John Landis Slams Hollywood Studio Movies

Giving an address at the Mar del Plata Film Festival in Argentina, filmmaker John Landis (“Coming to America,” “Trading Places”) talked at length about the modern movie business.

In a transcript up at THR, he let loose a huge amount of frustration and anger about how the business has changed. It’s a lengthy speech, but it makes for an interesting read:

“Some of us were very lucky. I started to make movies for the studios in the ’70s. They were dying, but at least they were still studios.

There are no original ideas. What there is — and this is something no one understands — is that it is never about the idea, it is about the execution of the idea. The film studios are all now subdivisions of huge multinational corporations.

Time Warner, British Petroleum, Sony — these aren’t companies, they are f*cking nations. They are these giant international things that don’t pay taxes. It’s ridiculous. They’re like pirates. It really has to do with desperation, because they don’t know how to get people into the theaters, so they bring back 3D and make all this kind of sh-t.

It’s very common now to spend more money selling a movie than making a movie. So the reason they make remakes and sequels is because they’re brands, like Coca Cola.

They remake movies because they have presold titles. It’s tragic, because you have things like Tobe Hooper’s ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,’ which is a brilliant movie, and yet the remakes have made a lot more money.”

When I did ‘Animal House,’ I could point at the studio and tell you who owned it: Lew Wasserman was Universal, David Begelman was Columbia, Arthur Krim was United Artists, Steve Ross was Warner Brothers.

I don’t know who owns these companies now. There are no individuals who say, ‘Sure, I’ll take a risk.’ Because the risks are now huge. Many of my movies made more money the second, third, or fourth week, because we used to have what we call word of mouth. Now if a movie doesn’t make money its first two days, you’re f*cked!”

He’s not completely negative, praising modern cable TV series because “they can afford to take the risk”. He also says good films are still being made, it’s just that they are tougher to find:

“There will always be good movies being made. It’s just harder and harder to see them. And the studios are no longer interested in making good movies — they’re interested in movies that will bring you in.

So you have movies like ‘Avatar,’ or Alfonso Cuaron’s ‘Gravity.’ It’s wonderful to look at. Now, is it a good movie? No! But it’s entertaining, and it’s a spectacle and technically astonishing.”

He also has some stern words on the issue of piracy:

“One of the problems with the Internet that no one has solved is that for YouTube, Google, Yahoo to exist, they thrive on piracy. They must steal intellectual property; they’re like vampires. So how do you fight that?

Now there are generations worldwide who believe that when they’re downloading something for free, it’s not theft. It doesn’t even occur to them, so intellectual property has become nothing. You used to be able to write a book, or do a piece, and it was yours, but now you’re raped continuously. It’s very complicated, and I don’t have any answers.

Everything is changing. Steve Jobs destroyed the music industry. He decided a song is worth 20 cents, just like that. (Snaps his fingers.) Boom. Destroyed. So everything has changed. There are no villains here. No one has the handle on it. I understand why they’re scared. All their decisions are based on fear.”