It all depends on who you ask. Just before I left for NAB I’d read two takes on the future of the motion picture industry. Though fast moving, the industry hasn’t had any tectonic shifts since early April, so these are still timely reads. The nature of a community so dependent on wildly creative storytelling is that hyperbole is the norm, so Lynda Obst‘s Sleepless in Hollywood: Tales from the New Abnormal in the Movie Business ought be taken with a grain of salt. Salon ran an excerpt here. Obst explains why we keep seeing the same Spiderman movie every ten years or so, and also explains why movies have been so blatantly dumbed down. It’s good context, but it doesn’t present much of a path forward. A lot of the standard culprits stand accused, piracy, the decline of DVD sales, and, of course, those dreaded, fast-growing international markets.
A pleasant counterweight to Obst’s state of the industry is presented in Brooks Barnes’ March 29 New York Times profile of Kevin Tsujihara, the CEO of Warner Brothers. Rather than fear Hollywood’s new rivals, Tshujihara embraces them. The Lego Movie was produced after Warner acquired the Lego video game maker. He’s increased Warner Bros. investment in reality television. And he’s emphasizing digital sales of movies to consumers – a business that could be far more profitable than the DVD business, which was largely based on the rental market. Sell the DVD once and Netflix mails it out dozens of times. Sell the digital version to all the end users, and the rental companies are disintermediated. It’s not a slam dunk, customers might just as well prefer streaming to owning, but there is an opportunity.
Tsujihara’s Warner Bros. is doubling down on the movie business. It’s releasing three more features this summer than it did last year, and only one, Godzilla is based on an existing franchise. Even when going with herd, Warner Bros. seems willing to buck trends. The theatrical release of the partially Kickstrater-funded Veronica Mars film in March coincided with on-demand release. It took a little bit of creativity to stay within the theater chains’ 90-day exclusivity window, but where there’s a will there’s a way.
I’m no better a prognosticator than a monkey with a handful of darts, but I have a hunch that things aren’t as bleak as Obst would have us believe.
I didn’t watch the Oscars. I wasn’t in the mood to see the creator of Family Guy’s take on 2012’s best films. Not that I’m above crude humor. I wish I was, but I’ve come to believe laughing at poop jokes becomes involuntary in the presence of the Y chromosome. It’s something I live with… in moderation.
My reason for not watching was simple. If a night is to be a celebration of the craft of filmmaking, it should be hosted by someone who has demonstrated even the slightest understanding of that craft. MacFarlane is not that person. Someone’s who’s greatest contribution to the public discourse is sneaking Urban Dictionary references into a second rate, sophomoric cartoon series isn’t someone I want to spend an evening in my living room.
Now post-Oscars I learn I missed a real treat. I missed the validation of sexism as viable form of entertainment. Imagine if we replaced every sexist joke or skit with a racist joke or skit. MacFarlane’s career would be over.
Hollywood’s not much better than society at large in its treatment of women, but I’ve always taken pride in the role women have been allowed to play in my original craft, editing. Granted, it was only because early 20th century filmmakers thought of editing as a small step up from clerical work. By the time they realized editing was a specialized craft, women had established themselves.
Articles in the New Yorker…
The Academy is supposedly a trade group, and yet it devoted its opening number to degrading a good part of its membership.
…and Salon put a proper spin on MacFarlane’s shameful performance.
Four of the films MacFarlane crooned about featured nudity during or immediately following violent depictions of rape and sexual assault, stripped of their context and played for laughs.
So what did I do Sunday night? I watched Raging Bull, edited by Thelma Shoonmaker. I wish I could say it was purposefully symbolic, but it was just a coincidence.
This week’s Economist features a brief article on the state of Hollywood. Though not a lot will be revelatory to those of us in the space, it does remind us of some interesting trends that many of could hardly imagine just a few years ago.
One example, rumors of television’s demise were premature.
TV is relatively stable and currently lucrative. TV networks earn money from advertising and from the fees that cable and satellite operators pay to carry their programmes. These fees amount to some $32 billion a year in America, and are growing by about 7% annually. People love watching TV, and, per hour, it is one of the cheapest forms of entertainment.
In contrast, film revenues are volatile. Attendance swings like the moods of Claire Danes’s bipolar character, Carrie Mathison, in the TV show “Homeland”. In 2011 American cinemas sold 1.28 billion tickets, the smallest number since 1995.
As studios continue to experiment with new distribution models, and companies like Netflix are getting into the content creation business, both the motion picture and television industries might be in for a period of growth.