Over at NerdCaliber, I occasionally posted “Make It So” – where I’d proposed things I wanted to see or have done. I realize I can also do that here because we MuseHackers have a lot of ideas about what needs to be published, developed, programmed, cooked, etc. Hell, in a lot of cases we want you to take these ideas and run with them because we’re too damn busy, not qualified, or now and then just lazy (hey, as noted we get busy).
So when we had one of our usual get-togethers, the subject of movies came up. It’s a big subject with us since we’re, well, geeks, most of us write, most of us work in technology, and we’ve been watching the movie industry implode on itself. Now I can’t say we don’t take a little bit of glee in watching the film industry get its comeuppance for a lot of risk-phobic stupidity, but that implosion is going to screw a lot of people and miss a lot of opportunities. A film industry collapse is going to take out the good with the bad and the panic that sets in many mean good ideas don’t get missed.
When we began talking, what came up quickly is this: the movie industry as it exists now is simply not viable. You can’t have giant insane tentpoles with all their risks and pandering without hollowing out the system. Worse, people are kind of sick of it and are catching on, to judge by recent poorly performing films. There’s films people don’t want and peple are kind of sick of it and don’t want to pay a lot of money to be underwhelmed and eat crappy theater food.
Then we realized that you ned to rethink how movies work. The old models are gone, the current models are heading for collapse, television and streaming is changing everything, and the pizza still sucks.
This is what we came up with:
RETURN OF THE SERIAL: Some films would be more financially palatable if they were done in dribbles and drabs – half-hour episodes, but run (first) in theaters. Imagine a return to the old serials with 2-hour blocks of serialized movies, episodes released regularly (say, monthly). Theaters could diversify the lineup, books wouldn’t have to be squashed down to incomprenensibility (or overxtended) and you can insert new material, shorts, etc. It’s essentially adding a TV model to theaters, but it might minimize risk, and if nothing else a badly performing serial could be caned.
ALTERNATE DEALS: With serailization or different release schedules and media running times, there could be different ways of packaging and delivering. Maybe a season pass nets you the serial on DVD for free. Or you get a streaming preview using a ticket redemption code. Give people real value and experiment with new ways to deliver media (and of course, sell stuff).
THEATERS AS SOCIAL SPACES: They’re not right now, though some second-runs or specialties are. THere needs to be a return to theaters as social spaces with events, better food, lounges, and in short a place for people to gather, enjoy, and stay for awhile (like maybe another episode or two). This would probably mean higher prices for some things, but also more reason to pay. It would also mean less theaters quite likely as some couldn’t handle this model.
DIVERSIFICATION: On top of the return of Serials there should be a lot of alternate viewing experiences that are enhanced with new content, special introductions, broadcast interviews, etc. Once a serial completes, do a marathon. Do movie marathons. Do themes with classic films. Do more and do more responsive content.
COORDINATION: Theaters should work more with communities, studios, etc. to deliver real, local value. A theater could run local documentaries and education. A theater could recognize local talent. A theater could respond to local need. In some cases a theater might even have some government funding.
Theaters have to adjust to a new media reality (and one that in a few cases means lousy overblown films), much the same way libraries do. Just as libraries are diversifying and becoming social spaces, Theater and film needs to look at similar solutions. You’ve got to develop an intimate relationship with people and deliver value, because the next overstuff failed blockbuster ballbuster is going to just keep killing you slowly.
Besides, at the rate the foreign market matters, it may not be long until the American audience isn’t even first or second on the list.
So that’s our thoughts – what are yours?
– Steven Savage