The vision of a tent-pole has changed over the years.
At first, tent-poles were just individual blockbusters. The blockbuster originated with Jaws and Star Wars. The idea was to earn a ton of box-office money, but also merchandising money. We're talking soundtracks, backpacks, t-shirts, toys, lunch boxes. You'd maybe have a sequel or two, like Ghostbusters led to Ghostbusters II, and Back to the Future led to Back to the Future Part II.
Heading into the 21st century, the tent-pole revolutionized and became about franchises. Individual movies were still blockbusters, but studios began seeing the potential to create -ologies (usually trilogies)--a SERIES of blockbusters. We can highlight the difference in strategy by comparing the first set of Batman movies with the second.
Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever, and Batman & Robin. In four films we have three actors playing Batman. And the films don't really relate to each other, it's not like characters in Forever refer to events regarding the Penguin in Returns. Whereas in Nolan's trilogy--Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises--relationships and actions in the first movie build into the second movie and culminate in the third movie. The films are strung together in a way to create one big story.
The 21st century has given us: the Harry Potter franchise, the Lord of the Rings franchise, the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, the Spider-Man franchise, the Transformers franchise, the X-men franchise, the Toy Story franchise, the Matrix franchise, the Bourne franchise. With the key thing being story continuity. Where as something like the Jaws franchise lacks the narrative cohesion and direction of the previous named films. The Halloween franchise was, in its narrative structure, ahead of its time, but probably mishandled (the first film came out in 78, the second in 81, the third in 82, the fourth in 88, and the fifth in 89, then the sixth not until 1995 and this erased films 3-5, the seventh in 98, and the either in 2002, then the series was rebooted in 2007 and re-abandoned in 2009. But films 1-5 really were fleshing out the story.).
Now you see what Marvel did with The Avengers. This "Phase" strategy is, to me, the culmination of the tent-pole 2.0 format. You give individual characters their own films and then bring them together in one gigantic crossover. Marvel really did make a circus out of it.
So where do you go from here? Let me tell you a little about tent-pole 3.0.
Director: Rich Moore
I'm gonna wreck it!: John C. Reilly
Great voice: Sarah Silverman
Does the same thing over and over and over again: Jack McBrayer
Does the same thing over and over and over and over again: Jane Lynch
Great scott! what a good job!: Alan Tudyk
I also like her voice: Mindy Kaling
Zangief: Rich Moore
Cool pay-check: Adam Carrola and Horatio Sanz
I didn't think it sounded anything like Ed O'Neill: Ed O'Neill
What It's Good For:
-a hot Jane Lynch?
-people who never tire of Jack McBrayer playing the ever-polite do-gooder
-people who get a kick out of seeing Sonic make a douchy PSA
-has a dinosaur
-standard monomyth plot that we've seen 1,000,000 times, so predictable
-Jack McBrayer does the same thing he always does
-limited use of well known video game characters, so maybe not what you're hoping for or expecting
Okay, so there is no tent-pole 3.0 yet. But, while watching Wreck-it Ralph I couldn't help but see what tent-pole 3.0 could be. Sort of like when the detective in V for Vendetta can see how things connect.
The first and second iterations of the tent-pole saw a focus on a single product. "Oh, hey, look how popular Lord of the Rings is! Let's release toys! Legolas backpacks! The soundtrack! Video games!" We saw the world of the film devoured by various mediums and recreated. LEGO LORD OF THE RINGS! Halloween costumes. Shirts. Jewelry. Etc. etc. etc.
Visually, you can picture a square, and the square is labeled "Lord of the Rings" and the studio attempts to shove as much stuff into this square as possible. Or, rather than a square, you can picture a circus tent.
But we live in a hypertext age. On almost every webpage you'll find links to similar stories, related videos--in this inquiry I've already linked to two articles and two YouTube videos. Everything on the Internet leads to something else. And that's the kind of world we're developing, one that is interconnective. Visually, instead of one square, picture a street map of NYC, then zoom out further, so you see NE America and eastern Canada. And further, so we have all of North America. And further. That's the kind of scope we're talking about.
So the term "tent-pole" shouldn't really even apply.
Tent-pole 3.0 is the death of the tent-pole, and the birth of the City.
You could designate the old model of thinking, the tent-pole strategy, as a "block". So Wreck-it Ralph constitutes a block, and everything regarding Wreck-it Ralph belongs to that block. Toys. Comic books. Hats. Video games. etc.
What a studio should now do though is look into hypertextual connections to the films they create. In other words, instead of creating one block, you create multiple blocks, expanding out in every direction. Some films may only generate a town the size of...Grand Rapids. or Cleveland. You could go smaller, the size of Park City. Or larger: Budapest. Or larger: London. Or larger: Mumbai.
An early model for the "City" concept is the DVD and Blu-ray special features.
Check out the special features on the Blu-ray of Kurosawa's Ran.
-"Art of the Samurai": Interview with a Japanese Art-of-War Expert
-"Akira Kurosawa: The Epic and the Intimate": Documentary on the Director
-"A.K.": Feature-Length Documentary from Director Chris Marker
-"The Samurai": Documentary on Samurai Art
Do you see what I mean? Here we have the movie itself, but we also have information about Japanese warfare, information about the film's director, and information about art created by samurai. The features aren't just commentary on the movie or still-scenes of the movie or deleted stuff. We're moving AWAY from the movie by exploring these other elements. But because these elements are facets of the movie, we're also moving INTO the film.
Movies are, obviously, influential. We quote movies ("You know I don't speak Spanish.". We learn from them (The Lion King, like a lot of movies, has a moral lesson. In this case it's: "you can't run from your past, you can't pretend to be someone you're not. If you're not responsible, the people you love can suffer."). We discuss them (see this website). When a movie comes out, it comes out ALL OVER THE WORLD. There may be gigantic cultural differences between someone from Louisiana and someone from Russia, but both could love the same movies--discussing movies could bridge the gap between these two people and create a friendship.
Movies about mobsters generated increased interest in mobsters (see the 1990s). Movies about superheroes have generated increased interest in superheroes (see the last decade). When Titanic came out, more people were discussing the actual S.S. Titanic. When Avatar came out, people discussed eco-awareness.
Wreck-it Ralph will create interest in arcade games. There are kids who are going to wonder what the hell a Q*bert is.
A tent-pole mindset is limiting, because everything has to have a direct connection to the movie. So while Ralph creates interest in arcade games, tent-pole theory determines the only way to capitalize is to create a Ralph based game. What about City theory?
City theory would say: open an arcade.
"But arcades have practically vanished! They're not popular anymore! Why do something that won't generate that much money?"
My response to that: why make Jonah Hex? But that doesn't really address the business problem of arcades failing. Arcades aren't as popular as they were in the early 90s. But look at fashion. Leggings were popular. Then they were not. Then for the last few years they've been popular again. In another few years/months/days they'll be out of style again (I think they already are). Interest in arcades may have dropped. But Ralph will stir up arcade interest. Do you know why arcades went out of business to begin with? Maybe independent arcade owners couldn't afford prime retail space (near areas where teens and 20-somethings gather), or afford the newest games? Fortunately, movie studios can.
Movie studios could even create NEW arcade games. Original games or games based on other films. Could you imagine a Looper arcade game?
But where else can you go from Ralph? The possibilities are nearly endless. A documentary about the history of the arcade (the types of games, the popular ones, their influence; the rise and fall of arcades; arcade popularity in other countries), or about former arcade tournament winners, or about what goes into making an arcade game (follow a team through the development process), or about video games in general. (We got a taste of "film pairings" last year. Rise of the Planet of the Apes focuses on apes in captivity. Not just in a zoo, but science lab apes play a main role. At the same time, Project Nim hit theaters. Nim is a documentary about a research experiment where people raised an ape, Nim, and taught him sign language in order to test language learning ability in apes. The two films entered into a relationship. The two are basically aimed at different demographics. One is a summer blockbuster, the other is a documentary: blockbuster = anyone, everyone; documentary about science experiment = NPR listeners. Because of the ethical and scientific questions raised by Nim, Rise gains merit as more than just a flashy blockbuster. And because Rise is a blockbuster, Nim gains mainstream attention.)
How do you make an arcade game? The studio could start a game development school.
"Wait, are you really suggestion a film studio start an accredited video game design/development program?" Yeah. What's more ridiculous, having 100,000 Wreck-it Ralph backpacks made, or starting a school that provides jobs and provides people with skills to earn a job, and that could lead to new video games or video game companies? One's a backpack a kid may have for two years and throw away. The other is something that could make a difference in the immediate lives of people and on into the future. Sure, it's way more overhead, and more risk. But aren't the longterm prospects and results better? What if the school itself is also a video game developer. And they release games. The studio makes money on all the games sold.
I mean, think about it. This is what Disney has done. Disney went from making movies to making TV shows to a theme park (Walt Disney World!) to moving on from G movies to PG movies to creating Touchstone Pictures to The Disney Channel to more theme parks to original animated series not on the Disney Channel (Duck Tales, Gargoyles) to BUYING EVERYTHING. Disney owns ABC, ESPN, Pixar, and Marvel. And now they just bought Lucasfilm. Disney started video games at some point.
"There's a difference between Disney investing in already lucrative and sound businesses and your recommendation of just starting things from scratch."
Okay. Good point. But you see how Disney started, right? From scratch.
Film studios are so focused on staying in their realm they're completely missing out on the opportunities their films create. (I get the irony, I'm talking about studios missing out on opportunities and using Ralph as an example when Disney happens to be the company that made Ralph and I just praised Disney for seizing opportunity. Just because I praised Disney doesn't mean Disney can't do more.)
Do you remember Moneyball? Steven Soderbergh was supposed to direct the movie. He wanted to have documentary aspects to the film, have interviews with the real players. Sony, the studio behind the movie, fired Soderbergh and hired Aaron Sorkin to write a factually inaccurate but Oscar-worthy film. WHY NOT DO BOTH???
"BECAUSE OF MONEY!!!"
I'm not saying you have to keep Soderbergh and give him a $50 million budget while also doing the Sorkin version with a $50 million budget. But why not let someone create a documentary and release that too? Make it 30 minutes. Play it after the credits and get advertisers, four 30-second spots, for a two minute break between the film and the documentary. Make it a TV movie and get advertisers for the commercial spots. Make it a 30 for 30 special and then it can sell on itunes and as part of the series box set. There's some sort of profit to be made.
Take it further than the 2002 Athletics season. Billy Beane used sabermetrics. You can do a documentary on Billy Beane. Or a documentary about sabermetrics in baseball (even though there is a stat doco already). Or even a documentary about stat people in baseball. Hell, Sony could have started a summer program for high school students interested in statistics, and this is an advanced course that uses baseball as an example, or doesn't use baseball.
That's the point. A movie about Billy Beane's moneyball style gets into sabermetrics and sabermetrics gets at statistics and statistics brings us to mathematics (Mathematics to Euclid, to Archimedes, what about a movie then about Ancient Greece? Or about Newton? Or Da Vinci?). By releasing Moneyball, Sony is generating interest in the practical use of mathematics. Sony can then try to capitalize on this interest. They start offering these summer mathematics programs and maybe a kid who watched Moneyball wants to attend, or a parent who saw the movie and knows his or her kid loves math will send the kid. Or maybe the kid knows nothing about the movie and is just thrilled there's this thing available. Maybe this camp doesn't turn a huge profit, maybe just $10,000. But if you have ten camps, you suddenly have $100,000. If they did 100 camps, that's $1,000,000. Is there anyone who would turn down $1,000,000? Plus, there's the good will earned by having these mathematics camps. Also the jobs created.
The more I think about it, the more I think film studios have been lazy.
People watch and love James Bond. How could a studio form a City around Bond? Information about being a spy? What about dressing sharp? What about picking up women? What about gadgets? What about cars? What about action sequences in films? They should conduct interviews of people before they see a Bond movie and after. "On a scale of 1-10, how much do you think being well-dressed influences people's perception of you?" I bet after watching the Bond movie, the average increases. So say the average was 6.4 before the movie. It would be 7.5 or 8 after people watch Bond. What can Sony do with that information? Yes, I'm suggestion they invest in retail clothing. Maybe they have a line at Kohls and it changes seasonly. So when a Bond movie comes out they change the line to reflect a more refined style, at a slightly increased price. Again, how much profit would this bring in? Who knows. What if it's only $10,000 a year? That's still $10,000 a year. And the concept is still creating jobs and employing people. And there's always the potential to earn more. Is it any worse of a long-term investment than a ton of action figures? Or Jonah Hex?
Maybe this won't be Tent-pole 3.0. Maybe we'll see something different. But, eventually, some film studio is going to get smart and adopt the City idea. They'll probably call it something else. Hell, maybe I'm just a guy with a website and totally disconnected and studios already do this and I have no idea. But as far as I can tell, this is not the case, and studios are missing out. And so are we.
What City ideas can you come up with? Spout them in the comments section.
Did I Like It:
Yeah. It was okay. It made me laugh, it made me cry. It also disappointed me because I thought it would have a little more...scale to it. We see a lot of characters, but we interact with very few.
I was shocked that it ended up being a Disney Princess movie. That was one hell of a plot twist.
Kano ripping out the zombie heart seemed a little too obvious to me. Now I'm just being a typical critic.
Wreck-it Ralph probably accomplishes what it's supposed to accomplish: it's fun. But compare it with other Disney and Pixar pictures and it'll probably come out as the loser time and again. Though I do like it way better than Cars. But compared to Aladdin or Up... Or even Wall-E or Monster's Inc. I don't think it even "takes it place" amongst these films. I think DreamWorks Kung-Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon both top it, too. So in the grand scheme of "animated films", Ralph is a let down for me. I expected some grand things. In terms of "Movies that are out RIGHT NOW", it's awesome. And there will be kids who love it for years and years. But there will also be kids who love Cars 2 for years and years, so... There are still people who love Spider-Man 3...though I'm slowly hunting down and murdering these people (that's a joke).
I almost want to say the short film, Paperman, that plays before Ralph is better than Ralph? It made me laugh and sigh and cry (I'm a baby when it comes to empathizing with other people. This extends to characters in movies, tv shows, and books). The visuals are awesome too. I wanted to watch it 6 more times. Maybe even 7. It's perhaps my favorite of the "before movie" animated shorts.
I can't imagine anyone going to Wreck-it Ralph and being totally unhappy. And there are a lot of people who will be totally happy. So that's good.
% Character / % Actor's personality / Uniqueness grade for actor
-movies involving video games: The King of Kong; Tron; Grandma's Boy; The Last Starfighter
-animated movies: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/guides/best_animated_movies_2012/
-film studio stuff: one, two, three, four, five
-game design schools: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/03/02/10-best-undergraduate-vid_n_829886.html#s247466&title=University_of_Southern