I normally don’t rush to put pen to paper every time Steven Spielberg speaks, and that goes double for George Lucas, but it’s kind of a big deal when the two guys who invented the modern blockbuster as we know it basically tell us that the studio obsession with blockbusters is killing the film industry.
Steven Spielberg on Wednesday, speaking at an opening of a new USC School of Cinematic Arts building, predicted an “implosion” in the film industry is inevitable, whereby a half dozen or so $250 million movies flop at the box office and alter the industry forever. What comes next — or even before then — will be price variances at movie theaters, where “you’re gonna have to pay $25 for the next Iron Man, you’re probably only going to have to pay $7 to see Lincoln.”
George Lucas agreed that massive changes are afoot, including film exhibition morphing somewhat into a Broadway play model, whereby fewer movies are released, they stay in theaters for a year and ticket prices are much higher. His prediction prompted Spielberg to recall that his 1982 film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial stayed in theaters for a year and four months.
Lucas and Spielberg told USC students that they are learning about the industry at an extraordinary time of upheaval, where even proven talents find it difficult to get movies into theaters. Some ideas from young filmmakers “are too fringe-y for the movies,” Spielberg said. “That’s the big danger, and there’s eventually going to be an implosion — or a big meltdown. There’s going to be an implosion where three or four or maybe even a half-dozen megabudget movies are going to go crashing into the ground, and that’s going to change the paradigm.”
Yeah, probably movies where the filmmakers care as little as you guys did when you were making Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull. “Another greenscreen waterfall sequence? Sure, f*ck it.”
“I think eventually the Lincolns will go away and they’re going to be on television,” Lucas said. “As mine almost was,” Spielberg interjected. “This close — ask HBO — this close.”
“We’re talking Lincoln and Red Tails — we barely got them into theaters. You’re talking about Steven Spielberg and George Lucas can’t get their movie into a theater,” Lucas said. “I got more people into Lincoln than you got into Red Tails,” Spielberg joked. [THR]
This sentiment is nothing new. It echoes what Steven Soderbergh said a few months back in a widely-disseminated speech at the San Francisco Film Festival (I had qualms about posting it because he told the audience specifically that he didn’t want to be recorded). I even wrote a tentpoles-are-killing-you article back in 2011. The basic problem is, studio execs don’t have the kind of job security that allows for making moderate profits off a series of smaller films. Everything has to be NOW, huge short-term profits that you only get from big blockbuster movies. Which is fine in the short term, but over time, it narrows peoples’ idea of what a movie can be at a time when that desperately needs to be expanded. There can be more to movies that (NUMBER) Fast (NUMBER) Furious. They’re competing for a smaller and smaller audience (the people who show up to the big tentpoles) at a time when they need to be bringing in a new audience members (the people who don’t). The kinds of movies they’re making, they aren’t creating the new movie fans that they need for the medium to stay relevant. Megan Ellison is one of the few bright spots out there, financing the kinds of movies she wants to see rather than the safest bets she can make to make money, but not everyone can be independently wealthy.
Anyway, all of this is something that lots of people have been saying for years, but hopefully now that the person saying it is Steven Spielberg, the entertainment industry’s favorite ass to kiss, things might start to change. I mean probably not, but I’ll at least cross these fingers before I put them in my butt.