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THE FUTURE OF FILM Geoff Lealand Screen & Media Studies University of Waikato June 2008
… and some thoughts on associated media …
Film, the past 100+ years, has been characterised by: • Integrated systems of production, distribution and exhibition--formerly based around the studio system (especially in the USA); now based around global media companies (eg Sony, Viacom, Disney) • Physical distribution of film prints, firstly in home territories ( eg USA), then distributed globally-preceded by massive marketing campaigns • The box office from theatrical (cinema) release (especially in the USA) is the first measure of success, followed by the ‘foreign’ b. o. , video/DVD rentals and ‘sell-through’ sales, airline movies, pay TV or FTA TV etc
But technology is changing rapidly … … it is increasingly a digital world The same basic recording technique used to make the film can now be used to deliver it. . A process that used to go celluloid-videotape-analogue, losing quality at each step, now goes digital-digital Nick Roddick ‘Armchair Cinema. Screen International Oct 21 2005 When it comes to the future of entertainment… it will be digital…No longer a mass, but a million-fold audience of just one, each one of us now has the ability now to decide what, when, how and where they[sic] want to listen, read, watch, or interact. Creed O’Hanlon ‘End of Daze’, Cinefile Nov 10 2005
Film is going digital, as with … • Music By April 2007, Apple had sold 100 million i. Pods. Downloads, through sites such as i. Tunes (500+ billion songs sold to date) and downloaded ring-tones now exceed the sales of conventional singles • Television Audiences for free-to-air, mainstream TV channels are static or declining across the globe (including NZ), as a result of audience fragmentation (more channels; competition from digital pay TV services) + new recording/storage devices ( eg Ti. Vo, Web. TV, downloads on to portable devices) • See: Hirschorn “The Revolution Will Be Televised” The Atlantic Monthly, www. theatlantic. com/doc/200803/tv-web
The financial base of film is shifting • Mass audiences are still very important as the primary measure of success (b. o. ), but DVD sales now represent 60% of the total gross (income) for a Hollywood feature film. • In respect of Hollywood (American) film, foreign markets are more important than domestic markets--up to 60% of profits come from foreign audiences for American films.
Hollywood has long dominated the world • In 2005, English language films (aka American) occupied 54% of the global b. o. (English is the first language of 16. 4% of the world’s population) Foreign Affairs, July/August 2005 • The ten most profitable films of all time are all American: Gone With the Wind/Star Wars/The Sound of Music/Titanic/The Ten Commandments/Jaws ….
The audience base of film is also shifting (1) • In 2005, the US cinema business experienced the longest slump in its 100 year history. Audiences also declined in Asia and Australia (see US Movie Market Summary 1995 to 2008, www. thenumbers. com/market) • Increasingly, cinema release and DVD release are being synchronised, as ‘multimedia single openings’. • In many cases, the film release is secondary to ‘spin-offs’ and ancillary merchandising eg computer games [similarly, more money is to be made in live concerts, Tshirts etc, than in music CD release, with 95% of popular music releases still the property of the major corporations (Sony, BMG, Warners, Sony]
The audience base … (2) • An increasing number of films now go ‘straight to video’ (DVD) or pay-TV, without a cinema release. Re-versioning (cf. ‘The Director’s Cut’ is another recent phenomenon) • DVD sales are slowing globally but back catalogue release continues to grow (as does the black market) • In the UK, for example, 171 million cinema tickets were sold in 2004, but 234 million videotapes and DVDs were sold in the same year
The audience base …(3) Cinema-going internationally continues to be dominated by certain age groups. The majority of films that are made reflect their particular interests and tastes (eg Alvin and the Chipmunks? Rambo? ). In Australia in 2007, for example, the 14 -24 age group (20% of Australia population) comprised 24% of cinema-goers, whilst people 50 years or over (37% of population) comprised 29% of cinemagoers. (Australian Film Commission, 2008)
A brave new world? Maybe. But if the business continues to regard these developments as a threat--as a disruption to the cashflow which has kept the studios and their international distribution subsidiaries profitable for three-quarters of a century--then Hollywood will quickly go the way of Detroit. If, on the other hand, it embraces such changes, its impressive economic muscle will be further toned. It has, after all, access to the one thing that technology itself cannot supply: content. (Roddick, 2005)
The more things change…(1) • Hollywood is not the only--nor the largest-film industry in the world. In 2003, India produced more than 1100 films, nearly double the amount produced in the USA • Robust film industries also persist in countries such as France, Hong Kong, Nigeria and Mexico--often assisted by cultural subsidies.
The more things change … (2) • Language and/or cultural barriers privilege local production in the world’s largest population centres (eg Asia has 57% of the world’s population). In 2007, China imported little more than two dozen English language feature films (but is opening up, as a result of WTO pressure--also illegal copying? ) • In some countries, the number of cinema screens are increasing. In New Zealand, for example, new multiplexes have been built in Auckland, Wellington and Hamilton, and ‘boutique’ cinemas are booming. • Falling audiences may have as much to do with the poor quality of current film releases as changing technology?
Film as an enduring social ritual When I sit down next to you in a movie theatre, we get to share each other’s point of view. We become part of a collective soul. That’s the magic in the movies M Night Shyamalan (Dir. The Sixth Sense, The Village, The Happening), in Gubbins (2005) ‘Windows of opportunity’ What other ritualistic aspects of the cinema experience might ensure its survival?
Finally … I first put this information together in December 2005. What has happened in the ensuing two-and-half years? • the downward slide in audiences is reversing in some markets Eg …British films account for 27% of box office takings so far this year, against 19% for the whole of 2006…a combination of big films and bad weather made July the biggest month for cinema-going since January 1970’ Rebecca Smithers, ‘Resurgence of British productions brings fans back to the cinema’, The Guardian, Nov 13 2007 • mainstream (American) continues to depend on the ‘big ticket’or ‘event’ film, based on proven sources (re-makes, sequels, adaptations) eg The Simpsons, Transformers, Shrek the Third, with mixed results • continued success in art house cinema eg Happy-go-lucky, and the return of neglected genres eg Westerns such The Assassination of Jesse James and 12. 10 From Yumas • accelerating technological intervention or experimentation eg animation techniques in Beowulf; (the return of) 3 -D cinema, D-cinema (high quality digital projection)
Other visions of the future I think there’s a lot of hope. Consider where we were in the 90 s, it looked like the future of movies was blockbusters and nothing but. And then today, there are documentaries again in a big way…The comeback of is strictly linked to the arrival of digital technology. Wim Wenders, German filmmaker, March 2006
Computers take us further, because they take us to our imagination. But it’s not the technology that creates the film. All this technology has made it possible for anyone to do anything, but it’s only the gifted who can do more. . the gap between the truly mediocre and the truly inspired will increase, not decrease. Tim Sarnoff, President, Sony Pictures Imageworks ( March 2007) but we need to also remember William Goldman’s famous judgement on the movie business, Nobody knows anything
Some questions for you § Do you go to films at the cinema regularly (say, once a fortnight)? § If not, where (and how) do you get to see recent film releases? § When you do go to the cinema, is it a special occasion eg is there anything particularly enjoyable or unique about the experience? § Do you, for example, feel part of Shyamalan’s idea of a “collective soul”? § Do you make a point of going to New Zealand films, such as Second-Hand Wedding (20 -08)?