I believe this is the 25th year I have written this Thanksgiving, as in the first year of The Hot Button, I was maxed at 250 words (maybe even a character count). And with all the ups and downs of life, I still find myself grateful every year.
When this all started online in 1997, my guess is that I would have ended or been ended at Entertainment Weekly within a year or two. I was not what they wanted, really. And I am too stubborn. But the late great Andy Jones found me at ShoWest and recruited me and roughcut.com paid me nicely to do a weekly online. After my father passed, I decided to do what I wanted, which was the daily column, which was the first of its kind. There were no blogs. There were no online newsletters. Just Army Archer’s daily gossip sheet in Variety.
There was also no money for my new daily in the roughcut.com budget, so I did it for free for the first 5 months. I poked a lot of bears. But Scot Safon, who was in charge of the site for TNT cable, supported me every time. In 1998, I started getting paid. The tech allowed for a 2000-word daily column. And I was off to the races. Scot really made it a safe place for me to try to be truthful. I couldn’t be more thankful. He allowed me a home.
I am thankful for my health, even as I work through The COVID. My immediate family made it through 2 years and 8 months without getting it. My wife was a stickler. My kid managed to attend school - first with masks, now without - for a full school year and 6 months between 2 other school years. And of course, we have been vaccinated now.
Always thanks to the family… Heather and Cameron. And my sisters. And the parade of “kids.”
My ongoing thanks to the iconoclastic filmmakers, at every level. I may hate some of your movies. I surely love others. But the commitment to vision is everything. If you all matched my tastes, it would mean that I had no taste. (There are places where that could make me a top critic! Ha! I thank them, while I am at is, for keeping the muscles that roll my eyes in tip top shape.) This year, 2 of The 3 Amigos made movies for Netflix… one was really for no one but himself and the other made a movie for almost everyone (some of whom will leave crying). But I celebrate both of them getting their visions on a screen… any screen. Babylon is batshit crazy at times… but god bless Damien Chazelle for going all the way. I guess we have gotten used to A24 giving a place for the Daniels to make something like Everything Everywhere All At Once, but let’s not lose perspective on the giant degree of fearless ambition that this takes. The Northman was at Focus, but A24 platformed Robert Eggers and with a little extra studio money, the man went deeper than deep, love it or hate it. (I love it.)
Thanks to all the documentarians out there, doing what they do. No doubt, some of these doc series are way to drawn out into multiple episodes that are not the best choice for storytelling. But damn… some of you are digging so deep. Every year, filmmakers make personal films, obviously. But this year, movies like Stutz and Sr. and Last Flight Home have drawn in the filmmakers and their families in a different way, much as the magnificent Kirsten Johnson did in Dick Johnson is Dead in 2020. But that is just one flavor of documentary. The seeking of truth is a hard, hard road. Thanks for riding it.
Thanks for coming back, Bob I. You have the opportunity of a lifetime. To be able to have watched the ups and downs of the creation of and conversion to streaming and then, years into the process, to come in and clean up the mess, is the best or worst set-up you have ever had in this industry. It’s not a black and white thing. It’s all judgement. It’s all The Big Swing. But if in 2 years, Disney is the hottest force in streaming, you will have changed the world for the entire industry. You also have a big role to play in the future of theatrical distribution. And if you don’t work it all out, there will be a not-very-nice book or three. I hope you can create the win. Because no one else has this level of opportunity. And it will be at least a generation before anyone has it again. Best of luck.
Thank you, Todd Fields, for coming back. 16 years is a long time. Your last movie, Little Children, was released by New Line, which is just a brand at Warners for now (even more so with Toby out the door and Michael Lynne and Mitch Goldman now passed). Phyllis Somerville is gone… but you kickstarted her career in her early 60s and we got to see more of her great work as a result. Patrick Wilson, somehow, hasn’t aged a day. Yours was also the movie for which I did my first video interview, with Jackie Earle Haley. Sadly, that is gone too, as the company I worked with was shockingly irresponsible with content. But you and I had a number of chats about your work and about Kubrick and you hung out with the coolest people on earth. Your disappearance wasn’t a surprise, really, but have been missed. I am glad your movie irritates people. But I am glad to be able to appreciate it and its nuances and will be watching it again this week. Do what you will, but I will be thankful if you don’t stay away for quite so long this time.
I thank industry publicists, with whom my relationship has certainly changed over the decades. They are, essentially, the defense attorneys of the industry. Everyone needs one when the heat is on, but they get blamed for so much that is just doing their jobs. It’s a hard gig. And yeah, they have closed the gates in a lot of new ways over the decades. But they really are partners with journalism in this industry. And over time, they have become more trustworthy than the press, as they are not really hiding their intentions as so many outlets - more so than the actually writers - now do.
I thank Universal, for at least being consistent. I think the entire industry would be better off on every level with a 60-day post-theatrical-launch window for everyone and everything, only expanded as needed. 45 days just doesn’t sound like enough to think of there being any separation at all, even though it is fair to say that in a majority of cases, the first 24 days really is the meat of the theatrical revenue opportunity. But it’s not about that. That said… in an industry of everyone freelancing left and right and confusing the audiences so much that it is small miracle that the box office has recovered as much as it has, at least Universal set up a system and has - with few exceptions - stuck to it. Plus… 19 new releases this year. So deepest thanks for that. (I really enjoyed Puss in Boots, by the way… their closer in December.)
I thank Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers doing “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off” on a bench in Shall We Dance, as they lace on their roller skates… which means that after the song, there will be a dance, on skates. 1937. And still a joy. I watch my kid watch YouTube or I look at Tik Tok and I realize that these channels are full of weak versions of this same kind of material. Put these two in color and on Tik Tok and they would have 5 million followers in a week. I know, black and white and old scares the kids. But thanks to Fred & Ginger for the reminder (on in the background as I write) that things rarely change as much as we imagine.
I am thankful that some journalists can distinguish between a discussion of their work and a discussion about who they are. I have made a real effort this last year to simply not go down the rabbit hole with writers who I think are irresponsible. But there are plenty of writers whose work I like and whom I like personally who sometimes hit a sour note with me. Happens. They can disagree with me too. Perhaps their stingers are not as sharp. I have a deep belief that misinformation gets repeated and repeated and lies turn into a sense of truth and this leads to terrible decisions, often by very smart people. So I can be a brute. And that angle fails most of the time too. But fight I must. And to make up, I always wish. (well, almost always) I will be thankful if I can become even more clear on this in time.
Thank you, Amazon, for deciding - after dragging their feet for a long time now - that they are still going to be in the theatrical business. Someone decided to float the news to Lucas Shaw, which tells you that they need to rethink some of this, as he works behind a paywall. But he writes what they tell him to and the news slid out to others and the truth is, the details are still unsettled and irrelevant. The news is that they are not going to regress into streaming only, as they mostly have for their indie-level “film” efforts. (This award season, the MGM/UA/Orion division is still pushing a few titles hard and Amazon itself is pushing Thirteen Lives.) The story is, they are committing a billion. There are a lot of ways to spend a billion dollars. Paramount has had a theatrical year to crow about spending roughly $600 million in production this year. But committing a billion to production probably means committing about $1.5 billion in marketing too. (Hi, Sue Kroll!) And it is likely to produce a slate that goes high and low, which is - more than more mega-movies - what exhibition so desperately needs.
Fans looking for a better level of thrills must thank Scott Derrickson, Zach Cregger, and Ti West for looking all the way back and all the way forward in making their films this year. Horror is a genre that often gets shunted to a side, even as its commercial values are embraced. But when it is also art, in a real way, it’s all the more exciting. It’s not just that these guys have high levels of craft. They pushed audiences to feel something real even before pushing their creep buttons. Thank you all.
And of course, I thank every single one of you reading this. I can only do part of the work. Having it read is as important as my writing it. I am not 1/10th the self-promoter that other newsletter organizations are. (That’s not an insult.) But I have realized in the last 13 months or so of doing this that I truly love what I am doing. I have the space and the time to think. Every day is a new exploration into a business I love.
I know it gets a little dense for a lot of you some days… but you should see what doesn’t end up on the page. (Oy!) I’d like more subscribers and, now that I have gone the pay route, I would love a higher percentage of paid subscribers. But the real thing is being able to sustain the work. So there will be some awards ads in the next months. But my advertisers will be as respectful of you as I also intend to be. I thank them deeply for their support because it, too, is part of sustaining the work and my life.
Thank you all. Have a wonderful holiday.
David, I’ve followed you since Movie City News and I had Movieline International. All in all I agree with you more than not. I do respect your determination to be a voice in our industry just as I relate to distribution and exhibition. May you continue along your career path ￼with much success. Keep in touch.
I’ve enjoyed your annual Thanksgiving piece for what seems like decades. And thanks for putting a smile on my face with the hat tip to Andy Jones. After all these years, he’s still greatly missed. Best to you and yours.