Thursday, November 12, 2009

On What is Film Conference: Nov 6-7

Last week I attended the "What is Film?" conference that what put on by the University of Oregon in Portland. This was the kick off of their new concentration, Cinema Studies, that will available starting this upcoming year.

Between the creative writing talks of the The Zabels ( Bryce and Jackie) and the industry examination papers, there emerged a common consensus: The filmed entertainment business, barely 100 years old, is in self destructive, self changing mode yet again. And again, the driver is both change in technology and change in access in technology. Here is what I found most interesting, and here are the connections I made during that conference:

1) The access and scope of internet, of legal and illegal access to films, and ways to best capitalize on growing access to film material on the internet. My feeling is the same as it was 7 years with the music industry: Don't hype pirates up to much, but add supplementary material and special features that only legal downloads would have. This is being done to an extent by both Fox and Disney/ABC. As for feature films, I have seen pirated films in Europe on a laptop- lemme tell you, I was willing to pay for quality of image and sound, which is key to keeping feature film audiences.

2) Speaking of which, the whole revival of 3-D, super jumbo screens and such is extremely similiar to what studios did with the advent of TV in the late 40s and onwards into the 1950s. Big budget, big explosions and plenty of special effects on special screens with special glasses are what drives the box office in the summer- just as in the 1950s, with Cinerama, improved coloration and special effects, 3-d technology, and increased amenities at the cinemas themselves ( Ben Hur, The Ten Commandants, Cleopatra). The hugeness of the movies subsided in the 60s and 70s, with big films but with lots of medium films put out by the studios. Then Spielberg and Lucas hit the industry with a one-two punch of their reinvention of the Saturday serial, TV got cable and new funding for smaller films on tv, and now once again there is the emphasis on technology, special effects and amenities at the cinemas.

3) Speaking of TV, a rather interesting presentation was made by Jennifer Holt titled It's Not Film, It's TV. This confirmed a bit of what I thought was going on with some of the major studios and their holdings in the big broadcast companies. My spin on what Ms. Holt was saying is that instead of the Saturday serials and Wednesday romances at the movies we get the same type of movies on TV, only in direct weekly format and significantly better story lines. It's the TV films and series driving the feature films, not the other way around, although the prestige is in feature films. Check out the Star Trek reboot: director J.J.Abrams was already proven director and producer not of films- but of TV serials. The lead for Spock, Zachary Quinto, makes his lead debut based on his work on-a tv series. The rest of the cast is well known for excellent character work on TV productions both here and in Australia/New Zealand. The film has plenty of tie ins from programming that Abrams was involved in, such as Fringe and Lost.

4) Speaking of Star Trek, Eileen Meehan made an interesting presentation about National Entertainments, Viacom, Paramount and CBS, and how separate companies are really tied to each other, in terms of cross promotional ties and platforms. Quite thought provoking.

All of this points to the fact that if you wish to create a film of any genre, you also have to be a producer and you must have an audience already in place. This has been done since the invention of the film industry, but it is more blatant now!

More Tomorrow.

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