"Breaking In" and Celebrity Obsession
That's it! I've had it with Hollywood!
Actually, not really. And by the way nothing wrong with this movie. 2018's Breaking In, starring Gabrielle Union — which I saw in theaters courtesy of Moviepass — is a solid genre flick. It's directed by James McTeigue, who's from the Wachowski Bros world.
During the movie I kept having other thoughts, not exactly related to Breaking In, but somewhat. It has to do with celebrities & theatrically released films.
The idea is simple: When I was a kid, I first identified with movies through the actors (unaware of the roles of the other people on a production). As I learned more about filmmaker, I found my natural place as a director. However I now see this affected how I looked at films.
I naively believed that the movies in theaters were popular for a multitude of reasons. Some of the reasons were the plot, gimmick, genre, celebrities, advertising campaign, director, awards received, controversy, right story right time, etc.
Around this period, I was also working at a movie theater in Miami. I was a projectionist for over half a year... AMC certified lol. Would also rip tickets on some shifts, which I enjoyed. I'd stand there trying to guess who was going to what. It was tricky at first but you catch on. And then patterns emerge. One of the things I noticed is that a lot of regular, average moviegoers (which are most people!) went to the movies to see their favorite celebrities.
It's like they were intimately tied to this celebrity figure.
I'd hear people talk about Tom Cruise or Nicolas Cage like they're sport teams, or family members. Since even then I was an independent filmmaker, I scoffed at such celebrity obsession — and thought of ways to subvert this desire to see the faces of recognizable rich millionaires on the screen. I accepted the reality of celebrity obsession... but felt there must be other ways to get distributed, to become successful as a filmmaker.
For the next decade I studied all of cinema, psychoanalysis, aesthetic philosophy, crowd psychology, entertainment economics, propaganda, intellectual property, and world history. With my research, practice, and reflection I was searching for the bottom of a thought-well.
For many years I held onto theories of independent cinema that involved internet virality, piracy, and the resurgence of exploitation cinema as a business model. My senses were leading me in a mystical direction into cracking the code of cinema.
And you know what? I did crack the fucking code of cinema. It's not a complicated medium. It's just hard to make.
But it's not what I wanted to hear... and it's also, interestingly, the most beautiful thing.
Because it's 2 things: One optimistic, one cynical. A duality? Sure. Why not?
Cinema in its Optimistic Mode is a creative force capturing forever rare & precious moments of existence. The more rare, the more precious — the better the cinema.
Cinema in its Cynical Mode is an economic engine driven by celebrity obsession.
That's it. Period. End of sentence. Walk away. Those are all the secrets of cinema.
All those people I overheard in the movies theaters, while I ripped their tickets, about how they loved so-and-so, or would assign their friends as various celebrity characters, or simply mention they see every movie that so-and-so is in... All those people coming to the movies to watch their favorite celebrities?
THAT IS WHY PEOPLE GO TO THE MOVIES!
TO SEE THEIR FAVORITE CELEBRITIES!
Nobody will ever get their movie distributed nationally unless it has celebrities.
The same applies to independent / art house cinema. The caveat there is that the director has an opportunity to become a celebrity in their own right. When the director also becomes a celebrity, the movie's aura gets an extra layer of intrigue as a public fetish object to behold.
All of the movies that were distributed across the country which were independent runaway hits or had no celebrities in them at all (Blair Witch Project, Napoleon Dynamite, Paranormal Activity, etc) were flukes! FLUKES! And many of them are horror. These "runaway hits" are micro-irregularities in comparison to the size of the entire movie enterprise.
It's easy to think it's possible, from a different approach, to recreate the success of these low-budget no-celebrity runaway hits. But it's not possible!
Or, I should say probable but highly unlikely. There are smarter ways to make movies.
Perhaps you're the person who's going to figure out how to make an incredible feature film that gets worldwide distribution and makes millions of dollars, and was made on a low-budget with no celebrities. It's happened before, it'll happen again, probably many times over. There are many future trends to be discovered.
What I'm suggesting is that the movie machine is predominantly set in one direction — that of celebrity obsession. Anything that differs in appearance is a slight modification of the movie machine, or an anomaly. These examples should not be studied as typical.
Movie theater economics are directly tied to celebrity in the movie. It's all that matters, really. Nothing else about the movie matters. Everything other aspect of filmmaking is technically replaceable. But the star is the rare thing.
They are also vivid aspects of our inner archetypes who're living an ultimate earthly existence which we experience vicariously through our identification with them. We may not ever live an ultimate life, possibly not even a good life. But by looking toward these celebrity figures, these stars in the cultural sky, we can experience a life adventure not of our own, but feeling a lot like our own. This is why people will literally pay to see their favorite celebrities on screen. In fact, that's what they pay for. That is media.
How one acquires fame, and the nature of fame itself, is a subject for another time.
So if you want to make money as a filmmaker, it seems obvious now what to do...