Weekend Discussion - Spielberg/Lucas: The Implosion of the Film Industry

Posted by Richard "RB" Botto

The big buzz around town this week revolved around the comments made by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas regarding the future of the film industry during a talk at the USC School of Cinematic Arts (see The Hollywood Reporter's coverage of this story below).

There are those who find the griping of the two icons as hypocritical considering that they were at the forefront of the summer blockbuster movement. But let's remember, Jaws, even though it was based on a best seller, was a bit of a risk. And no one wanted to touch Star Wars. Today, studios are playing it much safer. Most summer tentpole films are based on existing content with built in audiences. Further still, they are critic proof. Man of Steel, the new Superman film, is sitting at 58% on Rotten Tomatoes. Where I went to school that would signify "F" material. Still, as I write, the film has grossed more than $21 million domestically in less than 24 hours.

In theory, I can see where Spielberg is coming from. A half dozen or so $250 million dollar flops would certainly cause the studios to rethink the model. But when even comedies which get killed by critics - I'm looking at you, Identity Thief with your 20% Rotten Tomatoes ranking - gross over $100 million ($134.5M to be precise), is there really a chance we'll see such a string of tentpole flops? Hard to envision.

I've also seen people laughing off the idea of $25 ticket prices and Broadway-eque experiences. On the surface it seems outrageous, right? But mere hours after Spielberg and Lucas tossed the idea around came this from Paramount (courtesy of Deadline Hollywood):

Paramount said Thursday that it will offer the film world's first "mega ticket" for an advance screening of the Brad Pitt zombie actioner World War Z Regal theaters around the US. For $50 - that's a $75 value, mind you - a moviegoer with said golden ticket from Fandango gets admission to the June 19 3D showing of the flick, a download or stream of the film when it's released on home video, custom 3D glasses, a limited-edition official movie poster and a small popcorn.

Strange days, indeed.

I, for one, hope there is some sort of implosion. Although I don't necessarily agree with Spielberg and Lucas as to how it will happen, I do believe everything is cyclical. These days, the industry rejects great filmmakers, established filmmakers, with stories to tell (See: Steven Soderbergh, Behind The Candelabra). And even though the expansion of the internet has made it easier for a novice filmmaker to attract an audience to their work, he or she has little chance receiving widespread distribution. That needs to change. When a film that wins Best Picture at a festival as well regarded as Sundance only received a five screen commitment in New York and Los Angeles, the system must be questioned.

So good for Spielberg and Lucas to questioning the very system which has supported them for the last four decades. It's been said that it's easy to shout from the top of an ivory tower, but it's much easier - and safer - to sit quiet in luxury.


PS - What say you? Time for the brilliant minds of this community to chime in. I love hearing your opinions, so let's discuss in the Comments section below.

Steven Spielberg Predicts ‘Implosion’ of Film Industry

George Lucas echoed Spielberg’s sentiments at an event touting the opening of a new USC School of Cinematic Arts building, saying big changes are in store.

Steven Spielberg on Wednesday 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.” He also said that Lincoln came “this close” to being an HBO movie instead of a theatrical release.

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.

The two legendary filmmakers, along with CNBC anchor Julia Boorstin and Microsoft president of interactive entertainment business Don Mattrick,were speaking at the University of Southern California as part of the festivities surrounding the official opening of the Interactive Media Building, three stories high and part of the USC School of Cinematic Arts.

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.”

Lucas lamented the high cost of marketing movies and the urge to make them for the masses while ignoring niche audiences. He called cable television “much more adventurous” than film nowadays.

“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.

Spielberg added that he had to co-own his own studio in order to get Lincoln into theaters.

“The pathway to get into theaters is really getting smaller and smaller,” Lucas said.

Mattrick and Spielberg also praised Netflix, prompting Boorstin to ask Spielberg if he planned to make original content for the Internet streamer. “I have nothing to announce,” said the director.

Lucas and Spielberg also spoke of vast differences between filmmaking and video games because the latter hasn’t been able to tell stories and make consumers care about the characters. Which isn’t to say the two worlds aren’t connected. Spielberg, in fact, has teamed with Microsoft to make a “TV” show for Xbox 360 based on the game Halo and he is making a movie based on the Electronic Arts game Need for Speed.

Let’s discuss! What say you! All opinions, remarks, and comments welcome!

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