How to Save Theatrical Distribution After the Home Video Boom and Bust
We all know that watching a movie on a 15-inch laptop from your couch just doesn’t compare to a real movie theater experience, and yet every year the numbers of people going out to the movies shrinks – meaning, for filmmakers, so do the number of different films that get to play on the big screen. Is it because of television? The Internet? Kids these days and their short attention spans?! In the entertaining series of videos below captured by 4th Row Films at the Sundance Art House Convergence, Ira Deutchman, suggests how me might save theatrical distribution.
From Cassavetes' DIY marketing to the "Miramaxing" of independent film, Ira Deutchman has been around the theatrical block. He starts his keynote address peppered with funny anecdotes, like his start in the biz working for an ethically-questionable-but-gutsy Gramercy Theatre owner by the name of Don Rugoff. (Check out all three parts of Deutchman's talk here.) His colorful stories illuminate an interesting concept: programming and marketing a film is a curatorial process that influences not just who sees it, but how the film is experienced. Example: Rugoff made up his mind that David Bowie's seminal sci-fi flick "was a movie that had to be seen multiple times in order to understand." So he came up with the idea of giving out hospital bracelets that said 'The Man Who Fell to Earth' on them; as long as you kept yours on, you could come back and watch the movie -- as many times as it took to understand.
But then comes the VHS era, and as Deutchman points out, this is when things start to go sour for independent films in the theater, when it becomes very hard for word-of-mouth films to exist, and the influx of bad movies “poison the market."
Despite this rather disappointing shoulda-been-around-for-the-70s spiral, Deutchman doesn’t think theatrical distribution is going to die, and he does not think that outlets like TV and Netflix are the main problems for theatrical distribution at all:
Deutchman points out what he thinks are major flaws in the current theatrical practices. If there are basic aspects that constitute whether people will consume something, from convenience to price to selection, theatrical is on the losing end of most of those areas. So instead of throwing up our hands, stamping on our berets, and cursing the deplorable state of cinema, we can start by looking at these factors in order to take back the theatrical experience:
What do you think about the current trends of seeing movies in theaters? What do you think it would take to make it a healthy industry, creatively and capitally, again?