Hollywood Exercises (FREE)
1. Hollywood is always looking for new ways to make more money, and exporting American TV shows has become big business, last year generating about $8 billion in revenue. In addition, shipping American movies overseas has also fueled much of Hollywood’s recent growth. Where foreign receipts were once only an afterthought, today they can account for half—or more—of the total gross of box office sales. It is not surprising, then, that selling Hollywood movies abroad has influenced how they are made at home. In fact, foreign viewership is a major factor in the explosion of big-budget, high-concept action movies (which are easier to sell in Europe and Asia) over the last 25 years. It would appear, then, that much more is going on than just expansion of markets for American movies. What we are witnessing is how the globalization of the entertainment industry is becoming a two-way street.
2. Instead of a unidirectional process by which America distributes finished entertainment products around the world, we are now seeing more bidirectional collaboration as other countries’ ideas come to Hollywood and influence the creation of those entertainment products. About a decade ago, Hollywood began to rely heavily on importing concepts from foreign TV shows and movies, and remaking them in America. On the small screen, this meant importing and remaking shows such as Survivor, Big Brother, and The Office. Likewise, foreign movies, such as Insomnia, Dark Water, and The Grudge were remade by American studios. As a sign of how successful this model of production has become, consider that the Academy Award winner for best picture in 2007, The Departed, was a remake of the 2002 Hong Kong movie Infernal Affairs and that American Idol, which Jeff Zucker recently called “the most impactful show in the history of television,” began as a British show called Pop Idol.
3. This trend began as a simple business decision. Entertainment executives, always looking to divine signs that a product will succeed, latched onto the idea of buying properties that a foreign director had already paid to produce and that audiences had already validated. In other words, they decided to treat foreign markets, such as the Netherlands, or Britain, or Japan, like giant focus groups. Consider the case of The Ring. The original movie, Ringu, was made in Japan for $1.2 million. It was a success over there, taking in $6.6 million. DreamWorks, an American movie studio, paid a (relatively) nominal fee to buy the rights to the property, and then remade it for $40 million. It made $129 million in America and $120 million overseas, including, oddly enough, $14 million in Japan.
4. The remake game is not new. [A] For instance, John Sturges’ 1960 movie The Magnificent Seven was a retelling of the Japanese masterpiece The Seven Samurai, and All in the Family was based on the British series Til Death Do Us Part. [B] The American TV show Desperate Housewives will be remade in Ecuador; The Nanny, the long-canceled Fran Drescher sitcom, is set to be remade in Indonesia next fall. [C] All of which is to say that globalization, at least in the entertainment industry, is evolving to include not just pre-made products, but ideas, formulas and syntax. [D] This is an encouraging development. At least these programs will star actors from their own country instead of Americans and will be made, written, directed, and produced by the native people of the country in which they are made.
5. Of course, it is possible to ascribe too much presence of mind to the entertainment industry. In a 2003 article on the remaking of Japanese movies, Tad Friend reported that, in 2001, Miramax executives purchased the rights to a Japanese kung-fu comedy called My Wife Is a Gangster after seeing a tape of the movie that did not even have subtitles. The producer who brokered the deal bragged that they bought it “without even knowing what the characters were talking about.” Nonetheless, the evolution is a reminder that systems are complex; even when change is expected, it is often unpredictable. “Globalization” has become one of the mantras of our day, but it is a process, not a thing. And none of us yet knows where it may lead.