‘The Big Picture: The Fight for the Future of Movies’ by Ben Fritz

…………… BOOK REVIEW ……………

By JOHN HARLOW | Editor-in-Chief

Right now, the pace of change in movie media is so fast that by the time a book comes out to fill the space left by Edward Jay Epstein’s series on Hollywood economics, it’s out of date.

But this title, by Wall Street Journal reporter Ben Fritz, bridges past and present partially by focusing on the fortunes of Palisadian Adam Sandler.

If you have avoided Sandler’s oeuvre, either the slapstick or the more nuanced work of “Punch Drunk Love” and “The Meyerowitz Stories,” you still might have encountered him lurking behind facial shrubbery at Starbucks or Noah’s near the Village Green.

But at the turn of the century, Sandler was, alongside Will Smith, inescapable. Together, revealed Fritz in this well-informed and timely dive into the movie money pit, they were responsible for one-third of all the income enjoyed by Sony, then one of the biggest studios in the world.

Kevin Feige
Photo courtesy of Disney

Their movies grossed nearly $4 billion for a studio that eschewed franchises for “relationships” and star vehicles—a paradigm shredded, of course, by Sandler’s neighbor Kevin Feige as he ramped up the production of Disney/Marvel superhero movies.

Today A-listers are an endangered species, and Sony/Columbia/Paramount is gasping for air.

Fritz does not fawn over Sandler: “He didn’t have grand designs for his career or carefully plotted strategies for his company [Happy Madison]. He was a smart but easy-going schlub who had no pretensions about who he was or why fans loved him.

“He wasn’t fancy and he wasn’t a dinner party conversation guy. He was more about the money,” said a person close to the star who broke through from “Saturday Night Live” with broad comedies from “Big Daddy” to a pair of “Grown Ups.”

“Being prolific was the name of the game. Between 2000 and 2015, Sandler starred in 24 movies and produced another 13. Sony named an area of its Culver City Studio Happy Madison Square Garden,” Fritz said. The basketball court was embossed with an image of Sandler’s beloved Meatball, a very drooly hound. The corporate jet was always available.

But after 2012, Sandler’s star faded, Fritz wrote, eclipsed by the super men and, more lately, women in Lycra. And today the same executives who once boasted “Adam paid for my house” are willing to let him (and Smith) to slip away to Netflix.

Yet all this is relative—in 2017, according to Forbes, Sandler still earned $50 million from the streaming service. Not bad for a filmmaker whose movies do not score well with critics.

Fritz’s words spin a hard lesson: Nothing lasts forever, money keeps evolving and today, with so many alternatives for your dollar, attention spans and careers are briefer than ever.