Fogelson suspects that filmmakers will agree with any opinion he offers in order to get a green light, so he lets them describe the film they really intend to make, then trusts his gut about whether it sounds commercial. Choosing which movies to make is the crux of his job, the hundred-million-dollar decision. When he was eight, his father, the head of marketing at Columbia Pictures, told him, “You need a clear good guy and a clear bad guy, and the audience needs to know what it’s rooting for.” ... “Only make a film you already know how to sell.” ... Fogelson believes that seventy-five per cent of a movie’s success is due to its marketing and its marketability. ... The six major studios, besieged by entertainment options that don’t require people to get off the couch, have bet that the future lies in films that are too huge to ignore. Although they make low-budget films for targeted audiences (teen girls, say, or horror fans), they focus most of their energies on movies that cost more than three hundred million dollars to make and market. Such films are predicated not on the chancy appeal of individual actors but on “I.P.”—intellectual property, in the form of characters and stories that the audience already knows from books or comics or video games. ... STX’s internal data showed that such star-showcase films, within that budget range, were profitable thirty per cent more often than the average Hollywood film. So the studio planned to make a lot of them. By 2017, STX expects to release between twelve and fifteen movies a year, as many as some of the major studios. ... Fogelson looks at comps, too, but then he applies a three-part test. First, can the film be great? (By “great,” he means “distinguished within its genre.” ... Then, Do we know how to sell it? And, Can we make much more in success than we lose in failure? ... We go to the movies now for the same reasons that Romans went to the Colosseum: to laugh, to scream, and to cheer. Comedy, horror, and triumphs of the human spirit still play better in theatres than at home. What plays best of all, of course, is a spaceship going kablooey all over the screen. ... What is novel is the studios’ heavy reliance on the string of sequels known as a franchise.
For decades, the solution to aging has seemed merely decades away. In the early nineties, research on C. elegans, a tiny nematode worm that resembles a fleck of lint, showed that a single gene mutation extended its life, and that another mutation blocked that extension. The idea that age could be manipulated by twiddling a few control knobs ignited a research boom, and soon various clinical indignities had increased the worm’s life span by a factor of ten and those of lab mice by a factor of two. The scientific consensus transformed. Age went from being a final stage (a Time cover from 1958: “Growing Old Usefully”) and a social issue (Time, 1970: “Growing Old in America: The Unwanted Generation”) to something avoidable (1996: “Forever Young”) or at least vastly deferrable (2015: “This Baby Could Live to Be 142 Years Old”). Death would no longer be a metaphysical problem, merely a technical one. ... The celebration was premature. Gordon Lithgow, a leading C. elegans researcher, told me, “At the beginning, we thought it would be simple—a clock!—but we’ve now found about five hundred and fifty genes in the worm that modulate life span. And I suspect that half of the twenty thousand genes in the worm’s genome are somehow involved.” That’s for a worm with only nine hundred and fifty-nine cells. ... For us, aging is the creeping and then catastrophic dysfunction of everything, all at once. ... The great majority of longevity scientists are healthspanners, not immortalists. They want to give us a healthier life followed by “compressed morbidity”—a quick and painless death. ... The battle between healthspanners and immortalists is essentially a contest between the power of evolution as ordained by nature and the potential power of evolution as directed by man. ... Aging doesn’t seem to be a program so much as a set of rules about how we fail. Yet the conviction that it must be a program is hard to dislodge from Silicon Valley’s algorithmic minds. If it is, then reversing aging would be a mere matter of locating and troubleshooting a recursive loop of code.