With each passing week of meager reported box office, conventional wisdom in the press is that the tea leaves are pointing to the eventual death of theatrical moviegoing. While the numbers speak for themselves, the leap from near-term results to eventual demise is a simplistic analysis based on two factors that, while true, are not necessarily predictive. Yes, it is true that the closure of theaters during the pandemic helped to solidify home viewing as the default way of consuming new films. It is also true that many audiences (particularly older audiences) are not currently feeling ready to go back to movie theaters; nor for that matter, given their new home viewing habits, do they feel the need to.
But do these facts point to the end of the theatrical business? After all, the movie business has survived many existential threats in the course of its 100-plus-year history. The assumption here is that the business cannot adapt, as it has in the past, to the new realities in ways that could change the playing field. And the pundits seem not to be paying attention to other trends that are creating a potentially positive environment for a rebound. Continue reading “Premature Obituaries Part 1: Is The Movie Theater Business Dead?”
The announcement last week that the newly combined Warner Bros. Discovery was planning to dump seven of its films, including one big budget female-driven DC Comics superhero film, has brought on a lot of angst and debate among those tracking the film business. The decision was both surprising in some ways, while being entirely predictable in others.
While there are plenty of examples of feature films that have been unceremoniously dumped by their studios because of lack of faith in commercial potential, or because of a regime change, historically these decisions were based on not wanting to throw good money after bad by spending the necessary marketing money for those films to reach an audience.
In the current media environment, one might have assumed that while such films might be denied a life in theaters, they certainly would provide adequate filler for a streaming service, if for no other reason than to give the appearance of having a wide selection of offerings. Just one quick look at the menus for any of these services would indicate that quantity rather than quality rules that business model. So why would Warners just dump these films, rather than relegating them to their HBO Max platform? Continue reading “The Warners Movie Dump: An Ominous Sign for the Streaming Biz?”
A few days ago, I announced the long-awaited release of my film “Searching for Mr. Rugoff” (long-awaited by me, anyway). It’s been a protracted journey with many twists. I’ve begun to reflect on the many decisions I made along the way–fortunate and not–and thought some of it might be instructive for others (the teacher comes out in me!)
The project itself was years in the making, and at many points I wondered if it would ever actually add up to anything. I was once told that narrative features are a sprint, but that documentaries are a marathon. Trite but true. There were many times when I thought the film was as good as it could be, only to get feedback that made me take yet another look, leading to yet another version. The process was often frustrating and infuriating, but with each iteration, it seemed to get better. I had work-in-progress screenings for the students at Columbia, at the offices of Kartemquin Films in Chicago, at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor, and at the 2019 Art House Convergence. And while audience reactions were very encouraging, I always walked away with more notes—sometimes completely contradictory. Continue reading “A Little Glimpse Behind the Scenes of the Release of My Doc”
This article was originally published in the Winter 2013 issue of Filmmaker Magazine.
Over the last decade, as the tools of filmmaking became less expensive and more generally accessible, there was much excitement about what came to be known as the “democratization” of filmmaking. Suddenly, one didn’t have to be rich or the relative of a studio executive to get a movie made. In addition, web sites such as YouTube and others opened up distribution to the masses, creating a new paradigm that was dubbed “user-generated content.”
All of this sounded great on the surface, but like other seemingly positive advances—remember the “thousand channel universe” or the “long tail theory?”—there are always unintended consequences. While it was true that more people were making “movies” than ever, I would characterize the change not as democratization, but rather as “amateurization.” These market forces—an oversupply of product and seemingly endless channels of accessible distribution—caused the bottom to drop out of the professional marketplace. Content in all its forms was being commoditized. Why should distribution channels pay for content when it could be provided for free? If audiences could be attracted by offering them quantity, why worry about quality? In other words, the so-called democratization of filmmaking was ensuring that no one could make a living at it. Continue reading “The New Professionalism – A Flight Toward Quality”