At a recent ceremony in the US, film heavyweights Steven Spielberg and George Lucas both admitted that the "film industry is about to implode", citing the fact that budgets have become so overblown and people are adopting video on-demand in droves. They've said that in the next ten to twenty years, film studios will collapse under the pressures of getting an immediate return on investment and the continued spectre of piracy. Indeed, Lucas and Spielberg both admitted that their two last ventures, "Red Tails" and "Lincoln" respectively, took a lot of effort to get to the big screen.
It's true, with the likes of Netflix, Amazon, HuluPlus and Volta now offering a low-cost option of watching films, you'd be forgiven for thinking that cinemas are about to go the way of the dinosaur. After all, cinema tickets are becoming increasingly expensive and there's a growing trend in the US to release films on VOD the same day it's released in cinemas. It was rumoured that "Tower Heist", the action-comedy starring Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy, was due to be released on VOD and cinemas on the same day, except for the fact that a number of the larger cinema chains protested. Looking also as well at "Behind The Candelabra", which didn't see a cinematic release in the US and instead was premiered on HBO. But is this trend in film releasing just for the US?
By all accounts, Irish cinemas seem to be thriving under the circumstances. VOD, for the most part, hasn't interrupted new releases and instead is being used as alternative to DVD rentals and purchases. Cinemas still hold a sacred place in our collective hearts. We still get the rush of excitement from sitting down to watch something we haven't seen before, we still get that spark of imagination. But are cinemas now just for big-budget blockbusters? Can the smaller, quirkier films survive in the time of Christopher Nolan and Joss Whedon?
It's a strange time. Whedon himself seems to be aware of the fact that blockbusters, although entertaining, aren't exactly high art. With the release of his indie comedy based on Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, it's clear that films like it are becoming a rare commodity. There have been sleeper hits from time to time, but for the most part, indie films fall by the way-side and enjoy a much more fruitful life on VOD and TV. So should indie filmmakers simply chuck the standard cinema release model and focus on VOD / TV?
In the mid-90's and early 2000's, the Weinstein Brothers were famous for making some of the best indie films of our generation. With the creative freedom came a restrictive budget, but that lent itself to more ingenious filmmaking. It's coming back, in a way. Duncan Jones' fantastic sci-fi drama, "Moon", was made for a fraction of some of Hollywood's blockbuster and was easily more entertaining and fascinating than most. As mentioned, Joss Whedon filmed "Much Ado About Nothing" on a production break from "The Avengers" and was financed solely by himself and shot in his own house. Both of these films were released in cinemas and did reasonably well.
TV is enjoying a golden age, but it's not that the output has been "indie", it's that there's a lot more freedom. The likes of "Breaking Bad", "Hannibal" or even "Game of Thrones" wouldn't translate into films. Regardless of the content, the stories work in the sense that they're given time to develop and grow. The cast list of "Game of Thrones" alone is more than most film franchises combined. But people aren't being pulled away from cinemas because of what TV is offering. It's because cinemas aren't offering anything new or inventive.
It may just be that Spielberg and Lucas are scaremongering; unsure of their own output and the fact that their own recent achievements didn't break box-office records. After all, "Lincoln" was a fantastic drama but it didn't have the broad appeal of any of the Marvel films. That's not the fault of Hollywood. The industry is simply reacting to market appeal and tastes. If the cinema audiences begin to move away from the constant onslaught of comic-book films and franchises and want a return to more independent films, Hollywood will undoubtedly move to cater for it.