‘Is Filmmaking as We Know it Dead?’: How Digital Culture, Prosumer Cameras and Digital Distribution are Changing the Industry Landscape

(www.frenchculture.org)

François Truffaut: French New Wave Director and Film Critic

In between reading some two hundred or so pages of Mark Deuze’s Media Work, I found some time to start reading François Truffaut’s book, Les Films de ma vie (The Films in My Life). In the first couple pages, Truffaut writes that, “André Bazin could not write today that, ‘All Films are born free and equal.’ Film production, like book publishing, has become diversified and specialized. During the war, Clouzot, Carné, Delannoy, Christian-Jaque, Henri Decoin, Cocteau, and Bresson addressed the same public. This is no longer true. Today few films are conceived for the ‘general’ public—people who wander into a movie theatre by chance, attracted simply by the stills at the entrance” (Truffaut 6). My first reaction to this was, “that’s a good point, just another reason that Truffaut is amazing,” pretty quickly though, I did a double take and realized “oh cool, this fits in with what Deuze is talking about and I can keep my streak up of mentioning Truffaut in my blog posts.” Truffaut wrote about this in 1975. Forty years later if anything, we’ve definitely moved even further away from this idea of films conceived for the “general” public. 

As Deuze points out, the concept of a “general” public, as Truffaut describes it, is starting to fade away. Deuze writes that, “Rather than subscribing to a so-called quality national newspaper or tuning in to the daily evening newscast, we search for news information online about topics that are only of personal interest to us” (Deuze 8). Instead of a general national identity, the internet has changed how we network moving us towards what Deuze calls “fan communities” (Deuze 33).

We don’t really go to the movies like we used to either. Deuze states that the traditional theater system is suffering from, “…declining ticket sales, a surge in the popularity of home theaters, and the ongoing fragmentation of audiences” (Deuze 171-172), Deuze also notes that distribution system is for films is changing with technology, “Arguably the most discussed role of technology in film and television has to do with the distribution and usage mechanism of movies and programs. The fast-paced developments in digital, networked, screen-based and portable technologies are considered a threat to traditional ways of delivering content to audiences” (Deuze 185).

So, all this leads me to question that’s been bugging this weekend, “where is filmmaking going?” Without a general public to appeal to, is the conventional image of filmmaking dead? When I say this, I don’t mean that people are going to stop making films, but that the idea of a movie as a spectacle in the theater and as this mass cultural phenomena is starting fade.

In case you needed a reminder, Hollywood is kind of messed up. Finding a job in the industry, is a challenge, but at the same time it’s likely easier than ever to make a film on your own. The rise of the “prosumer market” (Deuze 77) has made it possible for amateurs to create projects that, “not only dissolves the distinctions between the producer and consumer of media, but in many cases also the line institutionally drawn between the professional and the amateur” (Deuze 77). In other words people can make some pretty great films without the backing of the studio system.

Just looking at the B&H photo and video catalog that’s on the top of my microwave, you can grab a Black Magic Cinema Camera or Canon C100 and a set of cine-primes for slightly less than the price of a used car and get pretty great results. Now, are they as good as an Arri cam with Cooke anamorphic lenses or a priceless Panavision set up (seriously, they don’t sell these)? No, but they’re good enough.

The very cool Sony

The very cool Sony “prosumer” mirrorless a7s camera. Shown here set up for film.

With the digital distribution systems in place today, the rise of networks of online fan communities, the precarity of the Hollywood system, and access to better prosumer equipment than ever before it’s starting to look like the old system of filmmaking is on the decline.

My question for you folks is, “is this good or bad?”. The great news it seems is that it’s easier than ever before to make a film (especially if it’s something that in the past would never get studio funding) and have it reach someone. However, it seems as if it’s harder than ever to make something that is a cross between artistic expression and commercialism–to create that film for the “general” audience Truffaut mentions.

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