White House Down. Pacific Rim. The Lone Ranger. R.I.P.D. After Earth. Blood on the highway. That last one wasn’t a movie title. That was a layman’s diagnosis of the major Hollywood flops of this summer. So far, Hollywood has released some really beautiful bombs. Costly, elaborate, over-hyped, plastic disasters. Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, the inventors of the blockbuster summer movie and now silverbacks of the industry, warned Hollywood it needs to change its ways or pay the price of shrinking audiences and profits. Steven Spielberg recently played prophet, as reported in Slate by Ben Kenigsberg:
“In June, speaking at a University of Southern California event with George Lucas, the Lincoln director said, ‘There’s going to be an implosion where three or four or maybe even a half-dozen mega-budget movies are going to go crashing into the ground, and that’s going to change the paradigm…’”
So far his math’s not far off, maybe a bit conservative, but it’ll take time to see if he’s right about his grim prediction. Paradigms are often slow to change, although they can swing wildly fast as well. We don’t know what the reaction to this summer will be. When analyzing what went wrong, I worry that Hollywood will overlook two key factors, and exactly because they’re so obvious.
1. Make movies people want to see
Don’t make movies designed by committees based on spreadsheets and “brand awareness.” Movies are cultural dreams, treat them like they mean something not just make money. Brand awareness, cost-benefit analysis and similar lines of thinking lead to costly miscalculations of the audience’s “brand loyalty.” Hire tastemakers to run your studio and trust them to pick good movies up and down the slate. Diversify. I believe businessmen say this is important. This call for more mid-scale and small movies isn’t new. Many wiser minds (like Lynda Obst and David Edelstein) have already made this call. Consider this a friendly reminder.
2. Pay attention to your audience
You can no longer rely on advertising to win them over. You must earn positive word-of-mouth, social media chatter, links, shares, etc. Your audience is now your marketing department. Give them something good to enjoy and then sell.
There’s lots of competition for dollars and eyeballs these days. It’s hard to get folks into the theater. But audiences still love movies. We will turn up when the movie is a fresh idea, a cultural moment, or has good word-of-mouth. Which means, yes, it’s harder to grab a big audience but the demand is still there. As many critics point out, the ideas need to be better rather than lowest common denominator. Using the same presumed rationale that fueled these recent disasters, a movie’s appeal must be strong globally and wide culturally. Luckily, there are easy ways to find things/ideas/subjects that have wide global appeal. Like, there’s the internet. For trends, Twitter and Tumblr are two good places to start. With a little bit of forward thinking and faster response time Hollywood could get back in the business of making provocative films instead of merely titillating films. Music video directors steal from Tumblr all the time. Don’t be lazy, Hollywood. Steal better. But enough business advice from me, I’m not rich. The reason I offer this advice is, I like you, Hollywood. I want to see you do well. Rather than pen some critique of why you’re having a tough summer, I thought I’d give you a free one- an idea that’s a surefire global blockbuster hit for next summer.
You need to make a movie about mermaids.
Here’s 7 reasons why it would work:
1. It’s been 30 years since Splash
In 1984, a young Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah conspired to take a silly plotline masquerading as light comedy and make into a very human, magical, romantic story that’s something of a classic. It’s been almost thirty years since anyone in Hollywood made another romantic comedy with a mermaid. How can that be? It’s a perfect fairy tale divide for the lovers to cross. He’s human. She’s part fish. How can their love last? For whatever reason, apparently, the simple idea hasn’t turned any lights green at the studios. Instead, they choose known properties that they feel more comfortable greenlighting because those properties come with a built-in audience. They pick from pre-existing intelletual properties like theme park rides, old tv shows, comic books, graphic novels, and board games. What I think the executives may be overlooking is that, like unicorns, mermaids have a timeless appeal for women and girls and you can basically consider that a “pre-awareness of the brand property.” And hey, by the way, why no unicorn movie?
2. It’s been 25 years since The Little Mermaid
In 1989, Disney made another movie about a mermaid, this time she was animated and Ariel could sing her scaly little ass off. The Little Mermaid was a huge hit. It was followed by a series of direct-to-dvd sequels. It’s now clear the original film will forever hold a special place in the hearts of women around the world who are under the age of forty-something. Think about that, Hollywood. Generations of women and girls share a love for that sweet little tale of a rebellious mermaid in love with a prince but doomed by a sea witch. And you and I both know, that movie wins so many hearts and minds because that soundtrack was sick and had a ton of hummable, singable songs. It’s a damn good musical. But I don’t think a new modern mermaid movie would have to be a musical or animated for it to be a hit. Mermaids are cool regardless of their singing talent.
3. The mermaids in Pirates of the Caribbean IV were the best part of the movie
Disney again, coming through with the mermaids. And I learned three things from that particular movie-going experience. One- Penelope Cruz is still a reason to get up off your ass and go see a movie; no matter how out of place she may or may not be in the film. Two- Ian McShane is a reason to see a film in the theaters. He’s just bigger-than-life badass in a British body. He’ll always hold a special place in my heart because of his work as Al Swearengen on HBO’s Deadwood. Playing Blackbeard the pirate, he doesn’t set the world on fire, but he’s solid. Three- mermaids can save even a poorly written script that’s rushed into production. Those murderous sirens of the sea were fucking cool; and Astrid Berges-Frisbey should be in more movies- she’s the little French badass who played the mermaid in the glass case that fell in love with the kindly sailor boy. Their storyline was the best part of the movie. Went to see a movie about pirates and walked out talking about mermaids. That says it all.
4. Vampires, witches, werewolves, wizards, and zombies are kinda clichéd, mermaids are fresh like sea breeze
You know it, I know it, it’s getting harder and harder to come up with a fresh angle for those stale mythical creatures. Why not go with a fresh mythical creature? You have all the obvious iconography to play with- the clamshell bikini, the mermaid’s tail, the sexy wet hair, the story of her as a powerful young woman from a secret community of strong women (like Wonder Woman, another movie that should be made). And if you think mermaids are too sweet of an icon to make into an adult film, I’d bet you a dozen cronuts that mermaids would make a hell of a horror film. Imagine a coastal town, just before tourist season, it’s haunted by the return of a pod of murderous mermaids. Could be good. But obviously, a mermaid romantic comedy or coming-of-age story has the widest appeal. Who knows? It’s a wide and open sea of potential.
5. Mermaids are timelessly sexy and with iridescent tails they’re Vegas sexy
Mashing up high and low culture is fun. Everyone’s figured that out, right? Well, mermaids provide some classical appeal; you can draw on some imagined elaborate backstory of mermaid queens and mermaid princesses. It lends the whole enterprise a touch of grandeur and glamour. At the same time, for the mermaids’ tails, update their look with some eye-pleasing iridescent rainbow CGI tails. Some Vegas shine and shimmer to give the mermaids some modern #seapunk style. Bang. You have a nice high&low mix of story and visuals.
6. Done well… It’s a story for women and girls with global appeal
A mermaid film, regardless of whether its silly or serious, gives filmmakers a chance to explore themes that satisfy women and girls, equally. Mermaids are fluid icons ready and ripe for modern reinvention, feminist consideration, and genre-remixing. And they’re a friendly positive female icon. Or they can be. Yes, they’re limited by their conditions, yet they’re also magical and free in the sea. Metaphorically speaking, they represent group femininity (for the reader of dense books on theory, they represent eco-feminism), the mysteries and traditions of womenhood, as well as they can be the vengeful threat of a woman dragging a man to his doom, they are dangerous beauties who enchant with their angelic song, they are rebels and outsiders, they’re conservative protectors of a disappearing way of life, they are the last vestiges of a more marvelous and lost past. There’s lots of ways to imagine a mermaid story. The audience seems to want one. In the world of books, mermaid titles are growing more and more popular in YA fiction. It’s time for Hollywood to make a kickass mermaid movie.
If you stick your finger in the wind you get a pretty good idea of which way the wind blows. Well, there’s a growing cultural interest in mermaids, just check Tumblr if you don’t believe me. Yet there’s no product to satisfy this growing market. Mermaids. Get on it, Hollywood.
Women’s movies, for lack of a better term, are kicking all kinds of ass at the box office. Maybe grab Melissa McCarthy for a mermaid movie. She could be the Mermaid Queen who’s fed up with her rebellious mermaid princess daughter. Have Rooney Mara as the difficult mermaid. Rebel Wilson could be her funny sister. Your call. I don’t cast movies for a living. But real money shows women are turning out for movies, especially smart funny women’s movies. And I’d go see it, too. I don’t think I’m the only guy in the world who likes mermaids. For chrissakes, there’s grown men who have conventions for My Little Pony. Reconsider your audience, Hollywood. Mermaids seem like a no-brainer. So, there you go, there’s one way to stop losing so much money on ideas that people don’t really want to spend money to see. People want mermaids. Go!