Post-Modern Studio System? What Overturning the Paramount Decision Means for Film Business

While the official announcement was unaccompanied with fanfare, the overturning of the landmark ruling in “U.S. v Paramount Pictures, Inc., et al” (1948) on Friday, August 7, 2020 marks a turning point in the business of modern cinema. Also known as The Paramount Decision and The Hollywood Antitrust Case, this ruling marked the end of Hollywood’s Golden Age and the decline of the Studio System that upheld it. What exactly does this mean for the business moving forward? Short answer: nobody knows, and anyone claiming to know what IS going to happen is incredibly presumptuous. However, by looking at the history of the 1948 ruling and the current events surrounding the August 7th ruling, we can explore this watershed moment in the film business, both past and present. Furthermore, we can extrapolate from past precedent what may happen or even could happen today. One thing is certain, we are in rapidly ranging and even uncertain times due to the direct and indirect impacts of the response to COVID-19. Although the federal court began reevaluating this case in late 2019, it is undeniable that the impact of the response to the effects of the virus may have played a latent role in the final decision. From a massive increase in streaming content options to premium paid video-on-demand (PVOD) to continued (at the time of this writing) delays in returning “big ticket” first-run movies to theatrical exhibition, there are many factors at play here. Not to mention questions such as “if I am an indie filmmaker, will I be able to get my movies in theatrical chains,” “does this mean that Amazon or Apple will buy up struggling chains like AMC,” or “if I am a screenwriter, will I still be able to submit my screenplays to studios if they are completely vertically integrated?” Perhaps this exploration of the past, present, and future of the film business in light of the overturn of the Paramount Decision won’t be able to provide definitive answers, but it will provide historical, empirical, and observational evidences to suggest what may or could happen moving forward. 

In short, the Paramount Decision (1948) was a landmark case in which the US Government forced the eight major/minor studio players to end the practice of block booking, divest themselves of their respective theatre chains (sell them off), and modify the practice of long-term employee contracts (although, this practice would continue until the 1960s). This marked the beginning of the end of the Studio System, AKA Hollywood’s decentralization. But before we can even begin to understand the significance of the August 7, 2020 decision that overturned the landmark ruling, we have to jump in the wayback machine and head to Hollywood’s Golden Age (recently seen on Ryan Murphy’s Hollywood, a 2020 limited-run series on Netflix). 

What was the studio system anyway? It was the arrangement of film production and distribution dominated by a small number of studios in Hollywood. Historically, the term refers to the practice of large motion picture studios, between the 1920s-60s, of producing movies primarily on their own backlots with creative personnel often under long-term contracts, and which dominated exhibition through the vertical integration of company-owned movie theatres. Block booking was also a common practice at this time. This process forced theatres to accept a block of movies from a studio. If an independent theatre wanted to show Movie A, then the studio would require the theatre to also accept and show Movies B, C, D, and E too.

Years before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the once powerful Paramount Pictures, the biggest studio in Hollywood at the time, there were constant legal and ethical issues plaguing the storied studio system that produced some of the most foundational films in cinema history. Back during the height of the studio system, there were eight principle players: the Big Five and the Little Three. The Big Five was comprised of: Paramount, MGM, Warner Bros., 20th Century Fox, and RKO; the Little Three included Universal, Columbia, and United Artists. You may (1) recognize some of those names today and (2) notice that there is a famous studio conspicuously missing. The latter is due to Walt Disney Studios being in its infancy during this time. Ironically, it would become nearly completely vertically integrated in the 20th and 21st centuries, minus owning a chain of movie theatres. In a manner of speaking the Walt Disney Company operates in a very similar fashion to that of its older brothers and sisters.

When I took a tour of Paramount Pictures back in 2015, I asked how many full-time staff worked on the lot. And the tour guide responded with 30-40 people. That’s right, only 30-40 people at the time. While that number may have fluctuated in the last five years, it leads me into one of the practices that came to a close when the Studio System fell. Prior to the Paramount Decision and the development of professional unions, studios held movie stars, directors, writers, and others to longterm contracts (with few, if any, options). Contracts were so tightly managed, that studios would loan stars to other studios, for example Paramount may choose to loan out Mae West to M-G-M in exchange for Judy Garland. The on screen talent wasn’t the only area treated as a commodity, virtually every role in front or or behind the camera was under contract to a studio, including directors and writers. 

While this looks like an infringement upon civil liberties through our 2020 eyes, and there are many reasons it should, there was something positive regarding employment during the Studio System: job security. When you worked for the studio, you worked for the studio and made all its pictures. Meaning, you knew you had regular employment until your contract was satisfied, you quit, or were fired. Employees didn’t have to worry about when and where the next gig was; employees went to work, Monday through Friday if you will, just like other working professionals. Furthermore, this centralized human resources system also made it possible to apply for vacant positions as a director, writer, craftsman, or any other position. There were also a great number of formal apprenticeships for those who were trying to break into the system. Sounds great, right? Well, yes and no. Yes, for reasons of streamlining the hiring process and providing stable employment in the field; and no, because the studio (that also likely controlled movie theatres) would not produce or distribute your picture unless you worked for the studio. It was a closed corporate system, so independents were largely kept out of it. From submitting screenplays to theatrical distribution, aspiring filmmakers either had to join the corporate ranks of the studio system or exhibit their pictures in small independent movie houses, IF they could even get the film developed and edited. 

Even before the 1948 decision, the studio system and studio-theatre relationships were under attack, but the studios were able to find loop-holes and political alliances in order to avoid the breakup of the vertical integration that was expensive to maintain but highly lucrative. As the movie studios regrouped for continued legal battles in the court system and Justice Department, media mogul Howard Hughes of storied RKO Pictures made the decision to sell off his movie theatres. When The Justice Department made it clear that there were to be no more deals between the government and the movie studios, Paramount sold its movies theaters in an attempt to buy into television. However, after the legacy studio’s continued involvement in all the antitrust cases leading to the final decision in 1948, the government did not permit Paramount to maintain any semblance of a monopoly in the frontier of television.The battle to keep the studio system was finally over. In the end, the Paramount case influenced the growth of television because, among other reasons, RKO and other studios sold their film libraries to television stations to offset the losses from the Paramount Decision. The studios also released actors from those longterm contracts, and many became television stars.

Although there are many side-effects and tangential reasons why the studio system (1) was lucrative and (2) hard to dismantle, there is one root reason from which everything else radiated: control. Everything gets back to control. Control of movie stars, control of writers and directors, control of the distribution and exhibition process. With all this control, the Studio System was able to craft its own narrative and success story. While the system was lucrative, it also racked up a lot of debt. Debt that came from borrowing from banks, exorbitant movie star salaries, and fighting legal battles. Even though the system had a lot of problems, it still gave us some of the best movies of all time, motion pictures that are larger than life, and those that typified the Golden Age of Hollywood. However, this system also protected its own when scrutiny or accusations arose, which is reprehensible. The Hollywood Studio System was truly its own self-contained world that outsiders were only let into through the movies and publicity. 

The film business landscape looks much different than it was during and just after the Golden Age of Hollywood. But over time, we have seen a migration back towards the ol’ system of doing things. The most recent examples of borderline antitrust infringement are Disney’s acquisition of 20th Century Fox, AT&T’s acquisition of Warner Bros. Pictures, and Comcast’s acquisition of NBC-Universal. What makes the latter two particularly interesting cases is the simple fact that both AT&T and Comcast own and operate the literal hardware in the ground and air that brings you your connection to the internet. One could read this as a form of distribution. The Disney example is more or less one of reducing the ability to equitably compete for audience dollars and the ability to create jobs. You can read more on the Disney-Fox deal in my article Out-Foxed. While block booking and price-fixing are still illegal, the overturn of the Paramount Decision does create a greater pathway to acquiring movie theatres and the ability to be more greatly vertically integrated than was possible since 1948. Interestingly, movie studios have been legally able to buy movie theatres since 1948, but because of the scrutiny and bureaucratic red tape that would come with it, it was not a practice except in the case of Disney purchasing the historic El Capitan theatre and Netflix purchasing the iconic Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre (sister theatre to the world-famous Grauman’s Chinese Theatre). Disney uses the El Capitan for most of its own premieres, but the movie theatre also shows a variety of other programming. But with this overturning, Disney could choose to only show its movies in the El Capitan, likewise with Netflix and the Egyptian Theatre. 

But, so what if Netflix and Disney want to exclusively exhibit their own films in their movie palaces? And you’re right, those two locations do not significantly make a difference in the grand scheme of things; but, what this represents is a microcosm of what could happen more nationally. And that’s why many of us are fascinated by this ruling; we are both anxious and eager to see what happens in this new frontier. Maybe nothing, maybe something. But film academics have a duty to analyze the situation to inform the public of the possible outcomes.

At the time of writing this article, Disney has made no claim regarding any real interest in purchasing the struggling AMC movie theatre chain nor Regal (owned by CineWorld). That said, there is more to explore that isn’t quite as in the face of the public as purchasing theatre chains. While control is the root cause for the machine that was the studio system, the reason the government went after the big studios was in-part because the studios made it nearly impossible for independent filmmakers to get their films into theatres or land distribution deals. If the studio did not produce your film, then it would not distribute it. The inequitable competition field led the US Government to bring about the landmark antitrust case. Lack of competition or lack of an opportunity to compete is what many independent producers, directors, and other creative and technical personnel fear most moving forward. It is highly unlikely that anything major is going to happen overnight; however, the studios now have the latitude, or horizontal if you will, to test the boundaries of their vertical integration and ability to strong-arm the marketplace. Suffice it to say, the studios will be “testing the fences for weaknesses, systematically…they remember” (Robert Muldoon, Jurassic Park). 

While Disney may not be presently interested in purchasing a movie theatre chain (according to the August earnings call), the three companies to watch out for are: AT&T, Amazon, and Apple. The AAA threat. Interestingly, AT&T is no stranger to monopolies or even oligopolies (like a monopoly, but when a market is controlled by a few big companies instead of one). Without going into too much detail on the U.S. v American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T) case, the antitrust case was brought against the telecom giant, owner and operator of Bell Systems. Bell Systems held a monopoly over American and Canadian phone systems, a monopoly that was held since the dawn of the telephone. The end result of the 1982 ruling brought about the breakup of the Bell Systems company into seven regional “Bell” markets. From this breakup we got seven telecom companies, each operating a particular geographic region. Interestingly, four out of the seven companies are now back under the control of AT&T. The remaining three former Bell markets are owned by Verizon and CenturyLink.

If we use the AT&T case study as a parallel model for understanding studios and the film business, we can posit ideas of what may happen in light of the recent overturn. The AT&T model bares many similarities to the Studio System model. We have a monopoly (or oligopoly) that was broken up by the US Government. Then there was a time of division; but slowly those once divested companies were bought up by the big company again, and in AT&T’s case, the original company. Full circle. What’s funny is that this parallel case study involves one of the likely players in this post-Paramount Decision world. By using the AT&T model, reason stands that a big company or two (maybe three) can and will buy up smaller companies to have a larger footprint, thus reducing competition. It happened the telephone world, it can happen in the film world. After being broken up, AT&T made many smart, seemingly benign moves in order to essentially become a phoenix that is greater than it was before its empire was broken up. 

What does this mean for studios and movie theatres? It simply means that it is very likely that a major company with deep pockets will purchase movie theatre chains. Simple as that. We have seen this before in the AT&T case study. But it won’t be Disney, Universal, or even Netflix buying the theatres, it will be AT&T, Amazon, Apple, or and/or Sony. Inarguably, the first three are some of the largest, wealthiest, and most influential companies in the world, with the latter having an incredibly diversified portfolio that includes technology and more; what better way to showcase your audiovisual technology than in movie theatres??? Each of these companies has the assets necessary to acquire AMC, CineWorld (Regal), Cobb, and even Cinemark. Interestingly, AT&T, Amazon, Apple, and Sony all have investments in film and tv production. AT&T owns WarnerMedia et al., Amazon operates Amazon Studios, Apple creates original content for Apple TV+, and Sony operates Sony Entertainment et al. It is unlikely that the US Government would permit any of these companies to buy up more than one of the major movie theatre chains, but we could easily see each of the four major movie theatre players getting bought up by corporate conglomerates. While there isn’t evidence to suggest that these four corporate giants would force audiences to go to one of their theatres to see one of their movies, it is entirely possible that those corporate giants would offer additional programming (maybe certain movies primarily released on streaming services) at their company owned movie theatres. Between original and licensed/distributed content, these movie theates, tied to media conglomerates that have major studio investments, may pack the theatres with so many movies that independent filmmakers will have to see alternate means of securing distribution, be that through streaming services, independent movie theatres, or or smaller specialized chains like Studio Movie Grill and Alamo Draft House, both of which are known for catering to cinephiles, including horror fans.

In a manner of speaking, what we are looking at here is a post-modern Studio System. You’d once again have the BIG FIVE (AT&T, Apple, Amazon, Disney, and Comcast) and the LITTLE THREE (Sony, Viacom/Paramount, and Netflix). These eight companies would control the media landscape. And there will be just enough competition that it avoids any antitrust lawsuits (until it doesn’t; that’s how this goes, if you haven’t figured it out), until history repeats itself again. This new studio system will flourish for decades, but then something will happen and the government will step in and break up the companies again, most likely resulting in selling of movie theatre chains or even more sobering, movie theatres become a shadow of their former selves. It is unlikely that movie theatres will completely go away, but their purpose and role in show business may be relegated to little more than a novelty. These studios may reimagine the movie star star system, film/tv/production related unions could lose their power because of the increasing number of employees (not contractors) at movie studios, and/or there could even be more theme parks as a means to generate quick revenue to funnel back into the studio model, much like Disney and Universal Parks and Resorts do for their parent companies. Lots of job creation may happen, but these will lack in the creative latitude that many filmmakers crave.

For many independent filmmakers, the fear of the fallout from the overturn of the Paramount Decision is reduced opportunities to secure distribution deals. But it’s not only the production talent that is concerned. Writers could be greatly impacted; because, in a more heavily vertically integrated system, writers will have far fewer outlets for purchasing or licensure of their screenplays. Disney is a good example of this. Disney rarely purchases screenplays from screenwriters; their common practice is to use in-house screenwriters or commission a writer to pen a screenplay. So, if you are not IN the Disney studio system, then your chances of selling or optioning your screenplay are minimal. Since Disney owns 20th Century Fox, then this same practice carries over into that branch as well. That said, Searchlight Pictures is still a production and distribution company to which independent filmmakers and screenwriters can submit work for purchase, licensing, etc. While Disney is the easy example here, this same practice could be said of any major studio. 

More vertical integration means larger companies in a world that is shrinking. This shrinking world could mean trouble for the aspiring filmmaker or screenwriter because of the lack of opportunities to make the transition from page to set to distribution. While this new world may make it more difficult for a screenwriter to sell a screenplay to a studio that is vertically integrated, the director will also face new challenges. Independent filmmakers will have to get their films bought or licensed by a major company in order to get the exposure needed to be able to develop a substantive career. Netflix has a history of being friendly to independent filmmakers (although it has more and more original programming), so an advantage to getting Netflix to buy or option your movie is that you may just be able to screen it at the Egyptian Theatre, which would greatly aid in qualifying for the Oscars or Golden Globes. 

While independent filmmakers may face increasing odds against them for theatrical distribution, this post-modern Studio System could create thousands of jobs in the industry. But you will create what the studio wants you to create, which may not necessarily be the stories that you want to tell. And amidst this possible creation of jobs may be a world with far less opportunity for equitable competition for that golden statue and audience eyes.

Ryan teaches screenwriting and American cinema at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with or meet him in the theme parks!

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

Ryan teaches screenwriting and American cinema at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with or meet him in the theme parks!

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

“TENET” Film Review

By Leon Zitz

What starts out as a sleek and well executed, but still fairly standard, espionage film with some interesting sci-fi ideas, turns into a mind-blowing “time travel” action-thriller that will have you staring at the screen, mouth agape in awe. “Armed with only one word TENET, and fighting for the survival of the entire world, a Protagonist journeys through a twilight world of international espionage on a mission that will unfold in something beyond real time” (IMDb). And that is all you want or need to know going into this film.

The film is like a loop, closed in itself, similar to Nolan’s earlier film Memento but much more complex, even more complex than Inception. Previous events of the film will get re contextualized in the second half and inserts that viewers might not even have noticed start to become make sense and become important. TENET definitely warrants multiple viewings to catch all these little details, but the surface plot and the characters’ goals are kept simple so that even if not completely understanding why or how, the viewer is never lost in what is going on.

Aside from digital compositing, which is seamless, the film employs almost no computer generated effects, all action scenes are choreographed and shot practically. Unfortunately due to this age where everything you can think of is made possible computer generated effects, this might only become impressive to the viewer if he is made aware of how the effects were achieved. Fortunately, unlike some other recent productions which rely heavily on CGI, TENET will stand the test of time and may thus even become more impressive for future viewers.

The Film’s weak point is its characters. We don’t learn much about “Neil,” played by Robert Pattinson, and “The Protagonist,” played by John David Washington, aside from surface level information and they aren’t developed much until the very end of the film. Kenneth Branagh does a good job as the sometimes scenery chewing but still fairly standard villain character. The heart and soul of the movie is Elizabeth Debicki’s character “Ka,t” who is the most developed character in the film and arguably the most emotionally affected by the events of the film.

Needless to say this is not a character-driven film, instead TENET is highly plot driven but as long as viewers are aware of that they will be satisfied. If you are looking for more than your average spy action thriller but aren’t expecting a philosophical masterpiece then this is the film for you.

This article was written by our German correspondent Leon Zitz. Be sure to checkout his Instagram and YouTube pages. You can also checkout my review of his latest film Romeo Kills Juliette.

Ryan teaches screenwriting and American cinema at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Ryan is also the creator of the Four’s a Crowd sitcom podcast now streaming on your favorite podcatcher. Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with or meet him in the theme parks!

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

My Return to the Cinema at Universal Orlando Resort!

On Friday, July 17th, I returned to the cinema! I’ve been waiting for this day since the middle of March when movie theatres closed during the COVID-19 shutdown. From the moment I learned that the theatres around me (Tampa & Orlando) would begin reopening in mid-July, I was eagerly awaiting the opportunity to once again sit in a recliner in an auditorium in front of a giant screen with surround sound to experience the magic of motion pictures as cannot be replicated, even in the very best at-home VOD experiences. The smells, the sights, the people (in their respective masks), and the energy all help to create the immersive cinematic experience that has been a staple of motion pictures since the earliest days of film distribution. And what better way to return than seeing E.T., Terminator 2: Judgement Day, and Jurassic Park over the weekend at the Universal Orlando Cinemark at CityWalk. The former two, I had never seen on the big screen before, and I never turn down an opportunity to see the latter. There is a magic to arriving at the box office to pickup your ticket, walking inside, being greeted by a smiling face and directed to your auditorium where you take a seat to watch a movie at the exact same time as other others in attendance. You will laugh together, cry together, scream, together. That “togetherness” creates an infectious energy in the room that transcends the mind and heart. Watching movies at the Universal Orlando Cinemark also provided me with the ability to watch the movies then ride them! Both E.T. and Jurassic Park are attractions at Universal Orlando (while T2-3D is a former attraction), so I could watch the movie then experience the ride! How cool is that?!? Although some of you live in areas that have not reopened movie theatres, others do live near cinemas that have reopened; and I hope this article serves as encouragement to leave the couch in your living room behind, and return to the cinema!

Friday, July 17th couldn’t come quickly enough for me. As soon as I heard that was the day that movie theatres would begin reopening, I was primed to return to the cinema to properly experience motion pictures. It’d been nearly four months to the day since I had watched a new movie. Yes, I know what you’re thinking–why not just watch “new” movies on streaming services? That’s one band wagon that I refused to climb aboard. Although I could write an entire article on just why I don’t care to watch “intended to be theatrical release” movies at home, in short and among other reasons, I am far more at ease and comfortable sitting by myself in an auditorium than I am sitting alone in my own living room. And it’s not just the temptation to look at my phone or have my MacBook close by. Watching “theatrical” first run movies on VOD at home lacks the experiential factor that comes along with theatrical movies, not to mention the lack of structure at home. Also the sheer number of films to choose from can be quite daunting; I prefer knowing that there are 1-3 new movies coming out most Thursday nights. When I wasn’t attending press screenings, I would watch whatever was new on Thursday evenings. VOD doesn’t offer that. With the VOD platform, there are dozens of titles that release weekly. It’s overwhelming. Plus, after-movie conversations with the staff at the movie theatre or friends are so much fun! Watching at home deprives us of the opportunity to share in discussions and heated debates over what we just watched together for the first time.

This article is about my experience at the cinema; but in case you’re wondering, Universal Orlando Resort has been a model company in our post-shutdown economy and world. Disney World: we are going to open in July; Universal Orlando: hold my beerand we’ll do it better. From the passholder days on June 3-4 (to which ALL UOAPs were able to attend) to today, Universal is keeping guests safe whilst delivering the magic and opening up the gateway to epic adventures. Even before you get to CityWalk, all Guests and Team Members undergo temperature checks. And yes, Team Members and Guests were wearing masks and following social distancing markers. So any reports to the contrary, are grossly exaggerated. Take it from me, I have literally been there ten times since the reopening, so I’ve seen the park on multiple days. That same attention to health and safety in the theme park was carried directly over to Universal’s movie theatre partner Cinemark.

Much like Universal, Cinemark was on their A-game from box office to exit. When I bought my ticket to E.T., I was able to see on the seat selection monitor just how the company was implementing social distancing. Every row was divided up into two-seat sections. After every two available seats, there were two empty seats. And with the theatre using big recliners, that put six-ish feet between parties. Yes, that means that if you’re a party of three or more, that you cannot sit immediately together. However, if you are a larger travel party, you can purchase tickets together early, and seats will be blocked off on either side of your travel party. The concession stand had social distancing markers in place, and even turned-off every other Freestyle Coke machine. But the Coke machines weren’t the only things that were intentionally turned off to promote social distancing; even the restrooms were setup to accommodate the “six-foot rule.” In the men’s room, every other stall was cordoned off. Of course, what funny is that most guys know that you never take the urinal stall directly next to another guy. So, I thought that was kind of humorous.

Inside the auditorium, I observed that all guests were wearing masks except when eating or drinking. Now, before you get your feathers all ruffled, just like restaurants permit dine-in guests to remove masks when eating, then movie theatres should NOT be thought of any differently. And I’ve also heard the “what about the ventilation system” argument why theatres shouldn’t reopen. If we do not expect Target, the supermarket, schools, places of business, libraries, and gas stations to turn off their environmental systems (and some of those are places that you spend extended amounts of time at, especially if you are still reporting into an office or store for work), then movie theatres should NOT be held to a different standard. Upon leaving the movie, I observed (what appeared to be).a third party cleaning company that was preparing to go inside and clean the auditorium for the next showing. Clearly, Cinemark and Universal have thought through how to maintain a safe environment for all guests and staff. As John Hammond would put it, “sparred no expense.”

The first movie I chose to watch on my return was E.T. the Extra Terrestrial. This is a movie that is particularly dear to my heart because it inspired one of only two remaining opening-day attractions left at Universal Studios Florida (the other being the Horror Makeup Show). I adore the movie, but it’s the attraction that gives it a special place in my heart. Whenever I ride it, I am reminded of my family, and in particular my sister since she comes down to Florida to visit me a few times a year, and we always go to Universal together. When I am riding that bicycle through the forest and through the Green Planet, I feel that my sister is next to me saying “I’ll. Be. Right Here.” Watching this timeless classic on the big screen for the very first time was a breathtaking experience. I cried so many times during the movie, and yes I laughed too. It was like watching it for the very first time, period. I’d like to say it took me back to seeing it in theatres as a kid, but this came out before i was born. Compared to watching it on TV at home, this was a totally different experience that immersed me in the world of the movie. For the runtime, I could shut out the chaos and confusion of the world in which we presently live, and get lost in this cinematic fantasy that has delighted audiences for nearly four decades.

After I watched the movie, I went to visit a friend of mine working in Islands of Adventure before heading back to Universal Studios to ride the E.T. Adventure, then take in the new Bourne Stuntacular show that is in the former T2:3D show building. Although I had seen the show during it’s opening weekend, I wanted to go back to the former home of the T2 attraction before watching T2: Judgement Day on the big screen for the first time! So after returning ET to the Green Planet and following Jason Bourne, I went back to the Cinemark to watch Terminator 2: Judgement Day. And WOW! That film still holds up incredibly well. more than twenty-five years later, and that movie still delivers the spectacular in spades. Yes, even the old CGI effects still look killer (well, most of them anyway). The picture, the sound, everything transported you from that auditorium to the streets of LA along side John, Sarah, and Arnold. Words cannot capture the magic of the moment of sitting there, watching another timeless motion picture on the big screen.

The next day, I met up with the Always the Critic podcast to watch Jurassic Park together! Since there were four of us, we couldn’t all sit together, but we were all able to watch the movie together, and that’s the most important element. Now, Jurassic Park is a film that I did get to see in theatres in 1993 and upon re-release in 2013, 2015 (leading up to Jurassic World), and in 2018, so this was not as mindblowing as the former two; however, it is my favorite movie of all time and I never miss a chance to see it on the big screen. Having the opportunity to watch it with new pod-friends was an experience that will long be remembered. It was so much fun when we all go together immediately following the movie to talk about how amazing it was to see on the big screen surrounded by incredibly sound technology. We even commented on how we jump at certain parts even though we know that they are coming up. Something about seeing it in a movie theatre with other people that still makes you jump and react much in the same way you may have done when you did see it for the first time.

There are other movies that I plan to see on the big screen such as Jaws, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, select Harry Potter films, and more. I hope that this idea of running old and new classic movies continues into the Halloween season so we could get screenings of The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Psycho, Halloween, Friday the 13th, SCREAM, Misery, Carrie, The Shining, and so many others! Perhaps this is how cinemas will reimagine their business model. In addition to the new movies that will eventually be released in theatres, they will continue to show motion pictures that have contributed significantly to the human experience over the decades.

Should you choose to attend your local cinema, make sure they are following local, state, and federal guidelines and ordinances. Many movie theatres will require masks even if local government bodies do not, and that’s okay. I don’t like wearing one when I go out, but I wear one without complaint because I want to be cooperative and responsible. If your cinema is taking the recommended CDC and DOH precautions, then return with confidence that your health and safety are priorities for your cinema. You will probably see the theatre staff happier than ever because they (1) have their jobs back and (2) are incredibly thrilled to welcome you once again to the movies. By returning to the cinema, this will provide the empirical data necessary for distribution companies to justify releasing new movies in theatres once again. Without butts in seats, it makes it difficult to make a decision to release a movie theatrically. Your return to the cinema will do your mind and body good, it will help to bring back jobs, pump money into the economy, keep the cinematic experience alive for generations to come, and bring a smile to your face.

There are inherent risks with life; everyday we get out of bed, there are risks. Yet, we still get up and go about our day. You don’t allow the possibility of a car accident to stop you from driving, so don’t allow the possibility of contact with COVID-19 to stop you from living your best life ever. Do your best not to treat your return to the cinema (or theme parks) any differently. Now, don’t be selfishly reckless either; follow the guidelines and ordinances for your state or city without complaint. Wear your mask, if asked to do so (which is probably all movie theatres and theme parks right now), maintain the 6ft rule as reasonably possible, and above all, exhibit a positive, optimistic attitude in order to continue to build the general level of confidence that we will not live in fear but take the necessary precautions to promote health and safety for all. So, it is plain to see that movie theatres CAN and WILL intentionally make accommodations and implement precautions to promote health and safety to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. I never once felt unsafe at any point in my return to the cinema. Return to your cinema this weekend!

Ryan teaches screenwriting and American cinema at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with or meet him in the theme parks!

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Sinister Summer 2020 – SCREAM

“Do you like scary movies?” Master of horror Wes Craven redefined the boundaries of horror with what many argue is the definitive example of meta horror SCREAM. Although I argue in my Sinister Summer 2019 article that Wes Craven’s New Nightmare was the first to explore the idea of meta horror, there is no doubt that SCREAM is the more popular and truly more meta film. One that not only comments on itself, but on the slasher genre specifically. With the recently greenlit SCR5AM sequel, I thought it would be fun to start out my Sinister Summer 2020 series with the OG! Scream is among my favorite horror properties because you can tell that Wes Craven simply loves the genre and finding new paths to original stories. There are plenty of reasons to love SCREAM. If, for no other reason, it boasts the most brilliant and shocking opening in–not only horror movies–but movies in general. Craven took what Hitch pioneered in Psycho, and amped up the speed at which a popular actress is killed. Whereas Marion Crane was killed off within the first act. Craven kills off American darling Drew Barrymore in the prologue of the film! Still to this day, the opening scene in SCREAM is still the most terrifying opening ever. By killing off Drew Barrymore at the beginning, this communicated to the audience that all bets are off. With the general public, let alone horror fans, becoming all too knowledgable of the rules of horror films thus possessing the ability to predict the outcome and plot turning points, Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven crafted a horror film that changes the rules by using them as a plot device to completely deconstruct the American horror slasher film genre.

But more than a satirical horror film, this film is equally scary. Whereas Scary Movie (the original title to Scream) would do similar things but through parody, slapstick and dark comedy, SCREAM maintains a serious tone throughout the film and never falls into parody. This serious approach is one of the reasons why this innovative film performed incredibly well then and still holds up today. Highly entertaining! This film holds your attention from beginning to end through an incredibly well-developed plot, complex characters, and conflict driven by the actions of the characters. This plot is simple–brilliant–but simple. By relying upon the characters to carry the story, the movie contains more subtext and substance than many others. When you have a character-driven plot, you need solid actors to bring it to life. And all the performances by the principal characters are absolutely perfect for the film. Everyone is so committed to their respective characters. Like bookends, the ending and beginning answer one another.Just as shockingly intense the opening scene is, the climax of the film is surprisingly noteworthy as well, and threw audiences for a loop as it abandons more conventional endings.

As you may know, Drew Barrymore was offered the role of Sidney Prescott. And this was in the mid 90s at the height of Barrymore’s star power. By her taking on the role of the lead character, her name would draw in even more people than would already be excited to see another Craven horror film. After reading the script, Barrymore suggested that she play the role of the opening death. She predicted many people would believe she would survive until the end, and audiences would be shocked by her character’s early demise. And you now what, she was right AND made horror history! Placing Barrymore prominently on the front of the poster, the studio featured her heavily in the various promotional campaigns, leading audiences to believe that Barrymore was the lead in the film. This marketing technique, taken right from the Psycho handbook, reinforced the twists and turns that SCREAM would deliver throughout the film. After that opening scene, audiences knew that all bets were off and that no one–not even American darling Drew Barrymore was safe.

Not only was SCREAM a pivotal horror film that redefined the versatility of the genre, but Sidney stepped into the shoes of all the legendary final girls before her, and took the role in a new direction that cemented her in with the likes of Laurie Strode, Nancy Thompson, and others. Unlike other Craven final girls, she stands as the only one to survive a Wes Craven franchise. Yes, Nancy is brought back in New Nightmare but she is killed off in Dream Warriors. While the final girl conventions had been well-defined up to this point, Wes Craven used the character of Sidney as a conduit for the audience since the rules of slasher horror were all too cliche at this stage in the evolution of the American horror film.

Much like with past final girls, Sidney is resilient, resourceful, sensible, and has an uncanny survivor’s reflex that is so incredibly well developed that she can simultaneously manage life’s complications and death with demonstrable hyper-focus. Furthermore, Neve Campbell’s Sidney was a powerful character for women because she demonstrated strength amidst adversity and responsibility when faced with difficult decisions. However, Sidney is not always the “good girl.” One of the longtime tropes of a final girl is one whom is chaste, but Sidney has had sex with her boyfriend prior to her mother’s brutal murder; however, she chooses when and only when she is good and ready, and when she isn’t dealing with the demons of her past or the serial killer of the present. Much like in the vein of Nancy Thompson, Sidney’s ability to outwit and survive Ghostface is based upon her cunning, not how “good” she is. She is ready and willing it fight for her life, and will stop at nothing until she rescues herself. 

Prior to SCREAM, slashers rarely targeted a single victim. For example, Laurie Strode happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time in Halloween, the same can be said for Alice in Friday the 13th. Less so with Nancy in A Nightmare on Elm Street where Freddy eventually targets Nancy because she discovers his vulnerability. Even different from how Nancy was eventually targeted, Sidney was the sole focus of Ghostface from the very beginning. This target on Sidney means that killing her is the singular focus of Ghostface; and like Sidney’s internal need to survive, Ghostface will stop at nothing until Sidney is dead. But because Ghostface (Billy and Stu) has a flare for the theatrical, he torments, manipulates, and singles her out until Sidney finally fights back in that climactic third act where she turns the tables on Ghostface by using his own tools and knowledge against him. From using his own voice modulator on strategically creepy phone calls to using his own costume to frighten him, Sidney makes intentional decisions that greatly effect the balance of power. While Ghostface holds significant power in the beginning, Sidney erodes that power and takes it for herself.  She proves that she has an even greater understanding of horror movies than Ghostface himself, or perhaps the versatility of the rules. Eventually audiences witness Last House on the Left levels of revenge. Interesting because Last House on the Left is Wes Craven’s breakout writing-directing project and redefined the genre with its sexploitation revenge plot.

While a lot of the attention paid to Sidney involves her relationship and confrontation with Ghostface, she is the conduit through which we explore the power dynamic in romantic relationships as well. And the fact that her boyfriend is also her tormenter, offers bountiful material to explore. In many ways, the relationship between Billy/Sidney and Ghostface/Sidney parallels one another. Ghostface wants to penetrate Sidney with his knife, but she refuses to give up on resisting; likewise, Billy desires to penetrate Sidney with his own weapon but she withholds until she has worked through her personal demons. Billy attempts to make Sidney feel guilty for not engaging in her “girlfriendly” duties, as a misogynist such as Billy would put it; likewise, Ghostface tries his best to make Sidney feel guilty for the death of her mother. These parallels are why Sidney defeating Billy/Ghostface is so important and meaningful. Not only does she kill the demons that are presently haunting her, this defeat also allows Sidney to finally close the book on the demons of her past trauma.

There is more to a great slasher that the final girl and villain; those elements alone do not a classic make. Although there were many fantastic horror films in the 1990s, I argue that SCREAM is THE decade defining horror film. Other significant contributions to 90s slasher horror are I Know What You Did Last Summer, Halloween H20, and The Faculty. Because of how well it holds up, it’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly twenty-five years since SCREAM began terrifying audiences around the globe. With witty dialogue, twisted plot lines, and pop culture references, SCREAM has earned its tenure amongst other classic horror motion pictures. The strength of SCREAM is in the screenplay by Kevin Williamson brought to life by the brilliant Craven direction. In any film, the screenplay is responsible for the very framework of the film. More than a map between the beginning and end, the screenplay dramatizes conflict and manifests ideas in either a linear or nonlinear storytelling structure. Think about it: a screenwriter is the very first person to see a movie–even before the director. He or she knows this cinematic story inside and out. And it’s the challenge of the screenwriter to take the cinematic vision from his or her mind, and translate it for the screen in an effective method for crafting an emotional and psychological connection between the audience and characters.

Screenplays are responsible for crafting a compelling narrative out of otherwise disconnected ideas, simple plots, or premises. This is where the very foundation of a motion picture lies. Without a well-crafted screenplay written by a writer who cares, the characters lack motivation, there is little cause & effect or meaning to the plot devices. The words of a thoughtful screenplay form visual statements that allow for the motion picture to be supported by subtext or purpose. One of the most important elements in a screenplay that so often gets overlooked is the task of creating a cast of extremely likable and realistic characters that the audience instantly becomes invested in. Kevin Williamson’s SCREAM screenplay offers audiences an exciting film with ample twists & turns, with an almost whodunit quality about it. As mentioned earlier in the article, SCREAM is one of the first horror films to approach horror from a meta perspective. The film takes a self-referential look at horror cinema by poking fun at the clichés for which the genre is well-known while simultaneously playing into almost every single one of them. But the film never patronizes its audience nor acts as if the audience is not in on the joke.

Often imitated, but never replicated, SCREAM is a pivotal horror film that pushed the boundaries of the horror genre and cinema at large. It represents the third time that Wes Craven was instrumental in redefining the genre: the first time was Last House on the Left then A Nightmare on Elm Street and lastly SCREAM. More than any other director, Craven has been the most pioneering in the genre. While he may have more box office flops than successes on his filmography, his films consistently sought to be trailblazers. In terms of studio history, he quite literally saved New Line Cinema from closing when he wrote and directed A Nightmare on Elm Street. And one could even say that Craven saved the slasher genre from extinction with SCREAM.

Ryan teaches screenwriting and American cinema at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in the Tampa area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

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Top 10 Most Memorable Movie Moms for Mothers Day

With Mothers Day this weekend, I thought I would count down my Top 10 picks for most memorable movie mothers! Some moms are endearing, some are overbearing, and others are terrifying. But they all have one thing in common: how well we remember them. Some have become such a part of the zeitgeist; so much so, that people who haven’t even seen the movies, know precisely who these mothers are. Whether they are winning our hearts through their steadfast love or through their incredibly close, protective relationship with their kid, there is something to be loved about each and every one.

10. Helen Parr (The Incredibles): Helen Parr is one of the most memorable mothers from movies because she both figuratively and quite literally holds her family together. I admire her for the endless support she shows Bob and the kids. Whilst maintaining her role as a mother, she also saves the world. Holly Hunter’s voice work is outstanding, such a charismatic performance. Like any good mother, she takes the time to listen to her kids’ needs and wants. And while she is empathetic and flexible, she is willing to stretch in order to provide the best possible care and guidance for her kids and husband.

9. Molly Weasley (Harry Potter): “Not my daughter, you bitch!” What a delivery by Julie Walters! Molly is a woman of considerable talent and skill to run a large household and remain one of the most powerful witches in the Harry Potter universe! She has the superpowers of a marvelous mother and a brilliant witch. Yet, she never flaunts her talents or accomplishments in front of anyone. While many skillful, powerful people would seek to impress and control others with their abilities, she remains a humble caregiver. However, if you threaten her kids, then she will turn into a mother tiger and pounce on you.

8. Aurora Greenway (Terms of Endearment): Played by Shirley MacLaine, Aurora puts her beloved, and at times estranged, daughter Emma before anyone else. She would do anything for her daughter, even though her methods may come across as abrasive and ridged. She is a feisty widow and mother whom won’t bat an eye before she tells you what she thinks. Her comebacks are witty, brutally honest, and fast. Even though she may get lost in her own anxiety over things that she cannot ultimately control, she will remain by her daughter through thick or thin. Her level of loyalty and love runs runs deep as the ocean.

7. M’Lynn Eatenton (Steel Magnolias): That graveside funeral scene is one of my favorites in all of cinema! The emotionally charged conflict with her own grieving and her friends is electrifying! I love how M’Lynn takes audiences through the entire stages of grief in just a few minutes. M’Lynn is completely devoted to her family, especially her daughter Shelby and her battle with Type-1 diabetes. M’Lynn is the very definition of a steel magnolia because she is as complex and beautiful as a delicate flower, yet she is incredibly strong, withstanding all the pressures of being a mother and friend. She is the very glue that holds her family together. While she is strong, even she is not immune to the tragedies of the world. But she demonstrates resilience in order to remain an anchor for all those around her.

6. Peg Boggs (Edward Scissorhands): There is perhaps no more prolific movie mom than the incomparable Diane Wiest! I was able to visit the home of Peg last summer when I decided to locate the neighborhood from the movie since it was shot near Tampa, where I live. And there it was! THE house and neighborhood. She is a mom whom is generous with time, resources, and the love she demonstrates. More than a caregiver, she sought to truly understand Edward and provide the motherly love and attention that he lacked. Talk about magnanimous. She opened her home and heart to a neighbor in need, even though he looked different than her and certainly stood out in that perfect little slice of suburbia. Peg believes that everyone deserves a fair shot at pursuing their dreams!

5. Morticia Addams (The Addams Family): While there have been many iterations of Morticia Addams, my favorite is Angelica Huston! Morticia Addams is one of the most proud mothers ever. Not proud as in haughty, proud as is her unyielding belief in her family and all their quirks. I love her perfect balance of elegance and homespunness. She consistently encourages her family to pursue their dreams, whether altruistic or morbid. While some moms may forget that they can still be sexy, sensual, and romantic, Morticia keeps the romance alive with her and Gomez. Whenever one of her kids has a problem, she never lets them feel defeated. Instead, she picks them back up and gives them encouraging words, in a very Addams fashion of course, to get right back up and try again. A constant source of morbid positivity, Morticia is never afraid to state her opinion, but when she does, you can be assured that she will state it with utter politeness.

4. Ellen Ripley (Aliens): “Get away from her, you bitch!” Sigourney Weaver’s career defining role of Ellen Ripley demonstrates that you don’t have to be a biological mother to provide the protection and care for a child! While she may not technically be a mother, she is every bit a mother as the best of them! We first meet Ripley in the original practically perfect motion picture and horror classic Alien, but it’s not that portrayal that lands her on this list, it’s her role as Ripley in the sequel that sets her apart as one of the most memorable mothers in all of cinema. Even though Newt isn’t the biological daughter of Ripley, she adopts her as her own and protects her with everything she’s got! Whether Ripley is protecting her from schoolyard bullies or nightmarish aliens, Newt is safe under the protection of a final girl who’s also a complete badass that won’t ever back down. And c’mon, the was she commands that transformers like suit, is timeless.

3. Joan Crawford (Mommie Dearest): “No wire hangers–ever!” “Tina, bring me the axe.” Faye Dunaway’s tour de force performance as one of Hollywood’s Golden Era greats has been met with constant criticism from the day she took on the iconic role of Joan Crawford. Fortunately, it’s not the performance that anyone questions but the vicious content and accusations the movie makes of Joan and her daughter. The reason that Joan Crawford breaks the Top 3 on this list is because there is perhaps no greater or more widely known over-the-top, campy performance by a mother than in the cult classic Mommie Dearest. I mean, it’s in the very title of the film! This movie is a truly terrifying exploration of the warped psyche of a once great star that is fading into obscurity as she struggles to provide the love that Tina needs. $300 dresses and elaborate birthday parties aren’t what Tina wants–she simply wants to be loved by the movie star. Joan Crawford was obsessed with her career and with the idea of being a mother. But those are two things that she cannot ultimately control. And it’s that lack of picture perfect control that drives her to absolutely terrorize Tina.

2. Pamela Voorhees (Friday the 13th): “You see, Jason was my son, and today is his birthday” “kill her mommy, kill her.” Betsy Palmer’s Pamela Voorhees remains one of the most original and fascinating villains in slasher movie history! Spoiler alert: she is the killer in the original Friday the 13th, not Jason. Of course, if you’ve seen SCREAM, then you know that already. Mrs. Voorhees is completely devoted to her son Jason. She was his protector. When fellow campers teased him, she was there to defend him and dry his years. He was her entire world. Mrs. Voorhees would do anything for Jason in life or death. She proves that nothing, absolutely nothing is stronger than a mother’s love. Borrowing from a line from Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, “revenge is better than Christmas.” Mrs. Voorhees is driven by revenge. She will make sure than all horny camp counselors at Camp Crystal Lake will pay for the sins of their predecessors because they were making love while her “sweet Jason” drown. The connection between Mrs. Voorhees and Jason is so incredibly strong that not even death can break it. That’s the power of this mother.

Twitter mentions: I put this topic out on Twitter, and I heard from Gidgit VonLaRue of the RetroCinema Podcast, and she simply stated “Diane Weist. Any movie. Any role.” Simple yet highly effective, as Diane is the most prolific mother to ever hit the screen.

1. Norma Bates (Psycho): “A boy’s best friend is his mother.” The most memorable of all movie mothers is Norma Bates! Even though she isn’t in a single scene (except for her corpse), she maintains an oppressive, overbearing presence in every frame. She controlled Norman when she was alive, and she continues to pull the strings in her death. Much in the same way Mrs. Voorhees inspires Jason to kill, Norma forces Norman to kill whenever she feels that her relationship with her son is threatened by an outside force. Mother Bates also maintains a watchful eye over everything that happens at her house and motel. Always watching for potential threats to her poltergeist-like existence. Norma loves Norman, but perhaps she should have loved just a little less. The love Norma had for Norman possesses an almost supernatural element to it. Of course, all of this is in Norman’s head, but that doesn’t take away from the very real presence Mother has throughout the entire motion picture. Mother is Norman and Norman is Mother, they are one in the same. Matricide is perhaps the saddest, most disturbing crime there is, and when Norman killed his mother and her boyfriend, he could’ve live with himself. So he brought her back to life! And even though she isn’t breathing, she is incredibly real. The single greatest scene in all of cinema features the most memorable mother in all of movie history!

I’d also like to take a moment to give a shoutout to my mom! While she may not be a mom from a movie that you can see in the cinema, she is the mom in the movie of my life. Ever since I can remember, she has always been a constant cheerleader for me and my dreams. Never once has she discouraged me; however, she will offer up her wisdom or opinion on decisions I make or directions I choose to go. Even when I’ve screwed up, she was right there to help me through it and make sure I learned my lesson. She’s always put her family before anyone else, even herself. When I was very young, and my dad was still in graduate school, I remember my mom doing without on birthdays and Christmasses so she could give her kids the very best. It’s not the things that I remember as much as it is the waves of generosity, support, and love. Even though I live nearly 500 miles from my mom, she is always right there when I need her. I absolutely love and look forward to our trips to our favorite restaurants when I am in town, watching movies together, and helping her with video production to support her music class at the school where she’s been teaching for more than twenty years. My prayer is that I never take one moment with my mom for granted, and cherish every last minute. From trips to theme parks to simply going to the supermarket, she is the best mom I could have ever asked for.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in the Tampa area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

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