Hollywood’s 21st Century Solutions – So What’s Next?
So what’s next? Although Hollywood is heavily relying on the two crutches of reboots and remakes, some industry personnel are coming up with their own 21st century ideas. Are they worth pursuing though?
The first one that has already begun is the move to digital film. Most films, since near the beginning of the film industry, were and are still shot and shown on film stock. However, since 2002’s ‘Attack of the Clones,’ there has been a big move, from those like George Lucas, to push forward digital. With benefits like cheaper distribution and crisper quality, some heralded it as the next big step for theaters. This has indeed caught on with directors and production companies.
The problem, though, is that although Lucas and company made a big push for theaters to purchase digital projectors, it still hasn’t made much of a difference in the overall market as evidenced by lackluster ticket sales this year (and pretty much every this decade). Theater owners have increased their digital projector load to about 5000 in the US, but again, most average consumers seem to have not denoted a difference, or at least care about the quality.
Another solution has been in aggrandizing the megaplex through the addition of IMAX and classy up-scale décor. However, here lies a similar inherent problem in that this has not been adopted by many theaters because of the soaring economic costs and again, proven to not be as effective from a lack of ticket sales. At least one bright spot, though, is that more consumers are aware and buying into the IMAX experience such as through special screenings of ‘The Dark Knight.’
One other large-scale solution is the push for 3D. There are currently at least 1000 3D digital projectors set up this year and has become more relied upon as the next big thing. It’s an old trick that Hollywood has relied upon since the early 20th century with films like Creature from the Black Lagoon and worked when it was first shown but died off in the latter half of the 20th Century. It has slowly made a strong resurgence from year-to-year such examples as with Journey to the Center of the Earth and Spy Kids 3D. Directors like James Cameron, though, see an even bigger audience than children films with his long-awaited project, the Avatar, being filmed with 3D completely in mind, and if he gets his way (which he probably won’t due to the tremendous financial risks), he wants it to only play in 3D-equipped theaters.
Yet are current audiences still wowed by the gimmick? I do agree that it is the best way to differentiate the theater experience versus the home experience and is an intriguing way to battle piracy, yet the financial burden and the technology does not currently seem to be enough to move audiences to make it their first priority in theaters. Recent success like Journey to the Center of the Earth (which made over $100 million) and Spy Kids 3D (making over $110 million) do show that there is a viable children’s market for 3D films, although The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl (making under $40 million) does show the negative value as well. It has to also be noted that not all theaters were playing in 3D when these films released and many of these films still use the old red-blue glasses. The technology, as noted by Spielberg and a few others, is there for more advanced 3D yet costs and complete Hollywood approval is not.
There are a bunch of other models that are too numerous to mention unfortunately but a few examples would be sequels, star power, and CG.
All these solutions have one commonality in that it is trying to differentiate the ever-expanding home experience versus the stagnant theater one which has grown difficult due to the Internet. What other solutions (other than the economic ones) are there? Here are a few of my thoughts that I could quickly think of. I do note that these still flawed in some ways and not fully fleshed out, but I feel they are some measures that can be taken in the short term.
1) Studios need to better market films that aren’t blockbusters or already considered ‘hot’ property. Whether foreign or indie or a new property, many casual audiences simply overlook a film because it was not marketed or placed in a busy period whether for easier consideration of awards or to match up to other studios’ blockbusters. There is a steady, avid movie crowd that still watches the smaller films, yet the feeling I always receive on the marketing end is that studios are simply putting them out just in case the film succeeds or just for a guaranteed share of the niche market. Trailers are not sufficient enough. The wait-and-see approach does work as with sleeper hits like Juno, yet if studios can diversify their major market pushes more, theatergoers may see that the megaplex is filled with more than teen comedies and comic book films.
2) Linking right in with the last point is that studios need to make more risky investments on both new talent and unique ideas. Although not a very good reference, Speilberg’s failed reality TV show On the Lot may have done poorly in ratings yet worked at heart in what the industry needs to feed on, looking for bold film talent. This isn’t to say that studios are not coming out with good movies, yet studios need to be make better investments into more products as the main products and then cultivate these directors to continue their work. Unique ideas are very tough to come up yet it is because some executive made a very strange and off-beat decision that audiences are enjoying different genres of films.
3) Finally, Hollywood needs to better utilize the Internet and take advantage of its community and Web 2.0. Companies have already ventured into viral marketing, attempting to nab viewers with zany websites or mini-games and have been effective in some cases, along with development diaries and movie previews being available. Some companies have even tried to put up the first five minutes of a film to entice viewers. However, what about an idea even more off-kilter? Take Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, which I wrote up a glowing write-up on. It is a brilliant web-episode series, imagined during the writer’s strike. It has garnered a large following, lots of viewerships, a release on iTunes and a very strong likelihood of a sequel. Although this is not really a movie, it’s a mainstream experiment that has made a name for itself through the creative minds of a couple people. Few companies have tried actually making a movie with an online audience in mind and it would be quite enticing to see companies utilize the web with professional shorts that could possibly be made into bigger ideas in theaters or some creative outlet that has still not been found.
All in all, as I mentioned repeatedly throughout this series of articles, this is not a rant about Hollywood’s lack of creativity and art. There are quality indie and blockbuster films being created each and every year. This is not saying that all the sequels and action fare is terrible. Enjoying a good popcorn flick is not bad. This is a film lover’s analysis of an industry that is losing customers and needs to keep innovating itself for the 21st century.
[This is the final article in a 3 part series]