MTV FILMS' FUTURE IN FLUX Image

MTV FILMS' FUTURE IN FLUX

By Admin | December 5, 2005

Daniel Alter, otherwise known as the first guy in line for The Phantom Menace at the Mann’s Village Theatre in Westwood (as documented in the film Starwoids), as well as producer of upcoming video game adaptation “Hitman,” has a few things to say about the past, present and future of MTV Films and he has done so in an email we received from him this weekend. Here is what that email contained:

Some of you know me. So of you know who I am. And for others… well, its nice to meet you. Maybe this is career suicide. Or at least, I possibly won’t be doing anything in the near future at Paramount. Certainly not MTV Films with the current regime. But sometimes, things need to be said…

These days, during a discussion about Paramount, be it at a meeting on the lot, reading an article about the studio, or having lunch with an executive who works there, the subject of the “new” Paramount often comes up. When you talk to anyone in town, not only do you hear of the recent regime changes, but also that there is a mandate to make younger, more urban skewing films. The supposed crown jewel at “The Mountain” to reach this audience is a direct result of the synergy provided by parent company Viacom happening to own the MTV network. And their MTV Films shingle, based on the lot, is becoming a more prolific supplier. But as the production banner celebrates its 10-year anniversary this coming summer, what mark have they made on pop culture?

At 23 years old and as a part of generation Y, I am a producer working in Hollywood. I love movies. In-fact, I see virtually every major release in the theater and have done so since I was a kid. This past Friday, I saw what I thought was one of the worst films of the year, a big-budget sci-fi/action-adventure picture starring Charlize Theron (in a role she was paid 10 million for) entitled AEON FLUX. But I took particular offense with this feature because of the MTV Films logo that followed Paramount’s before it started.

This was the fifth picture released this year bearing the MTV Films insignia, and the third disappointment in a row. Prior to that, Paramount released what was actually MTV Films’ highest grossing film to date, THE LONGEST YARD. But let’s be honest, any studio in town distributing the same movie would have reaped an equivalent box office take from a high-concept Adam Sandler-Chris Rock vehicle. We have to go back to the beginning of the year and examine the January release of COACH CARTER to really see what MTV Films has done best over the years. By promoting a film using their brand (and the network), they are in-turn helping Paramount to open it to better numbers than it would have were it put out by any of their rivals.
Flash back to 1996 with their debut film, JOE’S APARTMENT. A forgettable flop that nobody remembers. In fact, most people think
their first feature was the December ’96 release, BEAVIS AND BUTTHEAD DO AMERICA. No doubt a success. But on that same weekend, another film was playing in theatres. A low-budget horror film entitled SCREAM. 1996, if you remember, was the year the independents went on to reign at the Academy Awards. Several months later, when SCREAM won best movie at the MTV Movie Awards, Wes Craven accepted a Golden Popcorn Bucket and thanked MTV for putting on an awards show that celebrates movies people actually want to see. What is ironic about this is that it would take 8 years for an MTV Films production to win an MTV Movie Award for best movie. And when they finally did, it was for a film that the production company had no involvement in developing or producing. Fox Searchlight had simply sought them out to co-distribute NAPOLEON DYNAMITE in an effort to reach the target demographic.
After the success of SCREAM, Hollywood scrambled to make modestly low budget horror films, plucking stars from WB shows. MTV Films was noticeably absent from this wave. What is more, it was the producer of slasher pics like I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER and URBAN LEGEND, Neal Moritz, who went on to make what should have been MTV Films productions such as FAST AND THE FURIOUS and XXX.

The film released in 1999 that went on to win at the next year’s MTV Movie Awards was THE MATRIX. According to MTV Films, at that time, Paramount would not have empowered them to make a picture on that scale back then (though it seems AEON FLUX was an attempt to do something in that genre now). But in summer ’99, when I was 17, the teen phenomenons were AMERICAN PIE and THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. MTV Films’ offerings that summer were ELECTION and THE WOOD. While I am a huge fan of Alexander Payne, use my initial reaction when I originally saw ELECTION as an example of the target demos’ reaction to the picture. I didn’t respond to the picture at that time, and I think that’s because I was still in high school. Someone else I knew twice my age told me that when I was older, I would appreciate the movie. And indeed, every year I grow more found of the picture. It is both an intelligent and funny look at high school. But it is a film made for art house/adult audiences to enjoy as they look back on their high school experience. And if anything, the MTV Films banner may have turned some of those people off.

Everyone makes mistakes. What’s done is done. Remember, it’s a new Paramount. But MTV Films hasn’t gone through the same shake-up. In fact, they blame the old Paramount regime for not letting them take the gloves off and spread their wings. That’s one way to look at it. But then why were Ron Yerxa and Albert Berger, the partners in Bona Fide productions who made ELECTION and THE WOOD with MTV Films, recently granted a first-look deal at Paramount via MTV Films? I doubt Paramount is counting on the MTV shingle to produce them movies like THE ICE HARVEST and BEE SEASON?

Early this year at Sundance, as the new Paramount was taking shape, MTV films won a bidding war to distribute HUSTLE & FLOW. I think it’s been an amazing year for Terrence Howard and hope he’s rewarded with an Oscar nomination for his work. I also think Craig Brewer is an exciting new voice and look forward to his future endeavors. But why was HUSTLE & FLOW promoted, marketed, and released by Paramount with the MTV Films banner when it was John Singleton’s other production (the one he directed which starred teen-beat Musicians turned actors Mark Wahlberg and Tyrese Gibson) entitled FOUR BROTHERS, that had more appeal to the young, urban, crowd. Speaking of which, did anyone see GET RICH OR DIE TRYIN? Certainly not as many people who saw 8 MILE, the all too obvious impetus to make a semi-autobiographical film based on the life of 50 Cent. One of the things I love about MTV (the network) is that they don’t follow trends; they set them. Where as the Eminem bipoic tapped into the cultural zeitgeist and felt fresh, making a movie about Curtis Jackson’s life-story was an obvious attempt to jump on the bandwagon and cash in. They even felt they had to employ an unusual director choice in Jim Sheridan to compete with the highbrow pedigree that Curtis had brought to his picture.

MTV is a brand. As far as I’m concerned, the advantage that Disney has with children and family fare is similar to the one that Paramount has with young and urban crowds if they use that banner. But if they really want to transcend beyond being a marketing tool, they need to make films that speak to their audience. Not movies that serve someone else’s agenda. It’s not a vanity production company. It’s an exploitable resource for a publicly held media conglomerate. According to boxofficemojo.com, after having been involved in producing and/or co-distributing 24 pictures, the average gross of an MTV Films release is under 35 million. They’ve had their successes with movies like the aforementioned COACH CARTER, as well as SAVE THE LAST DANCE, ORANGE COUNTY, and VARSITY BLUES. Again, the marketing power inherent with that logo and the cross-promotion on the network allows these films to open bigger for Paramount than they would have had they been released by any other studio in town. And as I look at the future slate, I’m not encouraged at the mixed bag.

There’s genre fare based on comic books and video-games like DAMNATION and THE SUFFERING in-development. They both sound like promising projects, but any studio/production company could do this well with the same results. What value does MTV add to the package? There’s an untitled Kirsten Dunst project in-development about the true story of a relief worker who advocates for Iraqi and Afghani victims of the American-led invasions of their respective countries. Sounds like it could be an important film. I don’t know if kids who watch PUNK’d will flock to see it, though. In fact, like ELECTION, the MTV brand might turn off older, art house audiences. Maybe opposed to giving Bona Fide a production pact, they might have tried to woo Ashton Kutcher and his producing partner. It seems to me that films like JUST MARRIED, BUTTERFLY EFFECT, and GUESS WHO would’ve been more appropriate MTV Films productions. Mary J Blige just signed on to star in an untitled Nina Simone biopic. With RAY and WALK THE LINE having been successes, I guess that makes sense. But are kids really powering those films?

I think there’s some good stuff in-development like VALIANT and COCKBLOCKERS. But in an era of branding, where films with built-in fan bases are fast-tracked, and opening weekends are more important than ever as movies have huge drops in their sophomore frames, MTV Films is a conduit for original material to compete in a crowded marketplace. The opportunities afforded by the brand and the cross promotional synergy with the network are undeniable. So when I see AEON FLUX or HUSTLE & FLOW, all I can think about is that these should’ve been THE MATRIX or FAST AND THE FURIOUS!

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