Entertainment and the Fickle Finger of Fate

There has been much hand-wringing over the anemic box office this summer, with receipts near record lows.  This article spells out some of the reasons for why this might be happening, but the last line reveals what most in Hollywood already know:

“The New Hollywood of the ’70s begat the blockbuster age begat the indie rebels of the ’90s begat the superhero globalization of this century. This summer in Hollywood—by turns crass and inspiring, confounding and crystal clear—could trigger a new era. But more likely, it’s business as usual.”

In other words, it reflects the quote that I first read in William Goldman’s Adventures in the Screen Trade, which says that “nobody knows anything.” And when you see the quote in its entirety, it becomes obvious how it applies to entertainment in general, and filmmaking specifically:

“Nobody knows anything. Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work. Every time out it’s a guess — and, if you’re lucky, an educated one.”

I read Goldman’s book before I even moved to Los Angeles, and find myself constantly advising people to read it. I’ve even mentioned it on this blog before. And that’s because it’s a lesson that people need to relearn every few years. The advent of new means of distribution is good news to many in Hollywood, but one bad summer does not a paradigm shift make.

The industry has weathered new technology before. Theater survived the emergence of radio and film, just as they survived television’s rise. Books are still around, and a good storyteller can make a living on podcasts or live events. The core of  entertainment is conveying a narrative that captures the zeitgeist of the moment, and we are in an era of new politics and uncertain times.

What will be the next trend? Well, who knows? If anyone did – with certainty – then they’ll likely get very rich. But we know that’s impossible, so just roll the dice and go with your gut. Just remember this other quote:

“Ambition drives you on, ability certainly helps, but the fickle finger of fate and luck are great things.”

As for that fickle finger, I will never forget when I was going out with a fantastic action thriller set aboard a hijacked airliner… then 9/11 happened. You just never know.

Good luck!

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