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

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.

I've seen a future of film, and I like what I see.

I've spoken in the past about 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 model has been built on making a few expensive films per year, advertising them a ton, and relying on these few films to make a profit. This leads to a risk-averse approach where executives ride the status quo, lest something they suggest flops. They look at what has succeeded recently, call it a trend, and try to replicate it -- 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 to that list. In short, they're not really empowered to create out-of-the-box movies right now.

So what?

It's a model that is bound to change, 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, though franchises such as Batman will still likely 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 the 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. But the writing is on the wall. The 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.