I was killing time on the Internet watching movie trailers, a pastime that occupies way more of my day than it should, and as I flipped through the summer movies I was struck by the huge number of films that are either sequels or adaptations of existing material. I started to do the math in my head and realized that literally billions of dollars were being spent turning existing content into feature films.
I had to ask myself, with such a wide variety of stories (and such a wide variety of formats in which to deliver them to the audience) why is the theatrically released film still the only avenue that’s considered viable for A-list entertainment?
Now, I’m not even talking about games, music or even books. Those are mediums in their own right, but if we just talk about the “traditional visual story” the kind we see in film and television, there are still a lot of options that seem to be totally underutilized.
In the ’60s and ’70s film and TV were really the means of visual story telling. Movies delivered spectacle and an evening out, while TV delivered a serial story which could be followed weekly. At the time VHS and Beta became a new way to see movies, but the formats never really flourished independently, meaning there was never really any “direct to video” content that didn’t epicly suck.
Movies would come out in a theatre and then a while later they came out on tape so you could watch them again and again.
The weird thing is this is the same model we still use today; something is released in the theater and after a while it’s available to watch at home, But now “at home” can mean DVD, BluRay, iTunes, Hulu, and a cadre of other delivery systems.
So here is the thing that gets me…why, if we have all of these ways to view media are we only watching content that’s formatted for a 22-minute slot of television or 90-plus minutes of film?
When I think of the range of stories being told I just think that I would like something that was actually designed to be viewed the way I’m going to view it. For me a series of 10-minute X-men episodes that I can watch on my iPhone would be way more appealing than going to a theater to watch another movie about superheroes. Not to mention that in a short-format series each character could get the attention they deserve over the course of many episodes, as opposed to getting their obligatory three minutes of screen time.
The major obstacle for the creators of this content is money. The advantage of making a single piece of content that can be sold in multiple different formats is that the investment is made once, but the benefits can return many times over the lifetime of the product.
These investments aren’t cheap. A Hollywood blockbuster costs hundreds of millions of dollars to produce and market. Wouldn’t it make more sense to spend that money over a longer period of time and test the success of a property before putting all of the studios financial eggs in one basket?
The real answer is, I don’t know. There are a lot of very smart, very rich people making films these days and I’m not claiming to have figured out anything. Nevertheless, I would love to see content made in the future that is more directly marked and delivered towards new media audiences.