Movies, Media, and Instant Access

On page 38 of Wheeler Winston Dixon’s, “Streaming: Movies, Media, and Instant Access,” Dixon references Director Christopher Nolan’s unique dedication to protecting class production techniques.

“Remarkably,” Dixon writes, “Nolan remains resolutely opposed to digital production, but what is even more remarkable is that whenever he does publicity for one of his new films, he spends more time arguing against digital cinema than plugging the movie he’s spent years making.”

I believe this is one of the largest testaments to the value of classic cinema. Nolan believes, “moving to digital creates a risk of devaluing what we do as filmmakers” and that “it has been given a consumer aspect” (38). And, to Nolan’s credit, he’s right to some degree — digital is “new,” digital is “utopian,” digital is youthfulness and practicality and superiority. Watching the Oscars this evening illustrated the power of ever-growing technology and digital techniques as hosts reviewed the artistry behind multi-Oscar winners Gravity and 12 Years A Slave. Yet Nolan is resolute: “When the digital technology evolves to the point of it has the same depth, image quality and look as film, he is open to shifting his view….’But at present, it’s not good enough” (39).

Nolan’s sentiments regarding the transition to digital filmmaking are iconically indicative of the  discussion in Dixon’s book. While reading Sara’s post, I felt annoyed on her behalf; with the immense access that digital technologies provides us, it seems ironic that she (or anyone else) should struggle to find older films and be considered “old fashioned” for desiring that access. We’ve essentially dissolved the relevance of floppy disks, audio tapes, even desktop computers — it’s all about what’s fastest, smallest, and (to be frank) prettiest. We’re suckers for the best new thing, even if it impedes our ability to access its foundation.

Dixon presents this counter-thought on page 44:

“As Lucas told Charlie Rose, movie making is soaring because we’ve developed digital technology. The equipment is smaller. It’s cheaper. And it’s now becoming democratized, so anybody can make a movie. [But] what that means to the studios is a whole other issue, because they’re now caught in a transitional period that they don’t really know what to do with…Anybody can write a movie. Just put anybody in there. It doesn’t make any difference.”

My annoyance selfishly dissolved thinking of Netflix. (More specifically, it dissolved upon thinking of House of Cards). It dissolved while reading Jess’ post and recognizing how in overwriting itself and forcing cinematic progress, digitization has forced a new level of creativity, a new type of entertainment, and new access to unique and current content (I also found some interesting pros and cons here). And as a film major, amateur producer, freelance editor and designer, as well as admitted audiophile, My life is centrally affected by the switch to digital filmmaking and editing in a way that I appreciate.

A few of us spent last semester in Professor Patrick Johnson’s Production I class. I had never touched a videocamera before in an academic or professional context, but with access to high-quality cameras and editing software, Sam Viotty and I produced a student film about the terrifying cycles of eating disorders. Rather than working with 35mm footage and trying to achieve production perfection, the use of programs like iMovie and Final Cut Pro X provided an education in digital editing, post-production revisions, and sound design. These are skills I intend on using as an online editor down the road. While Dixon, Nolan, and other critics present concern regarding the idea that “anyone can do it,” it seems that it eases the process of education for developing pre-professionals.

Furthermore, consider the explosion of Netflix and Hulu as delivery processes. On page 56, Tony Cox of National Public Radio said,

“Internet TV options are boundless and have even made piracy less of an issue…Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, HBO Go…has made the vast wasteland truly vast, changing how and where we watch almost everything. Some people even ditched Netflix after its recent price hike, something that would have been unthinkable had there not been so many other alternatives.”

However, after doing some research I found that it’s Hulu, not Netflix, that faces possible digital abandonment. After Hulu increased its advertisement frequency and length (to the tune of a $700 million increase in annual revenue), users had no choice but to sit through commercial breaks and introductions that are so easily avoided by using Netflix. Conversely, on January 23, BizJournals reported that, “Netflix added 2.33 million domestic subscribers in Q4, up 13.7 percent from the 2.05 million added in the same timeframe a year ago.” With immediate viewing availability, productions of Netflix-exclusive series, and now a broadcast/streaming deal with Comcast, Netflix is posed to see exponential success and growth – an advantage only maintained due to some of the strategies that Nolan rejects.

Cox observes, “the embrace of digital technology and streaming might be a ‘generational thing” (57).  And, as a not-so-closeted Netflix binge-watcher myself, I’m biased towards anything that allows me to learn, practice, and enjoy with the greatest efficiency available…so I’m inclined to agree.

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