Anne Thompson, The Billion Year; From Sundance to the Oscars, An Inside Look at the Changing Hollywood System (New York: HarperCollins, 2014), 297pp.
It wasn't too long ago that if you wanted to see a movie, you had two choices: go to the theater or wait three months to rent the DVD. Those days are long gone. As with the disruptions in the music industry, despite the futile resistance of big corporations trying to hold on to their old ways, so now in the film industry, with the same sort of foot-dragging. Today we watch movies through all sorts of VOD (video on demand) and on all sorts of gadgets — TiVo, Roku, Playstation 3, Amazon, Hulu, iTunes, HBO, Netflix, etc. Blockbuster's demise is a scary reminder if you are in the movie business.
Anne Thompson has written about the movies for twenty-five years. In 2007 she founded a daily blog called Thompson on Hollywood. This is her first book. It suffers a bit from a blizzard of names and titles, and a few breathless anecdotes about private meetings with insiders, but it's nonetheless a good overview of how the system works. She organizes the book around the one calendar year 2012, beginning with the Sundance festival in January, and moving through the other festivals and events. Each chapter considers a different facet of the industry. In 2012 there were 663 movies released that together generated billion.
Whereas six big studios once controlled the movie business, today it's "an industry in the throes of radical change." Digital was once a technical novelty, but it won't be long before it's the only format. The big studios are risk aversive and so make formulaic films. The theaters and the studios are always in a tug of war. The global market accounts for over half of gross revenues. Even the biggest actors and directors no longer command guaranteed paydays. The indie people struggle with financing, production and distribution. HBO and Netflix make their own movies and television series. In the final sentence of her book Thompson concludes that the movie industry must "adapt or die."