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How the movie business has changed, for better and worse

Audience members watch a movie through 3D glasses at a newly opened IMAX theatre.

Jeremy Hobson: Green Lantern launches in theaters nationwide today and in 15 markets overseas this weekend. It'll be in 3D in most places. But the whole 3D thing doesn't really impress our next guest. His name is Peter Bart, and he's the author of a new book called Infamous Players. It's about his time as a Hollywood executive decades ago.

Peter Bart, good morning.

Peter Bart: Good morning.

Hobson: Well your new book, you talk about your time as executive at Paramount Pictures in the '60s and '70s. When you walk around Hollywood now, is there anything that's still run the same way as it was back then?

Bart: Absolutely nothing is run the same way. The whole business plan is different. One reason I wrote the book is to remind people that you expected an experience; you expected movies that would change the way you think about movies, you know? And today, basically when kids go to movies, they expect to see movies they've seen before. Another Hangover, another Kung Fu Panda. So it's a repetitive experience rather than a questing one.

Hobson: It's not just a 'good ole days' argument that people make that things were always better before?

Bart: No, I don't think things were always better before. Technologically, movies are extraordinarily superior today than they were then. But, today, you blast an audience with a $150 million ad campaign worldwide and you basically tell people what to see. And more and more of the emphasis of Hollywood is on that foreign audience -- 65 percent of the audience is foreign. And that's what motivates what people decide to make.

Hobson: How much did you care about foreign audiences back when you were at Paramount?

Bart: Zero. It was never even thought of. Interesting phenomenon, though, is the 3D pictures. The case of some of the 3D movies: more than half of the audience is opting to see the 2D version. So I think you're going to see more and more 3D, but I think they'll be done more skillfully. I think, frankly, the first couple of years of 3D is an exercise in schlockdom.

Hobson: Was there anything like 3D that you could have seen as a fad or the next big thing back when you were at Paramount?

Bart: Yeah, there are always gimmicks being tried. You know, seats that shook and aromas that were put out into the audience. But nonetheless, the emphasis was trying to make movies that were engrossing. Those of us who were involved in running studios actually asked ourselves, 'do I want to see this movie?' And that would be a good motivation for causing it to be made. That ain't true today.

Hobson: Peter Bart, author of Infamous Players and editorial director of Variety. Thanks so much for coming in.

Bart: You bet.

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My thought however, is with so many movies, in theaters and even ones made for cable, how can they keep coming up with truly new ideas. They just keep pumping them out all the time year after year. Surely it is not like it was 30 years ago when far less movie ideas had come out. Now haven't they tried just about everything, and if not doesn't that coming up with new ideas area just keep getting smaller and smaller. How realistic are people being about coming up with new ideas, when so much stuff has come out over the last 50 years, even just the last 20.

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