Watching a film used to mean paying to sit in front of a large screen in public, maybe seeing a double-feature at the drive-in or wearing those red-blue 3D glasses at a multiplex. The evolution of home video changed everything – from Betamax to Blu-ray, there was a new freedom to view films in private, without dealing with session times or irritating patrons. Of course, we did not stop going out to see movies. But how, and also what, we watch is always changing.
The internet has drastically altered the way we watch films. Video on Demand (VOD) means we don’t even have to get off the couch to hire a movie on iTunes. But it is streaming services like Netflix that really transformed our viewing habits. Why leave the house to pay $20 for a movie ticket when you can watch something for free while drinking wine on your couch with your dog?
Streaming is also influencing what we watch. Subscription services like Netflix, Amazon Prime or Stan, gives you access to an entire catalogue with thousands of options, from blockbuster new releases to hard-to-find classics. Even better (and, okay, sometimes scarier), they use your viewing patterns to generate personalised recommendations. This can mean watching something you might not have chosen otherwise, like a French comedy or a childhood cartoon.
Netflix and Amazon have turned their focus to exclusive original content. So they have been going to festivals alongside the major movie studios and spending millions on acquisitions. At Sundance 2017, Netflix paid more than US$36 million for ten films, including Casting JonBenet and To The Bone. Amazon bid US$12 million just to buy the comedy The Big Sick, starring Silicon Valley’s Kumail Nanjiani.
The Big Sick was recently in theatres, because Amazon is unique in giving many of its films traditional releases before putting them online. Some of their films have been particularly successful, like Manchester by the Sea, the first movie from a streaming service to receive an Oscar nomination for best picture. Remarkably, Netflix’s recent blockbuster, Bong Joon-ho’s Okja, premiered in competition at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival before it was released online.
These streaming giants no longer just buy movies, but have started financing their own projects. For instance, Adam Sandler recently signed a four-film deal with Netflix, and Amazon announced that in December it will move into self-distribution, starting with Woody Allen’s Wonder Wheel.
Another way that the internet has influenced the film industry is through crowd-funding. It turns out that people will pay up-front to fund the films they really want. Platforms like Kickstarter, Indiegogo and Pozible have brought some amazing projects to life, resulting in films that otherwise may never have eventuated.
One of the biggest examples of how an audience can make a film happen by sheer persistence is the Veronica Mars movie. When the series was cancelled in 2007, fans started petitioning for a movie. In 2013, the show’s creator Rob Thomas and star Kristen Bell launched a Kickstarter to fund it, which met its goal of US$2 million in less than a day. The campaign made over US$5.7 million and the project became a reality, showing that audiences can have a real influence on the industry.
Celluloid, Digital and VR
Most films today are shot in digital, but there are some directors pushing to continue working on celluloid. One of the biggest advocates is Christopher Nolan, whose war epic Dunkirk was filmed on large format stock, and had the widest release in 70mm in 25 years. This is a big deal because most cinemas have switched over to digital projectors, so there are limited options for showing films in this format. Film-lovers relish the opportunity to see movies played on an old-fashioned reel. In 2016 people lined-up around the block at Melbourne’s Astor Theatre for the 70mm screenings of Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight.
In contrast, some innovative filmmakers are working in virtual reality. Advances in technology are making these films increasingly realistic – an immersive 360-degree cinematic experience might be our near-future norm.
Written by Kate Robertson