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Major Studios Expected To Stick With Blockbusters

Claudia Puig Los Angeles Times

No one could argue with the contention that 1996 was the year of the independent film. But what is up for debate is how the major studios will respond, if at all, to being overwhelmed by the independents in the Oscars race this year.

Independently made movies received the lion’s share of acclaim as the nominations for the 69th annual Academy Awards were announced Tuesday. The independents garnered 19 nominations in the top five categories, compared to the studios’ six.

Still, Hollywood executives generally agreed that the dearth of award nods within the studio system would not alter their policies to concentrate on “event” blockbusters.

“I think the studios all feel kind of badly for about six weeks. They feel real badly on the day of the Oscars because they’re not going or they’re watching it at some party,” said producer Brian Grazer, who along with his partner, Ron Howard, makes mostly big-budget mainstream pictures.

“But I think that’s fleeting,” Grazer said. “Two weeks later they’re back to making high-concept movies with big movie stars.”

Sure, Oscars are prestigious, but the ultimate prestige is still striking it big at the box office, both domestically and overseas. And event pictures - like “Independence Day,” “Twister” and “Mission: Impossible” - generate hundreds of millions of dollars worldwide.

“While the studios would like to win Academy Awards and be honored for greatness, the bottom line of the studios is, and always has been, making money,” said Tom Pollock, chairman of the board of trustees of the American Film Institute and former head of Universal Pictures.

“The goal, of course, is to make money while making great films, but if you have a choice between making money and making great films, it’s, ‘Show me the money.”’

This focus is likely only to intensify, since most of the studios are owned by large, multipronged corporations that also support other entertainment divisions. Indeed, this year audiences will have even more event pictures to choose from than last year.

“Hits drive the business,” Grazer said, “and that’s the way it’s going to continue, in my humble opinion.”

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