Monday, March 16, 2009

Thinking unthinkable on the film biz

By way of O'Reilly Radar, I just read Clay Shirky's great piece on "Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable" on the future of publishing. I highly recommend this for anyone interested not just in the future of newspapers or the web and publishing/blogging, etc but also for anyone interested in the future of the film business. The parallels are pretty clear. Shirky's best line is:

That is what real revolutions are like. The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place...

And so it is today. When someone demands to know how we are going to replace newspapers, they are really demanding to be told that we are not living through a revolution. They are demanding to be told that old systems won’t break before new systems are in place. They are demanding to be told that ancient social bargains aren’t in peril, that core institutions will be spared, that new methods of spreading information will improve previous practice rather than upending it. They are demanding to be lied to.

There are fewer and fewer people who can convincingly tell such a lie.

The same thing is going on in film. The old system of making and distributing films is broken and it isn't coming back. Arguing for how we can keep theatres going, or preserve the DVD market or the margins or the profits are asking for the lie.

But if we shift the question away from how do we keep doing the same old thing to what really should be done, we start to get interesting answers. As Shirky continues (and O'Reilly pointed out as well):

When we shift our attention from ’save newspapers’ to ’save society’, the imperative changes from ‘preserve the current institutions’ to ‘do whatever works.’ And what works today isn’t the same as what used to work.

Amen. In film/media, I think this means let's focus on - "what do audiences want" and "what best connects filmmakers to these audiences" who are also producers, participants and even filmmakers by the way....

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