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Will Independent Film Survive the Spielberg/Lucas Cinemapocalypse Prediction?

Spielberg and LucasBy now, most of you have heard about Steven Spielberg and George Lucas predicting the “implosion” of the major studios and theatrical releases of films. With the growing popularity of VOD and self-distribution, the two veteran filmmakers explained that the old model is slowly but surely falling apart at the same time that a new one is being built in its place. The question is — will independent film become a casualty to the change, or will it naturally fit into the framework of the new paradigm?

Spielberg and Lucas gave these dire predictions while speaking on a panel at the USC School of Cinematic Arts last week. According to them, major studios will decline and theatrical films will become a “niche market.” Spielberg said:

They’re  going for the gold, but that isn’t going to work forever. And as a result they’re getting narrower and narrower in their focus. People are going to get tired of it. They’re not going to know how to do anything else – There’s eventually going to be a big meltdown –There’s going to be an implosion where three or four or maybe even a half-dozen of these mega-budgeted movies go crashing into the ground and that’s going to change the paradigm again.

So, what does this mean? What will the new paradigm look like? That remains to be seen, but one important point to remember is that  moviegoers aren’t going to just disappear. Just because theater attendance is declining and major studios are predicted to do the same doesn’t mean that the desire to watch films is following suit. The audience will be looking elsewhere.

An article from Tribeca’s Future of Film says:

It’s not like the film industry’s viewership is just disappearing into the ether; at this moment we are seeing a bloom of video content on web outlets, with Netflix’s original programming perhaps being the harbinger of a totally new landscape of filmed entertainment. It goes without saying that never before has there been such a demand for filmed storytelling, nor have there been as many platforms and outlets through which to present it.

The ability of independent filmmakers to self-distribute through VODs and video sharing sites like YouTube and Vimeo instead of having to go through the theater circuit is only going to encourage independent production. The Future of Film article compares this new change to the music industry “collapse” — how P2P networks, iTunes, and Amazon allowed new musical talent to find their own audiences — smaller audiences maybe, but audiences nonetheless. Perhaps films will follow the same path since the distribution model is looking more similar every day.

Film Reel

And if Spielberg and Lucas are right in their appraisal of the future of the cinema, that means that the new norm will naturally become — independent. Without a major studio system for a film to be made outside of, all films will technically become independent films, and perhaps the next question to ask is, “What will independent film be after the Cinemapocalypse?”

I’m not entirely convinced that we’re about to experience the end of the wide theatrical release anyway. Spielberg and Lucas’ prediction isn’t new — many have said similar things before. After VHS won the home theater war against Beta, the late 80s and early 90s saw a great influx of consumers and audiences buying up VHS players and VHS movies instead of theater tickets. The same predictions about the death of the cinema were made back then as attendance dropped at first-run theaters as well as at Dollar Theaters.

Audiences enjoyed the brand new option of watching a film inside the comfort of their own home, but theaters fought back. They built stadium-seating, developed IMAX and 3D technology, upgraded visuals and sound, and provided more and more screens to give their straying audience a better variety of films.

Movie Theater

And theaters are still here some 20 or 30 years later. Perhaps the trick here is to not look at VODs and other new distribution platforms as disruptive technology, but as just another way to experience a product. Because honestly, there really isn’t a way to recreate the experience of watching a film in a theater. There isn’t a TV screen big enough, surround sound loud enough, or couch full of family and friends long enough to mimic that cinematic magic.

Having said that, that doesn’t mean that everything will stay the same at the multiplex. Lucas suggests that:

You’re going to end up with fewer theaters, bigger theaters with a lot of nice things. Going to the movies will cost 50 bucks or 100 or 150 bucks, like what Broadway costs today, or a football game. It’ll be an expensive thing –

Whether we experience exorbitant prices at theaters or not in the future, independent film is going to profit from the majors’ decline. It sounds morbid to say,  but I think it may be true. However, that doesn’t mean that indie film is going to cannibalize major pictures. Rather, their shares will be redistributed.

And as the foundation of traditional cinema shakes as its impending “doom” looms overhead, remember that few classic attributes of it actually disappear. The contours of the industry may be reshaped, but the material still remains. After over a hundred years we still have theaters. We still have movie stars. We still have independents. We even still have silent films.

The change is coming, but that means new opportunities for both majors and indies. The smartest thing to do is accept this and take advantage of it.

What do you think? Do you think Spielberg and Lucas are right in their predictions? What could this “implosion” mean for independent film?


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  • I’m not sure I would necessarily classify George Lucas as just a rich guy with a couple of good movies:

    That being said, yes the system has been broken for a long time, a very long time actually. We’ve made great strides with technology and really democratized the medium now but in a way it has come too late. Unfortunately screenwriting and storytelling have deteriorated so much that no amount of technical wizardry can make up for it.

    If we look back on the days of film noir we see a tremendous amount of good writing, acting and cinematography all done on very low budgets even compared with the blockbuster pictures of the day. The story was the key to capturing the attention of audiences. Much of film noir would be considered indie territory today because of the minimalist approach applied to production.

    I get a kick every time I see a new movie come out that’s just a remake from something from the 60s or 70s or worse, from TV of that era. Don’t get me wrong, I really like a lot of film from that era but like all time periods, there was great, good, mediocre, bad and atrocious. A lot of the remakes focus on some of the mediocre to atrocious end of the scale and if they do attempt to remake something that was decent originally they muck that up too. If you don’t have a good story, nothing else matters and no amount of VFX or blood and bullets will save your picture. There’s nothing magical about that. More and more of my friends and family have just stopped going to the theater because of this. Kinda sad really.

  • The studios have continued to increase the price of tickets, but not improve the cinema experience with better stories (they’re now just throwing crap on the wall to see what sticks… Mr. Lucas and Mr. Spielberg included) or are slow to embrace new and superior technology (object oriented audio like Dolby Atmos and DTS MDA or higher resolution digital projection and giant, wall-to-wall scope screens like in the Golden Era of cinema) … or just bet on the wrong technology (3D).

    Because of this bumbling and stumbling, people have looked elsewhere and it seems to be into the arms of companies that promise convenience over quality. Youtube, Netflix, Amazon, Vudo, Apple, Hulu, Vudu, etc… all have highly compressed rubbish PQ and AQ only suited for the computer screen, touchpads, and Smart Phones.

    Those of us in the home theater business side see this as the same potential death knell to movie and TV content quality as iTunes and MP3′s were to music quality. We want to preserve and protect videophile and audiophile media designed to hold up on large projection screens (even giant screens for home based auditoriums) and beautiful sounding speaker systems, not portable gizmos (yes, we still like our stuff BIG). It’s like Jon Stewart’s joke at the Oscars a while back where he was looking at “Lawrence of Arabia” on a Smart phone and commenting they all looked like ants.

    Also, the ultra low budget film maker will continue to be lost in the wilderness as the studios, and their deep investor pockets, turn towards internet distribution. They follow the money and the money is disappearing from the theaters. So the same franchise garbage and high fees that killed them in the first place will now have a home on the web… you just won’t have the large Cinemascope screens to see them with in all their banal glory.

    • Pardon me, Dan, but perhaps you could name for us some Spielberg “crap” that’s been “thrown on the wall to see what sticks”? I haven’t even seen the last two films, War Horse, and Lincoln, but I highly doubt that either are crap. Spielberg is a master filmmaker.

  • When you cannot get a theatrical release for a movie unless it is based on an established comic book character then you are in big trouble – and we really are at that point. I think Spielberg is imagining the day when kids don’t wanted to see yet another Spiderman, Iron Man, X-man, Transformer, Superman – or any Marvel comic or well-known comic book rehash. It seems like the Hollywood studio heads are controlled by their accountants – and accountants are notorious for having NO IMAGINATION AT ALL. They have not noticed that the movie audience has already moved on – millions of Americans are watching Korean movies and K-dramas ( see DramaFever com if you want proof ) Why ? They want fresh storylines and a new point-of-view. Millions of US teenagers haved latched onto K-pop to get fresh music and appealing performers -they are sick to death of Beyonce and Rihanna singing songs based on a loop of 3 notes. Both Hollywood and the US music business are flogging a dead horse. I recently saw a meme on Pinterest that said : Kpop saved my boring life – or words to that effect. The big movies need to become far more creative if the theater chains are to survive as they are. As it is, no one cares a hoot whether your hero lives or dies. They have forgotten how to engage an audience’s emotions and move them to laughter or to tears. Everyone who isn’t a moron is bored to death. The writing is on the wall. It’s sad Hollywood studio staff can’t read it seems

  • Pierre Samuel Rioux on 06.27.13 @ 9:56PM

    They forget one thing to get a theatrical release you need to get access to it !
    The major ( the 5 of them ) taken the control of the screen by forcing the theater owner
    to go to the digital projection. ( strangely Banker do not like financing film projector )
    They figured out they save 1500 $ ( + or – ) per screen with Digital Cinema Projection vs 35mm film.
    So the idea ( taken the control with out buying any thing )
    We gonna to share the saving with the theater owner they said sothe Owner they get near 780$ ( + or – )per film the theater owner used this money to pay the projector near 89k to 120k
    To give some pressure they ad a deadline date after this date you have no more money attached to the deal.
    Oh Oh you need also to reserve your screen to the major ( Hollywood or you have no money a monetary penalty ).

    This is what happen in Canada ! maybe it is the same in USA
    So some big City give some grant to independent theater to get projector in DCP and stay a free enterprise how could show film there customer like to see.

    So this bring 2 bad thing first the hit on Kodak film and to get a theater release you need to used a distributor how get access to those screen with out penalty for the theater owner… those distributor pay less for the film you made.

    We need parallel movie theater dedicate to art and independent film Indy at a lower ticket price.

    • A “parallel movie theater” will probably need to come from an independent. It also doesn’t have to be that expensive – 2-4 short-throw projectors with the edge-blending software would only cost U$10-20K per screen room.

  • Avant-garde film makers and storytellers will invent new ways to entertain subsets of people, and investors and producers will look for ways to water down those ideas and re-sell them to larger audiences. There is a place for large studios, but it will not necessarily be in a leadership role: it will be to continue to buy and re-sell trendy artifacts for a profit. Oh wait, Pixar.

  • Hopefully I’m not repeating what anyone else has already said here. I think rather than the end of cinema and theaters, what we could get is a refreshed era in American cinema similar to what happened with the “New Hollywood” of the 1970s. The comic book era will end eventually as is being reported, and more interesting and original film making will have to replace it at the theater. It already exists, it’s just not topping the box office because the big studios are telling people it’s not what they want to see. If movies like Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Holy Motors, The Master, etc. had the advertising and release that Iron Man has or The Avengers, then more people would venture to see those films. Maybe we will have more producers like Annapurna pics who are trying to put a different cinema on the map.

  • I say so-so with very similar predicts, about 10 years ago..I may send my text about it (but in polish) published in net. regards:)

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