Earlier I posted about Steven Soderbergh’s ‘State of Cinema’ address, painting a mostly depressing picture of both the art form and the industry. Now, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas have joined the conversation, claiming that eventually we will witness a ‘meltdown … an implosion where three or four or maybe even a half-dozen of these mega-budgeted movies go crashing into the ground.’
‘You’re at the point right now where a studio would rather invest $250m in one film for a real shot at the brass ring than make a whole bunch of really interesting, deeply personal – and even maybe historical – projects that may get lost in the shuffle.’
— Steven Spielberg (from an article in The Independent by Tim Walker)
These days, it might be hard to imagine unstoppable media franchise behemoths such as Iron Man or Man of Steel crashing to the ground, though the very thought is incredible exciting. Forcing the industry online, to be greeted by endlessly fragmented fractals of niche audiences and low distribution costs will greatly democratise filmmaking, and therefore offer up a greater variety of films. The recent distribution of Arrested Development season 4 on Netflix (as a Netflix ‘semi-original’ series) is an example of things to come.
The implication Lucas presents is more surprising; cinema going the way of theatre.
‘Going to the movies will cost 50 bucks or 100 or 150 bucks, like what Broadway costs today.’
— George Lucas (from an article in Variety by David S. Cohen)
It sounds like a crazy thought, but it also makes an uncomfortable amount of sense. These films are, after all, incredibly expensive productions that have to generate a ridiculous amount of revenue. Becoming a niche medium seems to be a natural progression. While studios are surviving on big budget, franchised content, it’s at the expense of everything else, even work from established moguls.
‘Lincoln and Red Tails barely got into theaters. You’re talking about Steven Spielberg and George Lucas can’t get their movies into theaters.’
— George Lucas (D.S. Cohen, Variety)
Part of the reason so many studios are becoming so conservative and cautious is the decline in DVD sales (blamed on online distribution and piracy), which, according to Peter Chernin account for around half their profits.
‘The big implication is that those studios are—not necessarily inappropriately—terrified to do anything because they don’t know what the numbers look like.’
— Peter Chernin (excerpt from Sleepless in Hollywood by Lynda Obst in Salon)
Unfortunately, as Soderbergh claimed in his address, cinema is dying with the full support of the audience (or at least the majority). Too many are happy to watch movies on their TV, laptop or tablet at a greatly reduced price. We’re in age of content on demand, on any screen, on any device, for a low price – or even for free. The ‘event’ feel and grandeur of cinema is fading as convenience takes hold.
While it’s a shame cinema – as a theatre experience – is dying, it doesn’t seem like there’s any going back. Ultimately, VOD services allow more filmmakers to create more innovative art, without having to necessarily appeal to an international, mass audience. The internet proves to be the new land of opportunity for creators, audiences, and everything in between, but what happens when Hollywood exploits it as a primary distribution and marketing channel? Will we see a greater push for bills such as SOPA, CISPA and ACTA, threatening the freedom of the internet? Will the entertainment companies create their own services and infrastructure to give themselves an advantage, reducing the markets of smaller studios and independent filmmakers, before crumbling yet again as paradigms shift and start the cycle over?
Discussing video games and interactive storytelling, Spielberg and Lucas claim games which evoke empathy in combination with complete immersion are the future of entertainment.
‘The next step is to be able to control your dreams … You still have to tell stories. Some people will want to be in a game… and some people will want to have a story told to them. Those are two different things. But the content always stays the same. The content hasn’t changed in 10,000 years.’
— George Lucas (D.S. Cohen, Variety)