The Big Lie: Pro-American Films Don’t Sell Overseas (Are You Listening, Captain America?)

There was a lot of cool news out of Comic Con last week. The "Avengers" has a great cast, with the addition of Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner, and a great director in Joss Whedon. The images from Zack Snyder's "Sucker Punch" look awesome. "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World" was screened and people love it. Oh, and the upcoming "Captain America" film won't be "about America so much as it is about the spirit of doing the right thing."

Say what?

That's right kids. Captain America will be out there fighting the real evil of the world: corporations, Tea Partiers, global warming, and those who oppose gay marriage.

Even the L.A. Times notes that the decision to not make Captain America "jingoistic and flag waving" is a personal choice by the filmmaker. After all, it's hard to demand that change in the name of commerce. Marvel's own decidedly libertarian franchise "Iron Man" has earned nearly two billion dollars world wide.

Director Joe Johnston wants to make a film that "entertains without borders." Cute. But the simple fact is the folks who run much of the entertainment industry have let their personal biases interfere with their ability to serve their customers. If they really want to entertain the world, and maximize their profits, they would abandon their slavish devotion to leftist talking points. I know this because I'm the guy in the trenches. Unlike studio producers, living in the bubbles of L.A. and New York, I live and die directly by foreign sales and dealing one on one with the overseas buyers. The notion that American films should be "global" is a false one. I've heard as much from the very people the Hollywood elites are trying to appease.

Evolving technologies have allowed filmmakers all over the world to make product that rivals the production values of American films. Take a look at some of the blockbusters coming out of Asia. Look at any Luc Besson, French-made action adventure film. In the past, Hollywood held the monopoly on epics, special effects, and movie "stars." That's no longer the case. Yet, American films remain popular, dominating overseas multiplexes and television sets.

It's true that many around the world hold American ideology, iconography, and policy in contempt. But those people are disgusted by the very existence of American films in their countries. They lament the lack of local product at the mall theater. Making content tweaks isn't going to change their opinion. They're definitely not going to see a film called "Captain America," even if the finale involves the Avengers firebombing Bush's Crawford ranch and Dick Cheney's underground bunker.

But the folks abroad who do enjoy American films far outnumber the cultural snobs who wouldn't be caught dead watching the latest "Pirates of the Caribbean." Indeed, they really like American movies. And that's the point. If a film isn't decidedly Hollywood, why bother? Why fight the subtitles or overdubbing when locally produced product now has the same raze dazzle as their American counterparts?

They love American films because they are American. Uniquely American.

I spent some time in Japan, hanging out with one of the major buyers of low budget horror and sci-fi films. I was picking his brain about what would sell better there. I suggested that maybe we shoot a couple films in Japan. Nope. He wanted to see Venice Beach, the Windy City, and the Big Apple. Ok, how about bringing some Japanese actors over here. I spent most of my time in the hotel studying their television shows. Surely, a well cast soap star or J-pop musician would make the film more attractive. Negative. He liked our actors. He liked blondes and redheads. And if I wanted a "star" to boost sales, forget about casting Ami Suzuki, he wanted Kiefer Sutherland.

Flash forward a couple years. We were about to shoot a film that I wrote and would produce. I got a call from the Exec Producer. "Hey, I've been thinking," he says (always a bad sign), "since one of our investors is German, you better ditch the whole bit with the vampire Nazis. I don't want to offend him." Damn it, I thought, that part was awesome. Everybody hates Nazis. How much more evil can you get than vampire Nazis decked out in SS uniforms? But it wasn't worth the fight.

When the German investor arrived to check out the set, we grabbed lunch. "What happened to the Nazis?" he asked. My heart sunk. He read an early draft and he was offended. I replied that it just wasn't working, and I acted surprised that he had read such an early version of the script. "Oh, that's a shame. I thought that was really cool. And the way the heroes reacted to them was hilarious." I breathed a sigh of relief, then confessed that we took it out as not to offend him. He seemed more offended that we would have thought he we be offended. "I'm not a Nazi. Everybody hates Nazis," he explained. No, duh!

Every time I've encountered producers and executives trying to get inside the minds of the audience, be it Latino teenagers, the French, or a random buyer in a Sub-Sarahan country, they've been flat out wrong. They don't rely on data. They don't rely on communication. They don't rely on historical evidence. They make their conclusions based on "conventional wisdom" born in an echo chamber that exists solely on the island of Manhattan and roughly 100 square miles of California.

Basically, Hollywood is run like the federal government.

The leftist bent of Hollywood films has nothing to do with sales. If it did, "The Green Zone" would have performed as well as a Bourne film overseas. It didn't. It also has little to do with the actual tastes of foreign audiences and buyers. They love our movies. They love seeing our cities. They love it when the good guy wins and the bad guy loses. They love to see our superheroes zooming past oversized American flags. They love muscle cars. They love cowboy tough guys, and impossibly glamourous girls.

It's the executives and filmmakers over here that do not. Don't let them tell you any different.

Crossposted at Big Hollywood.

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