Last week, news broke that Steven Spielberg, Academy Governor of the directors branch, would be supporting changes in the Academy Awards rules at the upcoming post-Oscars meeting, which would increase restrictions on streaming films to be considered for the awards. According to an Amblin spokesperson, "Steven feels strongly about the difference between the streaming and theatrical situation. He'll be happy if others will join [his campaign] when that comes up [at the meeting]. He will see what happens."
This isn't the first time Spielberg has spoke out against streaming movies being considered alongside theatrical releases. In March 2018, he famously stated "Netflix movies deserve an Emmy, not an Oscar," viewing such films as having more kinship with television than theatrical movies. Earlier this year, in February 2018, Spielberg doubled down on his remarks at the Cinema Audio Society's CAS Awards. "I hope all of us really continue to believe that the greatest contributions we can make as filmmakers is to give audiences the motion picture theatrical experience. I'm a firm believer that movie theaters need to be around forever. I love television. I love the opportunity. Some of the greatest writing being done today is for television, some of the best directing for television, some of the best performances [are] on television today. The sound is better in homes more than it ever has been in history but there’s nothing like going to a big dark theater with people you’ve never met before and having the experience wash over you. That’s something we all truly believe in."
He's not the only A-list celebrity to voice concern over the current state of cinema.
Francis Ford Coppola:
"That’s why I ended my career: I decided I didn’t want to make what you could call "factory movies" anymore. I would rather just experiment with the form, and see what I could do, and [make things] that came out of my own. And little by little, the commercial film industry went into the superhero business, and everything was on such a scale. The budgets were so big, because they wanted to make the big series of films where they could make two or three parts. I felt I was no longer interested enough to put in the extraordinary effort a film takes [nowadays]."
"Going to the movies has become like a theme park. Studios making bad content in order to appeal to the masses and shareholders is like fracking - you get the best return right now, but you wreck the earth. It's ruining the viewing habits of the American population and then ultimately the rest of the world. I don't want to make $200 million movies about superheroes."
"Films used to be rooted in gravity. They used to be about things."
Those may seem like unrelated complaints, but I would posit that they are all related to a singular root issue. What the audience is willing to pay to watch a particular type of movie in a particular format.
I think this is seen in Netflix's response to Spielberg's position.
The movies that are truly moving people into the theaters are the ones that are events. Where the act of going to the theater is an event in and of itself. This would explain why the most successful theatrical releases now are the tentpole features and why the most successful movie chains are the dinner-and-a-movie options. It's why more and more symphonies are offering live score film presentations. Dallas has four this upcoming season. The presentation of the film has to be something that draws people out of their homes to need to see a film in the theater. On the biggest screen possible, with the most effects possible, etc., etc. etc.We love cinema. Here are some things we also love:— Netflix Film (@NetflixFilm) March 4, 2019
-Access for people who can't always afford, or live in towns without, theaters
-Letting everyone, everywhere enjoy releases at the same time
-Giving filmmakers more ways to share art
These things are not mutually exclusive.
For anything else, the theatrical experience is becoming increasingly niche. Because the truth is, for those character driven, emotionally heavy dramas, I can enjoy that just as much if not more at home. Without having to pay a babysitter for nearly 4 hours of their time, without paying inflated theater prices, without having to drive 20 minutes to an hour to get there.
And the great thing is that cable and streaming is where these types of character driver pieces have moved. It's why Roma was released by Netflix and why that is a good home for it. Why Scorcese's The Irishman will be next. Why they've worked with The Cohen Brothers, Bong Joon-Ho, Noah Baumbach, and Steven Soderbergh. Why Amazon Studios is now a huge player as well.
It's funny that directors like Coppola and Spielberg used to be the mavericks. They were the ones writing the rules as they went. And they are the ones now insisting that others stick to them. It's further ironic that the films Jodie Foster laments have not been lost, just moved.
I'm a huge proponent of the theatrical movie experience. In the "if money were no object" column, one dream is to own and run a second-run classic movie house. To get to program a single-screen theater with all my favorites.
But I can also recognize that a movie doesn't stop being a movie just because it's not shown on the big screen, even in its first instance. Jamie and I area lucky to make it to the theater now unless it is for a big event movie or to an animated movie that we can take the whole family to. If we really want to watch the kind of character driven, impactful movies that we love, that's generally going to be at home, on our television, potentially from a streaming platform. If not, it's from Redbox or a digital rental.
We've already gone through several different existential crisis in cinema. The introduction of sound, the introduction of color, the changes in aspect-ratio, changes in frame rate, the switch to digital projection. We'll survive this one too. So long as we don't get too caught up in the location of the projection.
After all, it's a movie. It's moving pictures, flickering shadows on a screen, wherever they can be shown. We've watched them in nickelodeons, on IMAX screens, on our televisions, and on our phones. From shorts to epics and everything in between.
It's not where it's shown, it's what is shown.
And so long as it's good, I'm there.