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Spielberg talks future of cinema, reflected by actual events

AbandonedCinema.jpgTalking at the University of Southern California to open the Interactive Media Building there both Steven Spielberg and George Lucas had some very troubling things to say about the future of the film industry, not just about the future but also what is happening now, and when you hear what Spielberg has to say about his latest film it is rather shocking.

Coupled with two recent stories it highlights how badly skewed Hollywood is to delivering films to the mass market and the target audience as effectively as possible, looking for the return and nothing more. No chances, all spreadsheet calculated.

It's a worrying trend and they two supposed powerhouses of film reveal the direction that Hollywood is going that may lead to its own downfall, in fact they almost seem certain of it.

Steven Spielberg discussed what he could see happening in the near future, with more and more filmmakers finding it harder to get their films made as the studios are relying on the massive budget spectacle films, there's going to be crash. When a few of these spectacular budget films fail and the studios can't keep blaming the talent or the material, there's going to be a massive change in the whole process.

Speaking about the issue of not enough younger filmmakers getting their chance and less than epic blockbuster films getting made, he said at the opening through The Hollywood Reporter:

”…eventually going to be an implosion - or a big meltdown. There's going to be an implosion where three or four or maybe even a half-dozen megabudget movies are going to go crashing into the ground, and that's going to change the paradigm.”

He goes further, predicting a tiered system of ticket prices:

”…you're gonna have to pay $25 for the next Iron Man, you're probably only going to have to pay $7 to see Lincoln.”

George Lucas followed that by commenting about what he believes will happen, that films will return to much longer windows of running in the cinemas, staying there for months and months and perhaps even years - he recalls that E.T. stayed in the cinemas for over a year.

Now at first glance that's appalling. Imagine that, having to pay more to see Man of Steel and Star Trek Into Darkness (Filmstalker review) than Behind The Candelabra or Much Ado About Nothing.

Suddenly, just with that comparison, there will be a lot of people thinking that now it doesn't seem such a bad idea.

Of course I can see what the studios and cinemas will do. The prices of those huge blockbusters won't go up and the prices for the other films stay the same, they'll all go up with the blockbuster films being increased the most and the reasoning behind it will be spearheaded with screams of “piracy”.

The ironic thing is that the increase of ticket prices and, if it does happen, the increased window for films remaining in the cinema will all contribute to a rise in piracy. It can already take months and years for films to reach outside the U.S., with increased release windows are we likely to be waiting even longer?

Not long after this story broke we heard about the World War Z ticket release prices through The Hollywood Reporter which struck an immediate chord - the future is here.

For the release of World War Z some American cinemas are offering a tiered ticket price, by paying US $50 (currently UK £31.85 or Euro €37.53) for a ticket you not only get to see the film two days before the release but you also get a free HD digital copy of the film on release day, that's digital release day, as well as a small packet of popcorn, a pair of custom RealD 3D glasses and a large, limited edition poster.

Now so far this is only happening in five cinemas through the Regal Entertainment Group and some of those screenings have already started, but it's clearly a trial. How long before this is the norm and your local cinema offers a price hiked release with added extras?

It is difficult because this seems worth it. Not only seeing the film early but also getting your hands on a free digital copy and a custom pair of 3D glasses (as long as they fit over existing glasses). However what are the cinemas and studios getting out of that?

The cinema get more revenue from a select few who attend the more expensive screenings - just imagine for a minute that this has taken off and the screenings are in more than five cinemas - but don't the studio equally lose revenue on those digital copies? What about the 3D glasses which, I think I'm right in saying, the cinemas now pay for, isn't that a loss too?

I don't think the idea of the freebies would continue but the early screenings are something that has been done before and have worked, although not for a price hike. Also it's easy to offer free merchandise at the screening, there are a lot made for the marketing of the film and that's what this is.

I would be tempted to pay a little extra for a preview screening for a film I really wanted to see, but a day or two earlier? No. Give me a week earlier and I would pay, let me see it at the same time as the American release and I would pay, otherwise I can wait until the weekend for a “normal” priced ticket.

The most startling thing that was revealed was not that Lucas' Red Tails almost never got made but that Spielberg struggled to get Lincoln made and was very close to it becoming an HBO television movie or mini-series rather than the cinematic release it became, and that only happened because Spielberg co-owned his own studio to get the film made.

Both agreed that the television was creeping into the territory once held by cinema and film alone, and that might not be a bad thing either, especially if they are going to be able to get the projects made that might not have been.

That's insane isn't it? That a film about one of the most influential and pivotal American Presidents backed by one of the most, dare I say again, influential and pivotal American directors, almost could not get made in America, by American studios for primarily an American audience?

That is not a good state of play for Hollywood. So it's no wonder that more people are turning to subscription television, I know that later this year I may well be too even though I am more than happy with HD terrestrial television and a PVR. I'm seeing more and more of my interest move to television as less and less interesting and intelligent films are getting made and the thrillers, the thought provoking and the ground breaking stories move from film to the smaller screen.

All of this comes about because the studios aren't getting their returns. They're making expensive films that aren't recouping what they have invested in them and so they make more expensive films to try and attract more people, upping the prices, the screenings and the marketing to attract more people.

So to another related story on the marketing of stupid films. Variety carried the story that The Smurfs 2 will carry with it a massive marketing deal, more than US $150 million is being spent on the marketing across more than one hundred partnering companies. According to the article that is more than double the amount of deals for the first film and triple the marketing budget.

That's astounding. Is it any wonder that they need to raise ticket prices? Of course it doesn't help that the first film raked in money through the box office and merchandising, but it does raise the question - is it really piracy to blame or is it more about Hollywood spending far too much on glossy, empty films and the associated marketing and merchandising?

The real problem lies in the content and quality, it's something that has been said for years and subscription television services are now demonstrating. Audiences are leaving, talent is jumping ship, are the studios and cinemas going to price themselves out of the market?




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