Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Some thoughts on the Digitisation effect

Across the Media A-Level, so at both AS and A2, the ever-growing issue of digital media, and what impact the digitisation of media is having on the industry (and culture more generally), is a central issue. When we look at British Cinema in AS, for example, this raises issues around how films are produced, distributed, exhibited ... and consumed.
So, Warp X is set up explicitly to foster the development of digital film-making (PRODUCTION) in the UK, which in general terms creates the prospect of more low-to-zero budget filmmakers entering the fray. Even comparatively high budget films, such as WT's Atonement, are being produced using digital film-making techniques. A quick look on Apple's web pages for Final Cut shows you just how many major productions, not just Indie efforts, are switching to digital film-making, and editing through software which once would have been a step down from industry level.
Distribution of movies becomes potentially much cheaper, as film prints (costing millions for any hit movie) become obsolete; a portable hard drive can be used instead - the problem being the lack of digital projectors in cinemas as of 2009! See The wiki on this notes:
Digital distribution of movies has the potential to save money for film distributors. A single film print can cost around US$1200[citation needed] (or $30,000 for a 1-time print of an 80-minute feature[8]), so making 4,000 prints for a wide-release movie might cost $5 million. In contrast, at the maximum 250 megabit-per-second data rate (as defined by DCI for digital cinema), a typical feature-length movie could fit comfortably on an off the shelf 300 GB hard drive—which sell for as little as $40 (retail price, volume prices are even lower) and can even be returned to the distributor for reuse after a movie's run. With several hundred movies distributed every year, industry savings could potentially reach $1 billion or more.
What this doesn't say, however, is that marketing costs remain, and without the clout and financial muscle of the big 6 especially, able to secure expensive advertising and favourable puff-pieces in the press and on TV in return for some access to their stars, Indie distributors continue to be at a huge disadvantage. Cinema chains are also discouraged from looking much further than the big 6, as EasyJet's Stelios found. Viral marketing is a possibility here of course...
Bringing us to the use of the web for exhibition, and consumption. This is potentially a great leveller; if the terrestrial TV channels are closed off, why not try the likes of Propellor TV? Or a MySpace page? Or YouTube? Or just straight-to-DVD using some of these as marketing platforms? Although we talk about you always thinking of yourselves as hypothetical film-makers, operating in the real media industry,for the purposes of your blogs and the marking of these, in effect you already are! The Co-Op Festival, for example, wasn't a mirage! Many of you have posted your work on Facebook, YouTube and other social networking sites, and we've even seen copies of Twis'hite changing hands for actual money!.
For the big boys, though, this brave new world of cheap production, distribution and exhibition isn't viewed so brightly...they continue to dominate largely through this rather crass tentpole strategy; churning out high-budget spectacle movies which prioritise SFX over narrative, the recent Terminator Salvation and Transformers films being 'good' examples of these appalling character traits! It remains to be seen whether the much-hyped upcoming James Cameron project, Avatar, is more like Terminator 2 (technology married to a great narrative and convincing performances) or the 3rd and 4th installments of the franchise - which is now up for sale, if you have a few million burning a hole! Any democratisation of the film industry is straightforwardly a nightmare vision for them. Colin, the £45-budget (not a typo!) Brit-zombie flick (maybe you'll see a similar story about a Mr E. Clark before too long?!), is everything they fear. Blurring the lines between audience/consumers and producers is an exciting prospect (strike that; its a reality - look at the various YouTube re-workings of any hit movie; we've looked at Bridget Jones spoofed as a political thriller for instance), but not one that necessarily ensures the ongoing domination of these lumbering great conglomerate giants.
Can they even get us to pay?! BitTorrent and similar file-sharing technologies are used by most of your generation to some extent, leading folk your age to grow up with the at least partial expectation that you can access media for free. The big boys are trying to fight back through iTunes, and more specialist ventures such as Hulu, but could well be going the same way as the music business, which has seen profits plummet since Napster brought the prospect of free music to the world. The court case against The Pirate Bay, a BitTorrent search engine, seems to be an indication that the industry is determined to use the courts to combat online piracy, despite many commentators viewing this as pointless, futile and possibly even counter-productive. New laws have been proposed by the current government following high-profile lobbying by the film biz. You can see a range of articles on this here.
The reason I wrote this was simply being recommended watching a lecture... Exciting stuff I know, but you would benefit hugely from watching the lecture, described as follows:
Anthony Lilley, recently appointed by The Centre for Excellence in Media Practice as a Visiting Professor, delivers his inaugural lecture: Paying Attention: the changing value of media in the Internet age.
I haven't had time, yet, to watch, so perhaps you could comment with some observations based on your own viewing of it, and what can be learned from it!!!


Empire magazine critic Angie Errigo makes an interesting defence of the state of modern movie-making against claims that its filled with mega-budget tat that ignores narrative in favour of sheer spectacle (Inside Empire (2009) "They do make 'em like they used to", pp. 18-19).
A voice and a vision, and a reluctance to do what is expected are what's wanted in aspiring filmmakers. A-list stars and million-dollar explosions are completely optional if there's a story to be told, an emotion to be felt, a mood to be captured. Far from being a downbeat era of pap, these are wildly exciting times for all of us, rich with possibilities. Having entered the digital age with web access for all and an array of technology that gets cheaper by the minute, it's more possible than ever for movie brats to make their own productions and make them more ambitious and sophisticated than the Super 8 kids managed in their backyards. For every Hollywood film that costs upwards of $150 million, thousands of 'home movies' can be made and hundreds that are good to go in cinemas. It isn't naive to believe that 'talent will out'. The next Shane Meadows, Steve McQueen and Duncan Jones are out there at work within and without 'the System'.
 Super 8 is an old-fashioned format of video camera. If you've ever seen Son of Rambow imagine you were making your coursework with the same technology, a VHS video camera and two VHS machines linked up for editing (no digital technology at all, no computers even!).

ADDITION 8.3.2010
A lecture from UKFC on digitisation in film

The article this is taken from contains strong language; cult TV writer Karl Sutter writes, in a piece in which he bemoans the fate of his own movie project being stuck in development hell:
The world is in a media/content upheaval. Digital has changed the game. Everyone is grasping at what they thing might be the next big thing (that handful of WTF was the major reason for the WGA and SAG strike). But the truth is no one f*****g knows. TV, internet, movies -- it changes every day. The good news is that no matter what it looks like, how, when or where they get it, people want entertainment. So there will always be a need for content -- writers, directors, actors. [asterisks added by DB]

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