the theatrical revolution

At a roundtable discussion high atop a movie studio in Los Angeles…

Who are the two most beautiful people in Hollywood right now?  Okay, let’s take Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway and put them in a movie together.  Let’s get them to have lots of sex, including Hathaway having an explosive, awkwardly intimate orgasm on screen.  Oh and we mustn’t forget that the boy has to upset the girl and then win her back in the end.  We’ll give it a catchy title…how about Love & Other Drugs… People will fill the seats!

Time goes by.  Fingers drum on the oak tables of the studio offices.  Shortly thereafter…

Okay, who are the two most beautiful people in Hollywood right now?  How about Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson?  Excellent.  Let’s take them and put them in a movie together, and let’s adapt it from source material to ensure maximum attendance.  Water for Elephants sounds good…I like the artistic sounding title, it has intrigue…

Diversion.  Women are being insulted right now by the Hollywood “chick flick,” or RomCom.  It’s an arrogant assumption that women are apt to line up for (and drag their boyfriends or spouses to) a cookie-cutter movie that follows a regurgitated formula:  Boy meets girl, and they are an unlikely match.  Inevitably, they charm one another into some semblance of “love.”  But the boy makes a big mistake, and must work in earnest to regain the affections of the girl.  Along the way will be a “fat character,” or one generally less attractive, to serve as comic relief.  There will be an older couple so that viewers outside the target demographic are not left out, and can find relatable characters.  The design is as specific as a functioning automobile.  You don’t have a big box office movie without all the requisite parts.

Or so we would be led to believe.

As ever, the power of change lies in the hands of the consumer.  Whether it’s conversion from the paradigm of limitless energy to one of sustainable resources in the Environmental movement, or it’s American Idol, the power is in the hands of the people.  Media cannot be blamed, whether it is news programs or entertainment fodder.  Media is not a leading indicator, but a trailing one.  And media propagates more media as quickly as data can be analyzed and contracts can be signed.

Our very culture itself can be anything it wants.  Looking around a room at a conference I recently attended, I noticed how similarly everyone was dressed.  How hair styles had very little variance.  The current American trends in fashion seem to be drab colors, earth tones and minimalism.  We are an inventive society, but we cannot escape the inexorable pull of the herd, and our culture trails the indelible fact of our tendency to conform.  (I imagined that if this conference was held in Mumbai, India, how the garb would change to sandals and robes.  Or the colorful palate of a Nairobi audience.  The even more conservative-wear of Beijing.)  We flock to the same movies because we needn’t, for our survival, be very discerning in terms of what we watch anymore than what we wear.  The extra effort it requires to be different doesn’t seem to be worth it.  So we pack into theatres presenting us the latest redone slop, all of us setting our Smartphones to silent and sliding them into the pocket of our Gap jeans or Patagonia bags.

In effect, these aspects of culture accrete in our minds to form what we think of as “reality.”  The “reality” is that in order to please a mass audience, you need to invoke the lowest common denominator.  You need to “give them what they want,” which are a set of beautiful, relatable characters in predictable situations.  Some twists and turns are cleverly thrown in so that the story doesn’t seem predictable, but, then, it is.  As the herd gradually moves to envelope the notion that climate change exists, for instance, the consensus comes to view it as a “reality.”  And the way to move the herd towards certain pastures is, it would seem, fiscally powered.

Here’s an example:  New operations are underway to do simple things that change the way people use energy, and they are often price-driven.  If everyone turns on their dishwasher and has all the lights on in the home at the peak hour of, say, six p.m., the stress on the energy systems that produce the power is greater than if there was a more even-tempered usage of the energy throughout a 24 hour period.  So, the higher-ups are thinking that instead of the usual cryptic meter that spins around outside the home, a gauge inside the home which ticks off dollars and cents (like a gas pump) will help people to realize what concurrent energy use really does – drains their bank accounts.

What if movie theaters across the globe made redundant tripe like the modern day RomCom or slasher flick more expensive?  What if it cost thirty dollars a ticket instead of ten or twelve to see a movie like Machete?  (Because guys, you are being duped and talked down to as well.)

Well, of course that wouldn’t work because the cost inhibitor is at a conflict with the revenue incentive of the theatre.

This is why we have the rise of on-demand distribution.  It is cheaper to see a good film online that uses innovation and creativity to do something outside of the norm.  To buck the trends that hold us fast to the herd culture and mentality.

This doesn’t mean that theatres need to be put out of business and disappear.  It means that self-distributed films can set up packages for theatres where they download a film for a greater cost when showing it publicly.  Such packages may cost $300 or $400 for a theatrical run.  All your theatre needs is a good laptop and digital projector.  No more shipping prints, no more big heavy machinery.  And audiences around the world can have a greater variety of films to chose from, and exercise that thing which is the best of what we have as human beings – choice.  You can talk to your local theatre and advocate for digital on-demand movies to be part of your choice as a consumer, or, hey, open your own and serve coffee with the films you screen.  All this hype about “the end of theatrical distribution”… well, we don’t need to do away with it, silly, but enhance it and make the theatrical experience more accessible to emerging and independent filmmakers.

…Though let’s be sure and keep Miss Hathaway around.