June 21--On a daily basis, movie studios turn down filmmakers who desperately want their scripts, their ideas and their visions to make it to the big screen. When we think of these directors and producers, however, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas aren't the kind of people who come to mind.
Yet last Wednesday, the two decorated, wealthy, legendary directors stood before an audience of students and teachers at the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts and bared their souls.
"I think eventually the 'Lincolns' will go away, and they're going to be on television," Lucas told the crowd.
"As mine almost was," Spielberg interjected. "This close -- ask HBO -- this close."
"We're talking 'Lincoln' and 'Red Tails' -- we barely got them into theaters. You're talking about Steven Spielberg and George Lucas can't get their movie into a theater," Lucas said.
The directors of "Indiana Jones" and "Star Wars" were publicly coming to a realization that those on the fringe of the movie industry have been crowing about for more than a few years now: More than ever, art, courage and the magic moments of moviemaking have taken a backseat to big business, blockbusters, safe bets, moneymaking gimmicks and a whole lot of spectacle.
The enormous amount of available content -- through cable networks, Netflix, Hulu, YouTube and so on -- has pushed movie studios to take fewer chances on unknown entities or projects that might only appeal to specific audiences. Rather, they're banking on the power of blockbusters and "event films" like "Iron Man 3," "Star Trek Into Darkness" and "Man of Steel" to have enough mainstream appeal and big screen thrills to reach a wide audience.
"You're at the point right now where a studio would rather invest $250 million in one film for a real shot at the brass ring rather than make a whole bunch of really interesting, deeply personal -- and even maybe historical -- projects that may get lost in the shuffle," Spielberg said.
Spielberg went on to predict the inevitable "implosion" in the film industry in which a handful of $250 million movies flop at the box office and alter the industry forever. He and Lucas both felt that price variances at movie theaters would follow this implosion. In this case, movie theaters would charge higher rates for anticipated blockbusters and possibly less for emotional dramas, artsy films, historical movies and romantic comedies.
"You're gonna have to pay $25 for the next 'Iron Man,' (but) you're probably only going to have to pay $7 to see 'Lincoln,'" Spielberg said.
The kind of price variance Spielberg spoke of may be coming sooner than he thinks. The day after he made those comments, in fact, Paramount announced that it would offer the film world's first "mega-ticket" for an advance screening of "World War Z." For $50, a moviegoer with this mega-ticket would get admission to the June 19 3-D screening of the movie, a download of the film when it's released on home video, custom 3-D glasses, a limited-edition official movie poster and a small popcorn.
Obviously, this pricing model wouldn't work with every movie. I doubt a cash-strapped family would have plunked down $200 or $300 to take the kids to see "Monsters University" a couple of days early. But don't you think some of those obsessed "Star Wars" fans out there would give away their entire two-week paychecks to see "Episode VII" 48 hours before the rest of the world? Don't you think those same folks would pay another $50 to see it on opening night?
I'll admit it. I think I probably would've parted with any amount of money up to $30 just to watch the midnight screening of "The Avengers." Conversely, I wouldn't have ponied up more than $6 or $7 to watch "Now You See Me," so I'll likely wait for it to come to DVD or the Plaza 8. In the future, the studios will try to entice more people to see a film like that in its first run by lowering the ticket price. The pricing model has its pros and cons, its intrigues and its scares, but believe me, it's coming.
Lucas agreed with Spielberg that massive changes are in the cards, including film releases adapting a model similar to Broadway plays (in which fewer movies are released, they stay in theaters for a longer period of time and ticket prices are set much higher).
He added that cable television networks are "much more adventurous" than film nowadays. If you've seen any of AMC or HBO's original programming lately, you'd know he's right.
Some ideas from young filmmakers "are too fringe-y for the movies," Spielberg added.
In next week's edition of The Shuffle: Shea examines the increase of large-scale mayhem in this year's blockbusters and explains why it needs to stop.
Shea Conner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @stjoelivedotcom.
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