Utah Filmmaker attempts to change industry
November 22, 2006
At Hotel Park City last Thursday, an idea was revealed in a press conference that may radically change the way movies are produced.
A new movie production company, Audience Alliance Motion Picture Studios (AAMPS), announced that it plans to put all the decision power into the hands of the audience.
"The audience owns the business," said Keith Merrill, chief creative officer for AAMPS. Merrill said the audience buys the tickets and without the audience, movies wouldn’t bring in the millions of dollars they do each week at the theater.
"How many times have you gone away from a movie and said, ‘It was good, except one or two scenes?’ How many times have you gone away from a movie and said ‘I could do better?’" Merrill said. "Now, here’s your chance."
His goal is to build a major motion picture company that is "created for and ultimately owned by the audience."
Merrill, who lives in California, decided to have the press conference in Park City because he grew up in Utah and has done much of his filming in the state.
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"You can take the boy out of Utah, but you can’t take Utah out of the boy," he said.
The reason behind forming something like this is to create movies with values, something Merrill says is lacking in Hollywood.
"Seventy percent of the audience, who go to movies, say that Hollywood does not reflect their values," Merrill said. "We want to create movies that have heart, humor and great stories that send messages of hope and values."
Merrill is an Academy Award winner and two-time Oscar nominee for the movie "The great American Cowboy." His movies have produced revenue approaching $1 billion. He is considered one of the most successful independent filmmakers. He has directed other films such as "Amazon," "Olympic Glory," "Testaments," "Legacy" and "Grand Canyon The Hidden Secrets," which is currently in the Imax Hall of Fame. Merrill, who focuses on uplifting documentaries and stories, believes Hollywood has lost touch with America.
"This is a timely convergence of an idea whose time has come," Merrill said. "There’s been a neglect of the mainstream audience by Hollywood and there’s a growing frustration.
Merrill has assembled a fairly impressive team to accomplish this daunting task.
"This is built on personal interaction, with the right people with the right experience at the right time — people who recognize the power of the audience," Merrill said.
One of those is Ken Kragen. He won the United Nations Peace Medal for organizing "We Are The World," in which 45 major artists came together to record a song by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie and the proceeds went to the hungry people in Africa. He also organized "Hands across America," for which Kragen said, "I was able to orchestrate 7 million people joining hands from coast to coast to feed the hungry and the homeless of the United States."
Kragen said of the creation of AAMPS that, "This is a terrifically audacious idea."
Kragen however, is accustomed to innovative ideas. When organizing "Hands Across America," people thought he was crazy.
"People pay attention to the impossible," Kragen said. "We are offering something that’s cutting edge and will change dramatically the way movies are made.
Whatever Kragen is involved in, he usually succeeds. He devotes his time to consulting work for leading corporations in the United States. A press release stated that more than 95 percent of the actors he managed have become major stars and 90 percent of the projects he spearheaded have achieved success. He also won the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Talent Managers Association. When compared to all the phenomenal things he has accomplished, Kragen has put his heart into the AAMPS .
"This is perhaps the most important of those projects," Kragen said. "I may be involved in the third great cause of my career, and this may be the biggest thing I’ve ever been involved with.
"Audience Alliance has been formed to join hands in a different kind of way, to feed a different kind of hunger, the hunger of families and others for movies that entertain and uplift," Kragen said.
Merrill also considers this his third great work.
"This is really ambitious, and very bold," Merrill said. "I’ve had an incredible life and an incredible career. This is act three."
AAMPS works like this. People can log onto the AAMPS Web site and become members for $120 a year. Members can submit screenplays, read other screenplays, input thoughts and vote on what movies AAMPS should produce. Those whose scripts are accepted will also be compensated.
Every AAMPS movie will have strict guidelines, however, and won’t be rated above PG-13. Movies will aim to avoid sexual themes, vain language, defiant behavior and promiscuity. Violence will be handled in a way that will eliminate images that may be offensive to the general audience. Creative writing will take the place of profanity.
Integrating these types of values into all the movies may suggest like the production company will produce movies that lack conflict, character development and drama. That, however, would be a mistake according to Merrill.
"I don’t think it means they will all be warm and fuzzy," Merrill said. "Too many filmmakers embrace a philosophy that eliminates God. We will respect traditional values, universal values that are not political or religious."
Merrill will produce the movies around solid writing and entertaining stories. He said it will also give "rising generations of filmmakers a place to go."
Merrill referenced older, classic movies as the type of films that will come. Movies he said, Hollywood wouldn’t touch, such as the classic Christmas film, "It’s a Wonderful Life."
"’It’s a Wonderful Life’ would never get the green light in Hollywood," Merrill said. "It would never make it today."
Merrill mentioned a friend who is a producer in Hollywood that supports his ideas. Merrill said, "She told me, ‘I have different beliefs than you do and I don’t even think we believe in the same God. But, I read what you are doing and I wept. I’ve felt so alone in this business. I want to be the first in line."
For more information or to become a member of the AAMPS, go to http://www.audiencealliance.com.