27 October 2009

A New Chapter in Bedtime Movie Viewing

An October 25, 2009  NY Times article entitled "Hollywood's Quest for Life After DVDs" speaks of an issue that every filmmaker should be thinking of, namely the eventual demise of the DVD.  It's a good article, but I wonder - how does this effect filmmakers, storytelling, and the marketing of our films?

First off, the article misses what I think is the key issue in the slow, painful death of the DVD format.  Blu-Rays.  Not because of quality, better picture, what have you.  Blu-Ray is to DVD as Laser Disc was to VHS.  What Blu-Ray and HD has done has made consumers think twice before purchasing a DVD - it's made them wonder "will I have to replace this in a year?"  The growth of entertainment technology since 1999 is simply staggering.  DVD to Napster to iTunes to Blue-Ray, to iPods to iPhones, to 3D to IMAX enhancements.  It's no wonder people are not buying DVDs when they're inundated with adverts telling them about "the future of entertainment (Blu-Ray)."  Why buy something that will be obsolete in a year?  Home entertainment has finally reached the computer buying mentality.  There's always something new, so why buy now?

I'm a big proponent of downloadable film content.  I think it is indeed the future of entertainment - but it still has a way to go.  The article wisely states that there will be several false starts.  There always are.   I see a day when "screener discs" are completely obsolete, when film projectors are a thing of the past, replaced with downloadable content.  One master copy viewable by all.  No copy degradation.

But the path to that ideal is bumpy, gravelly, and will require some deft off-road wandering.

Theaters will not go the way of the dodo.  The social aspect is still too prevalent, and I don't think people are ready to give that up as film moves into the more personal, book-reading territory.  There will always be an aspect of spectacle, of community.  The delivery systems will change.

Until very recently, I despised downloading movies from iTunes.  Why would I pay a few bucks less for a movie without extras?  It was a waste of potential.  However, slowly but surely, iTunes is getting their acts together.  "iTunes Extras" or whatever it's called - downloadable extra content for the movie.  Granted, it adds to the cost of the movie itself.  It should be considered a "Podcast," and downloadable for free, but that's beside the point.

The age of Twitter, of Facebook, of MySpace has broken down the wall between artist and consumer.  Web-based "Production Diaries" are replacing the blatant marketing tool of the "Behind the Scenes" DVD featurette.  Filmmakers are now tweeting from their sets (Jon Favreau, among others).  Studio doesn't let you record a commentary track for your film?  Make your own and put it on your website a la Darren Aronofsky for The Fountain.

We've gone over the why.  We've gone over a few of the possibilities.  Now for the gritty nitty.

The effect of digital distribution on storytelling.

The piss-break structure (Three-Act), is, thanks to the "Pause" button, now becoming less important (it will never go away, as it is, quite frankly, a perfect structure).  It's still important for theaters - audience members are giving their time and bladders over to the theatrical experience.  But what about downloadable content?

It's a chance for more freedom, for a more novelistic approach to film storytelling.  The "take it with you" mentality, the desire for multi-device synchronicity, has removed the theatrical community aspect, and replaced it with a more "reading in bed" one.  Read a chapter or two, go to bed.

It takes me an average of a week to two weeks to make it through a 400 page book.  Where some bemoan the loss of the theatrical experience, I welcome the potential for an expanded viewing time.  Imagine if people took a week to watch your downloadable film, available in chapters.  It's a new storytelling paradigm - the novelistic film.  This is different than a web series - which is (usually) based on a television series, or 10 chapters of a hundred minute film.

In a posting from September, Pontification on the Proliferation of Skateboarding Bulldogs, I said
The point of this whole spiel is that we're in the exact same age now.  While some may view internet video and distribution as just another form of distribution (which it is), I think we're beginning to be on the cusp of people wanting more (see any number of web series, etc.) - and what we're going to see is the birth of a new art form.
 With the advent of new distribution channels, the transformation of movie theaters from the opportunity for first viewing into a weird amalgamation of libraries and amusement parks, the declining sales of the stepping stone format of DVD/Blu-Ray - downloadable, on-demand, multi-device platform synchronous content is not only the wave of the future - but opens up a whole new area of storytelling.

But - will it kill the movie theater?  Nope.  The "theatrical film" will be another form of visual storytelling.  It's like jumping from documentaries to a novelistic downloadable movie to doing a two-hour "experience" movie.  It's just another form - NOT a replacement.   While I talk of multi-device synchronicity... we should include a theatrical film as part of it.  Not only can a novelistic downloadable film be its own entity, but it can be another entry point into the storyworld of the theatrical film, and vice versa.  Hello, transmedia storytelling.

The avenue to success in this newly synchronous bedtime reading world of downloadable content is adaptability.  Not only in the storytelling aspect - but in the "life after DVD" world of distribution and sales.

Change is a bitch.  But nine times out of ten, it's worth it.


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