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Saturday, November 01, 2008

Gabbing About What the Future Holds for Filmmakers

Filmmaker Magazine Editor Scott Macaulay and I had a chance to chat in October about where new technologies are taking the movie business. It was a really enjoyable conversation -- and the core of it is well-captured in the Q&A that appears in the fall issue of the mag. Here's the opening:

    Q. You‘ve written a book about innovation in the media arts, and one recent innovation within our new digital world appears to be the decimation of traditional ways in which artists are paid for their work. Do you think there will be a countervailing innovation that will allow artists to get paid again, or, as [Wired Magazine editor] Chris Anderson argues, is all digital media destined to be free?

    A. Well, I hope that innovation will offer ways for filmmakers to capture lots of value from their work. I‘m pro making money from creative work. I‘m a writer, that‘s what I do. I worry, though, that preserving the idea of being paid cash for the privilege of watching your movie, whether it‘s a download or a DVD, may be under threat. I had a conversation with one of my students. He has never bought a movie on iTunes, he doesn‘t buy a lot of music, and he said, “Your book and Web site are great — I downloaded the three free chapters, but I haven‘t bought the book.” I think that‘s kind of representative of the fact we may be heading towards the Chris Anderson “giving a lot away for free” economy. The challenge is going to be figuring out the new business models. Maybe they are ad-supported or maybe everyone needs a benefactor, a Medici family backing you up. Or maybe it‘s something else we haven‘t discovered yet.

    Q. It‘s so ironic, because all these new models harken back to the oldest artist-support models there are. The patronage model goes back to the 15th century, and the idea that the artist is a traveling showman dates from before recorded media.

    A. Yeah, maybe filmmakers will have to make money at live screenings where the audience interacts with them and has a cocktail before the movie and a Q and A after. Maybe it will be a little bit like the road shows of old. I understand, though, that a lot of filmmakers, like Hollywood studios, want to preserve their ability to sell DVDs, which have a great profit margin built into them. But I just know that DVDs are not going to have an infinite lifespan. Physical media is clearly going away. Even Blu-ray DVDs are going to go away at some point.

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