Thursday, June 13, 2013

Steven Spielberg and George Lucas: Welcome to My World

What I learned yesterday is that George Lucas and Steven Spielberg are more like me than I realized. They can't get theatricals either (well, for certain titles - their more dramatic aka indie titles). If Spielberg and Lucas can't get their films in theaters, what hope is there for us? "Not much" was the sentiment of a panel I attended yesterday at USC, celebrating the opening of USC's new Interactive Media Building.

During this panel Spielberg and Lucas expounded on the current state of the film and video game industry. Here's a horrible iPhone pic of the panel - you might be able to see Spielberg in the middle and Lucas on the right:

Spielberg (middle) & Lucas (right)

What I found most amusing from this discussion was the obvious competitiveness between Spielberg and Lucas. At one point, Spielberg jabbed Lucas by saying people went to the theaters to see Lincoln - a film that almost didn't get a theatrical (Spielberg jested, it's true, ask HBO) - implying Lucas's recent independent fare wasn't doing as well. Lucas responded that he doesn't need to worry about box office performance as he's retired from that system. I think we all wish we had millions (prob billions) in our bank account and could bankroll our own films and retire from this system. Lotto anyone? Trust me, I play it (when I remember to).

It's absolutely maddening to try to figure out how to make successful films in today's Wild West of distribution options.

I think the scariest part of their predictions was the idea that movie theaters would become homes for only big blockbuster movies that cost hundreds of millions of dollars and demand $50 to $100 price tags to view them. And that all other kinds of films - our charming dramas and funny comedies and scary thrillers and horror flicks - would all be relegated to the digital world. Lucas believes this is the future for film and that everyone will have such amazing home theater systems that going to the movies will be like attending live theater.

How awful does that sound? The entire room and panel heaved a heavy sigh. I would hate not having affordable theaters where I can go into a huge space with lots of people and be riveted for 2 hours and get lost in story. And I love seeing all kinds of films on the big screen - not just the big popcorn movies. In fact, I find dramas incredibly moving on the big screen. I remember seeing Good Will Hunting on the big screen and walking out of the theater with such inspiration for my own future as a filmmaker.

Interestingly enough, Spielberg and Lucas both agreed that studios are only focusing on tentpole films now and that audiences are going to eventually tire of them. And when they do, the studios will be in crisis mode because they will have forgotten how to make the dramas and comedies and thrillers etc. That is when they believe the implosion will happen.

All this "sky is falling" talk sure was discouraging but it also told me that it's a great time for independent filmmakers - a sentiment the panel stressed. We're already used to not getting our films in the theater and having to scrap our way into existence. We have and continue to develop the tools for surviving and hopefully thriving in the digital space. Hopefully this means we have a chance at being competitive with the Spielberg and Lucas product in the digital realm. And thank God for film festivals - the indie version of a theatrical. Let's embrace our film festivals and use them as our theatricals and market the hell out of our films, using all the tools we can find - crowdsourcing, social media, etc etc.

As for the future in theatergoing, I can only hope the masses see the value in continuing to go to the theater to watch all kinds of films. So the next time you head out on date night, let's show the studios it's more than just to see the next BIG film. Why not buy a ticket to that indie drama or thriller you've been intrigued to see? We don't always have to wait until those films hit the digital world, right? We have the power to effect change and choose our future for our industry. Let's take control of our future instead of letting it control us.


Mark Stolaroff said...

Totally agree, Jane. But I'm not convinced these two have it right about the future. There will definitely be changes as technology and tastes evolve, but I don't see cinema going the way of live theater. For one, the costs are different. Mounting a play or a musical is more expensive than "renting" a film to show, once you pay for the projector. But also, it shows where these guys are coming from to suggest that kids will pay $25 for a tentpole film and that everyone will someday have expensive home entertainment systems. Poor kids will not be forking out $25/ticket and only the rich, (people like Lucas and Spielberg), will have money for such systems. I can't predict the future, but I sure hope it includes a place for indie films on the big screen. The recent success of "Mud" and "Before Midnight" gives us hope.

janekk said...

I'm pretty skeptical about it too. I can't believe the masses will give up their movie theater experiences at an affordable price. As long as there is a demand, the theaters will survive and I think there will always be a demand since as you say, not everyone has the wealth they do. Loving the success of Mud and Before Midnight!

Phantom of Pulp said...

I'd like to see the death of Hollywood as we know it -- an unsustainable throwback to old ideas and stubborn refusals to accept change.

Out of this death will rise non-blockbuster movies, new paradigms, and less focus on studios as the center of everything. Eventually, studios will be forced to acknowledge a demographic they barely cater to at all. Big shock: These people like to be entertained, too.

I love that MUD and BEFORE MIDNIGHT have been successful. The "adult" movie is returning.

Hooray for that!