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Friday, May 25, 2007

Hollywood and Silicon Valley: Where is the love?

Having coffee earlier this week with the founders of Caachi, a nascent marketplace for independent film, we got to talking about some of the differences between Silicon Valley and Hollywood.

The two industries have one important thing in common…

Silicon Valley is a magnet for people from all over the planet who want to help develop new technologies. Hollywood is a magnet for people from all over the planet who want to make important (or at least, successful) movies. In both places, you have people doing what they love, and getting paid for it.

Often, they’re paid obscene sums of money: Johnny Depp and Tom Cruise have both earned more than $30 million in a single year, and the Forbes billionaire list is studded with geeks like Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, and Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page.

I think the main difference is one of priorities.

In Silicon Valley, tech trumps everything else. What a new technology can do is far more important than any content it carries, any businesses it threatens, any behaviors it changes. The technology, as long as it works reasonably well, should be allowed to do its job unhindered. There’s no nostalgia in Silicon Valley; life here is a headlong rush toward the new-and-improved future.

In Hollywood, storytelling trumps everything else. A great tale, well-told and well-played by the screenwriter, actors, and director, is the ultimate objective. How the story reaches the audience is immaterial, whether it’s carried in canisters to a theater’s projection booth, or beamed by cell towers to a wireless handset. Hollywood is pervaded by nostalgia: premieres still take place at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, which opened in 1927, and many directors (including Steven Spielberg) say they still shoot on film, rather than with digital cameras, because that’s the tool their predecessors used to tell stories.

Having different priorities doesn’t necessarily create conflicts; Hollywood and the Valley work together well when they acknowledge each other’s strengths, and let the entertainment companies tell stories and the tech companies write code. What creates conflicts is when one group disses the contributions of the other...when Silicon Valley types say, “Oh, we’ll just go out and license some content,” or when Hollywood types say, “That’s not important – it’s just technology.”

When there’s an appreciation of the value of technology combined with storytelling, you get real breakthroughs like The Great Train Robbery (the first movie to tell a story), The Jazz Singer (the first feature film with a synchronized soundtrack), Gone With the Wind (the first movie in Technicolor to win Best Picture), or Star Wars (the first use of motion-controlled cameras to shoot miniatures), which marks the 30th anniversary of its 1977 release today.

And it’s a pretty diificult-to-dispute fact that if it weren’t for a fresh technological revolution every decade or two – from sound in the 1920s to home video in the 1970s to the Internet today – Hollywood wouldn’t have endured and grown as a business.

Your thoughts?

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  • as a filmmaker who is intensely focused on storytelling and fanatically wedded to utilizing the latest technology, i completely agree. i must say, im envious of the future-centric focus of silicon valley. i was more of the folks in my industry were that way.

    ha! interesting. the captcha for this entry is eivsfbk. eiv is the shortening of the title of my latest short film (shot on the panasonic p2 system), an exercise in vigilance (eiv).

    By Blogger deepstructure, at 2:23 PM  

  • Andy Plesser says we should all visit discover your blog. Guess he's right; from now you're one of my GoogleReader subscriptions.

    Seriously impressed with the digital roll-out of Pirates on 1,000 screens and amazed that none of theother blogs I monitor picked up in it.

    For Media 2.0 musings from the Middle East perspective drop by

    By Blogger Macthomson, at 10:52 AM  

  • What's required IMO is the marriage between the two and a frank discussion of the benefits of early adoption of the strengths of each.

    For example:

    Many video game companies begin writing code and setting up worlds before hiring a writer to come in and craft the structure of a story. This is idiotic as it requires more backtracking and rewriting of both code and story. If the videogame industry hired writers to be in on the development process at the beginning we would be seeing more games that actually have a coherent story to tell, with fully formed characters to interact with...

    The cost of putting one or two writers on staff would be negligible compared to the benefits, but it never happens.

    Hollywood is slow too in adopting tech because they think that a good story with great characters can be adapted to a variety of media, and they're right. But if Hollywood invested more in developing "cool tech" including 3-D tech for theaters and home entertainment systems, they already have a slew of properties to bring to the table.

    But gee, that would be the smart thing to do...and both industries are notoriously "penny wise and pound foolish."

    By Blogger Cunningham, at 3:00 PM  

  • Scott,

    Excellent observations. You're right on point with the highlighted differences in priorities between Hollywood and Silicon Valley.

    A few additional (personal) observations about the similarities/differences/co-dependencies between Hollywood and Silicon Valley:

    1. Speed of adoption- Silicon Valley tends to over-react to the next possible "big thing". Hollywood tends to under-react to technological improvements.

    2. Silicon Valley is taking a cue from Hollywood- it's all in the presentation. Increasingly so, we're hearing more about the importance of pitching in Silicon Valley and how critical it is to communicate in a short time frame. Hollywood trailers have done this for decades.

    3. Cheaper, faster, better- Hollywood budgets are getting out of hand and with the ungodly globs of money being given to Hollywood actors (I mean, Matthew McConaughey and Penelope Cruz each spent more than $800,000 in perks while filming Sahara), studios will look to technological advancements to decrease production costs. They can maximize variable costs that way without disrupting their stars.

    On another note, anyone else think that Hollywood should do a big-screen adaptation of the "Traitorous Eight"? That'd be a good marriage between Hollywood and Silicon Valley...


    P.S.- great blog here Scott. I'm glad Andy Plesser brought it to his readers' attention.

    By Blogger Unknown, at 7:35 PM  

  • It seems to me that Hollywood is, in the end of the day, disrupted. low production and distribution costs are changing their industry. but at the end of the day, story is the most important thing. look at final fantasy film - great animation, great technology, bad screenplay.

    By Blogger Kfir Pravda, at 3:58 PM  

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