Globo.com Interview

Here is the English translation of an interview I recently conducted with Luciano Trigo, a journalist for the Brazilian website Globo.com.  Luciano is an astute observer of some of the changes taking place in the film industry today, and it was especially beneficial for me to learn from him about how these changes might be felt differently outside the United States.  I’ve included the English transltion of the interview below the fold.

LT: Traditional production and distribution models are being challenged by user-generated video, film blogs and other expanding networks. More than ever, the economics of film industry faces an extreme uncertainty scenarium. What do you think will happen in the near future?

CT: To some extent I believe that many aspects of film distribution will continue relatively normally, especially as far as major studios are concerned.  Theatrical attendance, despite some brief declines in the earlier part of the decade, remain relatively stable, although studios now seem to be relying more heavily on entertainment franchises, such as the Harry Potter and Transformers films, to attract a large general audience.  The purchase of DVDs has declined significantly in recent years, however, at least in the United States, thanks in part to incredibly cheap DVD rental services such as Netflix and Redbox, a scenario that may challenge film distributors in the future.

Independent filmmakers have often been forced to become more creative about distribution, especially as studios concentrate on the production and distribution of major franchise films; however, a number of models seem to be developing that may make do-it-yourself distribution more viable.

There are some debates about the role of film blogs and user-generated content in shaping the reception of Hollywood films, but in my experience, these practices often redirect interest back to these films or TV shows, rather than distracting potential viewers away from them.  For example, the viral video “Seven Minute Sopranos,” produced by fans, eventually became folded back into the marketing for the final season of the show.

 

LT: Conventional notions of copyright seem incapable of dealing with decentralized circulation and (often unauthorized) downloads. How to deal with different (and seemingly unstoppable) kinds of piracy? In which ways should copyright laws change?

CT: My book only touches briefly on the issues of movie piracy, but in many cases, my impression is that the “losses” ascribed to piracy are often greatly exaggerated.  And in some cases—as Tama Leaver documents in “The Tyranny of Digital Distance”—walls that block countries from having access to web content often encourage piracy, especially for die-hard fans of a show like Battlestar Galactica.  Users may be willing to pay for such content or access it through otherwise legal means, but thanks to such regulations, they are unable to get access.

And, in some cases, free access to content can often generate interest in a text.  In his book, Free, Chris Anderson discusses a case where a number of Monty Python videos were posted illegally to YouTube.  However, instead of deleting the videos completely, the copyright holders reposted the videos while appealing to fans to purchase DVDs and other products.  The approach worked well, with Monty Python movies briefly becoming top sellers as a result of offering some content online for free.

In the worst cases, overly strict copyright can impede true creativity, as in the recent case of Nina Paley’s Sita Sings the Blues, a magnificent animated film that cannot be distributed through traditional models because Paley quotes several blues songs by Annette Hanshaw in the film and cannot afford the licensing fees.  Instead of draconian policing efforts that may catch only a small number of digital pirates, more flexible copyright laws can benefit audiences and producers.

LT: Emerging digital media are altering our historical relationship with the movies. With the rise of digital cinema, audiences often encounter movies outside the theater. What’s the future of the theatrical exhibition?

CT: I believe that theatrical exhibition will continue to be a driving force within the film industry, although theaters and producers may continue to experiment with techniques to make the theatrical experience distinct from watching a movie at home.  The drive toward 3-D films in the last two or three years seems tied to the desire to provide something novel in theaters that will not translate as well on domestic TV screens.  

Theaters are also making the gradual switch to digital projection of movies, although full adoption has been delayed in part because of a bad economy that has left many theaters unable to obtain the necessary credit to buy expensive equipment.  That being said, digital projection provides movie theaters with more flexibility in terms of the content they can provide, including the projection of opera performances and sports matches.

These new delivery systems do allow a number of other distribution models as well.  In the United States, The Independent Film Channel and Mark Cuban’s HD-Net often make content available via cable TV on the same day as or sometimes earlier than the same film appears in theaters.  Although there was concern that such practices would undercut the ability of theater owners to compete, this “day-and-date” approach is now widely accepted, and in some cases, films that appear on cable can generate positive reviews and word-of-mouth that actually encourage viewers to seek out the film in theaters.

 

LT: The current trend within the entertainment industry is toward the increased concentration of media ownership into the hands of a smaller number of transmedia and transnational conglomerates (the so-called horizontal integration) On the other hand, changed technological environment has dramatically lowered the costs of film production and distribution. Isn’t there a contradiction between the corporate movement towards media convergence and the unleashing of significant new tools which enable the grassroots archiving, annotation, appropriation, and recirculation of media content?

CT: To some extent, it’s a power struggle over who will control these new distribution models and how they will be structured.  It’s important to remember that new media platforms often lead to these sorts of power struggles.  In the United States the confusion engendered by contradictory radio reports during the sinking of the Titanic led to radio being transformed from a two-way medium to a broadcast medium with relatively centralized content providers.  Similar models of experimentation followed by concentration also greeted cable and public-access television in the United States.  Major media conglomerates are clearly experimenting with models that will expand their reach even further, even while grassroots content creators—such as Robert Greenwald’s Brave New Films—continue to carve out niches that allow them to disseminate alternative content.

At the same time, mere archiving, annotation, appropriation and recirculation of prior content can often serve to redirect attention to that content, rather than subverting, counteracting, or upsetting it.  While these forms of appropriation and recirculation can often make powerful political statements—as in the case of Phil De Vellis’s appropriation of an Apple ad to criticize Hillary Clinton—they often do little to change the essential power structures.

 

LT: Will studios remain power players in the future? Why?

CT: Studios should remain power players for some time for many of the reasons that you’ve described.  Neoliberal economic models that encourage deregulation have allowed media companies to integrate horizontally and to become even larger.  There was a brief trend in the United States toward preventing further consolidation of media ownership, one that, rather intriguingly, united conservative and liberal groups; however, it’s difficult to predict whether that level of commitment will continue.  Hollywood studios also benefit from this horizontal integration because of the possibilities of cross-promotion in other venues, and these studios are uniquely positioned to build awareness of their films, in many cases, rolling out marketing campaigns months in advance of the release of a new film.     

 

LT: With democratizing technology, will there simply be too many movies available from up-and-coming indie filmmakers?

CT: I would not say that there are “too many movies,” simply because the pleasure in creating something—whether a film or a viral video—that could potentially entertain others is far too valuable.  I would encourage filmmakers to temper their expectations, recognizing that they are entering a crowded marketplace and one that is structured to promote the interests of the major studios.  At the same time, many independent and do-it-yourself filmmakers are finding creative ways of using social media—blogs, Facebook, and YouTube itself—to reach much wider audiences than they have in the past.  This scenario can force filmmakers to spend more time concentrating on the marketing of their film rather than making new films.  But these social media networks can also serve as a kind of “filtering system” that allows attentive film consumers to find lesser-known movies that might appeal to their interests.   

 

LT: Could you talk a little about the notion of the “endless film” – the movie that is never finished?

CT: The concept of the “endless film” is partially borrowed from independent film producer Ted Hope, and in my own book, I used the concept of “incompleteness,” which I adapted from Nicholas Rombes.  My thought was that filmmakers who are seeking to promote their films can attract viewers by creating new content related to the plot of the film in order to generate interest in the primary film.  One of the more successful attempts to expand upon the content of the original film was Susan Buice and Arin Crumley’s Four Eyed Monsters, a film that depicted their dating relationship and, later, their desire to make a movie about it.  After the film played at festivals but failed to get purchased for distribution, Crumley and Buice created a series of video podcasts that updated viewers on their lives, and by extension, the plot of the film.  As audiences became increasingly engaged with the podcasts, demand for the movie also increased.  To me, this is an especially attractive approach for documentary films, especially given that the stories depicted in these films often continue to unfold, leaving viewers curious to know more about what happened to the subjects in the film.

Of course, “endless films” serve not only independent and documentary filmmakers but also studios themselves.  Many franchise films are accompanied by alternate-reality games, YouTube videos, and fan sites that expand the world of the film, drawing us deeper into the storyline and making us more invested in it.  Although it is, quite clearly a form of marketing and promotion, when it’s done well, it can also be entertaining and even enlightening.

LT: In the domestic Brazilian market, there is a massive presence of American films. In fact, all over the world markets (with a few exceptions, like India) are “occupied” by the United States. On the other hand, foreign markets are essential to the economics of the American industry. Is this going to change?

CT: I suspect that it may change slightly, as film production facilities and networks outside the United States continue to mature; however, for the most part, the distribution networks favor Hollywood studios, and many of these franchises—especially the Harry Potter films, but also the Transformers, Star Trek, Batman, and others—translate well to overseas markets, in large part because of the visual style of the films that translates easily for audiences who may not speak English.  At the same time, no distribution model or narrative style is necessarily permanent.  Hopefully, as the global cinema culture continues to evolve, creative new voices will emerge that will truly democratize the cinema in ways we haven’t yet imagined.

3 Comments »

  1. The Chutry Experiment » Globo.com Interview | I Film Channel Said,

    September 3, 2009 @ 11:37 am

    […] more from the original source: The Chutry Experiment » Globo.com Interview Thursday, September 3rd, 2009 Film Channel TAGS: cuban, film-channel, independent, often-make, […]

  2. pooja Said,

    September 3, 2009 @ 12:06 pm

    SIta DVD Available
    Experience jazz and blues like never before through a dazzling new film! “Sita Sings the Blues” is a spunky animated retelling of the ancient Hindu epic the Ramayana. Told from the virtuous Sita’s point of view, the film features the vocals of jazz legend Annette Hanshaw, whose plaintive lyrics and sensual, bluesy voice perfectly capture Sita’s steadfast devotion to her husband Rama. This gorgeously animated film is now available to rent or own on DVD through Netflix and Amazon.

    Rent it – http://www.netflix.com/Movie/Sita_Sings_the_Blues/70113539?lnkce=seRtLn&trkid=222336&strkid=958347551_0_0&strackid=12445e2b628627c4_0_srl

    Buy it – http://www.amazon.com/Sita-Sings-Blues-Annette-Hanshaw/dp/B002G50002/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

  3. Chuck Said,

    September 3, 2009 @ 12:10 pm

    Thanks for the update on Sita.

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