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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

`Agents of Change': Mark Cuban, Gary Winick, Dennis Muren, James Cameron

I was really flattered to be asked by The Hollywood Reporter to write a piece about innovation in the movie industry for their annual special issue on leadership, which just came out this week. They headlined it Agents of Change, and the subhead is, "'New' is a word that takes some getting used to in Hollywood, but it's the risk-takers who are ensuring the future of the business."

I had a chance to speak with a bunch of great people for this story, from Gary Winick (who's directing `Charlotte's Web') to Dennis Muren of Industrial LIght & Magic to Mark Cuban to Randall Kleiser, who directed one of my favorite movies of all time, `Grease.' Also Dick Cook, the chairman of Walt Disney Studios, and Robert Greenwald, who directed the new documentary `Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price.'

I'll try to post some additional background info here in the next couple days, but here's the gist of the piece:

    Whether they're directors, technology merchants, producers, effects experts or studio executives, this group of forward-thinkers believes in an alternative sort of screen test. In an industry that can be averse to change, they're testing new technologies and novel approaches to making movies, trying to convince the establishment that perpetual experimentation is what leads to the creative and business breakthroughs that keep the industry growing and audiences coming back.

    "People are afraid to change," says Mark Cuban, co-owner of 2929 Entertainment, the privately held holding company that owns Landmark Theatres and HDNet Films. "The underlying issue is (that the studios) are all public companies, and they all have quarterly numbers to hit. There's not a reward for taking a risk."

    But die-hard risk-takers do exist, outside -- and even within -- the studio universe. They're advocating digital cinematography, making and distributing movies in 3-D, using the Internet as a tool for collaboration, creating never-before-seen visuals and agitating to offer consumers more choices of how they can view a movie while it is still in theaters.

That's Gary Winick at right, in the snazzy orange shirt.