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Just Withnail

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Re: Alternative approaches to entertainment distribution/consumption
« Reply #45 on: September 01, 2016, 03:37:02 AM »
+1
There's been a scary amount of these "do movies matter" articles going around the last months, and here's another one anyway. To counterweight, I'll post Richard Brody's great rebuttal.


Could This Be the Year Movies Stopped Mattering?

By Brian Raftery (WIRED)

IF YOU WANTED to pinpoint the moment this year when it became clear that moviegoing had devolved from Culture-Conquering Pastime to merely Something to Do When the Wi-Fi’s Down, consider the weekend of April 22 to April 24. On that Friday, with no other major new films opening in theaters, Universal Pictures released The Huntsman: Something Something Swordfart, a $115 million sequel to a movie that made nearly $400 million worldwide. The new Huntsman was accompanied by an omnipresent marketing campaign featuring four well-known stars (including Oscar winner Charlize Theron), not to mention a seemingly ceaseless cascade of ads like this one, in which Chris Hemsworth appears to have just won the gold medal for Confused Axe-Posing. It was impossible not to know The Huntsman was coming out, and that combination of wide-scale awareness and sheer star power—not to mention the relative lack of competition—made the movie look like a sure thing.

But by late Saturday night, The Huntsman was all but dead, having been slayed by two women: Beyoncé—who’d just sorta-surprise-released Lemonade, her new album—and “Becky with the good hair,” an anonymous, Jay-zoomin’ interloper who’d been called out on the Beyoncé song “Sorry,” and whose identity caused a weekend-long guessing-game online. And even if people weren’t trying to figure out who Beyoncé was talking about, they were spending the weekend watching a clip of Bruce Springsteen covering a song by the dearly beloved, recently departed Prince; or checking out Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Earth Day freestyle; or debating whether or not Jon Snow—the blokey with the good hair—would still be dead by the end of that Sunday night’s Game of Thrones premiere. They were doing anything but watching, discussing, or caring about the mega-sequel with the big stars and the impossible-to-miss marketing.

Like so many high-pedigree films released this year, Huntsman was quickly reduced to just another loud, expensive, desperate thingee hovering noisily and anxiously in the background of your digital life, hoping it could tear you away from Twitter or Snapchat or Spotify.
Granted, these kinds of apples-to-Lemonade comparisons are a bit unfair, especially when you consider that Huntsman made almost $20 million in its opening weekend. And, sure—it was much easier to watch Lemonade on your phone then head out to a theater and get your Ther-on. But, really: No one cared about this movie—including, I’m guessing, most of the people who actually saw it. Like so many high-pedigree films released this year, Huntsman was pushed out of the pop-cultural conversation quickly and fiercely. It was reduced to just another loud, expensive, desperate thingee hovering noisily and anxiously in the background of your digital life, hoping it could tear you away from Twitter or Snapchat or Spotify. And it ended up in an ambivalence-borne limbo, one that now includes several other recent oof-inducing films, including Warcraft, Ben-Hur, X-Men: Apocalypse, The BFG, and Zoolander 2.


Pastime Paradise
These movies didn’t just fail; they almost seemed to never exist in the first place, having been dismissed or disposed of almost immediately upon impact. And even if they did do OK for a weekend or two, they never reached beyond their predictable (and increasingly stratified) core audiences. Instead, they were dumbo-dropped into our ever-expanding cauldron of content, where they played to their bases, while everyone else turned to the newest videogame, or the latest Drake video, or some random “Damn, Daniel” parody.

Movies bomb every weekend, of course. And the studios have been caulking their calendars with mediocre films for decades, resulting in lackluster blockbusters that were gently forced upon us, and to which we responded with a collective, “Fine, whatever, it’s not like there’s anything better to do this weekend.” Twenty years ago, you went out to see a movie starring Keanu Reeves as a physicist named Eddie Kasalivich not because it looked good, but because you kind of had no other choice. Even the worst film had a respectable half-life, and seemed to linger for years afterward.

Nowadays, though, there’s likely something way more exciting than the latest alleged blockbuster waiting for you on your phone, whether it’s a Frank Ocean record, a cornered Charmeleon, or some dank memes. And with social media providing us real-time updates of our passions and consumption, it’s become clear that, in 2016, people are less passionate about films than ever before. Movies are still making tons of money, obviously, and still inspire giddy fandemonium (both good and bad) among the faithful. But it’s hard to think of a year in which movies have felt quite as ephemeral, and so easy to ignore. It feels as though they’ve been pushed further on down our pop-culture hierarchy of needs. And this is disturbing news, whether you’re a studio head looking to make money, a balcony brat looking for a few communal cinematic thrills, or a sword-farter looking for an audience.


Bootopia
Part of the problem with film culture in 2016, of course, is the films themselves. Despite the critical success of hits like Zootopia and The Jungle Book, or the superheroic hauls of Deadpool and Captain America: Civil War, it’s hard to shake off (or rebut) the Worst. Year. Ever. grumblings that have been circulating among cinephiles all summer, thanks to movies like Suicide Squad and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice—two of the worst–reviewed chart-toppers of the year—not to mention Independence Day: Resurgence, Alice Through the Looking Glass, and this spring’s Divergent: Allegiant. Contrast that line-up with that of 2015, when by late-summer we’d already had Ex Machina, Inside Out, Mad Max: Fury Road, Straight Outta Compton, Amy, and the dumb, fun Furious 7. (Ah, 2015! It’s been a long day without you, my friend!)

But we’ve experienced long stretches of mediocrity before (Remember 2011? A few unpleasant reminders: Cowboys & Aliens, Tower Heist, We Bought a Zoo, Green Lantern.) What’s further diminished the power of movies in 2016 is the fact that while your local marquee was being programmed by de Sade, nearly every single other art form was experiencing a commercial and creative summit—starting with television, cinema’s long-time rival for our affections (and our screen time). You could spend 10,000 hours watching TV this year, and still not be caught up on all the good stuff: There’s the multi-faceted melodrama of American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson; the deft and funny prime-time politics of black-ish; the Spielberg-spelunking throwback-thrills of Stranger Things; the layered legal proceedings of The Night Of; the creative-class squabbling of Difficult People; and the uncomfortably relatable real-talk of Girls (hardly the biggest comedy on TV, but maybe the best). Not all of these shows earned huge ratings, but they certainly won the impossible to quantify—yet equally hard to deny—metrics of online chatter, where they spawned countless essays and arguments for weeks and months on end.

And, of course, there’s Game of Thrones, which recovered from an occasionally wandering (and certainly way-overstuffed) year with two back-to-back season-ending installments that were full of palace intrigue and immolations and gore-throated battle cries. Each new episode was a weekly event that drowned out any other cultural discussions. As of today, if you were to ask a stranger what his/her favorite movie of the year was, I’m guessing he/she would say, “That Game of Thrones where even the horses looked like they were gonna start stabbing each other.”

But hold the door: For once, it’s not just television usurping film’s glory. Who would have predicted, for example, that a Broadway musical that 99 percent of the population hasn’t even been able to see (Hamilton) would cause such a worldwide stir, sir? Or that the summer’s biggest franchise hit would play out not in movie theaters, but among the sidewalks and city parks, where the Pokémon Go faithful congregate like so many Squirtles? Or that a four-minute clip of a woman putting on a Chewbacca mask in a parking lot would be greeted with nearly as much hysteria as the trailer for a new Star Wars movie?

And certainly, no one expected 2016 to be such a buoyant, maybe even epochal, year for music. Music! Remember that stuff? Not so long ago, no one wanted to buy it, and not a lot of people wanted to read about it, either. But it’s hard to remember a recent period in which so much of our chatter—both online and IRL—has been about music, partly because of all the great artists who unexpectedly faded away this year (especially David Bowie and Prince, whose deaths are still undealwithable), and partly because there have been so many oversized, must-hear-now albums (Bowie, Rihanna, Kendrick, Kanye, Beyoncé, Radiohead, Drake, Chance the Rapper, etc.) squeezed into an eight-month stretch. August is never the kindest month for movie-lovers, so this is kind of a loaded question, but still: What were you doing last Friday night—waiting in line for a movie, or waiting online for Frank Ocean?


Screen Gems
By now, I imagine, there’s a large number of movie lovers who are angrily scanning the remaining sections, looking for any mention of the great movies of 2016. I haven’t forgotten about you—nor have I forgotten about the many films that prompted me to walk out of the theater this year with the glazed, guilty smile of an overfed sea lion. In addition to the overstock of great documentaries, from Weiner to Gleason to De Palma, we’ve had the laconic, sun-starched neo-Western Hell or High Water; the moving, humane The Lobster; the river-of-dreams drama Embrace of the Serpent; the unsettling cult-classic The Invitation; the perceptive improv-world comedy Don’t Think Twice; and the grody punk-rock escape-thriller Green Room.

There have been smaller-scale surprises, as well, from a Hall & Oates-indebted musical-drama (Sing Street) to a Spielberg-indebted sci-fi chase-flick (Midnight Special) to a lively little shark movie (The Shallows). Also encouraging? The arrival of some much-needed new-star power, with breakout turns by Hail, Caesar!’s dandy cowpoke Alden Ehrenreich (now better known as the next Han Solo); The Fits’ sparkle-motioned dance-champ Royalty Hightower; and pretty much the entire cast of Richard Linklater’s happily shambolic Everybody Wants Some!!

And, before you mistake me for someone who puts on their fancy-pants one leg at a time, I’ll also note that I rocked back and forth happily in my chair during Civil War, laughed continuously at the messy but good-hearted Ghostbusters, and was apparently the only person who legit loved Jason Bourne.

Yet I’d argue that, save for Winter Soldier, pretty much none of these movies reached the people who weren’t already inclined to see them. Movie fandom in 2016 feels increasingly niche-driven and tribal, no matter what kind of movies you watch, or how big they are: The indie-produced dramas, docs, and suspense thrillers will always pull in their loyalists, with mainstream viewers taking years to catch up, if at all (unless, of course, said indies were released by A24, which got people into theaters for potential tough-sells like The Witch and The Lobster). Meanwhile, many of the year’s big-budget sequels made just enough money to justify a future follow-up, as evidenced by the grosses for Star Trek Beyond ($147 million), X-Men: Apocalypse ($155 million), and Bourne ($141 million)—all drop-offs from their previous entries. In 2016, a movie’s considered a success, barely, if it manages to reach the already-converted.


Something to Talk About—Or Not
It wasn’t always like this. For the past couple of years, even as TV’s dominance loomed, there were still a few zeitgeist-igniting movies that all but broke into your living room, kicked you in the Roku, and demanded that you run to a theater: beyond the aforementioned Mad Max: Fury Road and Straight Outta Compton, we had Boyhood. The Lego Movie. Inside Out. Gone Girl. Gravity. Guardians of the Galaxy. The Martian. Creed.

Some of these were late-in-the-year Oscar-contenders, but many of them arrived in spring or summer, and all of them were culturally crucial—the kinds of films you needed to see, even if you had to sneak in, just to understand what everyone else was talking about. They stuck around for months after their release, spurring spoofs and endless memes. But, more importantly, they spurred the kind of uncomfortable but essential conversations that movies have the power to provoke on a grand scale. Straight Outta Compton dovetailed with, and amplified, a still-ongoing re-examination of how black Americans view the police. Inside Out confronted depression and anxiety in a way most grown-up movies would never attempt. And Wolf of Wall Street, depending on how you looked at it, was either a celebration of or a condemnation of the excess and hubris that’s become all but expected of modern money-making culture.

There’s been no such reach-across-the-aisle movie in 2016, at least not yet (Star Wars: The Force Awakens doesn’t count, as it came out last December). A few movies come very close, like Deadpool, a naughty superhero flick with a knotty history—it was all but dead before some leaked test footage came along—a fan-stoking marketing campaign that gave it a riotous, grass-roots vibe, and the kind of positive reviews most other superhero flicks couldn’t muster. And we also had Zootopia and Finding Dory, two socially conscious animated comedies from Disney that broke records and won over critics. But despite their wide reaches, they were all constrained from true cultural-crossover success: Deadpool was a hard-R kill-’em-all sexcapade, while Zootopia and Dory were animated movies largely marketed toward families; fairly or not, such elements were likely a turn-off for a sizable number of adult moviegoers. All three were hits, but they felt cordoned-off from the culture as a whole.

Of course, there have been a handful of widespread, weeks-long conversations about movies this year—conversations in which everyone seemed to want to speak up. But for the most part, those talks have tended to focus less on the films themselves, and more about the various social and pop-cultural quandaries they represent: Does the gloomy reception for Batman v Superman mean we’re tiring of sad-sack superheroes? Are the #OscarsSoWhite? Should women be allowed to fight ghosts? (Sigh.) How could anyone possibly watch The Birth of a Nation, given Nate Parker’s recently revisited past?

Such heated back-and-forths speak to the soft power of cinema in 2016: It can still occasionally energize and irk us, and prod us into debate, but often for reasons that have nothing to do with what’s on the actual screen. In 2016, movies are too often just a product-turned-talking-point—something to be added to the queue and watched after the argument winds down, or simply never watched at all.


2016’s Shot at Redemption
Still, I hold out hope that movies will make a fourth-quarter resurgence this year—a strong possibility, given that the studios increasingly hoard their better films for the fall and winter. The next few months will see new films from such directors as Martin Scorsese (Silence), Ang Lee (Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk), Ava DuVernay (The 13th), Andrea Arnold (American Honey), Adam Wingard (Blair Witch), Mira Nair (Queen of Katwe), Antoine Fuqua (The Magnificent Seven), Steve James (Abacus: Small Enough to Jail), Kenneth Longergan (Manchester By the Sea), and Damien Chazelle (La La Land). There will also be a new Star Wars movie, a Tupac biopic, and even a Western with John Travolta and Ethan Hawke.

All of these have the potential to be great, or at least make for goony good fun; a few might even help define the year, recalibrate the culture, and remind people that they love movies. Because they still do—they’re just ingesting them and appreciating them in as many non-movie mediums as possible. Look at how much of modern television is informed by film: Stranger Things is a slavish cinephile mishmash of everything from The Goonies to The Thing to The Breakfast Club. HBO’s The Night Of, with its outer-borough strivers and cop-land politics, is the kind of TV drama Sidney Lumet would have killed to direct, while Mr. Robot nods to everyone from Stanley Kubrick to Carol Reed. And the best episode of Girls this season (and maybe my favorite episode of TV this year) was “The Panic in Central Park,” a downbeat tale of rekindled affections that takes place over the course of a single night; it was inspired by the great, grim 1971 junkie-drama Panic in Needle Park, probably the most depressing non-Gigli movie Al Pacino ever made.

Even musicians have been absorbing the DNA of Hollywood, whether it’s in terms of aesthetics—the sweeping, naturalistic, shot-in-secrecy visuals that accompanied Lemonade gave it the feel of a Terrence Malick project—or logistics: Big albums are now heralded by splashy trailers, and the shift of new-release days from Tuesdays to Fridays means a major record can dominate the weekend conversation the way films once did. And when Ocean released his much-anticipated Blonde over the weekend, it was accompanied by a ‘zine that included a list of his favorite movies, a deep-digging roundup that demonstrates that, to young artists, film is just as important as ever (somewhat tellingly, there weren’t any 2016 movies included—but then again, the guy’s been busy).

Clearly, film still has an impact—it’s just that, in 2016, that impact feels diffuse, and is certainly difficult to ascertain. Which is why we need one of those mass-audience, culture-shifting flicks more than ever: Not only do they bring us together, physically and emotionally, they supply us with images and ideas that trickle down and influence all art, even if takes years for that influence to be felt. Maybe, in the next few months, that kind of movie will arrive, and restore film back to its peak pop-culture powers. If so, it will give 2016 a cheer-worthy comeback story, one with big names, a killer third-act twist, and plenty of suspense. Who knows? Maybe they’ll even make an awesome TV series about it someday.
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Just Withnail

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Re: Alternative approaches to entertainment distribution/consumption
« Reply #46 on: September 01, 2016, 03:39:00 AM »
+3
WHY MOVIES STILL MATTER

By Richard Brody (The New Yorker)


In  a new piece on Wired.com, “Could This Be the Year Movies Stopped Mattering?” Brian Raftery suggests that movies have “devolved from Culture-Conquering Pastime to merely Something to Do When the Wi-Fi’s Down,” and that their former centrality to the culture has been taken over by a diverse range of media events—serial television above all, but also Pokémon Go, “Hamilton,” YouTube memes, and visual albums such as Beyoncé’s “Lemonade.” The simplest refutation is that what matters is determined not by media discussion but by each person for herself; movies matter to me, therefore they matter.

But Raftery is on to something important, even if, as I think, he comes at it backward. He’s right that the kinds of work that capture widespread attention and find widespread favor have changed in recent years—and he’s right that these changes are inseparable from the realm of criticism, the very nature of which has changed drastically in the same period. Raftery’s fixation on “the pop-cultural conversation” and the “zeitgeist” is one that’s shared by the era, by the critical community at large, and this fixation yields its own predestined results. Modern cultural criticism gives rise to its own cultural artifacts, and the two fit together like a lock and key. As a work of criticism, Raftery’s essay is exemplary of the very phenomenon that he’s documenting—and that circularity, that self-fulfilling critical criterion, is the defining trait of the time.

The rise of so-called quality television has coincided with the advent of widespread access to the Internet, which is closely correlated with consumers’ level of education. The serial nature of serial television lent itself to online discussion—blogs, comments, e-mails, and then, a few years later, social-media postings—in a way that the one-time-only and freestanding experience of going to a movie doesn’t, at the same time that it also locked specifically into the new habits of the educated in a way that moviegoing didn’t.

The principal quality of quality TV has proven to be its ability to generate discourse—not just on the part of critics and viewers but on the part of journalists. As particular series, and television over all, became the subjects of widespread public discussion—discussion in the literal sense, of writers and viewers responding to each other—that discussion became news. Suddenly, television was propelled from the arts page to the front page, and that trend was accelerated by the nature of the shows. Their emphasis on stories and characters involving iconic phenomena in cultural history and hot-button issues of contemporary sociology and politics grabbed—and still grabs—hold of journalists’ nose for stories. Many series seem to exist only to present topics in ready-to-debate form; they are built to give rise to “think pieces,” which have become the dominant, if easily parodied, critical mode.

The experience that the watching and the critique of new serial television resemble above all is the college experience. Binge-watching is cramming, and the discussions that are sparked reproduce academic habits: What It Says About, What It Gets Right About, What It Gets Wrong About. There is a lot of aboutness but very little being; lots of puzzle-like assembling of information to pose particular kinds of questions (posing questions—sounds like a final exam), to explore particular issues (sounds like a term paper). For these reasons, television’s actual competition isn’t movies or museums or novels but nonfiction books, documentary films, journalism, radio discussions, and general online clicking. Serial television is designed to gratify the craving for facts to piece together and analyze. The medium seems created for the media buzz that’s generated by the media people who are its natural audience, and to whom the shows owe their acclaim, their prestige, and their success.

Even now, the way that Raftery underlines the importance of new television shows is with the assertion that “they certainly won the impossible to quantify—yet equally hard to deny—metrics of online chatter, where they spawned countless essays and arguments for weeks and months on end.” Just as the numbers matter for the TV business, the quantity of chatter matters for the culture business, because it’s what happens when the work of art extends beyond itself into other fields and makes its influence apparent. That’s why so much of the discourse generated by television is political—and why, in this moment that’s so rich in cultural discourse, the dominant way of discussing art is political.

Raftery displays the skewed results of this trend when he cites three recent movies that strike him as “culturally crucial”: “Straight Outta Compton,” a good movie; “Inside Out,” a mediocre one; and “The Wolf of Wall Street,” a great one. What makes them important, in his eyes, is that “they spurred uncomfortable but essential conversations.” Here, he’s practicing the echo-chamber mode of criticism: the movies are crucial because they spark “conversations,” they spark conversations because they address issues that are deemed crucial. He considers these movies—unlike those he’s seen this year—to be important, and his criterion for their importance is that they’re politically relevant, not that they’re of aesthetic value. What’s more, he measures political relevance by counting clicks.

Ultimately, democratic politics are a numbers game. Politics are what concern everyone, which is why “everyone” (i.e., those who create the “online chatter” and the “countless essays and arguments” by which Raftery measures importance) talks about politics. Art, by contrast, is what concerns one person, intimately. Culture is a matter of power; art is a matter of beauty. It’s also a matter of freedom—of spiritual freedom, of free-spiritedness—and so it’s also political, though not in any immediately recognizable way and, above all, not in any way that lends itself to the think-piece brand of discourse. The power of beauty, the impact of beauty on a single person, eludes discussion and invites silence, even as it incites something radically different from analysis: ecstasy. That’s the force behind the side of criticism that, if it’s any good at all, converges with the work of art by being itself a literary, poetic, philosophical inspiration.

This is why much of the best art has always been a niche phenomenon, and why, when great art is popular, it’s often due to a fortuitous accident, and the artist often punished the next time around (as happened when Terrence Malick followed “The Tree of Life” with “To the Wonder” and “Knight of Cups,” and as I hope won’t happen with Scorsese’s next movie, “Silence”). That’s all the truer now with movies, because the role of the studios and of wide releases has diminished. The possibility of making films independently and on a low budget is greater than ever, at exactly the moment that studios, following the lead of television, have turned their movies mainly into political allegories and statements precisely calculated to leap to the front pages and the op-ed section.

At the same time, the democratization of criticism online has had a crucial and positive effect on cinematic events. Today, there’s both more and better film criticism than ever; as a result, it’s less likely than ever that an extraordinary movie will go utterly unnoticed or be dismissed. But the breadth of a film’s distribution and its box-office take are no more measures of its merit than is the quantity of online discussion that it inspires. It’s common knowledge that, for “Lemonade,” Beyoncé derived inspiration from, and made reference to, Julie Dash’s great 1991 feature “Daughters of the Dust,” which, despite its generally favorable reception at the time of its release, is the only theatrical feature that Dash has made. “Lemonade” also alludes to Khalik Allah’s bold and inventive documentary “Field Niggas.” Allah is also one of the cinematographers on “Lemonade,” yet his feature film was hardly released at all; in New York, it only played for one week at the IFP Media Center, in Brooklyn. “Daughters of the Dust” has taken in only 1.6 million dollars at the box office during the past quarter century. (It will have a welcome and long-overdue rerelease in November.) Beyoncé’s allusions to “Daughters of the Dust” and “Field Niggas” don’t make them better or more important films—those of us who have seen and love those movies don’t need external confirmation of the experience. Rather, the references make “Lemonade” better and more important. Beyoncé didn’t need voluminous online chatter to be moved and inspired by Dash’s and Allah’s work; she had an experience of her own, and the intensity of that experience comes through in her own work.

Is this year in movies, as Raftery asserts, the “Worst. Year. Ever.”? I think it’s been a terrific year so far, with a long list of remarkable new movies already released. With the New York Film Festival coming up, along with the packed fall season and year-end releases, the list is likely to get much longer very soon. A year as a measure of film releases is an odd artifice—production and distribution are cyclical, and this is a year featuring no new releases by some of the best Hollywood or off-Hollywood directors, such as Wes Anderson, Sofia Coppola, Spike Lee, David Fincher, and Paul Thomas Anderson. But other luminaries, including Martin Scorsese and James Gray, have movies coming up; so do notable independent filmmakers, including Barry Jenkins and Matías Piñeiro. When, a quarter century from now, a pop-music visionary refers to “Men Go to Battle” or “For the Plasma” or “Krisha” or “Viktoria” or “Kate Plays Christine” or another under-the-radar low-budget film of imagination and ingenuity, woe unto the critics who were here at the time and didn’t pay attention.
My short WORLD WIDE WOVEN BODIES is now online:

Watch it here!

wilder

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Re: Alternative approaches to entertainment distribution/consumption
« Reply #47 on: September 01, 2016, 04:21:01 AM »
+1
But hold the door: For once, it’s not just television usurping film’s glory. Who would have predicted, for example, that a Broadway musical that 99 percent of the population hasn’t even been able to see (Hamilton) would cause such a worldwide stir, sir? Or that the summer’s biggest franchise hit would play out not in movie theaters, but among the sidewalks and city parks, where the Pokémon Go faithful congregate like so many Squirtles? Or that a four-minute clip of a woman putting on a Chewbacca mask in a parking lot would be greeted with nearly as much hysteria as the trailer for a new Star Wars movie?

Okay hadn’t seen this



I agree, best movie 2016


The principal quality of quality TV has proven to be its ability to generate discourse—not just on the part of critics and viewers but on the part of journalists. As particular series, and television over all, became the subjects of widespread public discussion—discussion in the literal sense, of writers and viewers responding to each other—that discussion became news. Suddenly, television was propelled from the arts page to the front page, and that trend was accelerated by the nature of the shows. Their emphasis on stories and characters involving iconic phenomena in cultural history and hot-button issues of contemporary sociology and politics grabbed—and still grabs—hold of journalists’ nose for stories. Many series seem to exist only to present topics in ready-to-debate form; they are built to give rise to “think pieces,” which have become the dominant, if easily parodied, critical mode.

The experience that the watching and the critique of new serial television resemble above all is the college experience. Binge-watching is cramming, and the discussions that are sparked reproduce academic habits: What It Says About, What It Gets Right About, What It Gets Wrong About. There is a lot of aboutness but very little being; lots of puzzle-like assembling of information to pose particular kinds of questions (posing questions—sounds like a final exam), to explore particular issues (sounds like a term paper). For these reasons, television’s actual competition isn’t movies or museums or novels but nonfiction books, documentary films, journalism, radio discussions, and general online clicking. Serial television is designed to gratify the craving for facts to piece together and analyze. The medium seems created for the media buzz that’s generated by the media people who are its natural audience, and to whom the shows owe their acclaim, their prestige, and their success.

[...]

Raftery displays the skewed results of this trend when he cites three recent movies that strike him as “culturally crucial”: “Straight Outta Compton,” a good movie; “Inside Out,” a mediocre one; and “The Wolf of Wall Street,” a great one. What makes them important, in his eyes, is that “they spurred uncomfortable but essential conversations.” Here, he’s practicing the echo-chamber mode of criticism: the movies are crucial because they spark “conversations,” they spark conversations because they address issues that are deemed crucial. He considers these movies—unlike those he’s seen this year—to be important, and his criterion for their importance is that they’re politically relevant, not that they’re of aesthetic value.

Politics are what concern everyone, which is why “everyone” (i.e., those who create the “online chatter” and the “countless essays and arguments” by which Raftery measures importance) talks about politics. Art, by contrast, is what concerns one person, intimately.

This is so dead on. SO dead on. He said it. That's the meaningful distinction, right there. The mic drop.

wilder

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Re: Alternative approaches to entertainment distribution/consumption
« Reply #48 on: September 02, 2016, 06:24:25 PM »
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Stranger Things and the Problem of “Plotblocking”
By Andrew Matthews
via The Talk House

Writer-director Andrew Matthews on Netflix's smash hit series and a worrisome trait of that and a number of other binge-worthy shows.

Warning: Spoilers ahead.

Film is dead. You hear that a lot as an independent filmmaker. And of course, when people say that, what they mean is that a certain type of film is dead: mid-range budget, neither franchise nor arthouse — most of my favorite films and the films that started me (and probably a lot of other filmmakers) down this path, fall into that spectrum. So as the era of the mid-range movie fades away, the supposed rewards of the micro-budget struggle becomes increasingly unclear.

But as they say, when God closes a door, he opens a window, and that window is episodic content. Yes, television is the new promised land, and everyone’s making the pilgrimage: writers, actors, financiers. “So if you want a real career,” the current wisdom goes, “take that feature script you can’t get made and upcycle it into a series treatment.” Many of my filmmaker friends are doing just that — and why not? With so many new platforms looking for shows, they’re practically giving them away!

Yes, I’ve written a few treatments myself, but I’m still skeptical. The pessimist in me would like to point out that I can think of more indie directors helming tentpole blockbusters than TV shows, but mainly it’s because I don’t think the formats are all that closely related. A good TV show is successful for very different reasons than a good film, and taking a genre from one and applying it to the other can be like trying to stretch a twin sheet onto a king mattress.

Case in point: Stranger Things. Don’t get me wrong, I understand why the show has so many supporters. The cast and production design are terrific, and I confess the recreation of the early Spielbergian aesthetic is seductive. I’m not opposed to nostalgia per se, but like any audience bias, it can be exploited. Shows such as Stranger Things and FX’s Fargorecognize that there’s a reservoir of goodwill out there that can be tapped and transferred onto new properties. But there’s one huge aspect of Spielberg’s brilliance that Stranger Things doesn’t (or perhaps can’t) recreate: structure and pacing.

Spielberg’s classics are actually very simple stories. They’re emotionally broad and fiercely economic. Every shot moves the story forward and nothing goes to waste. If you’re staying loyal to the conventions, you can’t stretch that 90 minutes into more than 300 without some serious padding and repetition.

How many times do we have to see the cool guy seduce the nerdy girl? How many times will Eleven use a radio to prove Will is still alive, or guide the boys into the woods and back again, with no new information to show for it? Why do you think people complained that Winona Ryder’s weeping became tiresome? Because she was asked to perform the same emotion over and over again. Besides being frustrating, these repetitions actually dilute important moments. How much more exciting would it have been when the sheriff and Joyce infiltrate the evil government lab if we hadn’t already seen him do it before? He even makes a joke about using the same method.

Besides having a longer running time than a movie, episodic content has the additional challenge of a non-captive audience. There’s a freedom in delivering a whole story in one sitting. You know that short of walking out of the theatre in disgust, moviegoers will absorb everything you have to show them. Episodic creators don’t have that assurance, which can lead to all sorts of awkward tactics to keep them coming back.

When Jonathan finally finds proof that his mother isn’t crazy, he rushes home to have that emotional reunion we’ve been waiting for — but his dad stops him. “Don’t bother her right now. She’s been through a lot.” I call that “plotblocking.” (Jonathan’s dad is an expert plotblocker.) Jonathan doesn’t grow or change to overcome this obstacle. He just literally tells her later. What purpose can that serve other than to make us wait for what we want to see?

Delay of audience gratification has been a staple of episodic storytelling for a long time, but no show advanced the practice more than the grandfather of plotblocking, Lost. No matter how well-written the various flashbacks often were, the writers knew that what kept us hooked was the mystery of the island — and that storyline was illiberally meted out like capfuls of water to a thirsty man. Just enough to keep us alive. I’ve actually found that the shows that are the most “binge-worthy” are the most narratively stingy. You start each new episode almost out of frustration, hoping it will deliver a morsel of satisfaction, an inch of forward progress.

Near the finale of Breaking Bad, Walter White confesses that all the cruelty and criminality was selfish: “I did it for me. I liked it.” He may as well have been speaking for the audience, because a central draw of that show was seeing this character evolve into a ruthless badass. But for every two steps forward in his transformation, there was one step back. How many times did Walter swear off the meth business only to be cajoled or seduced back? Did any of us believe he ever meant it?

So well-stoked was that furnace of frustration that actress Anna Gunn received volumes of hate mail and even death threats for her portrayal of Walter’s disapproving spouse, Skyler. While there were surely some ugly gender politics at play, it can’t help that her character often functioned as a major agent of obstruction to the plot development the audience eagerly desired.

(It’s important to note that female characters have long been employed as “plotblockers” by both film and TV writers, whether it’s the scold who tries to stop the boys’ fun or the damsel in distress who just can’t see that the hero is well-intentioned and trying to help. But that’s a whole other essay in itself.)

Harrowing shows such as The Walking Dead often place transitions, commercials and episode breaks at the height of the action. Cliffhangers are nothing new, I know, and running seams through crests rather than troughs can have its own kind of impact, but at what cost? Two of the most memorable action sequences from recent TV, the “Red Wedding” from Game of Thrones and True Detective’s one-take escape from the projects, did not leave their locations once they started, and both had audiences completely riveted. Although, I will admit, those audiences were probably less inclined to immediately queue up the next episode.

Indeed, my favorite shows are hard to binge. After each episode of The People vs. O.J. Simpson, my wife and I had to talk for at least an hour about what we had just seen, the material was so dense, the social ramifications so fascinating, and each chapter’s structure so satisfyingly self-contained. A good show leaves you sated, even exhausted, with a lot to think about before you dive back in.

One of the rare complaints I hear against Stranger Things is that the mythology could have been more developed. After all, they certainly had the time to give us more detail about what the “upside-down” is, or what the monster wanted, or how telepathy works in this universe. But on the other hand, that might stray too far from the genre it imitates. We never learn E.T.’s real name, or the name of his planet, or what his people were doing on Earth in the first place. What we now call “world-building” was far less important to the genre than emotional arc.

This is where Stranger Things’ loyalty to its influence limits its use of one advantage episodic content has over film: language. If film is visual storytelling, television is verbal. As much cinematic spectacle has been poured into Game of Thrones, it’s still 99 percent people standing in rooms talking to one another. A silent film can make a poetic statement about the human condition, but if you want to delve into the intricacies of history or institutions (or extra-dimensional worlds), you need words, and a lot of them. That’s where television’s extra minutes pay off, and why the best examples of the format are usually about politics, law, media, and social order. It’s why Pride and Prejudice the miniseries beats the pants off the film adaptations, why a two-hour telling of the O.J. Simpson trial wouldn’t be worth making, and why even Oscar-winning dramas likeSpotlight feel like abridged versions of history compared to what TV can accomplish.

I marvel at what great showrunners are capable of. Writers such as David Chase and David Simon have upended expectations rather than pandering to them, created new genres rather than imitating old ones. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to manage so many moving parts, do justice to such volumes of detail, while remaining relevant to the audience of that moment in time. I’ve spent the better part of my life trying to figure out what makes a film work, and I still feel like I have a long way to go. I’m not ready to abandon that journey quite yet for a whole new toolset. Perhaps someday all our stories will be delivered episodically, but for now, I still think there’s an emotional experience that can only be had in a self-contained 90-minute form. After all, one from 30 years ago is still inspiring new generations of creators.

Jeremy Blackman

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Re: Alternative approaches to entertainment distribution/consumption
« Reply #49 on: September 02, 2016, 11:15:01 PM »
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Yes! I absolutely agree. This problem drove me crazy with Stranger Things, and I had no idea why everyone wasn't more frustrated by it.

The character contributes nothing to the story, except to cause perpetual delays.

And that's what I really struggled with. Throughout most of the middle episodes, especially 4 through 7, the writers find every possible way to halt the plot or even move it backwards. It is absolutely maddening at times.

The thing is, it still worked on me. I watched the whole thing in 2-3 days. This is a truly pernicious trend.

The Walking Dead completely stalled out in Season 2, and yet its popularity only exploded. Why? How?

I wonder if it has to do with the fallacy of sunk costs. It feels better to keep watching in hopes that the show will turn around (which TWD periodically does). It feels pretty terrible to cut your losses and get out, even when you know it's good for you.
"Hunger is the purest sin"

wilder

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Re: Alternative approaches to entertainment distribution/consumption
« Reply #50 on: September 15, 2016, 04:34:23 PM »
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Harvey Weinstein Isn’t Alone: Why Independent Film Distributors Are Taking a Beating
By Graham Winfrey
via IndieWire

The game has changed for distributors like The Weinstein Company and others that are scrambling to adapt to the turbulent times for indie film.

The Toronto International Film Festival is the starting gate for fall acquisitions, but for buyers the greatest challenge isn’t their competitors; it’s a target audience that can’t be roused from their couches. That means indie distributors must amend their strategies — if not rewrite them altogether.

“A movie that tests 75 doesn’t warrant a theatrical release in the current marketplace,” said one indie studio executive. “Filmmakers are going to have to be okay with going to Netflix, and only Netflix.”

To that point, Netflix bought SVOD rights to Ana Lily Amirpour’s “The Bad Batch” after its Venice Film Festival premiere — but theatrical remains available as it goes into TIFF. Netflix tends to reserve its theatrical platforms for awards titles. Without streaming rights, “The Bad Batch” would have to find a buyer who’s satisfied with only theatrical and DVD revenue.

That’s especially tough in a market where high-quality home entertainment is only one challenge among many. As mobile-loving millennials become consumers, arthouse interest dwindles. Deep-pocketed digital players like Amazon and Netflix outbid traditional distributors, making it even harder to acquire indie films that attract an audience.

For documentary distributor Abramorama, staying ahead means concentrating on films that have a passionate, built-in audience; when it comes to the marketing, they’ve already done much of the hard work.

“We say that we focus on ‘tribal’ films, hence our interest in music films and social issue films, where there are audiences that are identifiable and committed,” said president Richard Abramowitz, who recently acquired U.S. theatrical rights to Ron Howard’s “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years.” “For us it’s really been about [finding] films where we can readily define the audience and be as certain as one can be that we can motivate them and convert their interest into ticket sales.”

Broad Green Pictures will head the other way. Launched two years ago by Wall Street billionaires Gabriel and Daniel Hammond, the indie studio released small, well-reviewed titles like “I Smile Back” and “99 Houses” to underwhelming box office. Broad Green laid off five people in July, and head of distribution Travis Reid resigned shortly afterward. Now, they’re preparing for the release of in-house production “Bad Santa 2” and declaring a focus on commercial movies for broader audiences.

The Weinstein Company will attempt its own pivot, in yet another direction. They’ve done the indie studio route; from 2010-2015, they topped $200 million every year at the domestic box office. However, in the last 12 months they laid off 50 people and saw the departures of RADiUS founders Tom Quinn and Jason Janego, distribution president Erik Lomis, acquisitions head Dan Guando, publicity head Dani Weinstein, and senior VP marketing Spencer Peeples.

Meanwhile, TWC’s four 2016 releases — “Hands of Stone,” “Jane Got a Gun,” “Regression,” and “Sing Street” — generated just $9 million combined. The upcoming “Lion” starring Dev Patel, and “The Founder” starring Michael Keaton, have box-office and awards potential, but that’s not a business plan.

So, what now? A source with knowledge of the situation says TWC will relaunch the dormant RADiUS in the next 90 days as the company’s official VOD arm — a pigeonholing that Quinn fought when he ran the division — and will work with cable operators on geo-targeting to analyze consumer viewing habits. (TWC declined to comment.)

Beyond that, however, TWC will be cutting back on the movie business. Harvey Weinstein told Variety last year that he wants the company to earn roughly half of its revenue from TV, and will cut the theatrical release slate from 20 movies to about eight.

That’s a seismic shift for a company that helps drive the independent film industry, but the stakes are high. British independent distributor Metrodome, which released “Tangerine” last year and still has “Personal Shopper” on its 2016 slate, filed for bankruptcy protection in August. “It’s just a clear indication of the marketplace where those high-end, niche art films just aren’t working globally,” said Marcus Hu, co-founder of independent distributor Strand Releasing. “Territories aren’t buying those kinds of movies anymore.”

Strand’s strategy is similar to Abramorama’s, focusing on features where there is an identifiable audience, such as writer-director Catherine Corsini’s 2015 film “Summertime,” about a romance between two women in Paris in the 1970s. “We know that Francophiles will come out for it and we know a certain LGBT audience will turn out for it,” Hu said. “We know the marketplace from having done their previous films.”

Strand has adapted to market conditions by working closely with Netflix and iTunes to get its titles out digitally after completing a theatrical release. “I’m very much a believer in still trying to get things to go theatrical,” Hu said. “It’s still the best way to generate publicity and press for the films.”

However, VOD may be the best way for most people to see those films. As for the financial return, we still have to rely on iTunes charts and anecdotal reports to get a sense of how they perform. Still, IFC Films/Sundance Selects president Jonathan Sehring suggests “dumping a film on VOD” may be an unkind way to characterize a potentially lucrative strategy for generating ancillary revenue.

“You’re going to look at the box office on ‘Pele’ and say, ‘That movie didn’t work,’ and we’re all going to be sitting here with huge grins on our faces saying, ‘That movie has worked extremely well,’” Sehring said, pointing to the performance of IFC title “Pele: Birth of a Legend.” The biopic earned $50,000 at the domestic box office.

For Zeitgeist Films co-founder Nancy Gerstman, staying alive in the independent distribution business may come down to managing expectations. Now approaching its 30th anniversary, Zeitgeist continues to distribute foreign-language films and documentaries, but limits its slate to just five films per year. “It’s very tough out there right now,” Gerstmann said, adding that controlling costs may be the most important strategy for any company trying to adapt. “That’s basically how we’ve been able to stay in business all these years–we’re able to spend appropriately.”

Starting Thursday, the same cast of characters from the distribution world will converge upon Toronto for the 41st year of TIFF, but the environment in which they’re trying to distribute films looks much different than in years past. The movies from the fest that manage to find a home, whether in theaters or on VOD or both, will serve as the first clue as to what the new normal looks like.

wilder

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Re: Alternative approaches to entertainment distribution/consumption
« Reply #51 on: November 21, 2016, 05:30:00 PM »
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Europe’s Digital Single Market: What You Need To Know & How It Could Kill The Indie Biz
By Diana Lodderhose
November 21, 2016
via Deadline



Independent film financing has never been a walk in the park and a lukewarm American Film Market earlier this month coupled with an age of political, digital and economic uncertainty mean the preselling game has become more challenging than ever.

But if there’s one thing that could kill off the entire indie business as we know it, it’s a series of regulations that are being mulled over in Europe right now with regard to the European Commission’s strategy for a Digital Single Market. Indeed, it’s a complex issue but at its beating heart lies a very dangerous prospect for the future of the entire audio-visual sector, which threatens to dismantle territory-by-territory licensing in Europe.

What is the Digital Single Market?

“Within Brussels, they think this is a wonderfully populist and popular announcement to make,” says David Garrett, founder and CEO of international sales company Mister Smith. “But this is Trumpism or Brexitism at its worst – selling the idea of freely available content across Europe without anyone understanding the repercussions of making that available is putting everything in the hands of large corporations that can control content across the board. It’s frankly insane.”

In November 2014, the European Commission announced plans to introduce a Digital Single Market for the continent which, on the surface, was painted as a utopian ideal that fell in line with the original purpose of the European Union: to encourage trade between member states, remove barriers and encourage free movement of goods, services and people. EC President Jean-Clause Junker said it was time to remove digital barriers, reform copyright and prevent “unjustified” geo-blocking. Junker, who has made DSM one of his main objectives for Europe’s 2020 Strategy, said last year: “I want to see pan-continental telecoms networks, digital services that cross borders and a wave of innovative European start-ups. I want to see every consumer getting the best deals and every business accessing the widest market – wherever they are in Europe.”

In May 2015, the EC published a 16-point policy plan under three pillars, which it had said it hoped to achieve by the end of 2016. Fortunately, it looks set to miss the mark on that timetable but things are still moving, and fast.

Specifically, proposals within the strategy that look to directly affect the audio-visual sector the most are:

  • Portability of legally acquired content (meaning a person who subscribes to Netflix in say, the UK, can access the UK version when he/she travels to France, etc)
  • Copyright in online transmissions, which looks to abolish geo-blocking with non-linear, catch-up TV, meaning if a company is licencing to a broadcaster and they have catch-up operations (like BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, etc) then the broadcasters are no longer subject to geo-blocking the catch up.

Parallel to DSM, in January 2014 the EC opened an investigation into restrictions affecting cross-border provision of pay-TV services, examining whether agreements between the six major Hollywood studios and pay-TV operators were anti-competitive and hindered the completion of the single market. The Commission argued that the companies’ licensing deals with Sky prevented unsolicited “passive sales” of Sky’s UK pay-TV services to customers beyond the broadcaster’s licensed territory. So, in a sense, if a person in Germany or France wants to access Sky content, Sky would be obliged to refuse them access to Hollywood titles as far as licensing materials.

But in July this year, without waiting for the outcome of the inquiry, Paramount was the first one to break rank and settled the EU allegations by signing an agreement that they would not enforce Sky from making passive sales. It dodged antitrust fines and committed to five years of concessions, meaning Paramount will not introduce broadcaster obligations that prevent or limit a pay-TV broadcaster from responding to unsolicited requests from consumers within the licensed territory.

Other studios have not entered into similar agreements but this move from Paramount is important because it sets a precedent. Many are concered that if the Commission has been successful in that case, it may feel emboldened to go further and say that any form of territorial exclusivity is contradictory to the single market.

What are the dangers?

Firstly, it’s important to note that regulations only have to be vetted by the Council and various members of state and European Parliament but, unlike a directive, which has to also go through national Parliaments for adoption, it goes straight to the bloodstream of the European legal system.

That said, most industry veterans agree that there is an argument to be had for portability of legally acquired content insomuch as if a consumer purchases Netflix, Amazon Prime or pays for Sky Sport, he or she should be able to watch that service (from its country of origin) when traveling around Europe. The EC’s Vice President Andrus Ansip, an Estonian who is spearheading DSM, has even expressed hatred of geo-blocking of programs because it prevents him from watching Estonian football in Brussels. The proposed portability regulation is currently being vetted and is expected to be adopted in Spring 2017.

But it’s the proposal to abolish geo-blocking broadcaster’s catch-up operations that looks set to become the most fatal to the business.

“It’s like Chinese water torture,” says Jean Prewitt, President and CEO of Independent Film & Television Alliance (IFTA). “When you look across the full spectrum of proposals, it’s terrifying. Each proposal has a lot of detail and it looks to me as if the Commission is attempting to do two different things, which operate together: Firstly, limit the ability of copyright holders to license content, whether it’s film or television, on a territorial exclusive basis, and secondly, which we are finding increasingly difficult to justify, is the persistent taking pieces of our rights, such as the ancillary online services of broadcast and catch-up rights.”

Today (Monday) Ministers of Culture from all 28 European Union Member States meet in Brussels to discuss the proposed regulation which seeks to remove territoriality of online broadcast services, such as simulcast and catch-up.

What this means, for example, is that if you are financing a British film and sold the free-TV rights to the BBC in the UK and their catch-up rights meant it would be available throughout all of Europe, selling the title to foreign buyers would become increasingly challenging because there would be no value in their TV rights. With indies having to dig deep to buy rights and release projects theatrically as is, only to take a small share on theatrical, and with DVD value dropping dramatically, TV often backs up the purchase. With this piece of the pie out of the equation, the international sales model would simply collapse.

“Film distributors invest millions of pounds, dollars and Euros in effectively adapting a film for their territory,” says Garrett. “They translate it, market it, and create vast amounts of advertising for titles and they deserve to reap the rewards of promoting a title in their territory if they can. If these regulations come into place, we can’t finance these independent titles and it would completely destroy our business and the business of companies such as ours. We bring a lot of revenue into the country by licensing American movies, and this would create, in effect, huge unemployment and huge loss of revenues.”

Prewitt adds: “It’s a redefinition of what we as rights holders can control and it’s taking a right that, as filmmakers, we need to be able to control to be able to understand how to best exploit existing programming and in order to get the most remuneration. We really find a lack of willingness from the Commission to understand the finance model and there is a lack of letting us, as an industry, find out how to adapt our historic ways of doing business.”

Bertrand Moullier, owner of Narval Media, a London-based firm that advises on competition strategies, says a regulation abolishing license rights for non-linear catch-up would undo a complex architecture in pre-licensing sales, creating havoc where the financing economy of film is concerned.

“How the hell do indies work out their windows and overheads if anyone’s iPlayer is open to the rest of Europe all the time?” he says. “You can’t control your exclusivity so the value of the rights goes down. The big studios may not care as much, because they can do day-and-date and, in their own way, the risk is minimal. But it does mean that the indies can’t make this work.”

Also, worryingly, the EC has yet to offer up estimates of the economic impact this regulation could have. Alice Enders, an analyst at Enders Analysis, says “there’s no doubt that there is an absence of any economic assessment impact and the fact that it sort of disturbs the core logic of financing and pre-financing model.”

Who stands to be affected the most?

Undoubtedly, it’s the indies who will suffer but Hollywood will also feel the burn of the proposals. English-language programs and films that premiere in the UK will be affected enormously because it will mean that the rising number of people who can access English-language content comfortably, are not going to wait.

“If someone knows the next episode of Downton Abbey is available on catch-up, why wouldn’t they watch it?” asks Moullier. “It would clip away the UK presales system unless they find a way for usable holdbacks.”

Additionally, the non-English language marketplace would be hugely disadvantaged in the short run. “English is the one language you can imagine being exploited throughout Europe but I would be concerned as to exactly how local broadcasters or distributors who are suddenly trying to meet demands for cross-border availability will be able to gear up their system,” says Prewitt. “Will broadcasters help them?”

Ultimately, however, it will mean an increase in market power of huge, multinational companies such as Google, Apple, Netflix, Amazon, Hollywood majors and the big broadcasters. “I always thought the promise of new technologies for independents was increased stability to find your own market place sweet spot and to be able to use the new technologies to find that market in a cost-effective way,” says Prewitt. “All these moves ultimately seem to lead to is increased market power to people doing mass distribution.”

The consumer also stands to lose big in this situation. Less ability to finance films equals less choice for the consumer. Films that relied heavily on pre-sales for financing like The King’s Speech and The Imitation Game and programs like The Night Manager and Poldark become increasingly difficult to get made.

“I think it will maintain very successful content for a very small amount of aristocracies that can afford to go day-and-date across Europe while rest of us will get squeezed out,” says Moullier. “We’re going to see a tremendous impoverishment on the offer of content and geo-blocking means we will see a concentration in the marketplace for the Palo Alto companies in the universe.”

wilder

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Re: Alternative approaches to entertainment distribution/consumption
« Reply #52 on: December 28, 2016, 06:02:25 PM »
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Quality of the show aside, this interview speaks a lot to The State of Things

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Bret Easton Ellis Gets Extremely Candid About His New Fullscreen Series ‘The Deleted’
By Scott Porch Dec 28, 2016
via Decider



The first shot in the new Fullscreen series The Deleted pans up from the gentle waves of the Pacific Ocean to a row of beach houses. The second shot is a hot young couple having NC-17 sex on a bare mattress in one of those beach houses. By the end of the first episode, there will be more NC-17 sex, a kidnapping, text messaging, a creepy cult, the L.A. skyline, and lots of lingering shots of perfect bare asses of barely 18s with names like Parker and Agatha.

The series is about — oh, come on, you neither care nor need to know the plot. The Deleted is broody, sexy, high-gloss, millennial TV. It’s pitched for a very specific audience. You know who you are. (Here’s a hint: Indiewire’s review called it “a softcore porn thriller for teens.” In the headline.)

Bret Eaton Ellis, who directed all eight episodes, knows the territory. Now 52 years old, he wrote Less Than Zero — a debut novel about disaffected, sexually adventurous college kids in Hollywood — in 1985 when he was himself a 21-year-old college student. In the three decades since, Ellis has returned often to that world in books (The Rules of Attraction, The Informers), a film (The Canyons) and in a series of film shorts that were the source material for The Deleted.

Decider caught up with Ellis for a revealing conversation about his Fullscreen series, the decline of indie film and the state of his career.





DECIDER: One of the things I thought about a lot watching The Deleted is how Fullscreen is a mobile-first distributor that’s now growing on TV platforms. Did you spend a lot of time talking to your cinematographer about how a scene would play on a 60-inch HD vs. on a 4-inch iPhone?

BRET EASTON ELLIS: It was the No. 1 thing we talked about, and it was one of the most important thing we wanted to figure out. We talked about how to make it look cinematic and not like a web series, how to make it look as good as premium cable. We realized it would be a mistake to pay too much attention to formatting the series for a phone and that we should shoot as cinematically as possible. We really wanted to make the colors pop in post-production — not saturated, exactly, but making the blues bluer and the greens greener. We watched it a lot on iPhones and iPads and laptops while we were editing, and we chose shots that we thought worked best on smaller formats.

One thing I expected as shows have started to be made for a big range of screen sizes is that the rules for smaller formats — simpler composition and flatter color schemes — would necessarily set the rules for everything, and that really hasn’t happened.

You can watch things on your iPhone and people do that all the time — something like 80 percent of our audience for The Deleted will watch on smartphones — but Fullscreen and I both wanted something that looks different than everything else that’s out there. That meant a lot of masters and wide shots and fewer closeups like you usually get on a web series. And we didn’t do any handheld work at all. I couldn’t change my aesthetic to fit into a web mold, and Fullscreen and I were on the same page with that.

You use a lot of tracking shots — particularly in the first episode — shot from behind characters’ backs. Was that a design choice or something about making those characters more closed and opaque?

It was all of that. The DPs and I storyboarded out and spent a lot of time planning those shots because we had 14 days to shoot 110 pages of script. We wanted to introduce characters by having the camera follow them, and shooting from behind their backs was kind of a thematic thing.

With Fullscreen having a fairly young audience, what was the discussion about depicting sex and nudity? How did you navigate whether a 15-year-old or a 20-year-old was the target audience?

The Deleted is based on a series of shorts I made a few years ago that Fullscreen had seen. They wanted make that into a series, and the first thing we had to do was age it down. The people in the shorts were in their thirties. It was pretty sexual, and Fullscreen liked that. They asked me to age it down knowing that it was going to be NSFW material. I showed one of the scripts to the producers before we sent it to Fullscreen, and they said, “This is too much sex, and it’s kind dirty.” So I took it out. When Fullscreen got the script, they said, “Where’s the sex and nudity? We’re competing against premium cable.” The actors knew coming into the auditions that there would be nudity, though Nash Grier was not up for doing nudity.

Have you had much feedback of what age group is watching the series?

I can only tell from Twitter and Facebook. Part of the reason Fullscreen liked the fact that I was attracted to the idea of using Nash Grier is that he has so many eyes on social media — something like 15 million or 20 million when you add Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and everything else together, so he’s really been an engine for promoting the show. I don’t have numbers from Fullscreen, and it’s hard to get numbers. I do a podcast for PodcastOne, and it’s like pulling teeth to get download numbers. I sold The Canyons to IFC knowing I’d never get numbers from them.

Are you planning to recut these from quarter-hour to half-hour for Fullscreen to syndicate for TV?

I don’t know. There has been some talk about dropping the credits and putting it together as a movie, which would be about an hour and 40 minutes. I’m fine with it the way it is now.

How do you think about that coming from features for Less Than Zero and American Psycho? Was shorter episodes something you had to come around to or something you embraced from the beginning?

I definitely embraced it. Content malleable. TV has changed the way we look at movies for example. I find myself impatient with movies now because they seem to offer too little information compared to an eight-hour TV season where you can follow a person and get a better understanding of his relationships.

Would The Deleted have worked as a feature film?

I approached it as a whole season in an hour and 40 minutes. I’ve written pilots for Lionsgate and HBO that were that long. The notion of a season of a show being an hour and forty minutes led me the idea of it as a movie divided into eight parts, so I approached it that way rather than as a web series. It’s not doable as a movie today. I’d have had to raise $2 million to make a movie that would never get theatrical distribution and would get lost on VOD with no promotion. No one would see it. Fullscreen, which has deals with AT&T and DirecTV, is at least attempting to promote this on a level that a theatrical film wouldn’t get.

You talk about an eight-hour series as a more expansive, more satisfying way of exploring a story than a two-hour film. How is a short-form series not that much worse?

You have to look at the budget we had and the time we had to shoot it. There are things I had to take into consideration about a web series — the budget, the time we had, the youth of the actors — those things would all be very different for an eight-hour TV series or an actual movie. So we had to acclimate ourselves to the idea that these are eight 12- to 13-minute movies that should hold their own on some level. This was not like making a movie and was not like making a TV series. The form dictated what we could do. We didn’t have eight hours to investigate these people and this world, so we had to take that into consideration.

The Deleted looks like a film. How did you approach that coming from features to digital video?

My DPs are in their 40s. Our references weren’t TV shows; our references were movies. We talked about cinematographers like Vilmos Szigmond [Close Encounters of the Third Kind] and Raoul Coutard, who worked with Godard. It wasn’t television. When you look at projects created by a lot of millennials, there’s a lot of — I wouldn’t say carelessness — but there’s a DIY aesthetic. It’s not their fault, necessarily, but it is what it is. It’s: Let’s just get it out there. Let’s just get the Vine out there. Let’s get the YouTube video out there. And it’s threadbare visually. It’s a generational difference.

We called in a lot of favors. We had use of a Chapman crane for about eight days of shooting, and we built the crane shots we wanted around that. Fullscreen wasn’t going to pay for that. It was a favor we got, and we gave the guy who had access to the crane an associate producer credit. We also did that with the Steadicam guy, who we also only had for eight or nine days. It all comes down to your sensibility and the talent level. You can have the greatest technology in the world, and it doesn’t matter if you have nothing to say.

Did you have any concerns about getting overwhelmed with directing all eight episodes as a first-time director and also producing the series?

Very much so. We moved from pre-production into production, and it just happened. The train takes off, and you’re on it. I really liked doing it. You make a show three times — the first time by writing it, the second time by shooting it, and you really make it the third time by editing it. Editing is where the show came together.

How much did you learn while you were shooting? Did you learn things on Day 2 that you were able to use on Day 5?

I had directed a couple of commercials in Europe. I directed a Persol ad and an ad for the Paris Opera, and I had made these digital shorts. I had been on a lot of film sets and thought I knew a lot as a cinephile, but I found myself asking the stupidest questions. The most important person is the first assistant director, who really whips everything into shape.

Was this a one-off experiment, or do you want to do more short-form work like this?

I don’t know. It’s a good question, and I’m not sure. You have to make a living. Whatever we were paid for The Deleted can take care of you for a couple of months, I suppose, but no one was really doing this for the money. I’m sure the crew liked having the jobs, but the producers, the actors and myself were doing this to see where it would go. Ideally, you’d like to make a living doing this. If there was a second season, I’d be very interested in it.

I have a problem with the idea of movies right now. I have a lot of movie projects in development, but I don’t know how excited about them I am anymore. A couple of them, maybe their time has passed. I don’t know how viable they are financially, where ten years ago they may have been on the indie circuit. I’m not sure if I’m drawn to theatrical films.

Are you interested in doing more TV?

People who have seen The Deleted have approached me about doing some stuff. I haven’t found the right thing. I haven’t come up with the right material yet. One production company wants me to do another short-form series. They’re ready to write a check, and I can’t figure out what it is. I’m still exploring it. I do think this is where things are heading. Hollywood was more open ten years ago, and there’s the 1 percent making a lot of money. Everyone else is trying to figure out.

I have friends who were A-list screenwriters in the ’90s and in the aughts who were making a great living without having any of their scripts made, and that world is gone now. One of them is selling real estate, and one of them opened a burger joint in Ojai. This is the business. I’m working on a book and getting more serious about pushing the podcast forward, and there are two movie projects that could still turn into something.

If we were having this conversation ten years from now, do you think there will be some people who come out of this social-influencer culture and become big stars, or do you think the traditional routes — film school, UCB — will still be making stars?

I don’t know what world we would be talking about. It’s so fragmented and niche. I have friends who have no idea who Nash Grier is, and he has 20 million fans. Cameron Dallas is another person I wanted to have on the show; he has 10 million Instagram followers and just signed a big deal with Calvin Klein, and a lot of people have no idea who he is. Music is niche; cinema is niche; television is niche. Everyone has their pockets of interest, and the idea of movie stars is kind of a joke to millennials. They want to see Star Wars, but they don’t care who’s in it. The time when we all had the same reference points is gone.

wilder

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Re: Alternative approaches to entertainment distribution/consumption
« Reply #53 on: January 08, 2017, 08:28:41 PM »
0
Quiet Death For Federal Tax Incentive Designed To Stem Runaway Production
12/30/16
via Deadline

UPDATE with DGA reaction: The only federal tax incentive designed specifically to keep film and TV production in the United States is dead.

The program had been giving significant tax breaks to investors in shows shot in the U.S. for more than a decade, but it will end on the first day of 2017. For Hollywood, it’s the first casualty of the new political reality.

Enacted as part of the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004, Section 181 of the Internal Revenue Code was designed to stem the flow of runaway production to foreign countries that were, and still are, offering generous tax breaks to lure away American productions.

The MPAA has called Section 181 “an important provision that promotes domestic film production,” but it was not a permanent fix; it had to be renewed by Congress every two years. And this year, the lawmakers let it die. A House bill was introduced to extend it, but it died in the Ways and Means Committee. The incentive still could be renewed retroactively next year or the year after, as it was in 2010, but under a Donald Trump presidency, there might be little political will to do so.

“It was one of the greatest jobs acts we had,” lamented attorney Hal “Corky” Kessler of the Chicago law firm of Deutsch, Levy & Engel, one of the industry’s leading experts on the federal tax break. He’s still hopeful, however, that Congress will see the merits of reinstating it. “At some point it will come back,” he predicted. “I don’t know if it will be next year or the year after, but by the end of this year, it’s going to die.”

The Directors Guild of America, which played a key role in lobbying for Section 181, also weighed in on the program’s pending demise.

“In the face of film and television production leaving the U.S., the DGA led the fight for the creation of Section 181 as part of the Jobs Act of 2004, and has continued the fight for its improvement and extension five times since then,” the guild said in a statement to Deadline. “We are disappointed in the failure of the current Congress to extend the larger tax package of which 181 is a part. We will continue our efforts to push for legislation that keeps the U.S. competitive in film and television production.”

Passed to encourage film and TV production to stay in the U.S., the law substantially reduced the risk of investment by giving investors a 100% loss against taxable income in the year or years the money is spent. For example, a producer or investor who put up $1 million for a film who was in the 30% tax bracket could save $300,000 in taxes, while someone in the 35% bracket could save $350,000. Coupled with a share of the tax incentives offered by various states, a smart investor can be assured of a 50%-70% return on investment regardless of whether the project was a success.

The IRS allowed this deduction on the first $15 million invested in every qualified project – and up to $20 million if it’s shot in certain low-income areas. But not anymore.

The law was a much needed, if tepid, response to the flood of shows fleeing to Canada to take advantage of 35% tax credits there – an exodus triggered by the “cultural exemption” contained in the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement that allowed Canada to subsidize its film and TV industry while undermining America’s.

Last year, when it was lobbying for its extension, the MPAA reminded the co-chairs of the Senate Finance Committee that “Congress enacted Section 181 in light of the job-creation, economic growth and other benefits that flow from filmmaking in the United States. … Recognizing the economic benefit of film production to their local economies, many of our major trading partners, (e.g., Australia, Canada, France and the United Kingdom) offer significant wage credits and other above-the-line incentives to attract film productions and jobs abroad.”

Section 181, the MPAA told the senators, “helps to respond to these foreign film incentives and encourages feature film and television productions to remain in the United States.”

But not anymore.

wilder

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Re: Alternative approaches to entertainment distribution/consumption
« Reply #54 on: January 20, 2017, 05:19:35 PM »
+1
Annapurna Pictures, Part II: Distribution And Marketing Team In Place As Company Flexes Indie Studio Muscle
via Deadline

Annapurna Pictures now is employing a full marketing and distribution staff as the company expands into truly a mini-studio, reminiscent of Miramax but without the Harvey. It is now financing, marketing and distributing its own product and will be officially in full swing to try to hit Kathryn Bigelow’s Untitled Detroit Project out of the park. Marc Weinstock, who recently joined the company as President, will oversee the new division alongside President of Marketing, David Kaminow and President of Distribution, Erik Lomis.

The division’s efforts will officially launch with the Detroit project, the crime drama set against the backdrop of Detroit’s 1967 riots. Bigelow is producing the film with Annapurna’s Megan Ellison and Matthew Budman. Mark Boal, who penned the script, and Colin Wilson are also producers with Greg Shapiro executive producing. The release date will coincide with the 50th anniversary of the riots.

The film stars an ensemble cast comprised of John Boyega, Chris Chalk, Nathan Davis Jr., Kaitlyn Dever, Austin Hébert, Joseph David-Jones, Malcolm David Kelley, John Krasinski, Jacob Latimore, Anthony Mackie, Jason Mitchell, Hannah Murray, Ben O’Toole, Will Poulter, Jack Reynor, Algee Smith, Peyton Alex Smith, Jeremy Strong, Ephraim Sykes, and Leon Thomas III.

AnnapurnaPictures was founded by Ellison, and the company has garnered 31 Academy Award nominations for her projects in only five years. The company’s taste in quality pictures harkens back to the Miramax days of old, when Harvey and Bob Weinstein always were sitting at the Oscar table. Annapurna’s slate during the past few years has included Zero Dark Thirty, Joy, The Master and Foxcatcher, and the company even received two Best Picture nominations in the same year, with Her and American Hustle.

Their most recent is Mike Mills’ 20th Century Women, which stars an Oscar-buzzed about performance from Annette Bening.
Annapurna also partnered with Bigelow on her animated short Last Days, about illegal elephant poaching and the ivory trade, which won the Humane Society of the United States’ Genesis Award in 2015 for Outstanding Short Film.

jenkins

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Re: Alternative approaches to entertainment distribution/consumption
« Reply #55 on: February 15, 2017, 10:58:11 PM »
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it's playing for one day free at nobudge:





i didn't turn on my television the entire month of january and i might watch this. on my computer.

here is the nobudge page http://nobudge.com/main/tower

this promotion is related to the theatrical release of this director's new movie, which is this





[edit] i watched Tower and it was the most recent movie i've seen about a neurotic male who also has egomaniacal tendencies
Every perspective is an act of creation.

wilder

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Re: Alternative approaches to entertainment distribution/consumption
« Reply #56 on: March 16, 2017, 01:38:30 AM »
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Netflix will explore mobile-specific cuts of its original series
via The Verge

Accommodating for smaller screens

Netflix chief product officer Neil Hunt said in a briefing today with journalists in San Francisco that the company plans to explore streaming mobile-specific cuts of its original movies and TV shows, to satisfy what he said was a growing audience of mobile Netflix watchers.

“It’s not inconceivable that you could take a master [copy] and make a different cut for mobile,” Hunt said. To date, Netflix hasn’t been delivering different cuts for different viewing platforms, Hunt said, but “it’s something we will explore over the next few years.”

The idea to be would be to create a version of the content with scenes or shots that are more easily visible or immersive on a mobile phone, since certain shots can be hard to see or can appear diminished on a relatively small phone screen.

Hunt, who has been with Netflix since 1999 and is one of the company’s top executives, made the remarks as part of a two-day event at Dolby Laboratories and Netflix’s own headquarters, as the two companies gear up for the launch of Iron Fist. Much of the conversation so far has centered around the series being shot natively in HDR, a method that offers a more dynamic range of colors on the TV or movie screen in front of you. But Hunt, along with Dolby executives, emphasized that HDR isn’t just for big-screen viewing.

It’s been about a year since Netflix became available globally — with the exception of a few markets, including China, and since then it has seen mobile usage soar. In established markets like the US and Canada, most Netflix watching still happens on TVs, Hunt said; but in some Asian countries, especially India, “mobile screens are the majority consumption device.”

wilder

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Re: Alternative approaches to entertainment distribution/consumption
« Reply #57 on: March 23, 2017, 05:59:59 PM »
+2
Studios Eye $30 Premium VOD For Major Releases
via The Playlist

It looks like the window between theatrical release and video on demand may be shrinking, as Variety reports that Fox, Universal and Warner Brothers are “showing greater flexibility with timing.” While most major films are currently available to digitally buy 70 days and rent 90 days after theatrical release, Warner Bros’. CEO Kevin Tsujiihara has expressed interest in shortening that window to 17 days with a $50 rental premium on films.

That $50 premium, however, was seen as too high for Fox and Universal, who would like to have a longer theatrical run, about 30 to 45 days, and a lowered at-home rental cost of $30. Universal, in fact, expressed willingness for a 20 day window on a $30 rental. One company that is not interested is Disney who, with “Star Wars,” Marvel, and their own films, do quite well for longer runs at the box office.

It’s no surprise with the combination of expensive marketing, shrinking home video revenues, and the sometimes short theatrical run of mainstream films, that movie studios would want to close the gap between cinemas and getting movies directly to customers. As Variety points out, it is a cost effective way to run a theatrical and home video marketing plan simultaneously. Additionally, with Netflix, Amazon, HBO and other on-demand services allowing consumers to access content wherever and however they want, film companies are rethinking how best to deliver their films. One thing that will not be changing though is the 90 day window for lower cost rentals and physical copies.

Sleepless

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Re: Alternative approaches to entertainment distribution/consumption
« Reply #58 on: March 23, 2017, 06:58:10 PM »
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$30 sounds totally reasonable, as does the 30-45 day delay. In fact, I'd bet that'd shrink once they get a better idea of how much revenue this new tact produces. Just as different studios have different tactics when it comes to the types of films and audiences they cater to, I'd bet we'd see something similar once this becomes the norm - Disney focused more and more on the blockbusters that demand to be see on big screen (that then go to Netflix) and other studios maybe moving into more of those fabled mid-budget adult dramas. Regardless, a good thing.

polkablues

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Re: Alternative approaches to entertainment distribution/consumption
« Reply #59 on: March 23, 2017, 08:00:32 PM »
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20-day delay with $30 rental seems like the sweet spot to me. 30 bucks is about or a little less than what you'd spend for two people to go out to the theater, including snacks and whatnot, and three weeks is exactly the length of time for a movie to have been in theaters before I come to terms with the fact that I'm not going to go out and see it in the theater.
Now you're in the *spoiler* place.

 

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