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S&A 2013 Highlights: Dark Clouds Over Hollywood. Spielberg, Lucas Predict Industry Implosion (Thoughts)

by Tambay A. Obenson
January 9, 2014 6:01 PM
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I'm sure, by now, most of you've have read/heard about the predictions for the Stateside movie industry made by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg (that the business, as it is, will implode, in short), which seem to have shaken the internet at its core, given how much the original piece by The Hollywood Reporter has traveled since it was published last night (I shared it on the S&A Facebook and Twitter pages soon after, and it's been shared several dozen times since them).

A common reaction to the words of these 2 industry titans was something like: "If they are having to fight to get their films from script to screen (Lincoln and Red Tails), and are as gloomy about the industry's future as they appear to be, then what does that mean for the rest of us...?"

The video footage of that conversation - a panel discussion at University of Southern California's School for Cinematic Arts, where they are board members - was moderated by CNBC's Julia Boorstin, and has now surfaced online, and is embedded below for you to watch.

In brief, both filmmakers see changes coming in the way movies are made, distributed and watched, as well as significant disruptions to the overall business itself, with Spielberg comparing what's happening in the industry now, to what the economy was like in 2008 - hitting a bottom, poised to eventually start to rise up again.

I have no idea what the business of cinema is going to look like in 10, 15, 20 years. It's really anyone's guess.

What I will say is that, with the widening availability of broadband internet access all over the world, as speeds get even faster, and service cheaper, and TV screens become even better, much larger, but affordable, I expect more and more of us to avoid movie theaters altogether, and use of acronyms like VOD become even more prevalent, as the movie theater experience becomes a very expensive one (to make up for the drops in attendance), enjoyed by the those who can afford it.

Now, I've already shared my own preference on this web site (Sergio has as well); specifically, currently, I'd say that I do the bulk of my movie watching at home. It's rare that I actually go to the theater to see a film these days, unless it's a film that I absolutely must see on the big screen - yes, even press screenings, which are free for me. My time is even more precious to me than my money. So a free press screening doesn't automatically entice me to attend (especially when I factor in travel time to and from the screening locations - usually in Manhattan, and I live somewhat deep in Brooklyn - and the film's 2-hour running time), unless, again, it's a movie that I really want to see. I could be doing something more important to me during those 4 hours.

There's just what I feel is a lack of quality in the films that do get theatrical releases (those being predominantly Hollywood studio product - the remakes, sequels, prequels, comic book adaptations - and even the indies as well, and very few of what I'd call smart, adult movies). Also, there's the fact that movies get to home video much faster these days than yesteryear, so unless it's a movie that I absolutely must see in theaters, I'm willing to wait the 2 months or so, for it to get to video.

VOD is on the rise, with some films getting pre-theatrical VOD rentals, meaning they are available for you to watch, at home, before they actually get to theaters. Magnolia Pictures does this a lot.

There's also the rising costs of movie ticket prices, especially here in New York City, where I live, as well as unruly theatergoers, something I touched on in a recent post.

Spielberg and Lucas mostly agree with me on all of that, saying that they expect consumers to watch more content, including movies and TV shows, on giant screens at home, as the separation between TV and film content disappears and theatrical releases are limited to fewer, big-budget films.

Times are a-changing, certainly; and movie theater owners aren't gonna like this change, when it eventually does come to pass.

You'll recall the 2010 proposal put forward by a few Hollywood studios, and least 1 cable TV operator, that would make movies available on TV, just 30 days after the films debuts in theaters, much sooner than the average! And how much were you expected to pay for this privilege? $20 to $30 per film!

They called it "home theater on demand."

I don't believe the idea ever went anywhere, although we could say that today's VOD model as I described above, is essentially a product of that, as it continues to evolve.

For some consumers, especially families, it would be much more attractive to pay the $20 to $30, to see a film at home, before, or soon after its theatrical debut, rather than pay $14 for each person (here in NYC), plus the high theater costs of popcorn and sodas, to see the same movie in a theater during the first month of its release.

But no matter how much change is fought, change will come. Change is already here. Just look at how much the financing/production/distribution/exhibition landscape has changed since this site was launched just 4 years ago.

And then imagine how much different it's likely going to look in another 4 years.

Exciting times ahead, and I just hope that I'm around to experience it all, and maybe even be a part of the change.

Watch the video below: 

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  • Audrey Lancaster | February 22, 2014 6:26 PMReply

    I agree with Speilburg and Lucas, and also the author of this article. I think most big-budget movies are crap, and cater to the non-thinking audiences that generally go to the movies. There are very few movies made for more discerning, more intelligent people these days, at least not in the way that they were done in the past. Hollywood has become a closed, elitist system catering to the no talent nothings that somehow managed to slip into it. It is disgusting, I think they should just close up shop and stop polluting the world with their overhyped garbage.. stupid people rule the earth.

  • Donella | January 10, 2014 11:55 AMReply

    It's time for both George Lucas and Steven Spielberg to retire and make room for the New School.

  • audrey lancaster | February 22, 2014 6:29 PM

    The New School? Hahahahahahaha... that pretentious den of nobodies. I think it's such an ageist thing to say that these great filmmakers should retire in order to make room for a bunch of stupid, worthless hipsters who dont know the first thing about LIFE, which is where great films come from... i hate the new school, i hate the ny film academy, i hate nyu, i hate it all... waiting for the working-class man to make his film.. as a woman in my fifties, i can remember roger corman and other renegades.. not these overeducated jerks, these pieces of human slime, that come out of the film schools today... let them fall off the face of the earth, pretentious white bastards.. drop dead, donella, and eat a razor blade for lunch. Lucas and Speilburg rule.

  • Mark | January 28, 2014 12:02 PM

    When the new school is capable of producing something that isn't sub par, get back to me. I won't hold my breath.

  • Michael | June 22, 2013 11:34 PMReply

    Agreed, the availability of VOD/internet acces/streaming/ file sharing/lack of quality productions has arrested the industry. The studio-system is failing and Media production has reached it's zenith of appeal, I predict a destructive and threatening future for cinema.

  • M | June 22, 2013 11:42 PM

    Don't forget television, so many factors, so little time.

  • Miles Ellison | June 22, 2013 11:40 PM

    It remains to be seen if a lack of quality productions is going to destroy the industry. There is a large audience of people that like crap. What will destroy the movie industry is piracy.

  • Daryl | June 14, 2013 6:12 PMReply

    It's a lit bit of what I've been saying the studio system is relic ready to fall. The future hold ownership for writers, directors, actors, and the crew. I believe films will be finance by private investors in the future and distributed online . Advances in technology will start viewing parties from friends and family that want to see a movie that just came out. The theaters will no longer be the only place to get the big screen experience.I think you will have different small businesses that will have the the tools to give people the big screen experience along with theaters. It will be like what you see from pay per view in boxing in which a fight is viewed according to the person experience they want to have. I think it will be great. People will have the option on how they want to watch a movie.

  • CareyCarey | June 14, 2013 12:09 PMReply

    "when you experience a truly great film in such an arena (sitting in a dark crowded theater, filled with strangers, watching a movie on a gigantic screen) , it's probably the same as a heroine addict describing the first time they used dope"

    Well, I don't know about all that. I've used heroin and I vividly remember my first time. And I have to tell you, it was nothing like my experience of sitting in a darkened theater for the first time.

    However, I do understand the gist of that statement. The movie watching experience (in a theater) is a special and unique emotional ride which is enhanced by the company of others. It's much like going to the club or a jazz joint or even a restaurant, the total emotional experience rings the bell. We all can sit at home, shake our booties, eat a fine meal, get drunk and watch a movie. But there's something special about peeking at someone else's bootie while your shakin yours. And anyone can buy a gallon of "slap yo' momma", take it home and get pissy drunk. But there's something special about getting tipsy around others, losing all your inhibitions and throwing caution to the wind - in a public place.

    Come to think of it, I don't care what Mr. Color Purple and Indiana Jones has to say about some alleged dark cloud brewing over me, I really don't. Are you kidding me, why should I? I've never been the one to follow popular opinions or bite off the lifestyles of others. Come on now, I bought my phone at the pawn shop for $19.99. I can call people and they can call me... lights out. But when I see people sitting on public transit smelling like yesterday's old news, waving their $600 i-phones in the air like they just don't care, somethings not right about that.

    So just because everyone is doing "it" does not make it right. More importantly, Steven, George, Peter, Paul and Mary ain't running nothing up in this house, so they can miss me with their message. Consequently, if me and mine desire a night out of shaking our booties and tapping our toes and talking at the screen and smuggling our candy into a darkened theater while others do the same, that's just what we're gonna do. And I don't care who says "it's" about to implode, 'cause they and that has no affect on me.

  • Akira | June 22, 2013 11:23 PM

    Yeah dance away your misery while you and your hipster friends are paying $30 at the entrance.

  • Marie | June 14, 2013 11:58 AMReply

    QUALITY, QUALITY, QUALITY. I have yet to see the full video but I doubt that Messrs. Spielberg and Lucas discuss this vital element to the movie-going problem. Price is half the problem but quality is, in my opinion, the other half of it. And that's the part Hollywood adamantly refuses to address. Hollywood makes bad movies. Period. If they want us to leave the comfort of our homes to deal with people talking, using their cell phones and kicking the back of our seats, they need to stop delivering half-baked crap and start making quality films like they did from the late '60s through the mid-'80s. Lucas's Red Tails was not a quality film by any objective criteria. And I haven't enjoyed a Spielberg movie in decades due to his incessant pandering to the audience's emotions. The man who made Close Encounters, ET and Raiders has evolved into a maudlin mess. In regard to another commenter's observation about spending money on a Starbucks coffee and not a movie, the difference is that you know you're going to get something you enjoy. I can't tell you how often I've watched a current movie and been deeply disappointed. So much so that immediately after watching a recent POS movie, I pop in a tape or DVD from my collection of '70s movies (Godfather, Marathon Man, MASH, Goodbye Girl, Apocalypse Now, etc.) to remind myself what good filmmaking is. Give the audience quality and they will come.

  • M | June 22, 2013 11:39 PM

    'By any objective criteria' that practically renders this argument invalid, as far as cinema is concerned.

    Look. the audience just keeps feeding the machine, we are admitted by fault.

  • Miles Ellison | June 15, 2013 9:27 PM

    What you say isn't wrong, but there is a large portion of the audience that is buying what Hollywood is selling. Making bad movies isn't negatively affecting the bottom line. Until a significant percentage of the audience makes the decision not to support crap, nothing will change.

  • Trooper | June 14, 2013 8:46 PM

    "Building to thunderous applause"

  • Jeni | June 14, 2013 12:53 PM

    *starts slow clap*

  • ITTY UP | June 14, 2013 8:21 AMReply

    The decline of the American film really can be
    marked with the rise of the franchise slummers
    ----Spielberg --Lucas and Cameron. We have,
    essentially, been watching the same 4 or 5 movies
    ---the same predictive programming and debasement ops
    --------for 4 decades now.

    The 'Nixon--MAO' handover summit was in 1972
    --the very year Hollywood lavishly resurrected the
    ----log in decline Italian mafia theme, but minus the
    morality. This was to engineer 'that's the way it is' apathy
    as Globalists handed away your economy and debased
    your culture.

    Spielberg and Lucas worked another angle.

    They signed on to pump Globalism and EUGENICS.
    and to 'perception manage' the handover of the ---entire---
    American economy to RED CHINA.

    LOOK at what's unfolding all aorund you, on every level.

    We are being 'DISS----Troyed'. Hollywood and media ---were KEY.

  • Mekisha Hale | June 14, 2013 1:28 AMReply

    The movie industry is in a very stand still really. From reading the article something is going on with the industry that tried for some time to rely on pre-sequels and remakes that have been what thought is a saving mechanism that could have gone long enough to save the business from going under. Now those who were welling to throw anything to the method now finding that it's too costly to make that investment. Instead there is some knowledge behind some of those studios that they know where there getting the demand and places like Nexflix and VOD are getting the movies that are right at your fingertips,and the cost of go out to watch a movie at a theater is too much for just anyone. In the article it mentioned Magnolia Pictures that is already doing the Video on Demand with movies before there released in the theater. I think maybe the movie industry is ahead of the music business probably but it's close enough. The old model is now a distant memory it's time to make another which fits the times that are of changing.

  • Ava | June 13, 2013 8:13 PMReply

    As a playwright myself, I think it is very interesting that George Lucas predicts that the movie business will be akin to Broadway, in terms of the way movies will be monetized and financed. I know that in Broadway (aka Commercial theater) it is extremely difficult to get/afford/procure mainstage space for any work that is new and original. There are less than a handful per year (or two). The vast majority are revivals and adaptations from other media. The trend now are musicals (the amount of 'Straight Plays' on B'way has been miniscule for the last several years) that are based on comic book characters (Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark) or musicals adapted from hit movies (Legally Blonde) and even so called indie film (Once, Kinky Boots). Even with the overwhelming popularity of musicals, I realized that of the 2013 Tony Award nominated ones, not one of those nominations was for an originally written musical. If this is where Lucas sees the movie biz headed, then I don't know what to say about that, perhaps the movie biz revolution will indeed be televised.

  • NO BRAINER | June 14, 2013 2:00 AM

    Well said Ava. I see what's going on here in NYC, on Broadway. My friends work in the public theater. One of my lawyers handle the entertainment law of most B'way plays and musicals. They have it a lot worse than the movies. Scary.

  • Jon | June 13, 2013 6:04 PMReply

    You're doing a great disservice to yourself and to other filmmakers by not seeing movies in a theater. I try to see as many as I can, even with limited time. I hear people constantly complain about a $14 or $12 movie ticket but are happy to shell that out for Starbucks everyday. And it seems that the annual number of ticket sales is generally around the same since 1995
    (You can check it at thenumbers website - under market)
    The same doom was predicted when VHS came out, then DVD, then BluRay.
    Supporting the filmmaking community means going out and seeing movies, whether you pay for them or are free.

  • M | June 22, 2013 11:52 PM

    PLEASE AS IF anyone is compelled to pay for the overwhelming amount of garbage that's constantly being produced and regurgitated. And how is he doing a disservice to cinema? as long as you watch films, than your continuing it's legacy. Obenson hit the nail on the head in this article, open your eyes. Likewise give it a break with the 'there's something about sitting in a crowded theater' trope.

  • NO BRAINER | June 14, 2013 1:54 AM

    I have to agree with SERGIO and JON on this. I think that's exactly the point of the movie theaters. There is something about sitting in a dark crowded theater, filled with strangers, watching a movie on a gigantic screen, hearing people's reactions and comparing them to your own as the events on screen unfold. They were on to something when they started these venues over a hundred years ago and didn't even know it. And when you experience a truly great film in such an arena, it's probably the same as a heroine addict describing the first time they used dope. You'll now be on a mission where you, the moviegoer, would want to experience that again and again. I was fortunate to have very fond memories in movie theaters and I will continue to go to the movies, searching for that first time while enjoying the times that don't quite live up to it. If this makes any sense...

  • Charles | June 13, 2013 6:47 PM

    Hyperbole! From a business standpoint, supporting the filmmaking community means seeing the movies. Period. It doesn't matter where or how, as long as you pay to see them and you aren't pirating or downloading illegally. As any filmmaker which they would prefer: that audiences see their movies in theaters, and they lose money (which is more and more the way it is today), or audiences are able to see their films anywhere, anytime, increasing their chances of making a profit. There are movies that will benefit from simultaneous theatrical and VOD releases, especially those smaller movies that don't open in every city on 3000 screens. You can get with the times as a filmmaker and make your films as widely accessible as possible to reach as wide an audience as possible, or be stubborn and watch your career die fast nowadays. Also DVD and Blu-Ray don't compare to the mass availability and instant access that VOD presents, as well as the big move towards mobile devices. Theaters will continue to be around. I don't think they're going anywhere, but as the theatrical experience becomes even easier to replicate at home, with much larger flat HD TV screens, surround sound, etc, fewer people will pay the rapidly increasing rates to go see a movie in theaters.

  • sergio | June 13, 2013 6:23 PM

    I must agree with you. I never seen a film on a iPad or iPhone nor do I want to. I need the big screen experience (aside from watching films on a big screen TV)

  • ScriptTease | June 13, 2013 4:54 PMReply

    I too ofter wonder what will the movie industry look like another 10-12 years from now. The cost of movie tickets is so high maybe because these celebrities demand more money?!?! Everything is changing around us, and I don't know if it's getting better or just about to give out of gas without a gas station in sight or what, but something feels off, or maybe it's just me.

  • NO BRAINER | June 14, 2013 1:43 AM

    You SCRIPTTEASE and LEONRAYMOND both said best.

  • Stagolee | June 13, 2013 11:56 PM


  • LeonRaymond | June 13, 2013 4:54 PMReply

    I feel that the change has already begun but we won't feel it as much cause they do mostly huge budget films $150 Mil to $250 Mil they wouldn't know how to do a film for $1 Mil or $4 Mil this will affect them greatly since they live in that pristine high above the clouds Lilly white world of film production we on the other hand will continue to do what we muct to make films in the supreme lower budget realm. They will be hit hard cause what they don't want to state is that the lower they have to drop the budgets on their films the more they will fall into the even playing ground where we all state the script and story is king not the special effect!

  • Ebo T. | June 13, 2013 7:38 PM

    Actually WE will feel the hit more. Spielberg and Lucas are still a long standing NAME that is globally recognized. Even if theaters closed tomorrow and all things went to video on demand, the media they produce online will garner much press, while you and I, not as much.

    The field will get more crowded. So Leon, don't start get too excited.

  • Carl | June 13, 2013 7:35 PM

    Yeah, Spielberg and Lucas will suddenly not be a factor anymore in the movie biz. Fans will forget about them. What bullshit are you spewing?

    Spielberg can make a film for a smaller budget but he doesn't have to. Neither does Lucas who is already basically retired. The resources (and $$$) that these two have is not going to evaporate. They will make products that will make millions (and views) on VOD if they have to and TV, which they both already do. What the fuck are you talking about? Their names will suddenly not draw an audience because there is more demand for movie premieres on VOD? Really?

    As usual you make no sense. What you type sounds like a wish list instead of reality.

  • Ben Je | June 13, 2013 4:53 PMReply

    I wonder what will happen to the indies....

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