The Future is Digital Distribution

Day 10: This is the last lecture of the Entertainment Success Strategies (ESS) course. It is focused on career development, the history and state of the industry, and where “you” fit in.

The studio system was established in the silent era of film before TV and just when radio was becoming popular. Productions took place in what were called “Dream Factories,” because all employees (including the talent) were under long-term contracts with “punch-in/punch-out” schedules. Everything was shot on soundstages and never outside which gave it a very specific cinematic effect. In the late 60’s and early 70’s, the studios started breaking every single fundamental and immutable cinematic rule. Productions were shot on location. Studios would finance and distribute, and because of this the studio has completely transformed into what it is in the present day. Cast and crew are now freelance, they work gig to gig and always have to find the next job. A production company’s office staff of 5-10 (on avg.) develop and package the project. Independent films are financed outside of the studio system with no distribution in place. Sex, Lies, and Videotape is a 1989 independent film that brought director Steven Soderbergh to prominence. This movie made all directors realize they could make an independent movie and have it be extremely successful if it was good enough. The funding for union films vs. non-union films is extraordinarily different. However, the production of indie films has amplified in the last ten years by the digital revolution. Studio films have gone completely digital. The film “No County for Old Men,” was edited the completely on a MacBook using Final Cut Pro. They say, “YouTube killed the short film star,” because anybody can make a short film nowadays. The site, KickStarter.com can help you raise funds online by asking for donations from friends and fans. The great catch about the site is that if you do not meet the donation goal intended by a certain deadline, then you receive no money and all of the donators do not pay a penny.

Walt Disney was the founder of animation, and then in the 1990’s anime exploded. The Little Mermaid grossed at $109 million, Aladdin at $217 million, and Lion King at $328 million! At that point, everyone wanted to get into the animation business. Every studio hired a full-time animation staff. Artist salaries soared due to competition. Studios invested millions in infrastructure, and initially committed to long-term animation slates. A stream of bad animation films that I will leave unmentioned followed this animation “boom.” But even when a good film like “The Iron Giant” was finally produced they didn’t know how to market it. Studios realized that it was too expensive to keep full-time animation staffs and the few that still do are Disney, Pixar, Dreamworks, and Blue Sky. Today, the animation is very similar to the film business, animators are freelance and work from project to project. Pixar bought out Disney in the same manner that Lucille Ball bought out RKO.

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