'American Sniper' in the Crossfire

In Focus

There’s always a right or wrong, black or white, or some kind of difference of opinion on nearly everything said, written or filmed. So it should come as no surprise that critics have taken opposite sides in the continuing saga of American Sniper. Whether it is patriotism or those casting the protagonist of the film as a hate-monger, one thing is for sure, this controversy has been very good for business.

In this editor’s opinion, this is not a war film. It certainly does not glorify the actions of the title character, Chris Kyle. War is a state of hostility between opposing forces and SEALs and snipers are taught to kill the enemy. As Bradley Cooper’s Kyle states in the film, “My only regret is that I could not save more lives.”

This movie is a record-breaking cultural phenomenon. Voices on the right praise the film and its central character, while others are calling the late Mr. Kyle a liar and a killer. Whether it’s controversy or patriotism boosting the film’s attendance, it doesn’t matter, contends Warner Bros. president of domestic distribution Dan Fellman, “because everyone walking out of the theatres is checking the A+ box in every category.”

What American Sniper is really about is showing the American people what happens to an individual when he returns from war—even a hero. Most Americans have never experienced visiting a VA Hospital or living with a veteran who has PTSD or has been seriously wounded.

First Lady Michelle Obama praised the movie at an event with media leaders focused on veterans’ issues. “While I know there have been critics,” she said, “I felt that, more often than not, this film touches on many of the emotions and experiences that I’ve heard firsthand from military families over these past few years. This movie reflects those wrenching stories that I’ve heard—the complex journeys that our men and women in uniform endure. The complicated moral decisions they are tasked with every day. The stresses of balancing love of family with a love of country. And the challenges of transitioning back home to their next mission in life.”

In late January, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, released a statement commending the movie as an “outstanding cinematic achievement honoring the life of a genuine American hero, Chris Kyle… This film depicts with subtlety and compassion those brave few who serve our nation in uniform, their experiences in the horror of war, the burdens they often bear upon returning home, and the untold sacrifices of their families.”

American Sniperis one of those films that gets the American public talking about what they perceive it to represent. Of course, there are two views. There always are. Congratulations to director Clint Eastwood and Warner Bros. for making such a thought-provoking film and one so successful.


Hollywood Execs Weigh Challenges

The motion picture industry is cyclical. Just look at the box-office results in 2014 as compared with 2013. Meanwhile, on paper, 2015 has the potential to be a record year. But a closer look reveals trends that are disheartening to the industry, such as younger audiences using other platforms to get their entertainment when and where they want it, and a lack of diversity in both the creative community and boardrooms.

Varietymagazine recently published an article entitled “Broken Hollywood,” in which many top industry executives spoke out on the different ways the industry needs to change. We believe it is worth repeating some of those comments that Variety elicited.

Harvey Weinstein, Weinstein Company co-chairman: “Every day we face new technology challenges. We have to look at our models–the theatrical model, the VOD model. We have to think about what we do with the lack of a DVD business.”

Ron Meyer, NBC Universal vice chairman:“Marketing costs have always been a challenge, and they continue to escalate. The cost of production is a major, major issue that has to be dealt with. We have to be in a business where we are profitable, and if you spend more than you make, you can’t be profitable.”

Chris Dodd, MPAA chairman and CEO:“Two million people get up every morning in all 50 states to go to work in good-paying jobs. Few will ever walk a red carpet, but their jobs are in jeopardy because of piracy.”

Alan Horn, Walt Disney Studios chairman:“I’ve long been a believer in the power of tentpoles to drive our business, but there’s a special place in my heart for smart, emotional films on a smaller scale.”

Jim Gianopulos, Fox Filmed Entertainment chairman and CEO:“It’s a convenient trope to say Hollywood keeps doing sequels and repeating itself. I think it’s really easy to say we are doing the same old thing. But a good sequel is not the same old thing.”

John Fithian, National Association of Theatre Owners president and CEO:“In 2011, we had the biggest public food fight ever on the issue of windows. We came out of that pretty strong on the topic as exhibitors, but nevertheless sullied as an industry by the public fight.”

Kevin Tsujihara, Warner Bros. Entertainment chairman and CEO:“I don’t think our business models are keeping pace with the changes taking place in consumer behavior.”

Nina Jacobson, producer, The Hunger Games:“There is a shortage of opportunity for young people, and a resulting shortage of fresh blood. There are so few jobs and so few junior-level jobs. People who have jobs stay in them longer. Consequently, there aren’t as many opportunities as there used to be for people to get their foot in the door and for the business to be energized by youth.”

Chris McGurk, Cinedigm chairman and CEO:“Hollywood needs to wake up to the idea that there’s been a permanent change in viewing habits by younger audiences, or the economic model for movie studios and broadcasters is going to be at risk. Kids have grown up accustomed to viewing content differently than their parents and grandparents did.”

Dick Costolo, Twitter CEO:“There’s so much choice for consumers regarding where they get content. First it was Netflix and Amazon, now there’s HBO and CBS (which are launching direct-to-consumer subscription video services). I think it will be interesting to see how that explosion unfolds.”

Chris Albrecht, Starz CEO:“There’s a demographic shift that has been occurring in the U.S. Millennials are now the largest segment of the population, Hispanics are the fastest-growing, and those two groups form the nexus of the next consumer generation.”