This piece is the final installment of an ongoing 3-part series, in which we have expressed our opinion on the the future of cinema.
Physically or digitally, the future of cinema is in great hands. Cinema’s prospects aren’t as dire as people make it to seem. It has only resulted in reduced take-home pay for a few (at the top) who have been treated (or should I say spoilt) to a certain share of the cake for a long time.
Who do we blame?
Studios, who according to David Fincher (Fight Club, The Social Network, Gone Girl), greenlight a project only when two results can be guaranteed—a project’s capability of winning an award for (global press) or raking in so much money that a sequel would be possible. A sequel? No, let’s aim for an even bigger pie—a damn franchise spanning multiple years. Hollywood stars wanna be signed to multiple feature films. Oh hell, “CGI fanfare is really gonna keep them (audience) in those dark chambers.” Should other streams of revenue, such as merchandising and potential theme park ticket sales be considered before giving a story a chance?
Fincher further described his agony, saying that studios divide the movie year into tentpole season which he tagged “spandex summer”, and award season creatively called “affliction winter.” This means studios are either for summer blockbusters to fill the pockets of the men and women above or for movies that would win awards which provide its own fair share of publicity, typically released towards the end of the year, going into January. You already have a mental table of those movies and befitting images that I do not have to list them.
Gripping storytelling has been sacrificed for more money and awards. However, Netflix as a digital service loves awards and has been criticised for overspending. Critics have urged the company to aim for a ‘lower quantity-higher quality’ balance. As a counterargument to this criticism, Netflix has granted more non-carnivalesque stories a platform that they wouldn’t get from a traditional movie studio. But hey, streaming is the bad guy here.
Paul Walker and Vin Diesel in an early Fast and Furious movie. Radha Blank appears in The 40-Year-Old Version. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Eric Branco.
Physical cinema has been losing audience for quite a while. They’ve lured us during summers to take in loud sounds and action, indirectly tuning our brains to believe that other periods of the year aren’t as important.
Viewers can finally access stacked libraries of content in a size we have never seen before, right from their homes in such blessed comfort. The switch has been happening. They’ve not just paid close attention. They’d only look closer the moment a global pandemic takes place and halts the economic fruitfulness of numerous businesses. “You know, it is the pandemic” is now the go-to excuse. Don’t blame the pandemic. Don’t blame the audience for their newly found (or evolved) taste which the studios had a hand in mutating.
Disney+, owned by Disney HBO max, owned by Warner Media. Peacock, owned by NBCUniversal
Studio boardroom members make a lot of decisions for us on a financial basis. “People won’t watch a black and white movie”, “we can’t market two Black leads. How do we even make that work in Asia which is our biggest market”, “we don’t need streaming services.” Oh no, ironically, things have now changed. A lot of these studios are giving high priority to their budding streaming services which they hope save them during these hard times of non physical contact. Suddenly, streaming services have become the honeypot which they don’t want to share from, but own as a whole. Warner Media took us by surprise after announcing their release formats for their 2021 movie slate. They plan to concurrently have their movies on their stuttering streaming service, HBO max and theatres. They’ve received backlash for this—from filmmakers, experts and some fans. But, this is a result of failures from preceding years which have partly stemmed from the boardroom.
Looking back at it, we got too many superhero movies in such a short time. Their releases could’ve been spaced out more. Note, I am not speaking against such movies. It is more about how much we got in such a short time. This makes me dread the next phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, it could all be a young boy making his arguments in retrospect.
Promo snapshot of Nigerian Filmmakers on Netflix’s entry into the market. Lionheart (Netflix)
In Nollywood, I do not see much changes occurring. Due to the low cost of production, I do not see Netflix reducing their proposed productions in the region. It might only take a longer time than announced. The U-turn cancellation of Queen Sono might say otherwise though. In the Nigerian film industry, cinema culture was sporadically on the rise in the country, before the pandemic befell us. For a region that hasn’t suffered much health-wise regarding the COVID-19, the most glaring consequences have been economically.
When the cinemas fully open their doors again, I hope they get filled again. The only hurdle would be the depth of viewers’ pockets. Would they spend their reduced earnings on casual entertainment, such as cinema? Thereby foregoing an evening with the boys at the beer joint or a weekend with the girls at the club. My verdict- It’s in the hands of the filmmakers to give us flicks that we would deem as quality enough for our hard-earned wages. Be it biopics about public figures that the masses love (or hate) but have come to know so little about, stories connecting to the EndSARS movement and police brutality, bad governance, and so much more. Deeper stories that interest people rather than formulaic comedy plots could just be the turning point moving forward for an industry that might want to (and should) attract other streaming services than Netflix. When this happens, you can proudly say that your price has just gone up because…bidding war, duh!
Beyond this dark period, it is a big blow that theatre chains can’t fight for exclusivity. It’s way beyond their reach. They can only fight to share the showings and earnings alongside digital services. They have to settle for this in order to ensure survival, and I hope this puts an end to tentpole season and affliction season. We need ‘risky-unpredictable-exquisite storytelling’ seasons all year long.
Thanks for joining us on this journey. We hope you have enjoyed it as much as we have. It has been interesting sharing opinions, thoughts, and reading your comments about this topic.
You can find the previous issues here:
Issue #1: Is Streaming the Inevitable End for the Cinema Industry?
Issue #2: The Future of Cinema: Netflix or The Halls?
Share with friends who might equally be fascinated by this discussion. Let us know which other film-related arguments you would like to see us discuss as a series.