Universal Chief Ron Meyer Clears Up 'Shitty Movies' Comment
The president opens up about difficulty of making good films, his distaste for 3D and the likelihood of sequels to "Snow White and the Huntsman" and "The Lorax."
NBC Universal Studios president and COO Ron Meyer said Friday that some of his recent remarks about "shitty" movies were taken out of context.
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“I was quoted as saying Hollywood make shitty movies,” says Meyer. “What I said is we make some good movies and some shitty movies. Nobody ever sets out to make a shitty movie.”
Meyer was referencing a talk he gave at the Savannah Film Festival in November that was reported by Movieline and widely quoted by the media in which he offered an extremely rare and candid assessment of Hollywood and his own studio. “We make a lot of shitty movies," Meyer was quoted saying. "Every one of them breaks my heart.” He then went on to trash specific Universal films. "One of the worst movies we ever made was Wolfman. Wolfman and Babe 2 are two of the shittiest movies we put out. … Cowboys & Aliens wasn’t good enough. Forget all the smart people involved in it, it wasn’t good enough. All those little creatures bouncing around were crappy. … Land of the Lost was just crap. I mean, there was no excuse for it. The best intentions all went wrong."
Meyer made his clarifying remarks Friday during a question-and-answer session that kicked off the 2012 Pulse Conference, put on by the Anderson Business School at UCLA. Meyer, in his first major speaking engagement since the November comments, was interviewed by Sanjay Sood, an associate professor of marketing at UCLA, and then took questions from the audience.
He talked about the difficulty in making a great movie against more and more obstacles. Some of those obstacles are matching the right creative people with the right material. “Sometimes a great director will do a bad job and an OK director will do a great job,” said Meyer. “You never know.”
Sometimes the surprises are good ones, he explained, as was the case with the family movie The Lorax, which opened in March. Meyer said it did more than twice the box-office business than the studio expected.
However, he said there are no plans to make a sequel to the animated 3D musical comedy because the movie was a self-contained one-off story that had a happy ending. “It does have us thinking about doing more Dr. Seuss movies,” said Meyer, adding that Universal is already working on a new animated version of the late writer's The Cat in the Hat.
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Meyer said it is important to develop franchise movies because they have brand recognition, which makes them easier to explain to potential ticket buyers and less expensive to market (since the audience already knows the brand).
He did admit that Universal has not had franchise brands based on comic book characters like Warner Bros with DC Comics or Disney's Marvel.
“Hasbro is the closest to it,” said Meyer. “Hasbro brought us Battleship,” referring to a big-budget movie Universal will release May 18 domestically.
Lacking franchises, Universal has had to manufacture its own, said Meyer, citing Bourne, The Mummy, Fast & Furious and American Pie, for which a fourth sequel opens this weekend. Meyer said he believes American Reunion is actually a better movie than the first sequel.
Meyer said that while the upcoming Snow White and the Huntsman doesn’t appear to lend itself to a sequel, Universal thinks it can do more movies based on the character of the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) if it is successful.
Meyer cited the animated Despicable Me as an example of where Universal executives had a surprise hit that they were able to turn into a franchise. He said the studio is working Despicable Me 2. “And hopefully,” added Meyer, “there will be a lot more to come.”
While The Lorax was in 3D, Meyer said it has to be used sparingly, when it makes sense, but that many movies are still better enjoyed in 2D.
“I’m not a fan of 3D as an audience member,” he said. “I’m too old for it. I don’t like wearing the glasses over my glasses.”
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Still, he added: “There is a place for it, an important place. I just don’t think we should kid ourselves that it is an end-all for the business.”
Meyer said the decline in the DVD business has been overstated and that though it is down, it is still important. He said it is “maturing” and the studio is looking to other methods of delivery from Ultraviolet to downloading to reach consumers.
Asked about an attempt to do premium VOD with the movie Tower Heist, Meyer quickly noted it never happened. He called it a “failed experiment” and said he was surprised that theater owners didn’t understand it was just a test in a limited number of markets.
“Part of it was a communications problem,” said Meyer, predicting that he'll try it again some time in the future. "There is no question it is coming. We don’t want to cannibalize our business. We have to be responsible. … We’re going to find an accommodation.”
Meyer said he believes in the movie business and that theaters will continue to be the first place to play, but he said exhibitors have to step up as well. “The theater owners,” said Meyer, “have to make seats that are comfortable and offer food that is edible.”
Repeating that nobody ever sets out to make a bad movie, Meyer also admitted that about 65 percent of all the movies Hollywood makes fail.
He said some movies need stars but there are very few who can really “put butts in seats.” He cited Will Smith as one who is bankable and said Tom Cruise was an important factor in the success of the Mission: Impossible movies, so he was worth what he was paid.
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Meyer was an agent before he took the helm of the studio and admitted he was one of those who helped pump up star salaries. “I don’t rue it now,” he said, “but I get punished by it some days.”
When you wake up on Saturday morning and your newest movie is a hit, said Meyer, that’s when the business is “fun.” But “it's not fun when you have a flop." When a movie flops, for days after, he said, “You are sure all the people are pointing at you everywhere you go.”
Meyer said during his 17 years at the studio, he has been under six different ownerships, but the core group of executives around him have stayed together through much of that change.
“Each owner comes in with a new set of rules and a new vision for the studio,” said Meyer. “But there has to be a balance -- between what has been done and what they will do. But it’s their studio. They can do with it what they want."
He praised the current owner, Comcast, as the best of the bunch. He said that unlike General Electric, Seagram’s or the Japanese or French owners, “Comcast needs the product and wants to produce. They’re very supportive of what we do. They really get it. It’s been a very satisfying relationship.”
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As an example, he pointed to the deal with Netflix to license some Universal library titles. Even though in some areas Comcast competes with Netflix, Meyer said the company approved that transaction. “They all want to make money and not look stupid,” said Meyer. “We all want to make money.”
Otherwise, he noted, he would be out of a job.