Are We All Just Content Creators Now?

I went to film school because I wanted to see my name in lights. Now it's online. 

What was the first experience that made you want to work in Hollywood? For me, it was watching movies in theaters as a kid and using my parents' camcorder to tell my own stories when I got back home. Those trips to the theater inspired me to watch my own stuff on the big screen. 

I had the first opportunity to do that when I was in college, working at The State Theatre. I made friends with the projectionist who used to let me put my short films up there between movies. Those movies sucked, but they let me fulfill a dream and propelled me to Hollywood, where my next big-screen experience would be at SXSW. I saw my movie, Shovel Buddies, debut for a thousand people. 

It was a dream come true. 

But that movie didn't stay in theaters. In fact, that was the last time it showed in one. 

AwesomenessTV released it online to modest results, and now if you want to watch it, you have to rent it on Amazon or iTunes. I thought that made me less of a filmmaker for a long time. And I was worried that when studios looked at me, they didn't see a writer with a movie that got made; they saw someone who produced something that didn't deserve to go to theaters. 

Then the HBO Max announcement came around, and I saw many famous filmmakers faced with something I saw a few years ago. This obviously had much larger ramifications than it did for me, but it pushed a question to the forefront of my mind...

With streamers taking over the world and theaters suffering, are we all just content creators now? 

Streaming services

Are We All Just Content Creators Now?

When I sit down to write, I still imagine the movie being released in theaters. But the more and more meetings I take, the more I hear the same refrain, "We want to see stuff made, and we're not worried about where it's released."

The fact of the matter is, sure, studios are still going to make movies they put into theaters, but unless you're working on huge IP or another kind of tentpole, most things are probably going to streamers. Producers will get their cut to make it, and streamers need content to stay competitive with one another. 

This feels like it's good news. 

There will be more jobs, hopefully. It means more genres will be viable, and the content will always be needed. But for some reason, it does not feel great. It feels like the list of people who get to see their names in lights will be smaller and smaller.  

It feels like a shift into being content creators and not filmmakers. 

filmmaker

This might just seem like a title for you, but as these large corporations take over, the quality of the stuff we make is going to change. Places like HBO Max will have a budget beholden to AT&T, and they'll want everything done cheaply. That means if you are a tentpole movie that gets shifted, they may want you to take out the expensive scenes to save cost. Or they may want you to do everything digitally... without a real finishing polish because it's cheaper than practical. 

A lot of these decisions will be taken away from artists. 

So while we may have more, most of it will be crap. 

I think there are certainly different ways to look at this. The less pessimistic one is this: Soderbergh's new HBO Max movie, Let Them All Talk, may never have been made if it wasn't done on the cheap. That's a great film with impressive stars, but niche enough to not have a high ceiling. 

And if you look at things like Greyhound or even The Old Guard, they thrive on their respective sites because they are marquee releases with stars that are cinematic home adventures. It could be that these content sites get driven by quality. 

But it's hard to tell—because they will always want and need more.

There are many sides to this argument and this ordeal. I also think the line between movies and TV continues to blur. We're seeing it with all the tweets surrounding The Irishman's runtime and how Tarantino broke Hateful Eight into episodes for Netflix. 

If most things exist online only, I wonder how much this line skews in the future. Will your act breaks have to be more defined, so Peacock can throw in commercials? Will Netflix ask for an insane opening scene to hook people past two minutes, when they measure their watch number? 

And how much more will stars matter?  

Famous faces are some of the biggest indicators of what people click on, so in this new content world, do writers and directors even matter? You just need stars. And how will those stars get bonuses? If not tacked onto box office receipts, it has to be tacked onto clicks... if it's even tacked on at all. 

Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Quentin Tarantino, and Margot Robbie attend the screening of "Once Upon A Time In Hollywood" during the 72nd annual Cannes Film Festival.
Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Quentin Tarantino, and Margot Robbie attend the screening of "Once Upon A Time In Hollywood" during the 72nd annual Cannes Film Festival.

As you can see, this "content" question has a ripple effect throughout the entire industry. I would love to get the NFS point of view here. As the industry shifts, how do you view yourself? Are most of us just going to work as content creators? 

Let me know what you think in the comments.  

And good luck in 2021. We're seeing it all change right before our eyes.       

Still feeling nostalgic about 2020? Then check out the rest of our Year in Review 2020 coverage for more of our top picks, industry trends, and end-of-year takes.

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Your Comment

9 Comments

Your first mistake was getting into this business so you could see your name in lights. Lol.

January 1, 2021 at 9:38AM, Edited January 1, 9:49AM

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Dean
312

No kidding! Wouldn't it be nice to have some filmmakers who got into this business to tell stories? Seems to be all about the fame, fortune, and red carpets for most, or what fucking camera they're using.

January 1, 2021 at 2:18PM

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Owen Mulligan
Filmmaker
329

"or what fucking camera they're using." Lol. When I made the mcpherson tape and alien abduction: incident in lake county, we were just happy we had something to shoot on. A great story transcends all 6k, 8k, 12,k, 100k cameras.

January 2, 2021 at 11:51AM

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Dean
312

Exactly. Didn't realize you were the director of the Mcpherson Tape, etc. Very cool!

January 3, 2021 at 2:00AM

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Owen Mulligan
Filmmaker
329

:)

January 3, 2021 at 9:26AM

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Dean
312

'I went to film school'... and ended up writing for 'No Film School' - funny how things turn out :)

January 2, 2021 at 6:10AM

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John-Paul Bichard
Artist / photographer
130

To be fair, and to answer the question: people will always make great stories on moving media - whether it is for a studio, for a streaming company or for art's dake, if you have the burning need to make movies/videos/moving images, you will create them.
People seem to forget that the studio system has been arguably more controlling and restrictive with small stables of directors and actors that get rinsed and repeated over decades. One thing we have seen with the likes of HBO, Netflix etc is a broader range of narrratives, more diversity in actors and directors and more opportunities.
Like all human creative endeavours, a lot of it is crap, but this goes for pretty much all creative forms: out of a mountain of derivative slush come a few golden nuggets.
Artists will happily carry on making art, content creators will happily carry on making content, and once covid is over, I'm sure there will continue to be plenty of opportunities for aspiring filmmakers to sneak a screening after hours.

January 4, 2021 at 10:43AM

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John-Paul Bichard
Artist / photographer
130

no, i am just spectator now

January 2, 2021 at 7:05AM

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Amy J. Walker
photographer
17

"are we all just content creators" .... seriously .... maybe you should trying to create something.... "it's easier to criticize then create" I wish i could take credit for that quote ... but its was from Peter McKinnon

January 3, 2021 at 6:19PM

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Good question(s). Many of us saw the writing on the wall with the move from film to digital, VHS to DVD, and from DVD to streaming. The fact is, most movies don’t need to be in a theater. TV & streaming are the perfect place for most media. And, as a creator, that is a high class problem to have. We SHOULD be excited when we can get our content, our movies, in front of as many eyeballs as possible. The stigma that TV/cable had years ago has all but been washed away.

Remember when you would have given your left arm to have a movie or series on HBO? Well, it’s all HBO now! We should not think of our projects as being lesser than because they didn’t hit the silver screen. We should instead be resolved to making as good a project as we can, so we can make more... no matter the size of screen.

I submit that your name in pixels is just as good as your name in lights.

January 7, 2021 at 1:07PM

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Courtney G. Jones
Producer/Director
11