Pop Xulture Newsletter 1 - 2/28/22
Welcome to my first Newsletter and thanks to the small group of you who signed up! If you like it, tell your friends and if you love it, tell strangers. Without further ado…
My article The Princess Bride: 35 Years of Story and Twue Wuv was published on Christ and Pop Culture today. This is completely different from the article which you may have seen on Substack. I was excited to talk about different components of Story in the new The Princess Bride piece, but also to talk about the miracle of true love.
The next project I’m working on is tentatively called “Being the Ricardos: Like Lipstick for Chocolate” which I plan to publish on Substack in a week or so. It will be a brief look at the new(ish) film Being the Ricardos and compare different themes like ethics, Jesus, and Alfred Hitchcock.
Thirdly, I’m writing an article for Christ and Pop Culture about the Progressive Insurance commercials where fictional Dr. Rick helps young homeowners from becoming their parents. It will focus on how comedy’s origins influence the ads and what Progressive is doing well (and not so great). This has been fun to research and I’m planning on tying in the idea that the biblical book of Jonah is actually a comedy.
In mid-April 2021 I published “Four Ways to Support the Film Industry in 2021”, an article on Love Thy Nerd. I started writing it in December 2020, pitched it at the tail-end of January but it wasn’t until April that it actually got picked up. The article keeps popping into my mind and I’m wondering how much I (prophetically?) got right. So I’m going to give you the exclusive draft (originally titled “3 Ways to Support Movie Theaters”) that only one other person on earth (the editor) has seen up until now. Then at the end I’ll tell you what I think I got right and wrong. To properly enjoy this, you should probably read the final, published article here, then read below to see how different the two articles are.
EXCLUSIVE ARTICLE: “3 Ways to Support Movie Theaters” by Chris Fogle
In the late 90s and early 2000s my wife worked at a local cineplex with 12 screens. It was my dream come true (except the smell of old popcorn as she crawled into bed at 2a.m.). I’d spend Saturdays going from movie to movie and enjoy staff-only midnight premieres. But when it came to making ends meet, I was in for a surprise.
Recently I enjoyed WIRED’s article, “The Streaming Wars Could Finally End in 2021” … until the end, where I was in for a similar surprise. An analyst’s estimate that “The pandemic cost the worldwide cinema industry $32 billion in lost box office revenue in 2020,” was shocking, but the following line, “It’s possible some theaters may not survive,” was more shocking. But not for the reason you might think.
When my wife was at the theater, the rumor was theaters made no money from ticket sales – only concessions. And that rumor wasn’t too far off. Back in the early 2000s theaters kept around only 20% of ticket sales, by around 2016 theaters were keeping around 40% of ticket sales, which is still reported in 2021. I figured tickets were high because, like every other industry, we were helping to pay overhead like minimum wage and electricity. Nope. No wonder a Snickers is $75.
In the WIRED article Denis Villeneuve, director of the forthcoming Dune, warned that “Streaming… couldn’t sustain the film industry as we know it, and the move to release big tentpoles like Dune[i] on HBO Max may have long-lasting impacts on theaters…” It’s not fair to misrepresent the theater industry as if people will lose their jobs because films aren’t playing. If people stopped ordering popcorn and Cokes, theaters would close. And that’s acting as if a film’s other income sources (merchandising, foreign ticket sales, TV rights, VOD) don’t exist.
We must think critically, not allowing ourselves to be manipulated. I recognize I’m an armchair critic and I can sympathize with Mr. Villeneuve’s frustration, but I think “the film industry as we know it,” must change. The industry should consider if “it’s the end of the world as we know it,” then maybe, like R.E.M, it’s OK to “feel fine.”
2020 forced every organization to be creative, reevaluate, and be flexible. If churches and businesses flexibly became more efficient while working with shrinking profits, why shouldn’t the film industry?
I have several suggestions for studios (such as investing in theaters, trimming salaries, rewarding directors who come in under budget, etc.) as well as asking guilds if unions are really the best way to move forward, among other things. But in reality, you and I are consumers, and the only way a studio will listen to us is by spending money where we want to see change. Here are three actions we can take:
First, reward good storytelling and art. Sure, a guilty pleasure of mine is watching a blockbuster without much plot, but on the rare occasion I go to a theater, it’s to watch Into the Spiderverse. I wait for Angel Has Fallen to move to streaming.
Second, pay for what you watch. If you’re illegally downloading movies or “sharing” a streaming subscription - stop. You don’t have to be a Christian to recognize unethical behavior. I think the anti-piracy ads are lame and yes, studio fat cats are way overpaid. But a worker is worthy of their wage and as the Good Word says, render to Caesar what is Caesars, we should pay for our media. It’s not only clearly black and white to pay for what you consume; your payment is your vote for studios to make more of the things you like.
Third, watch different types of film. Always keep your fandoms but check out indie productions and harder-to-find films too. If you can’t attend a film festival (often a big boon for movie theaters), look up what the fest is showing. Then get the films on your own. Consider cosplaying and posting from these productions to broaden other people’s horizons by, bringing it all together, rewarding good storytelling, art, and having paid for the content you want to see more of.
It’s important for us to know where our money goes and how to support jobs. Hopefully you reward good storytelling and art, pay for what you see, and watch different types of film. And get a $75 Snickers sometimes.
[i] Interestingly, Dune is in the category (sci-fi, adventure, fantasy, superhero) that translates perfectly to foreign box office sales. As Dina Zipin says, “Action and special effects require no translations. They’re easy to understand, whether you’re in Malaysia or Montana” (“How Exactly Do Movies Make Money?” Investopedia, 4/9/20).
[END OF ARTICLE]
What I Got Right and Wrong
I wish I was a Mark Sayers, able to intelligently speak on cultural trends and how they impact our faith in real time. Maybe I was trying to be a herald of truth and prophetic guesstimator on the future of movie theaters. I was definitely sharing my vision for what I hoped theaters and patrons would do.
What I got right: So maybe I am surprised that I got a few things right. If what got me thinking about my article was an incorrect understanding of Villeneuvue’s greed and fear mongering, my true motivation in actually writing was suggesting ethical ways to support and promote beautiful stories. I am proud of the suggestions I gave, although I can’t take all the credit. My editor on this was Joey Thurmond and he gave great feedback. One of my favorites was the idea of a fourth suggestion (did you notice I pitched with three suggestions but published with four?) about impacting social media.
What I got wrong: What started me thinking about writing this article were Denis Villeneuvue’s words about how the industry couldn’t sustain streaming. It frustrated me because I felt he was complaining: We filmmakers won’t be paid millions of dollars if we can’t rip you off for millions of dollars. Later I found out his ability to make Dune’s sequel hinged on the first film’s profits.
Additionally, he believes, “The act of going to the theater means you’re totally committing yourself.” I misjudged Villeneuvue. There’s no shame or greed in wanting to make your passion project and Dune was amazing. As much as I dislike rude people in theaters, I can appreciate the purity of eliminating self-imposed distractions and an inability to pause. Something for me to think about if I ever write another article like this.
Thanks for reading my first Newsletter! I plan for future Newsletters to always include what I’m working on and exclusive content. If you have a favorite article of mine or love a chapter from my book, let me know and I’ll include exclusive content from it in the next Newsletter.
Thanks, in Him,
-Chris (the Bearded Wonder) Fogle