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Article – ‘The Future Is Untyped’ – The Internet & 21st Century Cinema

 

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Posted January 26, 2015 by

 
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The Internet & 21st Century Cinema

The Internet. Those of us who are 30 or thereabouts (ehm) will remember the days when it was nothing more than an interesting innovation as far as daily life went. It crept up on us slowly. The chat applications, the websites, the innovation of e-mail and before we knew it now we are completely lost if we don’t have a little bit of the internet in our very pockets 24 – 7. This omnipresence of the internet means that all businesses have had to rethink their entire models and incorporate the internet into them. Not having a social media policy, not having a plan as to how the online presence of the business in question is going to be managed is almost equivalent to not being present in half of the universe (assuming of course that the greater part of the developed, heavily consuming world is a heavy internet presence).

Needless to say Filmmaking, as big a business as it is an art form (they don’t call it show business for nothing ya know!) is very much part of this trend. It is a worrying time for filmmaking on some levels. Only a couple of weeks ago Variety magazine1 was heralding the gloomy news – in 2014 box office sales had plunged a record-breaking 5.2 % and attendance had dropped by 6% – making it the lowest attendance level in two decades. And there is, we need to add, a trend to this drop. According to the MpA America report in 2013, the number of frequent movie goers between the ages of 18 – 24 fell by a record 17%. So does this mean the death of the art form for the younger generation? Does the new generation watch fewer films? In fact, no. Another study seems to show2 that 51% of consumers aged 13 – 34 say their Netflix subscriptions are valuable . The study compared the numbers with the subscribers of broadcast, but clearly the comparison is there for cinema as well.

So the new generation – the Millenials – do not go to the cinema and do not particularly like watching television. So what do they watch, if anything at all? The same study indicates that only 55% of Millenials actually prefer to watch content on television. The other half seemed to prefer laptops (19 %), tablets (28%) and smartphones (22%). Here one begins to see an emerging trend. As a generation that spends more of their life online than any other, it is, of course, par to the course that they would seek their entertainment online as well. The reasons for this shift in paradigm can be argued at length, one might say that in the information generation viewers are better informed and thus prefer to use online mediums that allow them to select their content with greater freedom as opposed to being dependent on whatever the local multiplex has on offer. It is noteworthy that even television is shunned by nearly half a generation in favour of mediums that give them much greater control over the content they view. There is also the comfort factor to consider; who after all, wants to trek all the way to the cinema on a cold winter’s day if one has the option of watching the same content, at high quality, in the comfort of one’s own home?

But equally important at this crucial stage, is that now they are faced with this fact, what businesses are going to choose to do about it. Art is of course, a reflection of life and in this sense it is natural that the internet becomes entrenched in the content of what is being offered. Slowly but surely, a new generation of films are emerging where the internet is less of a tool or incidentally present in the film but the actual location OF the film. In Cyberbully, the film is divided between the dialogue that takes place in Casey’s room with her chatting to her tormentor via her laptop and the action which takes place exclusively online. Statuses and pictures are tweeted and posted; reactions arrive via notifications and smartphones. Cyberbully is a particularly interesting example in that it is one of the first films where this online action – reaction is discussed in a realistic setting. Sure we had films before where we had websites that killed you if you logged on (the notable flop Fear dot com) and videos that killed you if you watched them (the Ring franchise) but this if the first time that the internet is the setting for realistic action that has consequences as scary as any horror film. This is not to say that the internet – horror film genre has not been perfected over time. Spring of 2015 will see the release of Unfriend, where again, the action takes place solely online. This film takes things one step further – the camera takes part in a skype conversation between a group of friends, we only see their online actions and the characters via their own webcams as the ghost of their dead friend (who has committed suicide after having been shamed when a video of her drunken antics are posted) picks them off one by one. The fascinating thing to note is that simply watching a person’s online actions has become the equivalent of watching real life action and can, in context, be as dramatic, frightening and though provoking as any movie taking place in an IRL (in real life) setting. I strongly believe that these films are mere precursors and we will doubtless see more and fascinating explorations of online action.

The other big online based change to the movie business came in the matter of distribution. For if the Milenial won’t go to the multiplex, what makes business sense is to bring the multiplex to the Milenial. Cue the advent of the online film festival. You may have been forgiven for thinking that at the beginning this was just a one-off event organised by hippies. But with prestigious names such as the Tribeca Online Film Festival and the Toronto Online Film Festival now firmly in existence and even more art house branches of the family, such as My French Film Festival, entering its fifth year and playing host to a prestigious jury presided over by Michel Gondry, it is looking more and more as if the online film festival is here to stay. In this perspective we can easily imagine legal online streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Now Tv, Love Film and many more besides growing from strength to strength and maybe even becoming the main medium of release for some films.

I am not saying that cinemas will die out. If you think about it people have been saying this about books for years and yet real books just never seem to die out. I am confident cinema will not either. But one thing is for certain, online is the way forward and like any business, show business is going to have to catch up if they want to rescue their failing revenues. Because sometimes the solution for a failing box office may simply be to find a new source of income…

 

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Sedef Hekimgil
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References:

1 – Box Office Drops 5% in 2014: What’s Behind the Fall – http://variety.com/2015/film/news/box-office-drops-5-in-2014-whats-behind-the-fall-1201389634/

2 – CES: Millennials More Into Netflix Than Broadcast or Cable TV – http://variety.com/2015/digital/news/ces-millennials-more-into-netflix-than-broadcast-or-cable-tv-1201396474/

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