Tuesday, February 14, 2006

A little Bubble upsets Hollywood and changes the way we watch movies, forever!

So there is one downside to having an awesome home theater: You stop going to the theater and are suddenly way behind on water-cooler discussions about movies. OOh What did you think of that new Spielberg movie, or hey didn't you love the one about the gay cowboys? I don't know, check back with me in about six months. I can chat with you about those then, although you'll be on to newer things by then. We are hopelessly out of the loop! And beyond becoming social pariahs for our lack of pop-culture knowledge, it is also kind of a bummer for someone writing about film!

Well, now there is a new way of doing things. Steven Soderbergh, the writer/director/producer who has brought us such films as Traffic and various numbers of Oceans (Yes, Ocean's 13 is in the works), has made this itty bitty film as part of a 6-film experiement on digital filmmaking and a new mode of release and marketing. Released on January 27th, Bubble features a middle-of-nowhere locale and a bunch of average folk, but what makes this film particularly interesting is that the DVD version was released only four days later! So now, if not for throttling issues with Netflix we can watch movies at home at the same time as all of you theater-goers!

This new mode of distribution, appropriately titled simultaneous release, is really shaking things up in Hollywood. Theater chain owners are furious. Many so much so that they are refusing to play the film at all. They say that they can't possibly compete with DVD and television release, and will lose money on any film that does this. Many filmmakers are equally pissed. They feel it intrinsically important to film to be viewed first and foremost as a collective experience. M. Night Shyamalan (writer/director of Sixth Sense) has "publicly vowed he'd rather forsake filmmaking altogether than see his movies debut on the small screen." While others such as Woody Allen have said that, though they don't like it, it's inevitable.

Soderbergh himself says that the concept of simultaneous release is not actually new at all.

Name any big-title movie that's come out in the last four years. It has been available in all formats on the day of release. It's called piracy. Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings, Ocean's Eleven, and Ocean's Twelve - I saw them on Canal Street on opening day. Simultaneous release is already here. We're just trying to gain control over it.
And the two business gurus who are backing this venture argue that this is going to be more beneficial to filmmakers and theater owners in the long run. They project that marketing costs will go down, since films will only need one advertising campaign, instead of one per release (theater, then DVD, then TV, then airline, etc.) meaning that independent filmmakers will be able to afford mass release of their films, and there will be greater access to films for audiences, so that means more viewing and more easily-generated buzz (which in turn means more business for everyone, including theater owners.)

Of course there is the possibility that the theater-owners are right. Maybe we won't be spending much time in the theaters anymore. The thing is, although it is important to many filmmakers, most audience members don't really care about the collective experience, and especially not when that collective experience means spending lots of money to sit in a dirty theater, next to obnoxious people and behind kids who don't understand that you are supposed to sit through the entire movie, not get up every 5 minutes to relay messages to whomever is seated 10 rows back. I personally feel less of a draw to the theater knowing that we are moving away from film projection. Why spend money on digital projection when I have that at home? If they could promise me that warm flicker forever, then maybe I would feel more compelled to go. But no, the plan is still to get rid of it. The only time I really feel compelled to go to the movie theater anymore is for events. Midnight opening nights and stuff like that. You know, those crazy shows when the audience waits 6 hours for their seats, comes in costume, and screams like mad when the credits finally begin to roll on the newest installment of their favorite series (Harry Potter, Star Wars, et al.). That is some seriously great collective experience. And maybe that's what the theater experience will become in the future. If we can watch everything at home anyway, maybe we'll go to the theater (and presumably pay much more to do so) to experience movies the way we do concerts.

Well, with all the hoopla over this, Bubble has become a sought after film on Netflix, so though it has been sitting at the top of my queue, I still won't see it for some time. *sigh* I guess I am still out of the loop.

For further reading:
The official Bubble website
Cnet's article
LA Time's article
Wired's interview with Soderbergh
The IMDB listing

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1 comment:

Elisabeth said...

Oh and by the way, the 6-film experiment is all being done by Soderbergh and all 6 will come out this year with simultaneous release.


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