Writer Ben Fritz admits right at the outset of his book The Big Picture that the narrative he’s about to weave is based in part on stolen data, specifically the emails from Sony after that company was hacked several years ago. It’s the kind of “let’s get this out in the open right now” statement that not many people who covered the story as it happened in real time were willing to make, instead operating as if there weren’t murky ethical waters about to be swum. That he says so before anything else should tell you something about the kind of writer and reporter Fritz is.
Over the course of the book, Fritz takes the reader through the last ~10 years of the movie industry in a way that never comes off as insidery or inaccessible if you haven’t already been following along. As his hooks he offers a few different illustrations, including:
- The end of Sony Pictures executive Amy Pascal’s run at the studio, one that closed out the Hollywood era of creativity uber allies
- The rise of Marvel Studios and how studios now operate more as brand managers than anything else
- The embrace of the Chinese theatrical market and how the money that has flowed from both ticket sales and investors has drastically changed the financial model Hollywood operates with
All of those should be very recognizable if, like me, you’ve been elbow-deep in watching the movie industry over the last decade. Still, Fritz brings new insights and stories to light that offer more background and show just how seismic a shift all that has been in a world that was governed for so long by mercurial filmmakers both in front of and behind the camera.
In a way, the story he weaves is one that could be told in a number of other industries. Pick up any book about how the corporate landscape has changed in the last 50 years and how that change has impacted workers and you’ll read stories about how accountants and money managers have taken over and turned family-run businesses that employed tens of thousands of people in small Rust Belt towns into multinational corporations that outsource production to Taiwan or Mexico, removing the foundation from an entire region.
That’s more or less what Fritz shares here. Where studios used to spend lavishly to indulge talent because they were popular with fans or simply because the studio heads liked them, the system now quantifies everything, using global box-office projections as the first and last arbiter of what movies move forward and which ones are spiked.
What’s notable is that for an industry that prides itself on power rankings – Fritz often talks about how someone’s title dictates where they fall on the food chain – so much of what transpired in the last 10 years seems to be out of the hands of executives, the ones who should be driving the ship. Pascal’s heartbreak – there’s no other word for it – is chronicled as we watch in real time as the ability to foster and nurture the kind of creativity she’s long championed is taken from her as the industry changes around her.
So too other executives at other studios are ousted as they find their talents, developed over years coming up through the ranks, are suddenly no longer applicable for what the industry needs at the moment.
The Big Picture isn’t some jargon-heavy industry white-paper, though. While there is plenty of Hollywood-specific vernacular on display in the conversations pulled from some of the Sony emails, Fritz writes this in an accessible style that’s surprising given his years as a reporter covering the world of movies and the players behind the scenes. It’s loose and often funny, offering a quick read that helps the reader really understand why the multiplex seems to offer nothing but IMAX 3D Dolby Digital presentations of the fifth film in a series he or she isn’t sure they’re up to date on while they don’t hear about anything else until it comes to Netflix or Amazon.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.