January 31, 2005

Other Threats to Hollywood? [7:47 am]

Important to remember that the Sundance Film Festival, in the end, is all about distribution - and the shape of and access to distribution continues to be the issue going forward for all content: Who needs Hollywood anymore? [pdf]

The movie industry is on the verge of a major technological transition — one that seems likely to be a jump cut, rather than a slow fade. Inexpensive digital video cameras, editing, and effects software that runs on a laptop, and a new set of Internet- and DVD-based distribution mechanisms are cracking open the clubby Hollywood scene. At Sundance this year, 6,500 features, shorts, and documentaries were submitted to the festival organizers for consideration — up from 5,874 last year. Of the 202 films that were picked to be shown at the festival this year, an astounding 51 were from first-time filmmakers.

”We’re at an inflection point,” says Stephen Saylor, a vice president of Adobe Systems who was in Park City to promote Adobe’s editing and effects software, which competes with Avid’s. ”What we saw with the desktop publishing revolution in the 1980s is now happening with cinema. Technology is making it easier and cheaper to make movies, whether you’re a hobbyist, a ‘prosumer,’ or an artist.”

[...] Like all technological shifts, the digital cinema revolution is threatening the dominance of establishment powers — in this case, the major movie studios. [...]

”As long as it was cost-prohibitive to make a movie, there was less competition for the studios,” [Jeremy] Coon says. ”The studios just want to keep releasing their crappy $80 million movies, and they expect people to go see them.”

Coon says that digital cinema lets people with different, non-studio sensibilities make movies. ”If you want to go make a feature film, there’s no reason not to do it,” he says.

Of course, the newly lowered hurdles to making a movie also mean that film festivals like Sundance and Slamdance are forced to sift through a lot of junk.

”The weeding-out process is gone, because anyone can get their hands on the technology,” says Coon, who helped to select films for Slamdance this year. ”But it’s worth it. You do get a few gems, like ‘Tarnation’ ” — an intensely personal documentary from last year’s Sundance made on an iMac for less than $250 — ”that never would’ve gotten made 10 years ago.”

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