Anne Thompson illustration via Facebook
People who follow the business of movies love to follow Anne Thompson. A veteran reporter, she launched Indiewire's daily film blog Thompson on Hollywood for Variety in 2007 and has been covering the Hollywood beat for more than twenty-five years with a thorough and friendly objectivity. Now she’s released The $11 Billion Year, an in-depth, behind-the-scenes chronicle of the motion picture industry in 2012 – from Sundance to Comic-Con to the 2013 Oscars.
Thompson took some time out of her crazed week before this weekend’s Academy Awards to discuss her book and the changing Hollywood system, as well as to make some juicy Oscar predictions.
WORD&FILM: You’ve been on the scene for a long time yet this is your first book. Why write one now?
ANNE THOMPSON: Actually, I initially wrote this proposal years ago and it didn’t go anywhere. But the world has changed so my having a blog makes it easier for publishers to market my work. And I had a very strong perspective that I wanted to cover in long-form though it was a huge, and sometimes painful, shift from the hourly reporting of blogging.
W&F: Are you writing to a different audience in your book than on your blog?
AT: I didn’t abandon my insider voice but I envisioned my audience as more like the one I wrote for at Premiere. Smart movie lovers who don’t know all the ins and outs of Hollywood but want to know how it works.
W&F: What was the biggest surprise of 2012 that you ended up writing about?
AT: What happened with “Argo” was a mindblower. For someone not to get nominated for best director and then win best picture just never happens – but it did for (star/director) Ben Affleck. To follow that story through to Oscar night was a pretty exciting ride. I was an early advocate of “The Life of Pi,” too. I felt very strongly that people would go for that movie but the media, the critics didn’t catch up until it suddenly became a hit around the holidays. People wrote it off as a family movie until then. I also never thought “Beasts of the Southern Wild” would do as well as it did, though I loved it.
W&F: In your book you assert the movie industry isn’t thriving even though 2012 turned out to be a very good year for film. What do you mean by that?
AT: Studios aren’t aiming for domestic markets anymore. They’re aiming for foreign markets, which means domestic theater owners are getting screwed. At this point studios are distribution and marketing entities rather than financing entities for in-the-middle films. The ones with budgets between $5 and 100 million aren’t getting made. “Annie Hall” wouldn’t have been made by a studio now! Those mid-range films and the people who make them are all moving to television. It’s a wholesale shift. Jodie Foster is directing for television. Jane Campion is directing for television. Even directors like Steven Spielberg and Steven Soderbergh can’t finance a movie within the studio system.
W&F: In your book you detail Spielberg’s difficulties in financing “Lincoln.” That surprised me. I figured Hollywood would eat that topic right up.
AT: Right! This was Spielberg trying to make a movie about the most famous president in American history and he still had to struggle! Of course once it was made it was received really well. But the studio doesn’t care about the health of the industry as a farm system. Someone like Lena Dunham should be making films! But she’s in television for a reason: There’s no future in film. I tell young people not to go into moviemaking because there’s no income in there.
There has to be some other gateway to distribute films. The old paradigm about Friday theatrical release dates and relying on a good New York Times review needs to change because how people consume entertainment has changed. There’s a lot of movement afoot to create a breakthrough. Netflix is the closest to a solution right now, and I thought they’d become a portal for indie movie distribution, but they’re focusing on marketing their TV shows instead.
W&F: Do you think there’ll be a time when there won’t be movies in movie theaters?
AT: It’s looking fairly grim because studios are making so many bad movies that they’re burning audiences. People are getting out of the habit of going to the theaters. My eighty-five-year-old uncle signed up for Netflix Instant!
W&F: On the upside, do you think a changing distribution model will help women gain more power in the movie industry?
AT: With video-on-demand distribution, the whole business of booking road shows and theaters yourself, and companies like Roadside Attractions, hopefully we’ll find a way for people to make money from films that’ll sustain them separate from the studios. And there’s hope in that terrain for women because women have always done better in this industry when there are lower stakes. The future is good for them in TV and in indies but they may never do well with big-budget movies. In my book I discuss how even Kathryn Bigelow had to raise independent funds to make “Zero Dark Thirty” despite “Hurt Locker’s” strong reception.
W&F: Okay, let’s talk Oscars. Do you think the predictions of Oscars whisperers like yourself affect the outcomes?
AT: The snowball effect has overtaken the Oscars. When a Cate Blanchett or a Jared Leto just keeps winning during the Awards season, it generates buzz covered by the journalists and bloggers, and that creates momentum. It didn’t use to work like that. I used to do my Oscars predictions ahead of time for print editions of publications, and there were very few people who tracked these races. Now the viral aspect – including the poison pills that can get planted – takes on a bigger life. Everyone’s aware of it, including members of the Academy.
W&F: So what are your official Oscar predictions?
AT: The question always is: What’s everyone in the Academy going to like? As I said, Jared Leto will take supporting actor and Cate Blanchett will take lead actress. Matthew McConaughey will win best lead actor for his career comeback. Lupita Nyong'o will win supporting actress because Jennifer Lawrence has an Oscar already.
The best adapted screenplay will be “12 Years a Slave.” If it’s a spoiler it’ll be “Philomena.”
Original screenplay will be “American Hustle.” A lot of people think “Her” will take that category but my hunch is the mainstream of the Academy won’t get it.
“20 Feet From Stardom” will win best documentary. It is by far the doc that’s gotten the most awareness and box office sales, and I like the movie very much.
For director, Alfonso Cuarón will win.
W&F: Does that mean “Gravity” will win Best Picture?
AT: I think it’s “12 Years a Slave” in a very, very close race with “Gravity” because the Academy likes to look noble and fabulous on Oscar night and it wants to do the right thing.
W&F: So the big question is: what will you be wearing? You’ll be backstage at the Academy Awards as well as at the Governors’ Ball this year.
AT: I have one of those V-neck black dresses that bunches up in artful ways and is black and sparkly, and I’ll wear modest black pumps. I cannot do high heels!