshank takeover. But the pandemic has only accelerated the trend of budget inflation with fewer films hitting theaters, productions costing more, and movies needing a bit more big-budget shine to attract people from their homes.

But that moment in “Hot Ones” apparently went unnoticed when the interview first came out. Maybe it was the ongoing pandemic — or maybe it was because people were more focused on the Oscar winner who was sweating profusely in the final stages of the interview. But then the clip recently resurfaced on Twitter, spawning an intense debate that, more than ever, highlights trends in post-Covid cinema that can hardly be ignored.

As someone with a finger on the pulse of the film industry, Damon aptly highlights an angle that could easily be overlooked. Streaming is no longer enough, as even the biggest Netflix productions are bound to get lost in massive streaming libraries. And yet, ironically, many find themselves gravitating towards mid-budget classics when browsing streamer catalogs.

The majority of movies that hit theaters around the world (i.e. the big blockbusters that make it all the way to Luxembourg) are therefore huge productions that just have to make a ton of money. Movies can’t afford to experiment or do something completely new; they must be as appealing to as wide an audience as possible, whether in the United States, China or our own Grand Duchy.


The profitability of a film takes precedence over intuitive cinematographic writing

The profitability of a film takes precedence over intuitive cinematographic writing

Alain Piron

Damon goes on to explain that whatever budget is allocated to a film should be doubled to cover marketing and should therefore be doubled in profits to be shared with exhibitors (i.e. theatres) . In other words, a $25 million production will end up costing $50 million with marketing, and would then have to bring in $100 million before it can be considered profitable.

All this, specifies the quadruple oscar winner, makes it a huge – even unthinkable – bet to win 100 million dollars on a fairly classic film about a love story. This kind of photos was still possible in the 90s, he concludes, but not anymore.

Seeing this short clip – otherwise innocuous in the grand scheme of the chicken-centric interview – came as this great eureka moment for me. Damon, in less than two minutes, had touched on something that I had noticed during my visit to Luxembourg theaters. And all this without resorting to lofty diatribes about the “slow degeneration of culture” or the mindlessness of theater audiences.

Speaking at the 2020 Gothenburg Film Festival, actor Stellan Skårsgard also highlights how the death of the independent film studio in an age of mass media monopolies also means the death of passable low- and mid-budget film.

After all, the only studios capable of raising enough money to make these mega blockbusters are those with the financial means to do so. And with each film becoming an increasingly larger investment, investors need to be assured that they will get their returns.

The highest-budget movie, in that sense, necessarily has to play it as safe as possible. The profitability of a film takes precedence over intuitive cinematographic writing.

That’s not to say mid-budget film is dead. There have been countless mid-range films recently released that match both relatively low cost (at least compared to contemporary mega-blockbusters) and very good quality.

Many A24 movies obviously come to mind – as does the hit Knives outwhich cost “only” $40 million – although these are outliers precisely because they are so cheap to manufacture – relatively speaking.

And that doesn’t change the fact that the bulk of major releases in theaters and streaming services cost such an absurd amount of money that you start to wonder if we could have collectively cured all major diseases now if we didn’t. injections not in movies like Morbius.


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