The only thing we know for sure about the future of the movies is that we don’t really know anything for sure—which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. All forms of filmmaking have been stuck in a rut for a couple of decades now. Closing the movie theaters, which were quickly becoming relics anyway, and shutting down production indefinitely could be just what the doctor ordered. The problem is, a band-aid can’t fix this—the entire art form needs to be reimagined from its genetic code on up.
In “Could Theatrical Delays Make Movies Better?” John Sciacca puts a positive spin on the whole dire situation, proposing that the lockdowns and other restrictions give the movie studios and theaters time they wouldn’t otherwise have to spruce things up. Those are pleasant thoughts, but I think they’re quickly brought down to earth by the harsh economic realities, and
by an even more intractable and reliably counterproductive force—human nature.
Economic realities first: Movies are already stupidly expensive to make, and the studios are currently taking a huge financial hit because they can’t release theatrically what would have potentially been their biggest moneymakers of the year. The last thing they’re going to do during an era of massive belt-tightening is invest any extra money—which can quickly skyrocket into the many millions—in the off hope it will somehow improve an already finished film.
For instance, nobody’s going to even think about mucking around with a Pixar film once it’s locked and loaded. Conceiving and executing even the smallest changes means deploying many, many people and much processing power—and quickly running up a tab that could keep every resident of a medium-sized American city well nourished for a year.
Also, even the most brilliant and seasoned professionals can lose their feel for a project once they think they’ve
wrapped it up, so being able to dig in again can result in changes and additions that, at best, feel off-key.
As for movie theaters: Most theater owners haven’t made a dime in months. They know they’ll be lucky to open their doors anytime soon and don’t know if anyone will show up once they do. They’re spending way more time thinking about new ways to push more Milk Duds—which is where they make their real money—than they are pining for a new Atmos system.
As for human nature: The number of people who work better given all the time and money in the world is infinitesimally small; the number of people who can do better creative work under those circumstances is even smaller. The truth nobody wants to admit to is that almost everybody needs some kind of gun to their head to take any significant task from conception to completion.
Freedom can be a wonderful thing—if you know how to cherish it and how to maximize the opportunity you’ve been given. Most people are neither that brilliant nor that bold—or they wouldn’t keep making the same silly genre- and franchise-driven films over and over and over again.
Most filmmakers do their best work when they’re chafing at and pushing back against constraints—there’s nothing like being seriously pissed off to get the creative juices flowing. And most filmmakers unravel when they’re handed a blank check—partly because it tends to reveal that most filmmakers have no clothes. How many well-heeled film-school grads have worked their way up to a “A Film by ____” credit only to churn out a series of exercises in formless indulgence that serve better as sleep aids than entertainment?
Sorry, more time and money might result in some slightly better movies—that monkeys & typewriters thing again—but the odds are seriously against it.
But I don’t disagree with John on one crucial point: That the current crises could present some hugely positive opportunities—possibly even a chance to storm the Hollywood Bastille. Which will be the subject of my Part Two.
Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtable, marketing, product design, some theater designs,
a couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.