Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Can film leapfrog music to success?

Everyone says that the movie industry should not repeat the mistakes of the music industry when it comes to digital. Many argue that we have already repeated these mistakes and continue to do so. I think we need to start thinking about this equation differently. We need to think more actively. The real failure of the music industry wasn’t just to make mistakes, but to not envision the totality of change and respond not according to how it looked on that day, but how things would look 10 years down the road. We need to not just repeat their mistakes, but also come up with solutions that are responding not to where we (and they) are today, but where we’ll be way down the line.

So I propose that we can’t start comparing anything we do until we’ve leapfrogged their current solutions. Until then, we are repeating all of the same mistakes.

For the MPAA, this seems to mean we haven’t succeeded unless we do more than the RIAA did. The RIAA stopped with relatively minor stuff - they try to sue their fans into submission. The MPAA decides it’s going for the jugular and will bypass American and all other laws and work on secret international treaties to rewrite copyright law in their favor.

This is not learning from the mistakes of the past.  It’s just going nuclear.

They may make some major changes, but they will fail at reinventing their model. This is also my main complaint with 3D. It’s not a new response - in fact, the last time the industry felt threatened they turned to 3D to solve their problems. More of the same, updated for today is not a paradigm shift.

In the DIY world, we’re still looking to the music world for answers. We look at what indie musicians have been doing with crowdsourcing, making cool apps to request a band, experimenting with free leading to fee, etc. and try to duplicate them for the film world. These are great experiments, but again, not paradigmatic changes.

Until it’s the other way around - the music world looks to the film world for novel solutions -  we’re still behind. Not repeating the mistakes means leapfrogging them, and until we do, we’re just repeating.

I’m not saying we (film) can’t learn from music folks, or that we shouldn’t be looking for many overlaps and lessons from multiple industries. This is good. But I do think we need to think bigger. All of the things I’ve seen so far look more like band-aids than laser surgery approaches to staunching the bleeding. I don’t know what the “leapfrog solution” is, but I’m thinking about this a lot, and would love your thoughts.


Luci Temple said...

Nice insight :) I think the biggest mistakes are going to be made by mainstream companies rather than indies, because they have the most to lose from the shift away from what made them successful under the old model. We can learn from music but will need to be different not just because they havn't got a perfect model but also because there's a significant difference in cost and scale between a single or album to a feature film. We're going to have to work harder. And perhaps consider what our equivilent to a "single" would be... New forms like webisodes splitting a film into pay as you go segments? Or a short film/trailer for free to promote purchase of the whole film? Or? Need new ideas in addition to the crowdfunding / freemium / crowdsourcing ideas filmmakers are currently experimenting with.

Ross Pruden said...

Luci said it well.

The biggest problem feature films have is their fixed cost price tag. If a film is all you're selling and it costs a few tens of millions and another $120 million for global P&A, then piracy is your worst enemy. Until it isn't. As in, Wolverine got way worse reviews than Star Trek and still did better on its opening weekend... Not bad for a leaked film.

If you can find a way to reduce feature film fixed costs, and expand what is sold from feature film content, then the music industry can learn from us. Why can't films go on a concert tour?

Charles Judson said...

What do audiences want? What will they enjoy? How will they enjoy the movies being produced.

WAY too many independent filmmakers are making films without even considering their audience first. By the time many filmmakers are submitting to festivals, or seeking distribution, it's too late.

To reorient that, consider that Hollywood turned to gimmicks to fight the influence of TV, however it was storytelling and creating films that were experiences in and of themselves that brought audiences in. It was when they started crafting movies that were more appropriate for the times and current audience's tastes audiences responded. Be it BONNIE AND CLYDE in the 60s, or JAWS in the 70s.

Thinking about the medium, instead of the audience, got Hollywood in trouble. Just as music stopped thinking about the audience (and the music) and worried, first about selling more CDs at a higher price point, and then worried about the internet, than they did about building audiences or nurturing artists.

My last point is that music and movies are different beasts in that we experience them differently, not only in how we consume them, but even in how we interact with them socially.

Going to a concert is usually an event, going to the movies is usually more mundane in comparison.

Outside of concerts, most music is rarely consumed en masse in the ways film is (when's the last time you had a music night? when's the last time you had a movie night?).

Most movies, short or long, require focused attention, while music can be passively enjoyed.

Where the experiences of music can be replicated by film, or vice versa, we should then and only then, look to the other side for solutions. If you're in the film or music business, you're selling experiences as much as you're selling product.

Anonymous said...

Interesting story as for me. I'd like to read a bit more about this matter. The only thing I would like to see on that blog is a photo of some gizmo.

Ross Pruden said...

The focus, it seems, is still too narrow. We are all talking about how to save the "feature film business", when the larger issue is how to reinvent the film business as a *storytelling* business of which feature films are one component of many.

I understand this is an unpopular perspective among the orthodoxy, but everyone already knows income streams from feature films are shifting. If we focus on saving only one stream, we'll lose sight of where other income streams are going... which is, ultimately, into the pockets of those who have grokked how to make money by being not just a feature filmmaker, but a storyteller across muliple media.

Anonymous said...

I agree with most of you - cost is the biggest limiting factor in film and how to go about recoupment.

I wholeheartedly agree with the comment that the music industry's way of dealing with the situationw as to raise the price point of CD's. This is what ultimately killed music buying. Why pay MORE for something you can bootleg? It wasn't until itunes presented the same product cheap enough that the hurdles associated with downloading weren't worth it.

I see this happening with rising ticket prices across the country. Theater owners are all complaining how they aren't making much money, they're stuck picking up costs to update theaters and technology... so they need to raise prices. But what is driving people away from the theaters isn't just a wider choice of alternatives (including home theaters) - it's that going to a movie for two, with a drink and a popcorn could cost you 40 dollars.

I know they face problems, because if they reduce ticket prices the studios will balk. They'll suffer with the movies they are able to book. But that's why they need to work together. Make going to the theater an affordable experience - and more people will go.

It's not the ultimate solution, but it needs to be addressed.