Procrastination Nation

Things that Robert is thinking about that keep him from accomplishing anything.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2003
Rebooting Your Movie Theatre
I saw this AP article at USAToday about Microsoft's new deal with Landmark Theatres. The projectionists can barely focus a film and fit it on the screen (often fitting it completely on the screen is beyond them). Now they have to know how to run a computer? It's intriguing that they would consider shipping the films on CD/DVD. Is there a piracy protection system that hasn't been cracked? One of these days I will vent to you on copyrights in music/film.

What's more interesting to me is the potential that outfitting theatres with digital projection equipment has for promoting independent film, shorts, and animation. Now that DV is a real possibility for even cheapskates and everyone thinks he/she is the next Quentin Tarrantino (guilty as charged), installing this equipment at theatres will break the technological barrier to filmmakers' access to theatres. Other barriers may still exist, but it won't be the cost of film.

Imagine, for example, if movie theatres had digital technology when the South Park The Spirt of Christmas short was circulating the Internet. An enterprising theatre manager could have screened the short, generated buzz, and eventually shown it with the trailers for some other R-rated film. The Internet is definitely a faster transmission method, but the movie would have been dumped into a potentially more infectious population (movie-goers).

My hope would be that some motivated theatre managers at the chains or the few remaining independent theatres like The Belcourt in Nashville or The Senator and The Charles in Baltimore would use slack time at the theatre (e.g., midnight movie time slots, post-midnight movie, trailers, kid-oriented shows during the week). One incentive is the availability of cheap (possibly quality) product to substitute for expensive crap from the studios. A theatre stuck with Daredevil in week six and only five people in the audience might figure it will as easily get five people to see a collection of short films by local or regional film directors, who would drum up the audience for them. On the dark side, the desperation for screentime might create a situation where theatre owners could charge the filmmakers for screen time, in the same way that stage theatre owners charge theatre companies for productions.

Another incentive is that many people who work at movie theatres are movie fans. To the degree that they are able to do so, within their chain contracts, I suspect they would be eager to find the next superstar director or actor and would do much to help promote the work of independent directors. It's like when a college town becomes "the" place for new music talent. One year it's Athens, another it's Chapel Hill, another it's Austin, another it's Seattle. These're mostly established markets now, but they weren't always. Having a steady stream of young, motivated people with time on their hands and a cheap outlet for their skills eventually produces interesting, marketable stuff. Someday we will see a city become the "grunge"/Seattle of the movie world.

[The effect on the movie festival circuit is interesting to think about. Almost every city now has one, but they're expensive to produce. Now, they could screen the films on a regular and near costless basis, squeezing out some efficiency from existing operations. The big festivals might not be hurt so bad, but directors that don't get picked up would essentially be free agents and might actually have a chance to succeed. Just like in the NFL--most undrafted players don't ever make a team, but some get invited to camps and even go on to productive careers.]

Of course, the downside is that most independent films probably suck. Just like most blogs, including the one you're reading. They're independent because no company would front the money for such pieces of crap. It relies on people being motivated to sift through and screen the films and people showing up to see them. And even the good ones may never hit. But, that hasn't stopped bands from forming and performing. Some get to the level of local circuit, some get to regional, some break nationally for one song, some become legends.

Here's hoping that some good short films, animation, and independent features are coming our way.

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