Most advancements in technology, notably the incredible strides digital video has made in recent years, are hailed as grand steps towards some idealized zenith of uninhibited collectivist creativity. With HD video and professional-grade editing suites readily available to the general public there’s no telling what magnificent works of art are being produced by middle-aged divorced Midwestern suburbanites as we speak. Right?
In theory the concept is solid. Film has traditionally been one of the world’s most expensive and time-consuming art forms, leaving the means to create films in the hands of a very small elite club — Hollywood and her foreign equivalents. It stands to reason then, if the number of people with the means to create films increases, the number of films being produced will likewise increase. And with a greater number of films being made, the number of good films will inevitably increase.
More good movies being made every year can’t possibly be a bad thing, right? Well, that’s debatable.
As it turns out, executives at the big studios and even many of the mid-majors and smaller distribution companies are agonizing over every step towards consumer access to professional-level equipment. Why? For the same reason record companies abhorred the advent of the home computer and the world wide web. If any pimply teenager can record himself strumming a few chords and then publish it to the entire world with the click of a mouse, why even bother with a record label? Thanks to the combination of Napster, Myspace and the public availability of studio-grade mics, sound cards and post-production software, the music business as it existed for for three quarters of a century no longer exists. Could film be next?
In an interesting post over at The Wrap Brian Newman tackles the issue head on. He insists that the sky is definitely not falling on the film business, and may in fact be rising to greater heights than ever before:
“I believe that likewise, in film, we now have legions of young people who have learned to shoot, edit and make a film. The industry tends to dismiss these as amateurs and complain about the torrential flood of their films, but we might just have the perfect generation — one that feels a visceral connection to film and wants to explore it more.
Film is no longer something mythic for them, hard to do or just for an elite few. They now know how to make it, and this commonness may just lead to more discovery and participation. Knowing what it takes to make a film, they might begin to seek out that retrospective screening of Kurosawa, learn about cinema pre-Tarantino and check out the newest films from Hollywood and obscure indies alike.”
He also draws comparisons to the music industry, arguing that the failure of the studio system and the subsequent flood of thousands of indie bands may have crippled sales for the elite few but has dramatically increased interest in the art form and sharpened its overall creativity.
Chris Hyams, the founder of indie film distributor and film festival submission company, B-Side Entertainment, estimated that based on individual entries from the thousands of festivals that used B-Side’s Festival Genius software to manage their websites that as many as 50,000 films were produced in 2009 – a number that terrifies Hollywood big-wigs.
But many questions remain. No one can possibly watch that many films and if the current power structure and distribution models fail or are dramatically altered, how on earth is the public supposed to find the gems amidst all the muck? With no clear hierarchy is it not reasonable to assume some degree of decline in interest in the art form in the general public? Questions have also been raised about the validity of the music industry analogy. Music is short form, still far less expensive than film and is much better suited to the micro-marketing model it currently employs. Even if the equipment itself to make films were to eventually reach a level of affordability comparable to music, you would still need actors, a crew, filming permits, costumes, props, locations, etc. Would music’s production and distribution models really be feasible for feature length films?
Newman makes some interesting points and his optimism is encouraging, but is it realistic? Are the worries of Hollywood’s corporate elite valid? Is film really in jeopardy of losing its status as the premier mass media art form?