Trent Reznor said something wonderful once about the changes of music in the last couple of decades. Since the invention of the CD, all musicians have just been creating software*. And now it’s the visual mediums turn to face the same freedom/dilemma. The lines between TV, Movies, Webisodes, Vodcasts, Streams and more are blurring. Is it inevitable that they blur behind the scenes as well? And what about for us?
The biggest weirdo in the whole visual world is movies. And making a movie is a lot like signing to a major label. They have the advantage of marketshare and better publicity. Movies get hundreds of millions for production, because hundreds of millions of people go to the cinema. And pay over $10 a ticket usually.
What sets movies apart is distribution. And that gain is corroding – slowly.
I for one hate going to the cinema. If anything, it’s gotten worse in the face of multi-platform distribution. The chains are the worse – badly run malls with no food anyone with a brain would eat, with shit seating options and no projectionist. And the cost! But it could also be that I’m getting old. And it’s competing against watching a movie in the comfort of my own home, with no one chatting next to me.
So we are left with three advantages for the cinema. 1) The EVENT-ness. Lets face it. I do actually want to get out of the house sometime. There is a joy of experiencing something with a crowd (sometimes). 2) The screen size. 3) The release date. They get it first.
2). The screen. Hard to beat that one. Especially IMAX or 3D – although it seems 3D is waning. And technology will catch up. Because a lot of projectors are not that great, crisp or bright. Yet big TVs are getting cheaper and Blu-Ray is starting to look like it’s here to stay. And 3D TVs are coming to our homes.
Which leaves 3). The release date. It used to be that cinema got a clear 17 weeks if not more before anyone could see something anywhere else. Last year, Alice In Wonderland was almost banned from Odeon Cinemas in the UK because they were going to release the DVD 12 weeks after release date. At the time, I thought it was a backwards move by luddites (owned by Guy Hands, btw).
But when you break it down, that release date is so important to cinema, and no wonder they fight for it. But the fight is getting harder. So many movies get made, and not all get a cinema release. Docos and indie films are getting DVD releases closer and closer to their cinema date. They are the kind of films that make their money on DVD anyway.
People are talking about movies going all “day and date” in all formats. It will be an interesting world. Fewer cinemas (hopefully good quality ones) for those who want to head out. A stream or a DVD for those who want to watch at home. It would destroy the maths of how these things work. Will it earn Hollywood more money because more people are seeing new releases at their convenience? Or without those expensive cinema tickets, or the wide audience that cinema draws, will it mean that budgets have to go down?
If you don’t go to the movies, and you watch at home, then what’s the difference between TV and movies? It seems the idea that hundreds of millions also watch that movie, and hence it was made with more money.
Can the digital revolution increase TV audiences – and more revenue? Why does TV shows have to be tied to TV sets anyway? And are budgets starting to catch up? The pilot or Lost was the most expensive at the time. Now we have Game Of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire blasting it out of the water. And more to come.
There’s an audience expectation. There used to be an idea that TV production quality was well below the movies. Not anymore. Look at the best special effects shows on TV and they are great. Not Avatar great, but still pretty great. And the talent is going to TV. The planet’s best crew, writers, directors and actors can be seen on TV.
Distribution gave Movies the advantage over “TV”. Those distribution models are merging. When Lost ended, the producers claimed that you will never see such high production quality on TV ever again. They were wrong. We are going to see more of it than ever.
(They said the same thing about the Matrix too.)
On BBC’s wonderful iPlayer alone, Doctor Who gets around 1-2 million viewers an episode. As this platform grows, that figure will grow. So how soon til we get to the point where we can sustain a decent quality show that is never broadcast on TV?
Webisodes exist, tied to regular TV shows or movies. Some have their own stories. But they don’t have huge production costs because they use the same sets and stuff. Then there was the web only Dr Horrible’s Sing Along Blog. It used an existing set and low budget, with a great script to make something great. And it’s sister show, the Guild, fits in the same world.
It is only going to get easier to make these shows, if you have a head start on the production. If you have access to cameras, set, and actors. You can get something made, and out without dealing with TV channels or film distributors.
And then the next step is for completely punk rock, no production skills stuff to make it onto these channels.
The shape of movies, TV and video in general is changing. It is all becoming one big visual blob. Take Michael Winterbottom’s recent project “The Trip”. Was it a movie, or a TV show? Depends what country you’re in. In the UK it was a 6 episode BBC series, in the US and Australia it was a movie. And there was absolutely no difference in the production for either.
And that might not be the only production that could be recut. Could they make Cloudstreet into 6 half hours? Or one movie? Game Of Thrones into a 3 part movie trilogy like Lord of the Rings? It really comes down to how you want to send it out into the world. And even that is starting to feel the same.
Amazon and many places online still splits up “Film” and “TV”. They put them in the same place, but it’s a double term. Maybe we need to start thinking of one term that groups it all. Video seems the obvious one, but seems to talk more about a format than a work. We don’t call music “audio”. So Audio is to Music, as Video is to….?
Someone has to come up with something soon.
A nice Dr Horrible fansite – http://doctorhorrible.net/
* I think it was Reznor. I’m sure it was. But can’t find the source. I have used this line for five years. If anyone can find a source let me know.