Too Many Famous People

This Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal published an interview with Sumner Redstone, the president of Paramount Pictures parent company, Viacom. He announced that the studio would not be renewing the contract of Cruise/Wagner productions.

“It’s nothing to do with his acting ability, he’s a terrific actor,” Redstone said. “But we don’t think that someone who effectuates creative suicide and costs the company revenue should be on the lot.”

So let the War of the Words begin. Cruise’s people are now firing back.

“Paramount has no credibility right now,” Richard Lovett, president of Creative Artists Agency (which represents Cruise), told The New York Times. “It is not clear who is running the studio and who is making the decisions.”

Cruise’s lawyer, Bert Fields, told the paper that Redstone’s comments about Cruise were “disgusting” and suggested that Redstone, who is 83, has “lost it completely, or he’s been given breathtakingly bad advice.”

So lets break all of this down. This is not about Scientology. This is not about Katie Holmes, a baby or Oprah’s couch. It’s not even really about Brook, Matt or anti-depressants. This is about money and the disruption of the star system. The truth is none of this would be happening right now if MI3 would have lived up to expectations. But big stars are not bringing in the crowds like they used to and this isn’t just affecting Tom Cruise. Even Jim Carey has had trouble getting pictures green lit. Movie box office is down, DVD sales are slipping and something has to give. Studios are no longer magic kingdoms that can let stars do what they want, they are international corporations that have to answer to shareholders and corporate boards. If they aren’t getting results, heads have to roll. In this case, Tom Cruise.

The Long Tail is changing the way we consume media and in this case disrupting the star system. Simply put, having a big star is no guarantee you movie will open or make money. Part of the reason has to do with choice. We have unprecedented access to information and content and we’re simply spending less time paying attention to Hollywood stars and their movies. Whether it’s You Tube, Flickr, My Space, XBox, Playstation, iPod, Satellite Radio, 500 TV Channels, books or creating our own content…we’re just busy. There are just 24 hours in a day and something has to give. Going to the latest Tom Cruise movie, or for that matter any other star vehicle, just isn’t the first thing on peoples minds.

The other reason is, there are way too many famous people. Back in old Hollywood there not that many famous movie stars, not that many T.V. shows, or singers or star athletes. In the 50’s, the average person would have paid attention to Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, the Kennedy’s, Lucille Ball, Joe DiMaggio and Walter Cronkite. The big magazines were Time and Life. That was about it (I’m simplifying, of course, but go with me).

Now there are thousands of famous people. There are dozens of weekly magazines and TV shows dedicated to telling us about all these famous people. From a new pseudo-British punk band that isn’t even from Britain to teen pop stars, to reality T.V., to athletes; there are thousands of “Stars”. We live in a Paris & Nicole, Lindsay, Tom & Katie, Brad, Angelia, Tiger, Terrell, Barry, George, Richard, Mel, Steve & Bill, Bono, other Bill, Hillary, Oprah, Larry, Matt, Dianne, Brian, Katie, Charles, Tim, George, Donald, Johnny, Hugh, Stephen, Jerry, Jennifer, Vince, Jay, Dave, Conan, Jon and Stephen world! And I didn’t even mention anyone from American Idol. My point is, being famous doesn’t mean as much as it used to. You couldn’t possibly remember all the famous people out there. All the news books, albums, movies, T.V. shows and web start-ups are vying for our attention.

Movie stars are going to have to go back to earning their keep. How do they do that? By being good actors who choose good material. Imagine that. Quality. Meaning. Value. Giving. Fame isn’t enough anymore. You still have to move people emotionally. Do that, and I may keep buying that movie ticket. But it won’t be because the star is having a baby with their fifth lifelong soul mate and the exclusive photo spread is in a glossy magazine. It will be because of the material. “If it ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage”.