Author Topic: Alternative approaches to entertainment distribution/consumption  (Read 10823 times)

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wilder

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Re: Alternative approaches to entertainment distribution/consumption
« Reply #60 on: April 10, 2017, 10:52:47 PM »
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Why Are We So Sure ‘Prestige’ TV Looks Like a 10-Hour Movie?
By Kathryn VanArendonk
via Vulture

At the Los Angeles PaleyFest on Saturday, Jonathan Nolan described writing the second season of Westworld as “a ten-hour movie.” Just a few weeks ago, the showrunners for Game of Thrones noted that they considered their entire series “a 73-hour movie.” It’s a claim that’s become increasingly common in the past several years, and it’s linked to a whole host of related terms about what we should be valuing in TV, and how we define “prestige.” The 10- or 13- or 73-hour-movie idea rises out of the same impulse as “novelistic” TV, or television that treats its episodes as “chapters,” or even from the urge to reframe an entire first season as a “pilot.” While the connotations of those terms may differ slightly, the underlying message is the same — one episode of TV is not enough. To really appreciate what this series is doing, and to really tell a serious, worthwhile, complex, and important story, you can’t judge a single episode. You need lots. Ideally, you can’t fully judge it, can’t weigh its success or value, until you’ve seen all of it.

There are countless ways this is frustrating, many of which have been addressed in the several waves of this particular idea about prestige TV that have cropped up in the past 20 years, and the several matching waves of criticism about them. Many of those critiques focus, correctly, on how frustrating it is that, for some reason, TV can’t stand on its own as a “prestige” narrative. For TV, prestige means getting reframed as something else and basking in the reflected glow of another art form’s cultural currency. This, from Philip Maciak, is one of my favorites: “Why do we need to constantly repackage our broad-scale critiques of art in the form of cage-match battles to the death? Can’t art forms co-exist?”

Even if we set aside the cultural baggage and acclaim that come with terms like “novelistic,” “cinematic,” or “x-hour movie,” even if we can look beyond the “novelistic” = “not-trashy” part of the puzzle, we’re still left with the underlying understanding of what serious, important stories look like — they’re long. They’re complicated, and they require you to pay attention and to hold your judgment. They are not interested in your current pleasure, because good, worthwhile narratives are about delayed gratification. That’s why it doesn’t matter that Westworld’s first season was deliberately, gleefully impossible to parse until you saw the final episode. Nor is it a problem that, as Todd VanDerWerff recently posited on Twitter, Legion’s and True Detective’s first seasons both follow a structure where you have to sit through “cinematic showcase with only minor bearing on the plot” episodes and “breather” episodes before you get to “the one where everything’s explained.” Because this, according to the novelistic, ten-hour-movie theory of TV storytelling, is how you achieve depth and prestige. This is what serious looks like.

There are two pieces to why this is such an irritating and frequently troubling way to think about what constitutes important, worthwhile, serious television. The first is that in emphasizing length and hyperserialized complexity over episodic structure, TV can so easily be bad. Alan Sepinwall has made the case for the episode more than once, writing first in 2015 that series without a strong emphasis on the episode as a worthwhile narrative unit can easily suffer in quality: “those formless units intended as episodes become a real drag: necessary viewing to understand the overall plot, but not interesting viewing in the meantime.” And then again, after the GOT writers described the show as a 73-hour movie, Sepinwall produced a list of questions for TV storytellers, including “Is there a way to structure this episode so that it feels distinct and memorable?” and “Even if someone is going to watch six episodes in one sitting, how can I make this one stand out?”

Sepinwall’s primary point here is a vital one. An episode can either be treated as an artificial barrier that stops one piece of storytelling from flowing smoothly into the next, or it can be greeted as an opportunity, a regular and reliably renewing chance to tell a story, to sketch a theme, or to experiment with form and structure on a self-contained canvas. And if given the opportunity, why wouldn’t you want each episode of your story to be gratifying and meaningful and purposeful in some way, rather just a glorified bookmark? It’s also useful to remember that the best TV of the last decade has proven that the two opposing poles of TV narrative, with “serialized” on one end and “episodic” on the other, are actually an entirely false binary. It’s no mistake that Mad Men, one of the most slow-burn shows imaginable in terms of plot and character development, was also gloriously, reliably, joyfully episodic in how it treated theme and premise. Neither is it a mistake that one of the best shows of the last year, The Good Place, is built on rock-solid episodic footing, and also pulled off a wallop of a twist at the end of its first season. The big-picture narrative and the episode-length structure are frames that support one another, not diverging tasks. It’s not “means to an end” versus “end in and of itself” — it can be both.

So this is the first, more concrete reason why the “ten-hour movie,” “novelistic TV” idea is so insanely frustrating. It almost always sacrifices good storytelling now for the perceived benefit of good storytelling later, and too often results in neither coming true. The second reason goes more to the point of why we’re so insistent that “episodic” TV is less serious, less worthwhile fluff, while our endless slogs through featureless, indistinct stories are the stuff of prestige narrative. It also probably says more about ourselves as viewers than about the TV we’re trying to describe.

Embedded in our assumptions about what “prestige” looks like — assumptions that also tend to include visual darkness, humorlessness, and incomprehensibility — is the implicit suggestion that things that are serious must also be hard. I mean “hard” in several senses of the word; serious stories are difficult to grasp, they require time and attention, and they tend to be violent and merciless and unflinching. They are about cold-eyed glances and “hard” truths; they are not about hugs or hope. And so serious stories are also the ones that do not please you right away. They withhold and obfuscate, preferring to dismiss the value of any aesthetic appreciation of the episode right in front of you for some promised payoff down the road. And if you’re impatient or frustrated that a show is taking too long to get to the goods, you’re the problem. You judged it too soon! You can’t say it’s bad because this one episode wasn’t good — you shouldn’t judge it like TV! It’s a novel!

Never mind, of course, that this too often leads to a narrative Ponzi scheme, where the real payoff is always just one more episode or one more season away. Never mind, also, that this is not really how novels or movies work, either. When you read a long novel that takes forever to get to anything gripping or appealing, you don’t retroactively forgive the filler up front. You think, Huh, that really needed more editing.

But especially when it comes to TV, we’re trained to believe that the stories that please us immediately are “trash” or “guilty pleasures,” and so we’re also happy to extend credit to a show that’s constantly kicking the narrative can down the road. A show like One Day at a Time, which deals with identity and immigration and family and posttraumatic stress, and which tells those stories inside immediately accessible, funny, episode-centric pieces, is great, “familiar and fresh,” although a little sitcom trope-y. At the same time, the new season of American Crime, which deals with many of the same questions but which only allows its plot to become clear slowly, and lets details “filter out” slowly, “scene by scene, person by person,” is “brilliant, powerful,” and, by the way, novelistic.

It’s admittedly dumb to put American Crime and One Day at a Time into the same box and have them fight it out for which one is truly “serious” — it reduces all the nuance and distinction of their respective projects, washing away their individual features in an attempt to point out some underlying truth. And nuance, specificity, and complexity are the stuff of serious arguments (and serious television). But there’s no rule that says that brevity, episodic structure, or narrative pleasure is inherently inimical to nuance. Nor is there any reason why a show that makes you slog through an undifferentiated middle is accomplishing anything more powerful or complex than one with tightly edited episodic arcs and a thoughtful serial structure.

We’re sure that long stories, and longform TV, are “prestige.” They challenge us, and reward our intelligence, and require our trust. But this understanding of “prestige” can easily shift into something not so different from a bad boyfriend, one who’s very serious and mysterious and emotionally withholding, and ultimately a little careless of your feelings. He doesn’t bring you flowers on Valentine’s Day because that’s what unserious, clichéd boyfriends would do, and that’s not what he is. He’s important. He’s complex. He’s “prestige.” You can’t judge him by this one event; you have to wait until you can really get all of him. This date may seem terrible at first, but hang in there. It’s really a ten-hour movie.

Jeremy Blackman

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Re: Alternative approaches to entertainment distribution/consumption
« Reply #61 on: April 11, 2017, 12:54:38 AM »
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Hmm. I'd argue that heavily-serialized prestige TV does something very different than "a really long movie." Game of Thrones is a unique case — it really does feel continuous — but in nearly every other prestige show, episodes usually have their own personalities.

Just to take two examples, Breaking Bad and The Leftovers... It feels very natural to judge their episodes individually. They're more novelistic — chapter-by-chapter — than anything resembling a long movie. The article conflates "novelistic" and "cinematic" when they're very different things, mechanically. Right? The Leftovers will take an entire episode to explore one character (or something even crazier like "International Assassin"), and yet the plot still moves forward. Outside of Todd Solondz, movies are generally not chapter-based.

I think serialized TV gets to be called "prestige" more often because the format is suited to serialization, so it's easier to pull of something good. When an episodic show is really great, it DOES get recognized as prestige. Black Mirror.
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wilder

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Re: Alternative approaches to entertainment distribution/consumption
« Reply #62 on: May 20, 2017, 07:07:45 AM »
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How Scott Stuber Will Steer Netflix Ambition To Make 40-50 Feature Films Per Year
via Deadline

When Scott Stuber took himself out of contention to replace the late Brad Grey as Paramount chairman, and instead accepted an offer from Reed Hastings and Ted Sarandos to run Netflix’s feature film division, many felt he’d taken the more exciting job. Why? While Jim Gianopulos has to dig Paramount out of a deep hole, Stuber has a blank slate and the financial backing to make Netflix as aggressive a film studio as it is on the television front—try 40-50 films per year. French film purists might wish it away, but Netflix has already been the talk of Cannes. It made the first big pre-buy deal for the stop motion animation pic Bubbles on Michael Jackson’s chimp companion, and debuts its first two Cannes premieres this weekend. That started with last night’s Okja (where they cheered the logo and gave the film and director Bong Joon-Ho a long standing ovation) and Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories on Sunday. Sure, there has been controversy about it not releasing its films in France, but Netflix and Amazon make a strong case that perhaps it is France that needs to change its ridiculously outdated chronology law that prevents films from going SVOD for three years, if they play first in French theaters. 

Netflix has already built some movie momentum, but that is just the warm up for what is to come. The momentum started with Beasts of No Nation and the eight-film deal for Adam Sandler comedies, and upcoming is War Machine with Brad Pitt, the Will Smith franchise play Bright, and the mob-movie reunion of Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro in The Irishman.

Its ability to pay generously has helped Netflix overcome the challenges of making filmmakers and stars comfortable generating movies for a subscription audience. Sure, that audience is vast, spanning 190 countries, but those artists are accustomed to seeing their work in multiplexes, accompanied by P&A spends that make their work part of the pop-culture conversation. Netflix is more like a global private club, and the priority is keeping its members entertained enough to continue paying their monthly fees. Films like Okja and Meyerowitz will get qualifying theatrical runs, but they are not at all the priority here.

A former vice chairman of worldwide production at Universal Studios who oversaw The Fast and the Furious and The Bourne Identity among others before transitioning to producer of such films as Ted, Central Intelligence and Safe House — the Scarface remake Stuber left behind just got David Ayer in talks to direct Diego Luna at Universal — Stuber has the strong experience in building pictures, and the relationships with talent and their reps who need persuading to take some of their projects to Netflix, in addition to the traditional theatrical model movies they are making.

Stuber also has the experience to broaden Netflix into the next logical step in its feature growth curve: generating its own projects. That veers away from Netflix’s earlier film strategy, which consisted of outbidding theatrical distributors. The best example of this was Bright. For its first potential franchise play, Netflix made a $90 million-plus commitment, half of which covered salaries as well as back-end payday buyouts for Smith, director Ayer, Joel Edgerton and others.

Netflix has already put a few book properties in development, but homegrown films will become a focus for Stuber and his team if Netflix is to generate the volume of pictures needed to grow its slate. That means that here at Cannes and elsewhere, Netflix will be an aggressive acquirer of properties, once again putting traditional theatrical release distributors on their heels.

Sleepless

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Re: Alternative approaches to entertainment distribution/consumption
« Reply #63 on: May 22, 2017, 09:04:40 AM »
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I'm very excited about what the future has in store for Netflix, but something I've been thinking about a lot recently is how poor a job they do promoting their new original content. They need to come up with a better way of putting their vast and diverse original films and TV shows out there in a way for people to identify "yes, that's meant for me." It seems like only a small fraction get widespread publicity, but there's so much more they're doing that maybe won't have the most widespread popularity, but might be extremely relevant for deep niche audiences. Unfortunately, their algorithms are based on defining films by categories such as "historical dramas with a strong female lead" and such. Of course it's difficult to be more abstract, but their PR/marketing of the majority of their originals is woefully lacking.

Sleepless

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Re: Alternative approaches to entertainment distribution/consumption
« Reply #64 on: June 16, 2017, 04:36:54 PM »
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Okay, this is sort of off-topic but relates to how studios might use social data to create entertainment and also attract advertisers.

Choice quotes:

"The characters I was creating needed to appeal to those people. But writing these varied characters is about more than just clothing or token references, you really need to know who they are on a more personal level. I wanted to explore new ways of building that understanding, and with Twitter being an open network I was familiar with, it was a natural choice."

"Analysing different segments of any demographic in Audiense corrected the over-indexing in the audience that the show would originally appeal to. It gave me extra inspiration for some characters and their plot points, as well as confirming ideas I had for others. Moreover, this new way of creating a show will get a lot of interest from potential sponsors. Once you embrace your audience openly, you can bring in advertisers as you can clearly point to who your show is likely appeal to with far greater accuracy. This is of great value to them, and thus it’s valuable for the studios too."


https://audiense.com/interview-tv-producers-bridging-gap-social-data-marketing-media-case-study-risk-creativity-can/


 

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