Panic, dread, fear and anguish. 4 emotions that cinema chain owners, studios and everyone along the distribution process in Hollywood are all currently feeling.
Remember last year, when an idea was running around of a home movie service that would allow people to watch new cinema releases from the comfort of their coach? Screening Room it was called – as if Netflix hadn’t done enough damage already.
In March of this year, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings even made headlines for making the claim that the movie chains hadn’t innovated in 30 years, stating the only advantage of them is “well, the popcorn tastes better, but that’s about it.”
While most people think Netflix is some huge company disrupting the whole distribution industry – this is only half-true. If we take a step back then we see it’s only the tip of the iceberg. Netflix seems to have merely affected the way that films and, more generally, content, reaches its audience audiences.
That is fantastic for big TV and film producers, but doesn’t mean much for independent filmmakers, yet. In fact, most indie films sold to these new digital distribution channels went to Amazon rather than Netflix; for example, Kenneth Lonergan’s harrowing Manchester by the Sea and Best Picture Oscar winner Moonlight. You can really see the touch of veteran indie film producer, Ted Hope, who is now helming Amazon Studios.
If we consider this within a different context, music for example, most of us now take for granted that we’re going to listen to music on Spotify or Apple Music. If we really want to buy music, we’ll go on iTunes and buy digital files as opposed to physical CDs or vinyl. This is a drastic shift, and one which has caused a surge in independent music. A small band that you love can now record its music in their garage and upload it for the world to listen, all done from their laptop. It’s easy to forget how radical that notion was even 20 years ago: really revolutionising an entire established industry and opening it up to smaller players.
The film industry is also going through profound changes, and cinemas will have to adapt to survive. Netflix is just a traditional company, nothing incredible, but they sure know how to make the most of the new wave of digital technologies. It’s just like the 2008 financial crisis: you can look at it as a phenomenon in and of itself, or you can look at it as a ripple in a bigger, wider undercurrent. But how will this wave affect us, the independent filmmakers? Will we eventually have the same channels indie music has, and just upload our movies (and actually make money from them)?
Netflix and Amazon haven’t figured this out yet. They haven’t worked out how to make production as simple as it could be, or as DIY as independent filmmakers are used to. But it’s not all doom-and-gloom, because that’s actually where the power of independent filmmakers lie: you can shoot how you like, improve your work, put it out on social media and, if you have enough following, you can reach enough people to get noticed – the only missing piece is making it a real business model.
Hollywood, digital distribution channels, and independent filmmakers: how these 3 puzzle pieces will eventually fit together is yet to be seen. However we predict that Hollywood will adapt to appease the likes of Netflix and Amazon, whilst indie filmmakers will (hopefully) hop on great new channels to distribute themselves.