January 7, 2014

Scorsese Says Cinema Has a Bright Future, Here's Why

It has been over six months since Steven Spielberg and George Lucas talked about the impending doom of the current studio system. Now, another Hollywood heavyweight, director Martin Scorsese offers his opinion on cinema's current and future state in an open letter to his daughter, originally published in the Italian magazine l'Espresso. Scorsese's take on the future of filmmaking is that, yes, it's surely changing, but it's still bright and promising thanks to something that has become more the rule than the exception: low-budget filmmaking.

Many wrote off Spielberg and Lucas back in June, but as more and more veterans of the screen come forward to offer their own insight, it's becoming more clear. Our industry is changing. There's no denying it.

While some may focus on the seemingly negative aspects of the change -- the imploding studio system, $50 theater tickets, a complete reconfiguration of the industry (which may not be a bad thing), Scorsese's letter offers hope for the future of cinema, and that hope seems to be low-budget filmmakers.

Scorsese worked at a time when making a quality picture meant getting studio funding, which often meant studios maintained creative control. A smart filmmaker knew how to play the game -- find a way to satisfy their creative freedom as well as the investment of the studio. Cinema is a business after all. Scorsese offers the observation that filmmakers of the 60s and 70s (and beyond) had to work hard to not only finish their films, but protect to them as well, having to hurdle over every inconvenient and unpredictable obstacle that stood in their way. Scorsese says:

I suppose we realized, on some level, that we might face a time when every inconvenient or unpredictable element in the moviemaking process would be minimized, maybe even eliminated. The most unpredictable element of all? Cinema. And the people who make it.

The director names several filmmakers that he believes are "exceptions to the overall trend in moviemaking" -- Wes Anderson, Richard Linklater, David Fincher, Alexander Payne, the Coen Brothers, James Gray, and Paul Thomas Anderson. However, if we're talking about the people who have shown up to make cinema in the last couple of decades, the people who are beginning to change the current paradigm by using what little is at their disposal to create the films they're passionate about, well -- that sounds a lot like the low-budget filmmaker. That sounds like a bright future for not only we filmmakers, but for the future of cinema as well. Scorsese says:

Why is the future so bright? Because for the very first time in the history of the art form, movies really can be made for very little money. This was unheard of when I was growing up, and extremely low budget movies have always been the exception rather than the rule. Now, it’s the reverse. You can get beautiful images with affordable cameras. You can record sound. You can edit and mix and color-correct at home. This has all come to pass.

It's still too early to really know what's going to happen to this wonderful thing we call cinema -- to its industry as well as to its artists. Speculation abounds, so all we can really do (and, for the most part, have been doing) is keep making films -- and if you're not making films, Scorsese has a word of caution for you:

In the past, because making movies was so expensive, we had to protect against exhaustion and compromise. In the future, you’ll have to steel yourself against something else: the temptation to go with the flow, and allow the movie to drift and float away.

Be sure to read Scorsese's full letter here.

Did Scorsese's observations on the future of cinema strike a chord with you? Where do you see cinema in the next 5 years? 10 years? 30 years? Let us know in the comments below.

Link: Martin Scorsese: A Letter to My Daughter -- l'Espresso

[via Indiewire]

Your Comment

30 Comments

I see the prevailing business model going down the toilet like in the music industry.

January 7, 2014 at 11:08PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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moebius22

Lucas and Spielberg talk about the ultra high budget summer blockbusters losing money. Someone wrote recently - it was a financial site, IIRC - that the reason for that was that the summer season can handle up to seven super hits but the summer of 2013 featured nineteen films with very lofty ambitions. Studio executives are perfectly aware of this but took risks nonetheless, hoping that it'd be the other guys movies that tanked. Some of these risks paid off. Some didn't and these execs lost their own jobs. Presumably, the next group will be more judicious with their funds.

January 7, 2014 at 11:24PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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DLD

Read Variety. Hollywood still believes in the tent poles.

January 7, 2014 at 11:49PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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moebius22

No. They will just release 'summer' films all year.
The problem was fitting 17 big budget films into 10 weekends.
They are slowly realizing that you can open a 'big' film at anytime.
There will be MORE blockbusters, not less, and they'll start appearing all year. Its the end of the US 'summer' ruling the BO, not the end of tentpoles.

January 8, 2014 at 11:48AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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marklondon

You can't spread the major blockbusters too thinly either and the major point is that the North American market is still around $10B and - this is a "proof of concept" argument - if studios budget their output at $11B, they will lose money overall. The summer can handle $4.5B or so. Once again, if they try to squeeze $5B worth of films into that time frame, they will lose money overall. Some films, of course, will still make a mint but some will drop a fortune and, with that, a bunch of execs will lose their jobs. Granted, they don't have the symmetrical risks there - a successful tentpole means more to one's career there than a couple of failures in a long run. There are people who still make a living off having produced the first Batman a full generation ago.
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As to music - it has been in the "democratic" hands since the 1950's. As we know from the Beatles recordings of their earlier albums c.1963, one could rehearse in a garage, then show up in a studio and pop out an album by playing live with only a few overdubs in one day. That made the cost of recording negligible and just because Mutt Lange can spend a year on an album doesn't mean everyone else should do it too. In that, the music industry problem comes not from the low cost of entry but from the currently low wave of talent. And these waves is something the music industry has had for a very long time, going back to the pre-Beatles days, when there was a major lull following Elvis's departure to Germany and Buddy Holly's untimely death.

January 8, 2014 at 12:28PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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DLD

Yes, the music industry has already gone through this: with a few thousands of $ you can produce music at home and flood the internet with average songs. Because of this quantitiy, it's more complicated to find quality, and it's all about how to push your product forward. How to make yourself known in this ocean of artists all beating the same drum: "like me, please!"?
I work as a music producer/engineer on a daily basis with indie bands and they are all facing the same problem: how to market my product? How to discover my niche and get in touch with the people who are looking for my type of music?
The future belongs to those who'll find a way to monetize music/images again and develop a truly working direct-to-fan platform.

January 8, 2014 at 3:57AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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pask74

A great song doesn't hurt either. I dabble in the visual side of music from time to time and I never met a band, singer or songwriter that didn't think he or she had a hit. I bet you know better than me but that's certainly not the case for most. I believe what gives music the advantage to an independent artist is the format, a song is a lot easier to get on the radio (if its good) than a movie into the theater, bands can play live and build an audience, you can play on the street, play a club or send a package to put your material into the hands of a top producer. Not to say music is an easier way to break into the business than film, just more resources to get there. I totally agree with you, if I was lucky enough to choose where my talent lies I would have to side with music, I think theres more creatve ways for an indie to get their music out there. Film is almost impossible, even with a great project under your belt, though it is possible, just not as many avenues as music.

January 8, 2014 at 2:24PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Anthony Marino

to "Anthony Marino on 01.8.14 @ 2:24PM"

It's true music has more avenues, especially live is something that you can't really do with a film. But if you have a great film, there's always lots of tv channels, web channels, VOD who are interested in your film.
But i agree that the direct-to-fan contact is important to a movie maker, too.

January 8, 2014 at 9:07PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Eero Heinonen

Yes, and God knows the quality of music has only increased as it became more accessible. FruityLoops was a blessing.

January 8, 2014 at 7:14PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Pianohero

I think this is the basic truth no one wants to hear because it means a lot of work for the filmmaking team whom already have taken on multiple jobs usually reserved for specialists.

There's no real mystery to the future of distribution, the doors have been lifted and there's thousands of options and avenues unlike before.. but it's going to take real work and effort to navigate those to get your audience.

Cinema which you could argue is theatrical release to some extent, will always be at the end of a very successful run.. you'll just have to prove yourself first either by making a successful product or getting other to pay towards a private release. That in itself can have great marketing results, an investment rather than a reward..

January 10, 2014 at 10:54AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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The system will collapse and rebuild, as every industry does at one point or another. Sometimes the industry has to be taken down a peg to reach the next level.

January 8, 2014 at 12:51AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Coty

Except that the music industry has been drowning for about 10 years now and a truly fair system to replace the old one is yet to be found.

January 8, 2014 at 4:05AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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pask74

Being honest I don't completely agree with that because what happened to the music industry was relatively overnight. The minute Napster hit the internet downloading music became extremely quick and suddenly the music industry couldn't keep up. But they're finally starting to learn how to play the new game. Are "sales" as we know them up? No. But they're making their money back regardless thanks to other online services. The game changed. With film there's been more time to prepare because the changes have been gradual. Those who were aware of the changing landscape will keep making pictures while those who have been oblivious or chosen to ignore it will continue to lose money. It's just an ebb and flow.

January 8, 2014 at 1:14PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Coty

Now does that mean I think we'll continue to see mega-blockbusters like we're used to? Not necessarily. It'll go back to the way things were of decidedly smaller movies throughout the year with maybe one or two (and I'm underestimating that number on purpose) big budget blockbusters because that will be the economically wise thing to do. Money won't be "lost", it just won't be made in the colossal amounts we're seeing right now, which I honestly think is a good thing. The studio system is a giant balloon that keeps inflating and the executives think they're too big to fail until, you know, they do. The indie filmmakers will find a means to either be successful on their own terms or have their indie work translate into getting more work from established studios.

I could be completely wrong in how I think things will end up being since I'm not an expert but I certainly don't think that the cinemapocalypse is coming.

January 8, 2014 at 1:21PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Coty

The music industry is hardly drowning, to the public it may seem that way but they are still thriving because of CD sales, but that was just a small icing portion of the cake. The real music money comes from licensing for commercials, tv shows etc. A 15 second clip of a mid level artist will cost at least 350k for just commercial rights. Add a million or two for movie scores and even more millions for NFL, NBA music licensing.

Most music artist deals today require 360 deals where the companies eat off touring and everything. Very few artists such as DRAKE or a few others could afford to do it solo and they still signed deals, to have the machine behind them.

These are indeed exciting times however, with crowd fundraising and the fact that one could own a professional quality raw shooting camera body for $1000.00 is amazing.

January 9, 2014 at 1:44AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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JAYE

As much as I admire Scorsese what he wrote is bullshit. Who cares what some big shot director says to his richkid daughter who 's worried about her future as a filmmaker. It's the people trying to make it who aren't rich and privilaged that are going to suffer.

January 8, 2014 at 3:08AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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exstudent

Please enlighten us as to how what he wrote is bullshit? "It's the people trying to make it who aren't rich and privileged" that have a better chance than ever at making a successful film. Wake up.

January 8, 2014 at 3:23AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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carlos

That's exactly right, Carlos. What you are talking about is called competition in the marketplace. The young filmmakers who are bucking the Hollywood system are competing for money because they think hey have better and more compelling stories to tell and will tell them less expensively. To put it more succinctly, this is called capitalism.

January 8, 2014 at 2:23PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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That fills my heart with hope.

January 8, 2014 at 4:25PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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maghoxfr

I think you are missing the point. What he says completely resembles pretty much what has been going on in the music industry for at least the last decade. It is a revolution for the people who DONT have loads of funds to back their project off. You can shoot on a 5D/C100/Scarlet or whatever one might consider a bargain camera with $100 LED Panels, edit it with premiere/fcp/avid/whatever and grade it either there or with Color or Resolve which is free for everyone unless you need something higher than HD. Mixing can be done in various packages as well, which can be had for anything south of $500. There is no need for expensive ARRI/Panavision film-cameras, film stock, laboratory costs, an editing machine etc. You can also get your project funded over the web by strangers. There are tons of new formats out there all benefiting form the internet. Which is at the same time hurting the big Studios on the lane of piracy.

Bottom line is: you can make anything you want without big financing or studio backing you up.

The music industry has seen an explosion of talent and independent labels hurting the big labels heavily. "Anybody can do it" in their home studio for less than $1000 is the new motto. Of course that means every one and their grandma thinks they can do it. But we all know where that goes. These people ordinarily succumb to reality and fade away. The true artists remain as well as the frowned upon group of talent-free-pop-robots.

I think everyone can judge for themselves what quality is. So if there is some poor little girl in lithuania with the talent to become the new Bergman the recent development of technology will help her to benefit tremendously.

So, in the light of things I see no reason to snarl at a master who came from very little, despite the fact it was nearly impossible due to his everlasting passion for cinema. And this is what is great about today. If you have this kind of passion, there is hardly anything in the world stopping you from making movies.

January 8, 2014 at 4:30AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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jvdb

Except for making money...

January 9, 2014 at 3:26PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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AllyG

Yes we know all that. Next

January 8, 2014 at 4:55AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Ed

Scorsese my dick, with the exception of The Departed he hasn't made a decent film since Casino, mind you that's a better hit rate than Lucas, Scott, Coppola, Carpenter, Dante, Jackson, Raimi yada yada.

January 8, 2014 at 5:45AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Filthy Punt

No cine-revolution like music-revolution right now as for me.
It is digital camera revolution only.
And entertainment world revolution.

Camera budget is small part of film budget.
We can't make movie at home, like music.
Not now!
Today we need real world for cine production, like was earlier.
Real talant cost much more then any cam.
Making fiction life is target for filmmakers, but equipment is means only.

When virtual reality will come in every home, then cine-revolution will start!

January 8, 2014 at 10:08AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Lman

Martin, just admit it's getting really sad? You are stuck in bio pic land like the rest besides the few you mentioned, Leo has great admiration for you as he should, but he tossed you wolf of WallStreet as a hire gig after you made a great kids flick. I don't see you getting cleared for budgets on personal marginalized good cinema projects, Spielberg and Lucas are not in denial.

January 8, 2014 at 12:47PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Kristian

"Kids flicks" are harder to make than standard drama. Marginalizing his achievement in that genre is simple ignorance of the craft of storytelling and the challenges of making art for a wide audience appeal.

January 8, 2014 at 2:15PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Jerome

Seems to me that the success of long form TV serials are undermining the feature film creatively anyway. If Scorsese was ahead of the curve 10 years ago HE would have made the Sopranos. The upshot for feature film makers is that they can be more poetic in their allotted time, leaving the epic prose character driven stuff to HBO and the likes. Still, cast and crew ought to get paid for their labour at some point otherwise we really are doomed.

January 8, 2014 at 1:56PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Lupocide

Veteran commercial director Joe Pytka has some interesting things to say on the state of affairs regarding that home entertainment has gotten so good that it's become an even better viewing experience then going to the theatre and I think he's right. And now that you have 110 inch TV's coming into the market ( and those will drop big time in the next 2-3 years).

Skip to 4:40 if you have no interest in the advert business:

htttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k_e7vFZ67zY&feature=youtube_gdata_player

The way it looks going to the theatre will be pretty much a thing of the past, just like book and record stores.

January 9, 2014 at 2:48AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Bolex16

To all of you who have something bad to say about Scorsese I have to say get a life. I read the letter and think he's right on the money with a positive mental attitude. I like many others have yet to make that first good movie which in my case is because I still have much to learn and not enough budget to do it right even with the cheaper options and will not try to make that first feature till I can do it right so for now I stick to learning. So I say to you naysayers what have you done to prove your negative point of view should even be listened to. Again WHAT HAVE YOU DONE! that has any merit. Easy to put someone down harder to prove yourself.

January 11, 2014 at 6:22PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Gary

thanks lman,
t he camera department is very seductive' and i have miles to go " before my film is finished

January 15, 2014 at 3:43PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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emilio murillo