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MAR DEL PLATA, Argentina -- "The studios are not in the movie business anymore," said filmmaker and producer John Landis to a group of reporters in the Mar del Plata Film Festival, which is holding a retrospective selection of his work. "Some of us were very lucky. I started to make movies for the studios in the '70s. They were dying, but at least they were still studios."
When asked if Hollywood's response to a lack of original ideas is to rely on remakes, the Three Amigos director replied: "There are no original ideas. What there is -- and this is something no one understands -- is that it is never about the idea, it is about the execution of the idea."
"The film studios are all now subdivisions of huge multinational corporations," he stated. "Time Warner, British Petroleum, Sony -- these aren't companies, they are f---ing nations. They are these giant international things that don't pay taxes! It's ridiculous. They're like pirates. It really has to do with desperation, because they don't know how to get people into the theaters, so they bring back 3D and make all this kind of shit."
"It's very common now to spend more money selling a movie than making a movie. So the reason they make remakes and sequels is because they're brands, like Coca Cola. They remake movies because they have presold titles. It's tragic, because you have things like Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which is a brilliant movie, and yet the remakes have made a lot more money," he added.
Landis, who also directed Animal House, contrasted the current state of the studios to counterparts in an earlier era.
"When I did Animal House, I could point at the studio and tell you who owned it: Lew Wasserman was Universal, David Begelman was Columbia, Arthur Krim was United Artists, Steve Ross was Warner Brothers," Landis recalled. "I don't know who owns these companies now. There are no individuals who say, 'Sure, I'll take a risk.' Because the risks are now huge! I'm not that old, but many of my movies made more money the second, third, or fourth week, because we used to have what we call word of mouth. Now if a movie doesn't make money its first two days, you're f---ed!"
The director stated that piracy was another major issue. "One of the problems with the Internet that no one has solved is that for YouTube, Google, Yahoo to exist, they thrive on piracy. They must steal intellectual property; they're like vampires. So how do you fight that?" he asks, adding: "Now there are generations worldwide who believe that when they're downloading something for free, it's not theft. It doesn't even occur to them, so intellectual property has become nothing. You used to be able to write a book, or do a piece, and it was yours, but now you're raped continuously. It's very complicated, and I don't have any answers."
On a more positive note, Landis assured that quality films can still be made. "There will always be good movies being made. It's just harder and harder to see them," he said. "And the studios are no longer interested in making good movies -- they're interested in movies that will bring you in. So you have movies like Avatar, or Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity. It's wonderful to look at. Now, is it a good movie? No! But it's entertaining, and it's a spectacle and technically astonishing."
TV programming, in his view, is an oasis for quality fiction for a simple reason: "There are a lot of interesting things being made in cable TV now because they can afford to take the risk."
"Everything is changing. Steve Jobs destroyed the music industry. He decided a song is worth 20 cents, just like that. (Snaps his fingers.) Boom. Destroyed," Landis commented. "So everything has changed. There are no villains here. No one has the handle on it. I understand why they're scared. All their decisions are based on fear."