What's Happening to Hollywood? Profit is trying to push art out of the theater. The movie business has become so brisk that even a box-office bomb can turn a profit. And why risk a huge artistic success when you can have a modest financial one?m
"No, no. We're for real. Believe me, this is not an illusion." Sid Ganis laughed at a visitor's suggestion that other members of his industry consider the "Egg Company" an exception, a temporary aberration. The interior of his office tends to confirm his lighthearted denial: A tasteful and expensive combination of high tech and plush, it overlooks the huge, skylight-covered courtyard that the Egg Company seems to grow out of. Lots of brick, lots of wood (oak), and plants everywhere.Skip to next paragraph
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The bearded Mr. Ganis is senior vice-president at Lucasfilm -- a.k.a. the Egg Company -- the offspring of George Lucas. In an industry where a 25 percent success rate is considered good, George Lucas and company have scored four out of four, including the biggest moneymaking picture of all time, "Star Wars," and "The Empire Strikes Back," which has sold over $180 million owrth of tickets to date. (The other two are "American Graffiti," another hit, and "More American Graffiti," which merely did all right.)
Wedged comfortably into the corner of a wonderfully overstuffed couch, feet on the coffee table, Mr. Ganis has the distinct and seldom long-lived privilege of looking out on the motion picture industry from the top. His building bears the name Egg Company only to keep away the thousands of tourists that drive by it every day as they turn into the "lot" across the street, Universal Studios, for the daily tours. This unassuming brick office building, however, is where the action is.
A number of studio executives in Hollywood prefer to regard George Lucas as "the exception" or an "aberration," since most of them are having a hard time even approaching his success. And in the sense that blockbusting pictures such as "Star Wars" and "The Empire Strikes Back" have always come few and far between, George Lucas is an exception. According to Mr. Ganis and a few other rising powers in the industry, though, the fact that "The Empire Strikes Back" was a critical success, that it offered moviegoers something original and imaginative, that it was made skillfully, makes the film's commercial success no fluke. They also consider it no accident that, by contrast, much of the rest of the industry chalked up dismal box office and critical performances last summer, a period that normally produces the lion's share of annual business.
Most of the motion picture industry shows every sign of being stuck in neutral with its engine racing at full throttle.
There are some vague rumblings coming from deep in the Hollywood machine. The financial picture -- the way the motion picture industry does business -- is changing rapidly, and the creative picture -- how the industry makes movies -- is being challenged by a small but powerful group of filmmakers.
The most significant change of direction for Hollywood is its reliance on independent production companies, what some are calling the "New Hollywood," for films. The big studios, increasingly, are settling back into the role of financer and distributor, instead of initiating film projects themselves. In 1979, independents came up with 60 to 70 percent of the films that fed the major studios' distribution networks.
In most cases, the independents' way of making movies turns up as a paler, smaller version of the way the studios make them. However, a small but powerful group of independents is more willing to take risks, an element they feel is crucial to quality filmmaking, and an element they feel the big studios have lost. Mr. Lucas is one of this small group, as is Francis Ford Coppola ("Apocalypse Now," "The Godfather," "The Godfather, Part Two"), and Alan Ladd Jr., president and co-founder of the Ladd Company.