People tend to sit up and notice when the men who gave us the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises (among other game-changing blockbusters) have something to say about the future of Hollywood tentpoles and the film industry in general. George Lucas and Steven Spielberg recently spoke at the University of Southern California, to commemorate the opening of the Interactive Media Building, and their comments at the event have gotten movie buffs of all shades talking.
The pair echoed the feelings and thoughts of many a journalist, professional filmmaker and general cinema-lover alike, when they addressed how writing for television has become more satisfying than movie screenwriting; that is, because it allows for a richer storytelling experience, with greater complexity and breadth of content (see: Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Game of Thrones, etc., etc.). Similarly, TV writing doesn't require artists to jump through so many hurdles as working on big-budget Hollywood fare.
However, it's what the duo predicted would result from this growing discrepancy, that's got people buzzing (via THR):
Steven Spielberg on Wednesday predicted an "implosion" in the film industry is inevitable, whereby a half dozen or so $250 million movies flop at the box office and alter the industry forever. What comes next -- or even before then -- will be price variances at movie theaters, where "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." He also said that Lincoln came "this close" to being an HBO movie instead of a theatrical release.
Spielberg clarified that because some young filmmakers "are too fringe-y for the movies," television is going to become the route they take with greater frequency. That could set in motion a chain of events that leads more and more people away from seeing the latest over-hyped tentpole at their local theater, and thus cause "a big meltdown" once several "megabudget movies... go crashing into the ground." Lucas supported his longtime friend and collaborator's theory, adding that the route to getting your movie into theaters "is really getting smaller and smaller."
Those who've followed developments in Hollywood over the past decade are, no doubt, familiar with what Spielberg and Lucas are talking about here. Studios have become increasingly hesitant to green-light projects, unless they are some kind of remake, franchise reboot, or adaptation based on a lucrative pre-established brand.
However, possessing those qualities is no guarantee that a blockbuster will make a profit, due to factors like niche subject matter, lackluster marketing and/or weak critical word of mouth. Indeed, cracks in the industry blockbuster model-for-success have already begun to show, with films like Green Lantern, Battleship and John Carter (all of which either failed or struggled immensely to cover their expenses). We've also got a handful of risky box office bets arriving in theaters over the next month, which could lend more (or less) credibility to this argument.
Lucas and Spielberg had additional thoughts, about what could transpire (When? If?) Hollywood continues its trend of releasing tentpoles that cost $200 million and over:
George Lucas agreed that massive changes are afoot, including film exhibition morphing somewhat into a Broadway play model, whereby fewer movies are released, they stay in theaters for a year and ticket prices are much higher. His prediction prompted Spielberg to recall that his 1982 film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial stayed in theaters for a year and four months.
This claim is a bit harder to swallow, if only because services like Netflix, Video on Demand and online entertainment content (a la Amazon Studio series) are continuing to grow and expand the amount - and range - of original content they offer, in addition to incorporating more and more older films/TV shows into their archives.
So many alternate options for entertainment are now available, and it raises question about how feasible (or profitable) it would be for either studios or theater chains to prolong the theatrical runs for certain films, with the hope of attracting both new customers and repeat business despite significant inflation in the ticket prices for blockbuster fare. (Mind you, that's not to say that Lucas and Spielberg are necessarily wrong, either.)
Finally, Lucas and Spielberg talked about the contemporary video game market and the upcoming wave of movie adaptations that will be arriving over the next few years:
Lucas and Spielberg also spoke of vast differences between filmmaking and video games because the latter hasn't been able to tell stories and make consumers care about the characters. Which isn't to say the two worlds aren't connected. Spielberg, in fact, has teamed with Microsoft to make a "TV" show for Xbox 360 based on the game Halo and he is making a movie based on the Electronic Arts game Need for Speed.
Again, the assertion that gamers don't care about the stories or characters they play is open for debate. Hollywood studios are banking on fan's love of the increasingly well-developed protagonists, settings and narratives found in modern video games, in order to ensure that upcoming movie adaptations like the Tomb Raider reboot, Assassin’s Creed, Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell, and numerous other titles prove worthy of the financial investment. If that's not really the case, then we could have a major problem.
What do you think? Are Lucas and Spielberg right, about us being on the verge of a paradigm shift in the film industry? What changes lie ahead for the current Hollywood system? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section.