I have seen the future of film, and it is glorious.

The Red One, which costs $17,500 for the base unit and another $15,000 or so to make a complete kit. Compare this to $85,000 for a 35mm Arriflex body, easily twice that for accessories and film.

The Red One, which costs $17,500 for the base unit and another $15,000 or so to make a complete kit. Compare this to $85,000 for a 35mm Arriflex body, easily twice that for accessories and film.

I’ve seen a future of film, and for once I like what I see.

I’ve bemoaned in the past the challenges of film in the distribution sphere and my thoughts on the exciting places the industry is going, specifically what I call the Youtube-ization of feature film. That’s on the distribution side, but some recent conversations and thoughts have made me consider the even cooler changes coming with film production.

First the trends: filmmaking is getting cheaper and cheaper — with advances like the RED One, we will begin to see films that equal the quality of current studio films at 1/10 the cost. Hollywood and its institutions, which have formerly operated as an oligarchy, will be faced with more and more microbudget competition.

Hollywood’s got a sickness in the production realm, and it is a paranoid fear of failure. Their model was built on making a few expensive films per year, advertising them to the hilt, and counting on them for profit. I can tell you from my experience working at Universal Studios that executives are encouraged to ride the status quo, lest something they suggest flops. They look at what has succeeded recently, call it a trend, and try to replicate the movie — even though it will take three years to get the movie into theaters; they have a list of top actors and actresses that predicts how much money they will bring at the box office, and cast slavishly to that list. They have a process called “development” which is really a quagmire of rewriting by committee, hemming and hawing, and extending options on scripts they will never make. In short, they’re not thinking very hard about how to create a brilliant movie.

So what?

It’s a defunct model, and as I see it the big financiers who want to compete in this new world have two options. The first is to create flashy special-effects films that the little guys can’t compete with. It won’t be long before even 3D is within reach of almost everyone, but franchises such as Batman are likely to persist.

The second option is more exciting. Use the enormous amounts of money you have (Warner Brothers Pictures has a yearly operating income of $845 million) and devote a large amount of it to microbudget films. Rather than close off your industry, open it up and encourage innovation. Take in independent directors, producers, and actors, help them develop their scripts, and fund scores of films per year at $2 million apiece. Studios can put any restrictions on it (requirement to attend film school, etc.) that you think are necessary to get good quality output, but as long as they keep their process open and don’t stifle innovation, they will get a number of really incredible films. All that is left is picking the winners (finally time to break out the focus groups) and throwing massive advertising campaigns at them. Rolled into the bargain, you build a community of filmmakers loyal to your brand, encouraging and supporting fledgling talent.

Sure I’m a little biased – this shift would help me immensely as a budding filmmaker. Maybe I’m inspired by having just started work for Ted Hope. Maybe it’s having been blown away by watching The Fuel Film. But the writing is on the wall. The massive centralization of control and profit in this industry is shifting. If you have any doubt, look at the success of the open source model: Wikipedia, Firefox, and now the upcoming Google Wave. Opening up your process has always been the way to find success, but these new tools make it more an imperative than ever before.

The golden age can’t come quickly enough, and when it does it will be glorious.



6 Comments to “I have seen the future of film, and it is glorious.”

  1. jonah 2 October 2009 at 12:00 pm #

    V interesting model you have there. What about the massive agency and publicity sectors. Do you think they’d let this pass? I’m sure the studios are in their pocket more than anyone. Or maybe I’m just watching too much entourage…

    Ps get tickets to “alcatraz at night” its sick esp w/the san fran fog!

  2. Mark 2 October 2009 at 2:14 pm #

    Filmmaking depends on who is making the stories. That is part of the beauty of it. Regardless of the tech, we saw a major shift in the 90s because the mainstream got boring. Now those guys became corporate and internet shows got big. It levels the playing field and allows for the storytellers to rise. Seems like they need to find the good writers and start letting them write and produce. It might be the perfect time to be a writer… thanks to technology.

  3. Maha 3 October 2009 at 1:12 pm #

    I think you’re right that these are the two models they could go with. I don’t think it’s clear that the first would fail–the big-budget category includes more than just Batman; it also includes science fiction w expensive gadgetry, period/historical stuff w expensive sets and war movies w expensive effects. All of those categories can produce good work, so I’d bet some studios go that road.

    On the question of big studios investing in independents, didn’t all the big studios go out and start units to do just that a few years ago? What happened to those projects?

  4. Mike 3 October 2009 at 2:17 pm #

    @Jonah – there are plenty of people who stand to profit from the cult of stardom, and celebrity is human nature. What I think will change (and has been for a while) is that being a celebrity, for all but the biggest, will carry a smaller premium and there will be more “celebrities” out there. The megacelebs will star in the big-budget franchise films. The rest will look more like cult icons with niche fanbases.
    It’s not going to be a paradigm shift, just a massive change in scale.

    @Mark – totally agree. Find the quality people and let them rise to the top and do their thing. Don’t put hoops to jump unless they are hoops of creativity.

    @Maha – definitely; I see a two-pronged approach, perhaps with different studios picking one or the other model. But keep in mind that costs are going down for *everything.* Transformers cost $150 million to make and District 9 only $30. Give special effects ten years and how much would District 9 have cost? Now, 3D is ridiculously expensive, but it’s only a matter of time before it goes mainstream. There will still be big budget movies, whether budgets justified by Special FX, period pieces, or celebrities.

    As far as I know, these houses are doing well. A quick look at their recent films, though, shows budgets ranging from $8mil to $20mil, with some (Juno!) dipping down to $6.5mil. There is evidence that they are taking advantage of better technology and being squeezed by lower revenues. I see this trend continuing – less cost of making a film and less profit of films; less big bucks to the top, and ideally more of the film world will look like a community of artists rather than Goldman Sachs.

  5. @mikelya my fellow intern at This is That just showed me his great blog post on Future of film http://bit.ly/19yP8U

  6. @mikelya my fellow intern at This is That just showed me his great blog post on Future of film http://bit.ly/19yP8U

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