Cinema Stagnation

Why Film Progresses Slowly as an Art Form.

Compared to Music, Literature and Visual Arts – as an art form, film progresses much more slowly. This is because of a number of reasons.

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-Cost to Entry
-Studio demands and Bureaucracy
-Limited number of films released
-Resistance to Radical Changes
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I believe that film has suffered from a number of factors and will not be able to reach its full potential until rectified. In no way am I shunning film as a whole. I believe many beautiful and innovative films have been made. But I think as a medium, simply defined audio and visuals which are viewed on a television/projector – we experience a mere shadow of what could be accomplished.

Cost To Entry:
Making a movie is not cheap. It is very time consuming, requires lots of resources and people. Building sets, paying for film and the Hollywood infrastructure makes film cost millions. Millions. A large Hollywood blockbuster can cost over 100 million dollars to create, resulting in roughly two hours of entertainment (add in another 3 or 4 hours of stuff on the bonus DVD).

Even the film Clerks – $6000 for unknown actors on crappy b&w stock footage. Blair Witch Project was over 300,000. You can buy a house for that! These costs prohibit all but the most dedicated teams from making independent films. Also, because mainstream films are so expensive, studio have a limited number of investments each year.

Studio demands and Bureaucracy
To attribute Frank Miller with the directorship of Sin City, Robert Rodriguez had to abandon the Director’s Guild. Simply to include the line in the credits: “Co-directed by Frank Miller.” Absurdity – and proof that antiquated unions do nothing but hinder creativity and innovation. A more distant example is the screenwriter’s guild going on strike, preventing scripts from being marketed. Another retarded instance of bureaucracy in action.

Homogenizing Demographics and avoiding niches – Studios use marketing data and statistical analysis to appeal to the largest demographic, cutting off and sometimes ostracizing key niches. Sure, this might make more money in the long run, but film as an art suffers. Right now, the hot “niche” to exploit is comic books. Often, the true fans are disappointed. And only the most popular books are made into films. There are actually some very cool fan films made for comics and novels – but they are often punished by copyright or lack of distribution.

Limited number of films released
Due to the first two reasons, the number of films released to the general public is quite low. Many films don’t get released or distrusted because theaters won’t play them (or the market data says they will have no audience). In any given week, your local multiplex is probably playing under ten films. Huge cinemas with 24 screens will only show 15 films a week. Why?

Let’s do some math. Say the average film is two hours. Factor in 15 minutes on each end of the film for cleaning. This means each film (on average) uses 2.5 hours of the screen. If movies are shown from 12-12, that’s 115 screenings. With 15 films, that’s over seven times a day (more if the films are short). After opening weekend, I highly doubt there is a market to show something like Hitch 7 times a day. Unless you have Titanic on your hands, you are going to have empty seats and unused theaters.

Why don’t big cinemas show short and independent films? They have plenty of screen space. They have plenty of time (during the week). Cinemas, especially the big 24 screen multiplexes, make a huge percentage of earnings on weekends. Fine – use the rest of the week to show innovative, foreign and experimental cinema. The Long Tail says there will be a market – and you might even have a surprise hit on your hands.

Resistance to Radical Changes
Right now there are two primary forms of “cinema” – television series and films. Series are usually comprised of 6 to 24 20 min-40 min episodes. Film is a single block of 1 to 3 hours. Why no middle ground? Why are there no DVD collections of Short films (ala short stories collections)? Why aren’t there themed short videos (like music videos but created themes)? Why are documentaries so hard to find? Why is there no American equivalent of Anime OSU (perhaps with live actors or cgi)?

I was very impressed with The Short Film collections of Michel Gondry, Spike Jonze, and Chris Cunningham. Same thing with the BMW films – Why the hell aren’t these in blockbuster? This is the perfect format to really show innovation and progress the art of film – outside of studio demands, ballooning budgets and expensive celebrity talent – just the artist and the medium.

What is an ideal?
Right now iFilm is the best we’ve got. Only thing is, sometimes I don’t want to watch these cool films on a tiny computer screen. I want them in my home theater in high definition. Why not combine print-on-demand technology (for burning DVDs) with a system like NetFlix, all hooked into an online community like IMDB? I think independent film and cinema could flourish. Artists could escape the studio system and the massive costs of marketing to huge demographics. Narrowcasting allows diversity, prevents ridiculous inflation, and gives the chance for everyone to be a creator.

Independent media is flourishing right now for music, writing, and visual arts (comics/webpages/etc). I think Film is bound to follow.

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