I want jobs for me and my friends and more things to watch, but I'm afraid of the cost.
The pandemic has really done a number on the industry. While we saw trends moving this way already, it seems like Hollywood has jumped a decade into the future.
Cinema is pretty much gone, and content is king. This may sound hyperbolic, but as I see titles like West Side Story falter, as I read that audiences are scanning movie length and making choices based on it, and as I see Netflix's Top Ten crushing online, with no one questioning the box office—I think content is here to stay.
So how do we live in a world where we don't lose cinema too?
And I'm not just talking about tentpoles and superhero movies, I'm talking about sitting in a theater watching Martin Scorsese's challenging Silence, and arguing in the lobby over the existence of a higher power with your friends while picking stale popcorn from your teeth. I'm talking about swinging around pillars in the parking garage and shaking your thing after going to the premiere of Hustlers. I'm talking about being at a loss for words after watching Swiss Army Man.
Cinema is something so much more than content. But we're going to lose it if we're not careful.
Check out this video from Eyebrow Cinema and let's talk after the jump.
How Worried Am I About Cinema Becoming Content? Pretty Worried!
I don't love being alarmist, and I know I've extolled the virtues of the digital era we're in now, but I can't help but worry that Hollywood has gone past the point of no return.
And I don't blame the artists. For a long time, we've been an industry that loves money, but we also love art. There's been a balance of movies that are made to rake in the bucks, and movies that they used to call "prestige pictures."
That balance has shifted in the last decade more toward tentpoles, and more toward movies with less dialogue, bigger international windows, more action, and driven by things like the ability to sell to a streamer or make a sequel. While those things opened the town up to make more movies, especially directly for streamers, they began to prioritize things that didn't leave elbow room for cinema.
That's not to say we're not getting fun movies. We are, and at times, we're getting good ones. But that can all change pretty fast. We've seen it change decades in just the last two years.
The early days of streamer movies felt like the indies in the 90s, with these places taking big swings at marquee directors or favoring the movies that couldn't find releases. Now that they've built themselves into powerhouses, they're making more tentpoles, more things with faces that pop on thumbnails.
This should feel good. It's opened the door for me and so many of my friends to get work. Not just writing and directing, but as ADs, grips, and all the other fun jobs behind the scenes.
But it's also made me see that movies that used to be treated like cinema now have numbers behind them and are treated like content. They're titles there to fill space and build catalogs. Meanwhile, with the DVD and Blu-ray market dying, and the ability to "own" movies through places like Vudu, which really only extend digital long-term rentals, we're seeing titles disappear.
If it's not popping up on Criterion or bought through physical media and still playable at home, there are hundreds if not thousands of movies you can't even find anywhere. Last week I wanted to rent Sleuth (1972) and couldn't find it. I guess it's out of print.
You would think that these digital servers would open up the doors for more movies to be available, but that's not happening. With places like Disney buying Fox, and not having a place for their more adult movies on the app, where do they go? What gets lost to time with all these studios, as titles that may not seem inherently clickable don't have a place to rest?
And on top of all this, what happens when the people greenlighting movies are not the people who want to get a few artsy movies, but the conglomerates like AT&T, Comcast, and other shareholder-driven places which could tell you not to challenge authority, buck systems, or even rewrite and re-edit stories to make sure their brands and holdings look good? That can say you need to take out things to play in repressive countries or not push any envelopes because they don't want to get banned in the Bible Belt?
We're at the tip of the iceberg, but we can steer past it if we all see what's coming and figure out what to do about it.
These are my worries. And I don't have answers. But we have to find them soon, before it's too late.
Let's share some ideas in the comments.