The era of moviegoing as a mass audience ritual is slowly but inexorably drawing to a close, eroded by many of the same forces that have eviscerated the music industry, decimated network TV and, yes, are clobbering the newspaper business. Put simply, an explosion of new technology — the Internet, DVDs, video games, downloading, cellphones and iPods — now offers more compelling diversion than 90% of the movies in theaters, the exceptions being “Harry Potter”-style must-see events or the occasional youth-oriented comedy or thriller.
[...] Although the media have focused on the economic issues behind this slump, the problem is cultural too. It’s become cool to dismiss movies as awful. Wherever I go, teenagers say, with chillingly casual adolescent contempt, that movies suck and cost too much — the same stance they took about CDs when the music business went into free fall. When MPAA chief Dan Glickman goes to colleges, preaching his anti-piracy gospel, kids hiss, telling him his efforts don’t help the public, only a few rich media giants. Say what you will about their logic, but, as anyone in the music business can attest, those sneers are the deadly sign of a truly disgruntled consumer.
[...] One of the movie industry’s crucial failings is that it’s simply too slow to keep up with the lightning speed of new technology. Who would’ve believed six months ago that the day after “Desperate Housewives” aired on ABC you could download the whole show on your video iPod? But when someone pitches a movie, it takes at least 18 to 24 months — if not far longer — between conception and delivery to the movie theaters. In a world now dominated by the Internet, studios are at a huge disadvantage in terms of ever lassoing the zeitgeist. Everybody is making movies based on video games, but it seems clear from the abject failure of movies such as “Doom” that it’s almost impossible, given the slow pace of filmmaking, to launch a video game movie before the game has started to lose its sizzle.
New technology is also accelerating word of mouth. Thanks to instant messaging and BlackBerries, bad buzz about a bad movie hits the streets fast enough to stop suckers from lining up to see a new stinker. Even worse, the people who run studios are living in such cocoons that they’ve become wildly out of touch with reality.
[...] Hollywood needs a new mindset, one that sees a movie as something that comes in all shapes and sizes, not something that is wedded to the big screen. Studios have to do what record companies refused to do until they nearly went out of business: embrace the future.
People increasingly want to see movies on their terms [....]
[...] As it stands, Hollywood has become a prisoner of a corporate mindset that is squeezing the entrepreneurial vitality out of the system. It’s not just that studios are making bad movies — they’ve been doing that for years. They’ve lost touch with any real cultural creativity. When you walk down the corridors at Apple or a video game company, there’s an electricity in the air that encourages people into believing they could dream up a new idea that could blow somebody’s mind.
At the big studios, the creative voltage is sometimes so low that you wonder if you’ve wandered into an insurance office. [...]