By Ron Merk
Each year, I take a hard look at where the film business has gone, and where it appears to be going. For the past five or six years, its true condition has been hidden by the dust of the digital revolution, obscured by the hype and excitement of the ability of practically anyone to make a movie or a short film using these amazing new digital cameras and computer editing programs that come onto the market with alarming frequency. I’ve just seen some information about a 4K camera for $499. Amazing. But with all this amazement, we need to look at the basics again.
This is not a rhetorical question. And I’m sure it will annoy many of my readers, but here goes. Does anyone in their right mind think that most of the filmmakers using these tools have a chance of “making it” in the real business, whatever may be left of it when the digital dust clears? And here’s an even more inappropriate question: How many of these “new filmmakers” actually have any talent and the ability to tell stories well?
Sure, it’s easy to get your friends together for a few weekends and “bang out” a movie. But is it a movie? Or just “practice?” Maybe I’m going to sound like my parents, but whatever happened to learning one’s craft, knowing one’s history, and THEN doing something innovative with it? Frankly, if I see one more really bad film in which there is no resolution for at least one character by the end of the film, and in which the camera operator keeps shaking the camera to give us a “realistic” view of things, I will scream, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it any more,” right there in the cinema.
And who decided that the key light (traditionally in front of the actor and high up to make them look nice) to the side? Or who decided that only one side of a face needs to be lit, even in a big close up? Don’t you want to see BOTH eyes of the actor so we can look into their thoughts or soul (if you believe in such a thing existing)? What happened to CRAFT!? It was something that my generation and many before me took pride in. Now, just put anything on the screen, and call it a movie. As my younger contemporaries say, NOT!
Maybe it’s because I grew up during the Cold War, but I’m beginning to think that the tech industries that have profited (quite a bit) from the digital revolution are not interested in filmmaking, but in selling gear. Period. Canon has sold millions of its cameras. Apple has sold millions of copies of Final Cut. (No specific numbers could be found that I consider reliable, so I didn’t quote exact numbers.)
Then there’s the film vs. digital arguments. Okay, Okay. I’ve weighed in on this many times. But as film lab after film lab closes, including some of the big ones like Technicolor and De Luxe, I won’t belabor the point, except to say, “film is not dead.” Film will continue to be used for many years, and when all those hard drives containing these “modern epics” die, the smart ones will go to their vaults where they placed a filmed-out copy and say to themselves, “at least MY film is not dead.” Film and digital can and should live side by side, taking advantages of each other’s strengths, and protecting each other from their weaknesses.
As for the future of the business, and making money from making films, that remains to be seen. I think a new “for profit” model will emerge from the digital dust storm. How long that will take is anyone’s guess. I may have a clear view of the past, of film history, but I don’t have one of the future. My crystal ball someone does not seem to be functioning. Sorry.
But there is one bit of advice that I think will hold true, no matter what happens. Tell a good story. Do it with some craft. Engage the audience’s imagination and wonder. THEN at least YOU will have some sort of future in the business. Until that happy day when the skies clear, and the sun rises on a healthy new film business, happy trails!
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