A little less than a year ago, a wave of fan support for sequelizing a little-seen, cult favorite cropped up overnight on social media sites. The independent producers of the film were taken aback, but shrewdly (and quickly) utilized the outcry to make the case for a follow-up movie to financiers which in turn caused the online flames to burn even brighter. It created a feedback loop, bolstering numbers to a boiling point, but the movie wasn’t made. At least it hasn’t been made yet. But it probably won’t. But it could.
Those last three sentences rest at the heart of a movie fan paradox. There’s an overwhelming amount of information out there (some good, some bad, some bullshit) that simultaneously gives us a sunshine view of the production process that promises us every movie we’ve ever wanted will come true, and gives us a cold shower of reality that the system is going to continue giving us the middle finger. That second part almost always comes with a dash of But There’s a Chance…, feeding our optimism just enough protein to keep it from ripping out the IV.
I’ve purposefully left off the name of the movie that was so futilely rallied around because it could be (and has been and will be) any of a dozen fan favorites. Their stories almost never have a happy ending, and the sea change that we keep hearing about — the one where studios are greenlighting sequels for passion projects that haven’t done that hot at the box office — is always the next hill over. Or in another castle, if that’s your poison.
We’ve turned ourselves into Charlie Brown. Eternally hopeful, almost always let down. The combination of an easy means of shouting our voice into the void, the constant availability to ask filmmakers about specific unrealized visions, and the eagerness of studios to keep dreams alive has created an environment where we have to balance optimism with skeptical glances.
The problem is, I’m not sure I know how to do that, so I’m curious as to how other movie fans do.
To that point, near the end of 2011 we did two things here at the site that seemed unrelated but have ultimately led to my current (completely superficial, admittedly mild) existential crisis.
The first was instituting a moratorium on news stories about Ghostbusters 3. After a third straight year of whisper thin rumors, Neil and I emailed the staff to tell them that no one was allowed to write anything about the non-movie without our permission. We still haven’t allowed any direct news stories, although Brian wrote an awesome piece mashing together the idea of a new Ghostbusters with the plot to 1982′s The Entity (sold!) and Chris considered a handful of directors who could take over for Ivan Reitman when he dropped out of the developmentally challenged movie earlier this year.
Two, I wrote the first installment in a sporadically published series called Promised Movies That Haven’t Been Made Yet. People screamed in the comments section about how stupid I was when I chose The Arrested Development Movie as my #1 pick. Hadn’t I read the news that it was being made? Did I not see the quote from the gaffer saying how he really wanted to make it? Why would I include a movie that was so obviously, definitely, definitely going to get made?
Remember, this was back in 2011.
These two things collided when I recently included Ghostbusters 3 on one of the PMTHBMY lists, and I let it sink in how deeply we’ve all become embedded in a handful of Development Hells. We know far too much about movies that, by all likelihood, will never be movies. What used to be information revealed a decade later in books by David Hughes, is now our daily reality. It raises the obvious question of whether we should know (or “know”) most of this stuff at all.
Just for fun, I went to another popular movie site this morning and found their Ghostbusters 3 hub to discover they’d posted 37 news stories about the movie in the past 6 years. That’s right. More has been written about this non-existent thing than Belle, a period drama no one knows about that’s made way more money than anyone expected it to.
There’s a metric ton of reasons for this, and you probably know them all, but it’s really the collective environment that’s become both toxic and vitamin-packed for optimism. Remember, this isn’t only about out-of-thin-air rumors. It’s about genuine news that gives us heartburn. On any given day, this is what movie fans have to deal with in the way of information:
- Complete Bullshit – News invented wholesale for different reasons, but disguised often so well and spread so quickly that it’s impossible to remove entirely from the ecosystem.
- Rumors — Leaked info that sometimes proves to be true, is true until something changes (causing us to believe it was always false), or is outright false (see #1).
- Premature development stories – The nature of production means that projects can get to the one-yard line without scoring, and now we don’t even wait for kickoff. We’re tracking from when the ball is being stitched together at the factory.
- Person X wants something stories — The easiest question to ask a movie star today is what superhero they want to play. The next day it morphs from “wants” to “in talks” to “playing.”
- Confirmed stories — The stuff that hits your awareness and is far enough along in the process that it looks pretty much the same by the time the first trailer lands.
Please don’t think I’m begrudging or blaming movie websites for this. I’m blaming all of us. Our enthusiasm and optimism has undermined us, in a way, leaving us hungry for news that makes us excited beyond belief even if that news fits best into category #1. When we see stories that don’t pass the smell test, we often ignore the nagging voice and share them with friends because we want so badly to believe that they are real. Our hope clouds our common sense, and Ghosbusters 3 still isn’t a movie. And it won’t ever be. Maybe.
The biggest perpetrator of this is, of course, Guillermo del Toro. The man speaks with such fervency and passion about dreams that will almost assuredly never be fulfilled, and we love him for it. And we should. He speaks our language because he’s a fan. His mind is also constantly whirring, so a simple question about what’s on his plate from a nervous Comic-Con attendee can easily become a 10-minute-talk about the five projects he’d most like to see happen. Meanwhile, a studio accountant 120 miles north laughs her head off and jumps out a window.
When we hear what he’s saying, we’re entranced. We don’t think about his timeline as a director (8 movies in 20 years), or how often a studio turns around to deny that they’ll be making what he wants to make. We think about a darkly beautiful vision of Pinocchio or Haunted Mansion or Cthulhu or another Hellboy (!) or whatever else he’s started a notebook for. We want so badly for his dreams to come true. Cinema, after all, is about making the impossible happen.
So then we get our hearts broken. At the Mountains of Madness won’t happen, but now it might with a lower rating, and tomorrow it won’t again because studios don’t simply hand out hundreds of millions of dollars to internationally known directors who want to tell a story about super weird creatures. I’m still not convinced that Pacific Rim 2 will happen. Write a million news stories about it, have Donna Langley sign a contract in blood promising it, and I’ll still be doubtful because — at any moment — the studio could do the easiest thing they ever have to do: say no.
All of this to say that there’s too much information out there (duh, right?). It’s difficult to separate the wheat from the manure to create a sense of balanced excitement. I’ve lived through three eras of movie information: the pre-internet years where studios told us what they wanted us to know; the early internet years where scoops flew around and often proved to be, gasp, true; and the adolescent internet age of today where everyone talks about everything as if it’s a done deal.
Even as someone professionally steeped in all of this, I’m still trying to figure out what we fans can go crazy about, and what we need to guard our hearts against.