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Sleepless in...Hollywood and the rise of the franchise

"Sleepless in Seattle" producer Lynda Obst explains why studios can't stop making sequels.

Hollywood, like any other industry, hasn’t been immune to the pressures of a long and grinding recession, a whole bunch of technological changes and a new global economy.

You may not have noticed it, but long-time producer Lynda Obst has. Her credits include "The Fisher King," "Contact," and "Sleepless in Seattle," and her latest book is called “Sleepless in Hollywood: Tales from the New Abnormal in the Movie Business.”

She says she noticed something had changed when her son told her, “Mom, trying to get movies made because they’re good is so 2003.”

Obst noticed it took her longer and longer to get a movie made “and it’s not as though the moguls in charge of green-lighting movies suddenly changed their standards, it’s that the business entirely changed,” she says. People stopped buying DVDs.

“When the DVD collapse occurred, it took half of the profits of the industry away.” Suddenly, it got harder to make “interstitials” -- smaller films, like romantic comedies, that were never huge box offices draws but that studios financed using profits from bigger Oscar films released in the winter or summer blockbusters.

At the same time that Americans stopped buying DVDs, international sales jumped. “Suddenly Russia and even more so China started building more theaters and loving our big blockbusters.” The audience overseas loves big action franchises. Studios responded by making more of them -- from “The Avengers” franchise to “Fast & Furious” sequels to the “Superman” reboots. And that doesn’t leave much room for the films Obst loved to make.

Is this the future of Hollywood? Obst says she isn’t sure but “technology is going to be our friend as well as it was our enemy. Technology allows a young filmmaker to make a film on his iPhone.” And she points out there’s still a third screen to consider after the movie screen and the television screen -- the computer screen.  

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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