Spielberg and Lucas discuss the film industry’s implosion


With E3 waning, a lot of eyes have been on the gaming industry and specifically Microsoft and Sony as they fight for relevance in an every changing media landscape. And watching these monoliths fight as the AAA gaming industry races towards a crash is fascinating. It almost makes you forget that the film industry is also facing its own crises. As costs explode, all it will take is a few blockbuster failures for everything to come crashing down.

At least, that’s what Steven Spielberg thinks. At a recent panel at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, he said:

There’s eventually going to be a big meltdown. There’s going to be an implosion where three or four or maybe even a half-dozen of these mega-budgeted movies go crashing into the ground and that’s going to change the paradigm again.

He was joined by George Lucas, who successfully proved that he has lost touch with all things real. (Also on the panel: Don Mattrick, the Microsoft executive who has recently been proving exactly the same thing.) Not only does Lucas believe the theater experience is going to become a theatre experience, he thinks we’re less than two decades away from the Matrix.

No, seriously. Keep reading.

[Via Variety; Header via USC]


[Photo via The Verge]

It starts off innocent enough, the insanity. ““You’re going to end up with fewer theaters,” he said. “Bigger theaters with a lot of nice things,” he said. Sounds reasonable enough, right? Fewer theatrical releases would all but require the consolidation of spaces, and to make a theater experience more inviting, the venues will be forced to upgrade. Perhaps the beautiful venues at Lincoln Center will become the rule rather than the exception. I don’t know that I’d go that far, but it doesn’t sound so outlandish. But then things get weird.

Going to the movies will cost 50 bucks or 100 or 150 bucks, like what Broadway costs today, or a football game. It’ll be an expensive thing. … (The movies) will sit  in the theaters for a year, like a Broadway show does. That will be called the ‘movie’ business.””

And with a simple sentence, George Lucas reveals a fascinating disconnection from reality. I want to believe that the man is being facetious or hyperbolic, but I don’t. Instead, I’m left to believe that Lucas is equating the theatrical experience of seeing a film, which requires only a projectionist (who doesn’t even need to be paying attention now that film reels don’t need to be changed) to a Broadway performance, each one of which requires the work of dozens of people both in front of and behind the curtain. It’s ludicrous. The two cannot be compared.

While a film can cost incredible amounts of money up front, even playing in two theaters simultaneously makes it easier for that film to make back its budget. Even in this bizarro future, presumably these films would eventually hit VOD and whatever media format exists and can make more money there. Broadway shows, on the other hand, still cost millions of dollars to produce and they have only one place to recoup those costs. Their continued performances also costs money, making it even harder to break even. The cost isn’t just the theater and the rights to project it; it’s everything. It’s absurd to claim otherwise. And it’s absurd to believe that moviegoers wouldn’t understand that and would accept theater prices that high. Ticket prices will continue to rise, but if the ticket to a regular non-IMAX, non-3D showing ever breaks $25 (or if a fancier ticket breaks $35), I will be truly shocked and appalled. I’ll probably also eat something indigestible.

George Lucas

But honestly, that’s not the weirdest thing Lucas said. Much stranger was his vision of our lucid dreaming future:

The next step is to be able to control your dreams. You’ll just tap into a different part of your brain. You’re just going to put a hat on or plug into the computer and create your own world. … We’ll be able to do the dream thing 10, 15 years from now. It’s not some pie-in-the-sky thing.

Spielberg, for his part, was more level-headed about what will happen after cinema’s implosion. He sees a world where films hit VOD the same day they hit theaters (something we are most certainly heading towards) and the implementation of variable pricing, something that should have happened by now. He said:

There’s going to be eventually day and date with movies, and eventually there’s going to be a price variance. You’re going to have to pay $25 to see the next Iron Man. And you’re probably only going to have to pay $7 to see Lincoln.

Note that while I stand by my previous statement that I don’t believe regular tickets for even the biggest of blockbusters will get that high, the concept that as ticket prices rise there will be tiers based on potential popularity of a film and also the cost of production doesn’t seem too farfetched. It could certainly convince people to see more independent films, as three Lincoln tickets would be cheaper than a single Iron Man X ticket in this hypothetical future.

Steven Spielberg

There was a lot more at the panel, including thoughts about the future of television and the internet as well as videogames (Lucas’ comments about dream control were in reference to future of games, but I really couldn’t not mention it), and I recommend digging deeper. The two men, some of the most successful the film industry have ever seen, think it’s in an untenable position, and that’s important. Even if he’s gone crazy, George Lucas is still someone worth listening to, and even if he isn’t, Steven Spielberg certainly is.

None of us really know what the future of entertainment is, but I think everyone realizes things are going to change in a big way. Only time will tell if these two men are right about how those changes will manifest themselves.

No matter what happens, I’m looking forward to it.