The Middle

A window display in San Francisco, commenting on the impact of online distribution. By Todd Lappin. CC BY-NC 2.0

A window display in San Francisco, commenting on the impact of online distribution and piracy. By Todd Lappin. CC BY-NC 2.0

For decades now, content which was expensive to produce (music, games, movies), made it difficult for independent artists to make something as easily as a multi-billion dollar corporation. Of course, the problem was that these corporations only had so much money because they only produced that which was likely to be profitable. Rarely would they take risks, and often this would lead to formulaic and unimaginative slurry for all.

Now, things are different. Independent production and distribution is an achievable reality. Musicians and games developers have had massive success with online platforms such as SoundCloud, Band Camp, Steam, and The Humble Bundle creating real opportunities to share, and profit from their work. Film production and distribution is also increasingly democratised. Part of this is the low cost of digital production, although high-end digital costs can be very similar to film. However, distribution is where everything has truly changed. Selling a film online is now a viable method of distribution, either through direct sales, iTunes, streaming services, and now Vimeo’s pay-to-view service. Selling distribution rights on a non-exclusive basis is not written out as madness anymore. Filmmakers have more power to retain their rights than ever before, and finally get to control how their film is made and seen.


Video: Jamie Wilkinson discusses online distribution and bypassing the studio system to distribute DRM-free films directly to fans.


However, there is something I never really considered before seeing this article from Eurogamer. While indie films become more plentiful and more popular, whose market will they eat into? Gears of War creator Cliff Bleszinski claimed in 2011 that ‘the middle class game is dead.’ He went on to compare it to movies:

‘It needs to either be either an event movie – day one, company filed trip, Battlefield: LA, we’re there. Avatar – we’re there … Or it has to be an indie film. Black Swan – I’ll go and see that. I’ll go to The Rialto or I’ll go to the AAA Imax movie. The middle one is just gone.’

— Cliff Bleszinski

Now, to say that Hollywood’s flagship projects combined with indie films will result in audiences leaving everything in between behind may be an overstatement, but there will be an impact. As TV and film converge through similar methods of production, and online video services make their way into people’s living rooms, it’s not an illogical assumption to make. The money people spend on indie films will probably mean they spend less on studio films, unless those films are big titles such as Avatar, The Avengers and even unnecessary reboots such as The Amazing Spider-Man. Movie-goers will probably end up with a list of films they’d rather watch at home for a much cheaper price. With high budget blockbusters offering copious amounts of awe and entertainment, and indie films regularly offering imaginative and original experiences, the films that will suffer are the formulaic, middle-of-the-road studio flicks. While it may sound harsh, I feel this can only mean an increase in quality. If studios want their ‘middle’ films to do well, they’ll have to make better films.


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