It is being comfortable with change and flow as the day to day conditions of knowledge production and dissemination, and recognising that all of this may change, and appear differently in six months.
Media is a constantly changing industry, growing and expanding with discoveries of new technologies and new methods of creating media emerging. Film production is a division of the media industry that is certainly not immune to that, and has changed in many different ways over the years. With technological changes like introducing sound and colour to film, and changing from film to primarily digital productions, plus the growing globalization of international markets, distribution of films has changed immensely. In networked media we’ve discussed the ways these types of changes will affect our career going forward and I want to explore that further in regard to my future aspirations.
I was born in 1991, so I’ve grown up seeing a lot of technological change, and learned to adjust and adapt the way Adrian Miles says we need to be able to in the selection of the prompt I’ll be responding to (listed at the top of this essay). The film industry is one that can survive these changes, as proven by the transition of silent films to talkies, film to digital, and the addition of online distribution. Ideally, I want to work in pre-production or communications for a major studio, so these changes will inevitably affect me, even if slightly indirectly. Studios may start churning out even more movies, doing whatever they can to cut costs, or they may go the other way and try and focus their energy and resources on a smaller number of higher quality films per year. Barabasi’s 80/30 rule could turn out applying either way (80% indies 30% studio or flip flopped). Or as a rule of networks/networking, maybe indie film producers will find a magic formula that makes their films ‘viral’. The industry may be somewhat unflappable, as the demand for films isn’t going anywhere, (and neither is the allure of Hollywood, and the studio picture) but it’s not unchangeable.
There have been many changes in the film industry over the last 70 years. We’ve moved from silent, black and white films to ‘talkies’ with striking vivid colour, some even in three dimensions. Only 15 years ago, if you wanted to watch a movie at home you would either have to see if one was playing on television or get in the car and head out to the video rental store. Today, we have video on demand, companies like Netflix, live streaming shows online, or illegal downloading as our options to watch at home. Both the production of films and the distribution of them have changed immensely since the 1920’s.
Audiences met making the change from silent films to ‘talkies’ with huge approval. So much so that theaters had no choice but to re-wire their facilities to make sure they could accommodate the new technology. The new advancements would have brought about new jobs within the filmmaking industry, for boom guys, sound techs and mixers. Adding dialogue and talking brought in huge advancements in the realism and authenticity of films, as actors could convey emotion that wouldn’t read the same way without hearing the anguish or passion in their voice. The written on screen dialogue just didn’t have the same impact.
Filmmakers can also use voiceover as a way to help tell the story, and it’s brought about ways to integrate one film with another, such as this clip from The Office, where they replicate the Shabooya Roll Call also seen in Bring it On All or Nothing.
Or there’s this emotional scene from The Vampire Diaries, showing how sound affects our connection with the characters (most intense parts are from about 1:45-2:30).
So the technological changes, on the whole, have benefitted filmmaking. Of course there is always room for debate. There are people who would argue that the integrity of filmmaking is lost in the digital recreations and green screens used today, when compared to the elaborate sets and locations created for films of the past. In the big picture though, bringing in digital filmmaking and technology like CGI and digitalized editing styles cuts costs (from under $600 per film print to $80 per screen for digital drives, and already looking to get satellite distribution running in the next 10 years) and the accessibility of high quality equipment and editing software opens a market for more than just studios to create films.
One thing that hasn’t changed much is the pattern of film distribution. Barabasi’s 80/30 rule definitely applies here. It’s safe to say 80% of successful films (and by successful I mean international distribution, profitable box office performance, critical acclaim, etc.) are brought about by 30% of filmmakers and studios. In 2010, movingarts.com reported that 50,000 films were made in 2009. That number can only have grown over the last few years, with the introduction of more advanced equipment available to consumers. But how many of those films would we call successful? There’s an independent company in Atlanta that has produced three horror films in house, doing everything from pre production, casting, shooting and editing. Their movies screened for a select audience, but in my opinion, you can’t call that a successful film because they didn’t turn a profit, there was no critical acclaim and they had no distribution. That isn’t necessarily because the films are bad, it’s just a fact that films without studio backing, and all the marketing plans and funds that comes with, will have a much harder time reaching that level of success. Nearly every successful film comes out of a studio model, whether we realize it or not. The below infographic shows that even production companies you may have thought were smaller, possibly independent ones, are under big studio umbrellas.
In looking at the history of the film industry and the changes it’s overcome, I think the next big change, one that we may already be facing, is the changing distribution patterns. While people are still going to the cinema, the numbers are declining. That could be due to multiple things, from rising ticket prices to the availability of current films online. Battling services like OnDemand and Netflix isn’t something the film industry can really do. They’re going to have to learn to work with them and find ways to make profits while still giving audiences the instant gratification they’re learning to expect. There are potential problems with that, for instance, if a film goes to cinemas only to have an underwhelming opening day, studios or theaters could decide not to screen it more than the one day. If it’s easy and cost effective to simply swap out a memory card or stream from a different satellite, what’s stopping them from making that decision? If I one day get a job at a studio, what kind of marketing tactics will I have to employ to convince people to see my film in theaters and not another they can stream at home, in an age where convenience and comfort reign supreme? As well as thinking about the possibility of changing in the job I want, there’s concern for the quality of films overall. There could be an independent film that’s incredible, but the chances of anyone seeing it get slimmer and slimmer with growing consumption options for audiences and opportunities for making films by the everyday man.
At the end of the day, film is an art. But it’s an art form that’s run by corporations and dictated by consumer taste. Will films go the same way as music did, being primarily consumed through online downloads and limiting profits? If so, how will filmmakers turn a profit, as they can’t go on tour and rely on ticket sales as a musician can? Will we still have cinemas 50 years from now? It doesn’t seem likely that cinemas would disappear altogether, but rather that they would get more elaborate and luxurious, in the way Director’s Suite or Gold Class cinemas have gone. In his Op-Ed for the Wall Street Journal, Christopher Nolan paints a similar picture of the future, while also worrying that “the remaining theaters serving exclusively as gathering places for fan-based or branded-event titles,” in the same way the Astor Theatre acts in Melbourne, with special viewings of films like Rocky Horror Picture Show and hosting Q&A’s with directors like John Landis after screening his film The Blues Brothers.
These are all questions that it’s incredibly important we consider as we move forward in this industry, as by being prepared for such changes, we’re better suited to success in life. In a recent symposium, Adrian Miles said we are more likely to be successful if we have more than technical skills. According to him, we need to be able to problem solve on the go, and to anticipate these kind of changes. Considering the history of any industry within media, from film to print newspapers, to music, there has been so much change that you can’t argue with that logic. I’m hoping to be able to keep up with the inevitable change in my field and to continue looking at questions like this to ensure I can handle any changes it throws at me.