The casual observer may have noticed the first signs of Hollywood’s decline about 6-7 years ago if you asked Gen Z’ers what they wanted to do with their lives. There was a perceptible shift in Gen Z that made the generation different from millennials, Gen X and the Boomers. Gen Z’ers didn’t seem interested in the historical places of fame and opportunity. Talking to Gen Z’ers, it seemed there was a particular shortage of kids wanting to move to locations like New York and (especially) Hollywood to become movie stars, artists, writers and creatives. ‘Right-brained’ Gen Z’ers seemed (and continue to seem) like they are ‘over’ Hollywood. As a member of Gen Z myself- I noticed how many fewer starry-eyed kids from my generation moved to Hollywood than my brother’s generation. Gen Z’ers seem to have an acute interest in the less conventional creative locations like Austin, Seattle, Portland, Nashville, Boulder, and Denver, to name a few.
This general disinterest of one singular generation in California could have been survivable for Hollywood but Hollywood’s death seems to be a death of a thousand cuts.
Millennials appeared to contribute to Hollywood’s death in their own way. In the late 2000s and early 2010s, there was a rise in consumer tastes for “indie-movies” that continues today. (Indie-movies, for context, are independent films- usually produced in locations outside of Hollywood with film crews not employed by large studios). Millennials acute taste for indie movies had an effect. While at first rejected as low quality- Indie films began beating out big studio films for the awards. Juno- the 2007 film about a teen-mom in Vancouver- beat out The Queen for Best Original Screenplay that year despite having no A-List celebrities in the cast and budget less than half The Queen’s size.
Just 3 years later, The Hurt Locker slaughtered James Cameron’s multi-million dollar blockbuster Avatar. The Hurt Locker won 9 Academy Awards, among them- Best Motion Picture and Best Achievement in Directing.
The first observers to notice the change in awards were in the foreign press. In 2010, the Egyptian Independent ran the headline: “Indie films beat out major studios at Oscars”, noticing Hollywood was failing to compete against these underdog competitors at their own awards ceremonies.
Then before the 2019 Oscars, Entertainment Weekly pointed out the shift away from Hollywood and towards indie movies. Writing with an air of amazement in a headline: “From Eighth Grade to Beale Street, how indie films are shaping the 2019 Oscar race”. The article’s author remarked that there was a sharp trend of indie films out-competing the Hollywood Studio films- but they failed to notice that this wasn’t an aberration- this was permanent.
Concurrently, at the most inconvenient moment for Hollywood, a serious blow was sustained. The #MeToo movement weakened the social credibility of Hollywood. Studio Heads and A-List figures from Hollywood’s elite were brought down overnight. Once revered figures became pariahs. The mere suggestion of screening a film that was acted or directed by one of the accused elites lacked serious savoir faire. Consequently, the media hub that consumers were already starting to pivot away from suddenly seemed shrouded in a distasteful cloud of corruption and scandal. There would certainly be no consumers turning around like Lot’s Wife- at least not anytime soon.
When the CoronaVirus Pandemic hit America, a final coup-de-gras seems to have been delivered to Hollywood.
A quick scan of the morning headlines and one can watch long-standing established Hollywood institutions crumble before your very eyes.
- Regal Entertainment suddenly folded, shuttering 536 theatres.
- AMC the studio and theatre supergiant by all accounts seems to be on the brink of failing.
- Disney, in an increasingly desperate attempt to preserve their film studios, has made extreme cuts to the ‘parks and resorts’ segment of their business model. In the summer Disney announced 28,000 layoffs in California- in the fall Disney announced 18,000 layoffs in Florida.
Some studios, scrambling to avoid financial ruin released films to theatres irrespective of the chaos in Hollywood- with Warner Brothers releasing Tenet last summer. Despite moderate success globally, Tenet flopped in American theatres. As many in the American Press have observed, the failure of a blockbuster like Tenet has spooked the rest of the major studios. Studios who are desperate for money are now refusing to produce any substantial films at all in fear of furthering their debt burden. Studios who are struggling, fear another flop like Tenet could put them all out of business. Now, studio executives are left with a tough call to decide whether to produce films anyway and hope for the best- or hunker down and try to wait out CoronaVirus.
As Hollywood dies, alternative forms of media seem to be skyrocketing. Netflix saw a huge boon with the release of Tiger King. Hulu’s production of Little Fires Everywhere has been met with adoration by audiences.
Podcasts seem to have proliferated, even the Simpsons made fun of this phenomenon in their most recent broadcast. Everyone seems to have a podcast now. In the last two months, everyone from Bethanny Frankel to Hillary Clinton have launched podcasts. True Crime podcasts remain the most circulated media on Apple Music and Spotify.
Internet entertainers like Benito Skinner (aka Benny Drama) have seen increased traffic to their videos and online media.
Audible, sensing the Vacuum left by Hollywood, capitalized on the hunger among consumers for alternative forms of entertainment. Among their more notable achievements this year, Audible released James Taylor’s memoir completely free to members while also expanding their bailiwick of media. Audible is no longer just limited to audiobooks. During the last 9 months, Audible has upped its membership by introducing educational audio lectures- similar to Ted Talks. These audio lectures follow the Ted Talk model and cover an equally vast array of topics.
Reality TV has marched on. With the exception of The Crown on Netflix (which is produced in Britain- and had the good fortune of filming the entire 4th season before the pandemic), the only shows releasing new seasons are the reality TV Shows. These shows (almost exclusively produced outside Hollywood) have seen major upticks in their ratings. The new season of Jersey Shore Family Vacation- which debuts tomorrow- is expected to have its highest ratings in years.
It is important to note that Vaudeville died under very similar circumstances to the circumstances Hollywood faces today. Vaudeville (who was killed by the Spanish Flu and replaced by Hollywood) became a clunky, expensive form of entertainment from the past.
Maintaining a Vaudeville troupe was difficult and every year consumer preferences seemed to shift elsewhere. By 1918, the Spanish Flu drove down audience sizes and it was abundantly clear that Vaudeville’s troubles were not going to be temporary.
Harry Clay, the famous impresario, lost most of his Vaudeville theatres to the pandemic. While Clay’s fortunes did rally years later, he never returned to the heights of the pre-Spanish Flu days before his death in 1925.
Performers like the Marx Brothers and Mae West became Au Fait with film during this time. They learned of film’s creative potential and never returned to Vaudeville once the pandemic passed. Both the Marx Brothers and West chose to use their audience-pull for movie theatres rather than live Vaudeville performances.
As Vaudeville lost its best stars, consumers began to seek out anything but Vaudeville. But at least Vaudville wasn’t seen as morally bankrupt. As Harry Clay proved, some Vaudeville fans were willing to come back when the pandemic subsided- but can the same really be said for Hollywood?
The stars that weren’t tarnished by the #MeToo movement moved on. They have sought their fortunes elsewhere. They connected directly with their audiences via other platforms. Hollywood appears to be the middleman that was cut out.
What is the incentive for stars or fans to come back?