The Many Killers Of The Film Industry: Volume One

from the just-alive-enough-for-the-inevitable-sequel dept

As many of you may recall (and hurriedly navigate away from this page), we took a two-part look (Analog Age and Digital Age) at the many premature obituaries self-published by the recording industry with every new technological development (cassette tapes, mp3 players, the internet). This time around, we’ll be recounting the many near-fatalities suffered by the motion picture industry at the hands of various inventions and services.

Before the advent of motion pictures, there was live theater. Performed live by live actors and actresses (but more frequently by actors in wigs), theater enthralled thousands with its over-emoted lines, bellowed by all manner of waiters, maitre’ds and pool boys.

While kings and queens encouraged young playwrights to “sell out,” the general public was amused by bawdy puppet shows and other lowbrow works, including the bawdiest of puppet shows: finger puppets. (You know what I’m talking about.) [Ed. – No one knows what you’re talking about. Ever.] It had something for everybody and this “something” was usually expositionary songs and minimal sets.

Live theater flourished for centuries, becoming the common man’s escape from crushing reality and taking him to places previously only glimpsed in his fevered (and Black Plagued) imagination. Whether it came in the form of Greek dramedy or Shakespearean sitcom, theater was the only game in town.

The lively art expanded and mutated, bringing forth several new artistic forms, both legitimate (opera, musical, kabuki) and illegitimate (off-Broadway, mime, pro wrestling). Others operated at the fringe, trafficking in dubious artistic merit and collecting money no one else would touch (cosplay, Samuel Beckett).

Just when it appeared that nothing would loosen theater’s stranglehold on the public’s entertainment dollar, something loosened theater’s stranglehold on the public’s entertainment dollar.

Motion Pictures
Little did Lumiere realize, when he debuted his first “moving picture,” that his new invention would revolutionize the entertainment industry, mainly by killing off most of it and homogenizing the rest.

Proponents of the established live entertainment industry noted that the proliferation of “movie” houses would adversely affect its business, what with better entertainment being provided at half the price. They staged protests at major theaters, waving placards bearing slogans like “Motion Pictures Are Killing the Theater Industry” and (once the first concession stand was installed) “They’re Also Killing Dinner Theater.” This battle was carried to citizens of developing nations via propaganda stating that the “motion picture camera” was capable of “stealing over 30 souls per second.”

The first movies were a spectacle of sight and sound, although most of the sound was nothing more than the projector running or a drunken former cabaret piano player banging away lustily at his instrument and most of the spectacle was of, like, a horse running or something.

With the advent of sound, motion pictures were now on par with live theater’s use of voices, sound effects and coughing audiences. The sky was the limit! With Al Jolson’s game-changing, black-faced “The Jazz Singer,” Hollywood knew it had a hit on its hands. An audible hit. With racist overtones.

Soon every Tom Screenwriter, Dick Producer and Harry Director were jamming their movies full of chattering heads, cramming every free space in the film with nonstop, fast-paced talking. Even the dames got into the act, see? No wisecrack was left uncracked. No song was left unsung. No woman ever walked sultrily into a detective’s poorly lit office unnarrated.

This addition of sound proved to be a deathblow for the theater. With the live-r of the lively arts effectively bleeding out (except for pockets of resistance both on and off-Broadway), movie-going became America’s favorite pastime, supplanting the wireless, baseball and beating Irishmen.

A new breed of heart-throb rose from Hollywood and spread throughout the nation, taking advantage of swooning women and inconclusive paternity tests. The motion picture industry rushed through its Bronze and Silver Ages, riding the crest of fast-paced dialogue and cries of “What a dame!” But no sooner had the triumphant industry kicked up its feet and rested its head on its laurels, then disaster struck.

A disaster called television.

Coming up next:
Volume 2: A Disaster Called Television

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Comments on “The Many Killers Of The Film Industry: Volume One”

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JesseJ (profile) says:

important missing details!

Spent three evenings this summer watching “Cal Shakes” and they make a point of bringing you up to speed on Shakespearean history. Along the way, they noted that Shakespeare’s early works (read: Titus Andronicus”) were a bloody tragedies because they had to compete with the prevailing entertainment that involved live bears battling to the death with other critters. Requirements for success included serious slaughter and blood – or so I’m told.
Might have foretold the future popularity of violent video games as being a natural inclination of mankind . . .

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

It is sort of a classic attempt to re-write history. It isn’t whole cloth fiction, rather it’s an interpretation of “facts” in a manner that is beneficial to one side of an argument, rather than another.

I rather much doubt there was anyone outside of a movie theater with a “Motion Pictures Are Killing the Theater Industry”. That is embelishment to try to make the huge gaps between actual facts disappear.

The blond and the gun are very important for scene two.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

So your complaint could be summed with “Just the facts, M’am.”

If only we could make Tim into a convincing M’am. Or blond.

I don’t think Tim’s intent is to pursue strict historical accuracy, but instead to highlight the persistent complaint of the ‘entertainment industry’ over the generations. It’s a big-headed, enormo-proboscis caricature in the famous style of a starving Boston street artist. It is a non-reality inspired by true events; a political cartoon with less pictures.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Yup, and sadly, on a site like this, it is swallowed whole as “close enough to the truth” for most people. It’s not a caricature of reality, rather it is a slanted attempt to re-wtite history, using humor as a shield against having to be entirely honest.

It’s a work of fiction, I wish it was labelled as such.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

>It’s a work of fiction, I wish it was labelled as such.

I would kindly advise you to sit in the corner, facing the walls, and repeating the above statement to yourself over and over.

Hey, it’s a tactic that works for the industries. If you don’t stop believing maybe all the bad stuff you don’t like will go away.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Yeah, I thought it would be a little too subtle for you guys.

It’s clearly a tongue in cheek article, and anyone who’s been reading the site as long as you have should be familiar with Tim’s sense of humour by now (assuming you’ve actually started reading them instead of just launching knee-jerk attacks against Mike regardless of whether he wrote the article).

The fact is that while it’s clearly not a serious article, it’s based in truth. Do you honestly think that theatre owners, music hall operators and the like were happy when cinema started taking their business? Of course they weren’t. But, they didn’t sit by trying to sue the industry- they adapted.

Some converted their theatres into cinemas, others competed in different ways. Meanwhile, of course, the “pirates” fled to California to escape heavy industry protectionism and ended up creating a massively successful industry in the process.

I suspect that the following articles will be a similarly humorous illustration of the same basic point – be it TV, VHS or whatever, the industry has always reacted first by trying to kill the new technology, then by adapting to it, creating lucrative new subsidiary markets in the meantime. There’s no reason why the digital era should be any different, if they just get out of the “fight it at all costs” mentality.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Paul, it has nothing to do with being a “little too subtle”, rather it’s sort of like this joke, used by politicians over the years, currently in vogue with the republicans:

“Obama is a “Pole (or “post”) Turtle”.
If you ever see a turtle sitting on top of a fence pole you know the following: He didn’t get up there by himself. He doesn’t belong up there. He doesn’t know what to do while up there. He certainly isn’t going anywhere and you have to wonder what kind of dumb ass put him there in the first place”

Variations on that theme exist. Now, for those who like a laugh, perhaps it is funny. But there is a deeper meaning, a deeper resonance that strikes those that support the underlying sly dig.

This article is the same. It’s a series of sly digs, the old wink and nod shared between people who believe in something, thinking they are getting one past the stupid people on the other side.

Sorry Paul, it isn’t “too subtle”, unless you consider a ton of bricks on your head to be subtle.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

“”Obama is a “Pole (or “post”) Turtle”

For various reasons, I try to keep abreast of what’s being said over there, but that’s the first time I’ve read that. Care to elaborate?

“This article is the same. It’s a series of sly digs, the old wink and nod shared between people who believe in something, thinking they are getting one past the stupid people on the other side.”

A.K.A. satire.

“Sorry Paul, it isn’t “too subtle”, unless you consider a ton of bricks on your head to be subtle.”

So… if you recognised it as satire, even ridiculously blatant satire, why are you complaining?

The Devil's Coachman (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

I think Mr. AC industry shill needs to try and stop being such a friggin’ twat. Here’s what’s killing movies:

1. Shitty, shitty, shitty movies.

2. Shitty, shitty, shitty theaters.

3. Shitty, shitty, shitty prices for admission.

4. The decline in the population of shitty, shitty, shitty morons who actually pay the shitty, shitty, shitty price to watch the shitty, shitty, shitty movies, in the shitty, shitty, shitty theaters.

I don’t think it’s any more complicated than that, and all the non-sensical bleatings, rantings, and teeth gnashing of the XXIA shills and apologists here will not change that one iota. Bleat away, my shillies!

Asshat says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Nail, meet head. The demise of Hollywood is due to the trash they churn out. It is not worthy of admission. To put it in perspective, Hollywood churns out X amount of shit movies a year and then holds a big red carpet celebration where only a handful will be aknowledged. A good percentage of which, are normally not even produced in this country and regularly win.

American television is pretty bad also, but when you see former A-list actors taking TV scripts, you know there is an issue in the film industry. And American TV is just as guilty of re-hashing other countires original ideas for programming. Nearly anything god on TV is inevitable a remake of a foreign production.

The film industry of the U.S. can’t get a clue that when they stop churning out Dukes of Hazard trilogies, and try something original, and not a remake of a foreign film, they might actually save themselves.

Garbage doesn’t deserve gold.

out_of_the_blue says:

This isn't even polemical.

It’s neither fact nor fiction. It has neither a pitch nor bats at one. It’s a tofu of text, without even soy sauce for seasoning. It’s like watered-down water. Rhetorical fluourishes decorating empty phrases. Even the fanboy-troll comments are scintillating in comparison.

Look, we’re ALL familiar with the arguments and positions. Even the opposition here is waiting breathlessly for how you copyright-abolishers are going to run the movie biz /without/ copyright and its /monopoly/ on income from their products. I’ve asked over and over how you’d expect to scrape together and lay out $100M to make a movie as in Mike’s /own/ example, and except for his lame dodges that investment is a separate prior decision and “sunk (or fixed) costs” don’t affect pricing, both of which are obviously not true and only repeat that he ignores those costs because the only way that marginal costs /can/ be considered as at all relevant, I’ve no answer.

So, why don’t you guys start presenting actual business plans, just as a hypothetical, to show how practical “give away and pray” is?

Keith_Emperor_of_Penguins (profile) says:

Re: This isn't even polemical.

“So, why don’t you guys start presenting actual business plans, just as a hypothetical, to show how practical “give away and pray” is?”

If you need to ask for a business mode after you have posted here countess of times, then I suggest you start reading rather then just posting incoherent dribble.
And btw, it never was ‘give it aways and pray’. On the contrary, the current model already IS “give it aways and pray”. They make a movie, and they HOPE people go and see it. Far cry from the successful models that are already working for those that have adapted to the digital age. Unlike say, the current old legacy companies, that only seem to employ lawyers these days.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: This isn't even polemical.

Actually, after some consideration, I came to the conclusion that this is sort of erotica for techdirt readers. It reads sort of like a Penthouse letter, including the fact that most of it is made up.

Spank material for the anti-copyright crowd… now there is an underserved market!

Jay (profile) says:

Re: This isn't even polemical.

” I’ve asked over and over how you’d expect to scrape together and lay out $100M to make a movie as in Mike’s /own/ example, and except for his lame dodges that investment is a separate prior decision and “sunk (or fixed) costs” don’t affect pricing, both of which are obviously not true and only repeat that he ignores those costs because the only way that marginal costs /can/ be considered as at all relevant, I’ve no answer.”

Simple. Make 10 smaller films with the money and sparse it out over webisodes or other things that people want to watch instead of the blockbuster suck fest such as the Green Lantern. Or maybe you need to pay attention to where new content is coming from.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: This isn't even polemical.

“So, why don’t you guys start presenting actual business plans, just as a hypothetical, to show how practical “give away and pray” is?”

Don’t you guys have anything better to do? Don’t you ever get tired of making yourself look foolish? Really?

Let’s take just the above sentence I’ve quoted:

1. Why do you industry folk always expect us to do the work for you? It’s not enough to point out the problems with the current models, suggest other avenues for revenue or point out that technology has always been a positive for the industry once they stopped fighting against it and learned to use it? We have to present full business plans? I’ll bet you’d move the goalposts elsewhere if someone did…

2. If you ever stopped attacking the site long enough to actually read it, you’d know that “give it away and pray” is the *opposite* of what’s normally suggested. It’s something that TD has had numerous articles directly criticising and advising *against*.

It’s no surprise you get dismissed as trolls when you’re attacking TD for things that not only have the posters never suggested, but they have actively spoken against.

Capitalist Lion Tamer (profile) says:

Re: This isn't even polemical.

Even the opposition here is waiting breathlessly for how you copyright-abolishers are going to run the movie biz /without/ copyright and its /monopoly/ on income from their products. I’ve asked over and over how you’d expect to scrape together and lay out $100M to make a movie as in Mike’s /own/ example

Seriously, what the fuck is with (yeah, I’m going there) you people and your $100M movies? Is there no way that a movie can be made for less than $100M or is just a handy figure to throw around because it seems so unreachable under anything but the good old Hollywood system?

1. Blair Witch Project – Budget: $20K – 750K (after marketing); grossed $250M.
2. El Mariachi – Budget: $7K; grossed $2.5M
3. Paranormal Activity – Budget $15K, acquired for distribution for $350K; grossed $194M

That’s just three examples. There are more. And sure, you may want to nitpick those budget numbers. But those listed are at least as accurate as the listed budget of any $100M Hollywood film. And just in case you’ve forgotten, Hollywood hates to make money on films. It fucks up their tax burden. Obviously it does make the studios some money, otherwise they wouldn’t still be around to complain about all the money they’re not making.

As is stated by other commenters:
– “Give it away and pray” has already been declared a stupid business plan by Mike (several times). He has never recommended this “strategy.:”
– Plenty of business plans, good and bad, have been presented and discussed on this site. In fact, there’s an entire tab dedicated to it at the top of the page. Here’s a link in case you don’t feel like scrolling up:

By the way, I tend to place more weight to criticism coming from someone who has expressed some sort of positivity in any direction at some point in time. Getting bashed by someone who makes it a point to visit nearly every single post just to make a contrarian statement or criticize something tangentially related to the post (FB suxx, capitalism=bad, people are sheep/stupid, lawyers: get in the hell) just makes this critique fade into the background, much in the same fashion that parents begin to tune out their sullen, angsty teenaged offspring.

Another postscript: You’re going to be doing a lot of futile searching if you decide to go on a hunt for evidence proving that Mike has EVER said anything about abolishing copyright.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: This isn't even polemical.

Mike never says “abolish copyright”, his message is more along the lines of neutering copyright, expanding fair use to almost all uses, and telling every copyright holder to ignore all mis0uses of their works as “fan support”. In other words, you can still have your copyright, but it will mean nothing.

Oh yeah, if someone “shares” your copyright work for free, you should pat them on the head and treat them as your super fan, because they have done you so much “good”.

For those of us thinking for ourselves, we understand that this comes so close to abolishing copyright, that it is meaningless to say otherwise.

The Devil's Coachman (profile) says:

Re: This isn't even polemical.

How come you didn’t even mention the “shitty, shitty, shitty” factor. Did you think I was joking? You don’t see me laughing, do you? Do you think I’m here to entertain and amuse you? Is that what you think? Oh, I see! You don’t, and can’t actually think, but you can sure spew industry shill horseshit! $100M to make a movie? Hey, pal, that rhymes with “blow me”. Cut the goddamned shit about your sacred “costs”, which everyone knows are pure bullshit, and address the issue of content quality? You don’t want to go there, as long as there is a steady supply of slack-jawed assholes willing to unquestioningly pony up cash every time some shithole studio rolls out another box office bomb with the expectation and demand that the morons line up like the drones in Metropolis, and lay down before the Hollywood idiot juggernaut.

So, why don’t you and the rest of Hollywood’s drooling assholes come up with an actual movie once in awhile with quality that makes people want to pay for it, instead of depending on the increasing birth rate of the nbreeding fuckwits who currently do so? For every truly worthy movie made, there are a thousand pieces of steaming shit that they still expect to charge the same shitty price for, in the same shitty theaters, to which the same shitty morons will flock. People with a modicum of taste, intellect, and discernment will avoid the shit like the plague, but you think Hollywood should balance the cost of producing tsunamis of shit on everyone else’s dime. Tough shit, bitches, but that business model doesn’t fly anymore. Anyone who consents to get anally probed like that repeatedly is an idiot, and a moron, and should be forcibly sterilized. Get over it. Get over yourself. Get a life. And GTFOH!

jupiterkansas (profile) says:

It’s only Hollywood garbage that costs $100+. Other countries don’t spend that much on movies, and most great movies costs less.

Remember District 9? About $40 million.
Remember Moon? $5 million.
How about all the best picture winners of the last six or seven years? All under $50 million

The exception is Lord of the Rings, Avatar, Harry Potter, Transformers, and the like – but I don’t see them losing money. They’re the primary engines of Hollywood. It’s the crappy effects spectacles that are losing money, and maybe if the films were cheaper or better it wouldn’t be a problem.

Hollywood movies cost so much because they have an enormous machine to feed – and not just people with outrageous salaries (although that’s a problem too.) There are thousands of people employed in the movie industry don’t really need to be there for great movies to be made, and there are thousands more hoping to get in that will work for less. There’s a lot of fat to be trimmed.

randancing (profile) says:

vaudville, silents, talkies, tv,cable,internet.

While live theater is still very much alive and well, vaudeville was killed by the silent pictures. they had a run of about twenty years. the silent pictures were king for about twenty years until talkies. Talkies were king for twenty years until TV. Broadcast tv was king until cable came along (you know it’s true, the cable stations are what hurt broadcast tv). About twenty years later, along comes the internet. Efforts to forestall were more successful with the internet because there was a great deal more inbreeding among the corporations, so they were able to stall, but not kill the internet. Talkies, TV, and live theater are all still here and thriving, but vaudeville is dead. I believe we perhaps start to focus on product and not divine rights in the entertainment industry. Or else bring back vaudevill and let us see those wrestling bears again.

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