William B. Demeritt III
February 22th, 2013
“I think the time of overlap between theater and home television viewing of entertainment is near it’s end.” -Me
I’m working on a project on the side right now that I hope to introduce sometime in the next few months, but while discussing it with a good friend, I stumbled upon that thought which I think resonates for me. I honestly think we’re nearing the end of a 40 year cycle where media, theatrically exhibited feature films, are enjoyed in both home and theater as though the two are equal.
Expansion of consumer technology and acceptance of digital cinema has definitely foreshadowed a change in entertainment media, and we’ve already watched the limits expand from a modest iTunes Store to Amazon Video to Netflix and Hulu, countless web series’ and the egalitarian leviathan YouTube.
However, we’re also seeing an expansion in theatrical technologies, such as 3D and 4K projectors. I am suspending my personal opinions on 3D films (usually rather negative) to embrace the notion that 3D filmmaking and 3D exhibition can lead to newer technologies that revitalize moviegoer interest in cinema. Personally, I think as the technology gets better and less limiting (according to this study, 54.8% of audiences get physically ill watching 3D movies), eagerness to return to theaters will increase, as will new ways to protect the service sold to audiences, but with one catch:
You can’t see this at home.
I believe we’re at a fork in the road, ending the overlap between theater and home video which started (very reluctantly) in 1980 with Universal Studios losing a lawsuit against Sony for sale of their BetaMax VTR. They feared the technology, citing the possibility of piracy should prohibit the sale of the VTR. Citing dual use (because a technology could possibly be used for copyright infringement doesn’t mean it should be prohibited despite it’s legitimate uses), the VTR was released, which gave way to VHS. Many will argue that in the decade following the lawsuit (which Universal claimed threatened the livelihood of cinema in America), Hollywood was revitalized and ultimately saved by one thing: home video.
The rise of small home video rental companies and the unification under Blockbuster Video helped pad so many big studios from failure, but the 1980′s also gave way to some of the most beloved films of all time, shaping a generation of future storytellers. My generation that grew up with Star Wars, Aliens, The Goonies, etc. However, how many people claim those films as inspirations but never saw them in theaters? Much of my generation, the next generation of filmmakers, I suppose?
Interesting, how the emotional connection is so strong, even in home viewership, that sequels and prequels can literally herald great success (as David Fincher went on to have after directing “Alien 3″) or great failures (as George Lucas is vilified daily for his Star Wars prequels). Home viewership won’t go away, and I even feel that it can and will outpace theatrical exhibition if modern cinema stays the same.
I think viewership at home and exhibition experience are on a path to split, and probably result in some interesting new markets. As home TV watchers find new ways to watch programs (for better or worse, thanks to independent filmmaking, affordable production equipment and a surplus of crew), I think the cinema will have to evolve in order to guarantee it doesn’t become just a big room with a screen showing things you could wait 3 months to watch at home… or watch at home the same day? We’ll see. To go even more cynical (or more realistic): how many people choose to wait for RedBox, Netflix or just buy it on Bluray to watch at home on their 60″ LED backlit HDTV at 1080p with 7.1 channel audio. Why? Because they don’t want to deal with unruly audiences interrupting their experience. Because they don’t want to have to go get an usher because kids won’t get off their cell phones. Because it’s more affordable for a family of 4. Because they enjoy the experience so much more.
Why see it tonight or this weekend? Because they want to get out of the house.
Why should cinema be strictly relegated to the reason to leave the house? Why is it less and less considered the reason TO leave the house? The destination? The anticipation? The unique experience through a storyteller’s mind, like an orchestral performance led by Mozart was a journey through an experience he created?
Look at the scope of history: centuries ago, orchestral performances written or led by legendary composers were not just an enormous industry, but a statement about culture and society, a reflection of social classes, a generator of jobs and so much more. Recording technologies engendered a split between performance halls and audience viewership. Interest in “going to see the orchestra” dropped but hardly disappeared. In modern days, I would suggest that people still want to go out on a Friday night for a new experience.
Modern cinema has to evolve. To stay relevant and successful, it must not just embrace newer technologies, but invent new technologies too! 3D movies have found new ways to enhance audience experience (well, 45.6% of audiences anyway), but they did so by evolving existing technology that had already cycled through innovative to exciting to distracting to gimmicky. Home theater technology has evolved from CRT 4:3 480i televisions (37 inches weighed a ton) to wall mounted 80″ LED backlight HDTV’s that weigh a fraction and cost less annually. Home theater audio has added audio channels, fine tuned the experience for varying room sizes, etc. In the same period, what has projection cinema evolved? 3D with active shutter glasses (goggles), some digital projection (at 2K, slightly higher resolution than your home 1080p HDTV) and higher ticket prices.
Oh, and the AMC Stubs program.
So, here’s an idea, and if someone else doesn’t do it, then maybe I’ll have to start a new project: glasses-less 3D, strictly negative space, created on an enormous space with actual depth, placing viewers an appropriate distance such that parallax becomes negligible. Place them in theaters that have membership requirements and fiercely police the audience to protect the service (silence talkative people, eject people on their cell phones, etc).
Give me something to go see where I cannot see it anywhere else. Give me something new to fall in love with, take me on a journey from this world to your world. Give me something special, and you’ll get my ticket money.
Show me your passion. I’ll show you mine.