Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Metabloggers Deluxe: Tucker Max Movie

Fair warning: I don't really have a point here. I'm thinking out loud.

Tucker Max is a male Julia Allison, basically; he got famous by polarizing people. People hate Julia Allison for loving the camera and making herself a sex object to get attention. People hate Tucker Max for the abusive way he treats women (or, more accurately, the abusive way he claims to treat women). Both these people owe a great deal to the people who hate them - in Julia Allison's case, she probably owes more to the people who hate her than to her fans.

A Hollywood scriptreader came across the script for Tucker Max's upcoming movie. The movie's listed as filming on IMDB, so that means it's really happening. The scriptreader criticizes the script, and says it's bad. Others agree. This set off an absolute deluge of comments. Many are attacks from Tucker fanboys. Many are attacks against Tucker fanboys. Many claim to come from women who love or hate Tucker. I think some of those are real, and some of them were written by Tucker fanboys.

The real story here: Tucker fanboys.

Buried way down deep in the comment sludge is a comment from a reality TV producer. From my point of view it's the only comment worth reading. I can't link to it, and I don't doubt that even more comment sludge is going to get piled on top of it, so I'm making with the cut and the paste:

DeeplyShallow on August 5th, 2008 5:18 pm

I can’t believe how much work I just avoided to read all those comments. That is a staggering amount of dedication to inertia on my part. I’ve taken away a lot. For the record, I believe the script reader of this blog is probably semi successful in her craft (and neither as ugly as her detractors have been slamming or as wonderful and talented as her boosters have been promoting). And I DO think she took a slightly moralizing, patronizing, and dismissive tone. Taking it out would have sold me more on her take on the script. Luckily, the pages are out there so I could read it independent of that tone. That said, here in the comments, it’s been a field day. But since I have read it all, I now feel qualified to comment objectively on what I’ve read from both sides.


1) The TuckerMax franchise is, in its own limited way, a successful one. Disparage it all you like for a point of view you don’t agree with and the decidely moronic clientele it plays to. But just as pro-wrestling makes its nut each week by playing to the PBR and tank top crowd, Tucker does the same by playing to the men in their late 20’s desperately trying to hold onto the good times of college. The fact that he does it in spite of his proven track record of personal mismanagement and brand self destruction (see Opie and Anthony interview) is only testament to how strong a brand it is. It lives on with an immature douche directing said franchise by throwing darts at the wall.

2) The script pages posted, if they are from the actual script, are not that great. But they’re not horrible either. They’re just average. A great actor could make them above average and bad actors could make them a filmic abortion. But they are not that much worse than most of the mediocre films currently on the market.

3) If you don’t believe point 2, see Hancock. It made 62 million its opening weekend and it’s three crap movies that someone blended together at random.

4) If all tuckermax fans who bought the book then paid to see the movie and it made 4 million in the opening weekend, then the film would eventually be profitable. Because the comedy central rebroadcast rights would be worth another half a mil. And the overseas would be worth another half. And the DVD sales would put it over the top. To say nothing of the merchandising involved. Which, no argument, would likely suck in all the ways that people have argued of the movie, but to which his devoted fans would flock nonetheless.

That said, contrary to the pontifications of the backwards baseball cap wearing masses of the Tuckerdom, this movie, all in, will be profitable. And, at the very most, an incredibly modest success. And nowhere near the definitive cinematic donkey punch they’ve spent nights in wood paneled basements dreaming of.

But profitable nonetheless.

5) Which brings us to the scary part for some of you. God forbid that even HALF of his booksales fanbase shows up, then in spite of personally mismanaging his brand by being the douche he is, Hollywood would throw money at him for something else. Why? Among all the demos that have gone down for TV viewing in the last ten years, the biggest flight has been from men 18-34. They’re all off watching youtube, or playing GTA or watching entire seasons of Family Guy back to back on DVD. If Tucker demonstrates the ability to get even 200,000 of them to show up on demand based on no more than a few blog posts, then someone will give him a cable show out of desperation. Or give him a deal to develop content. Or buy his site outright.
Why? Because execs in Hollywood are scared shitless. All the ways they’ve made money in the past are not working they way they used to - from the internet, to reality tv, to video games making more each year than movies - and they have literally no idea how to fix it. So should someone like Tucker deliver even halfway, they’ll point to them, throw money in a public way, and hope it helps them to hold on a little bit longer.

6) For the record, I also believe Tucker would screw that up. But it doesn’t mean that it won’t happen.

So, summing up, there’s a lot of people who are using the pages of what looks to be an admittedly mediocre script to scream righteously and get some shadenfreude in for Tucker being an objectively huge douchebag.

But, being a crap movie doesn’t mean no one will see it. Because in the grand media network of the world, being a douchebag in the right circumstances with the right amount of publicity and promotion, is a MARKETABLE commodity. One that Tucker has proven before and, at a very modest level and with the questionable management of himself involved, already delivered on.

That the above statement is true isn’t a great comment on our society and what we believe in. But since I produce and sell reality TV - often truly horrible TV - I can’t say I’m in much of a position to get all righteous about it.

The Internet is making its own celebrities because people need vocabularies for things. Tucker Max represents, in a very concise way, a very specific dream of the good life, which only a particular group of people share. He's more than a word and less than an archetype. Because he can pull an audience, Hollywood gives him money.

Sometimes Hollywood responds beautifully to the Internet.

But it very often responds with unthinking fear. In fact, most geeks only see the fear, because the innovation happens less visibly. Practically everything is less visible than a $1 billion lawsuit.

I know two companies that are doing interesting work bridging the gap between Hollywood and the Web, and one company (Hulu) that went for the obvious win. I'm not sure how much I can say about these companies - one I worked for, one I am working for, indirectly, and one I talked to pretty seriously. (We even discussed a Creative Director role.)

But change is afoot, and the one thing I never would have predicted is Tucker Max. You think computers, you think shiny, high-tech, educated - you don't think finally the frat boys find their leader.

Or, more accurately, finally the ironic 20-somethings who wish they were still frat boys find their leader. There's a scene in the Tucker Max screenplay where Tucker makes fun of a frat boy for having a name like Reed, or Chance, or Logan. Weird coming from a guy named Tucker. One of the strongest examples of the ever-blurring line between irony and mediocrity.

I encountered some mediocrity when I dealt with some ironic people at a newspaper site not long ago. It's very logical to take an ironic attitude working at a newspaper web site, though, partly because the corporate overhead dooms you to mediocrity, and partly because the Web is destroying newspapers. There's no doubt about that, and we have a clear idea what will replace newspapers. With movies it's less certain. Some people think video games are destroying movies; some people think video games are becoming movies; some people see it all moving to YouTube (and some people see it all happening for free). It's less certain because the organizational overhead for making movies is so much more intense, as Clay Shirky explained a few years back:

This change in the direction of free content is strongest for the work of individual creators, because an individual can produce material on any schedule they like. It is also strongest for publication of words and images, because these are the techniques most easily mastered by individuals. As creative work in groups creates a good deal of organizational hassle and often requires a particular mix of talents, it remains to be seen how strongly the movement towards free content will be for endeavors like music or film.

The connection to music is interesting. Takuro Mizuta Lippit, aka DJ Sniff, of the Dutch electronic music instrument studio Steim, told me in San Francisco last week that in Japan it's normal for all musicians and artists to have some kind of day job. He also told me that as a musician he likes the European and American models better. But this is where many people think music is headed - Chris Anderson, editor of Wired, basically said that since the old business models have disappeared, musicians should just keep making music, but let go of the whole getting paid thing.

It's unlikely Hollywood would accept that with movies; more to the point, it's unlikely they'd ever need to even consider it. Tucker Max can draw fans with cash in hand. And Tucker Max isn't the only one - Diablo Cody went from blogger to Oscar-winner in a very short time. Even though the Web is destroying old business models, it's simultaneously creating new celebrities. New celebrities mean new brands, and new brands mean new money.

One possible future lies ahead. The Rolling Stones made $150.6 million in 2006; 92% from touring. People like the Rolling Stones don't care if you file-share their album, because that's not where they make their money anyway. Simultaneously, Broadway is turning Hollywood movies into stage properties at an epic pace. You could see a future where a movie makes a lot of money on its live theatrical tour. Hard to pull off for Terminator 3, but a no-brainer for Glengarry Glen Ross, and it's already working for Legally Blonde. Certainly, Tucker Max gives his writing away for free, made money on the movie, and could make money turning it into a standup tour if he wanted - as long as he was willing to play small venues, with every audience a sausage fest.