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howard stringer

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Howard Stringer has been chairman and CEO of Sony Corporation of America since December 1998. Before coming to Sony, Stringer spent 30 years at CBS, as a journalist, producer, and then as president of CBS News, where he won several major journalism awards. Here, he talks about the studio boss's fear of failure, why there's room in Hollywood for productions large and small, and the extent of new technology's impact on Hollywood. "It [the digital world] will make the technology of filmmaking much easier," says Stringer. "It won't necessarily make the literacy of films any greater because writing is still the rarest art form, hardest to teach and the longest to develop."

This interview was conducted in June 2001.

What interest does a big company like Sony have in having a studio? Most of the studios are owned by big companies now.

Yes, but Sony's an unusual company. It's more clear why other companies, predominantly content companies, would own a [studio]. For Sony, owning a studio is a gamble and probably a pretty good one, now that in the broadband era having content is a great advantage when you sell devices that in a ubiquitous world of distribution can actually show programs, movies, content directly to the consumer. So that you actually create, in a digital world, real synergy. It probably wasn't true 10 years ago, but it's finally coming true in the broadband era.

Could you explain, looking toward the future with that in mind, how you see the movie division fitting into the overall plan of Sony?

You could make the case that the movie is the most fundamentally symbolic piece of content that any media company develops. It drives all your content. It's the most visible. It's the most conspicuous. It's the most dangerous. It's the most exciting. And as the world becomes ever more aware of content, movies will go wider and wider. When the digital world is really here, movies can be disseminated from satellite direct to homes and direct to small theaters in Mongolia and northern Russia and obscure places that the market for movies is going to grow and grow and grow.

And it's really the flagship of your content. It's not the most profitable part at the moment. It can be profitable. But it drives everything else that you do and it lives forever. ... We used to have VHS cassettes, now we have DVDs. You have an afterlife on the movie in the on television as well as the movie theaters, on cable, on direct sales to the consumer, and then overseas, and on and on and on. And it's not clear yet how far the life of a film will go. It could only increase as digital availability becomes more ubiquitous.

[Note: See "Now Playing ... And Playing ... And Playing" for more information on the different "windows of exhibition" for most Hollywood films.]

Could you talk a little bit about these new emerging markets?

If you take general copyright-based products, the United States pretty much dominates the world. It's the fastest growing aspect of our GDP, about 5 percent of the GDP, about $80 billion of overseas sales in simple copyright-based entertainment of one kind or another -- software, movies, television, music, so forth. So it has become the quintessential cultural export.

It's not absolutely clear that we do anything else quite as well as we do that. And I know that's a laugh over when you see some movies. But at the same time, we're not exporting cars the way we used to. ... We're hardly exporting luxury goods anymore. We have become the cultural capital of the world, like it or not, for good or bad, and for great and mediocre.

But there we are, driving this content around the world. And it's in the digital world we've invented much of the software that can deliver this over enhanced bandwidth. The greater the bandwidth, the more easy it is to disseminate video on demand, which I think will be the driving force of broadband entertainment.

There are those who expect, by 2005, revenues from video on demand to be upwards of $2 billion, and I think that's probably conservative. So the more bandwidth there is, the more you can disseminate movies. If you're carrying a tiny PDA, the first thing you can do after you've got sports scores, if you're a kid, is watch a movie on a bus or a train or hopefully in the back of a car, not the front. ... You'll be able to show on the back of a wristwatch, I imagine. ...

And the movie is fundamentally at the heart of all that, because the movie still brings everybody together. And the American movie, in part because America's a melting pot, the cultural hodgepodge that America makes, generates movies that have appeal across all international boundaries. And that's really not true for most domestic film industries. It's no longer true of France and Italy, less true than it used to be of the U.K. ... The movie is a much-maligned art form, and a much-maligned form of entertainment. But it is essentially American, and for all its warts, it's an astonishing achievement on the part of the creative side of this country.

Do you think that with ever-expanding sources to put out film as a product, it is affecting the types of movies that are made?

Once you get into the $100 million category, you do start hedging your bets. You're going to rely on sound and spectacle, whether it's digital effects, computer graphics, whatever, in order to embrace a bigger and bigger audience and to go after kids that are the core of your audience. You can't afford to do many of those, because the risks are fairly substantial. But they also tend to be the movies that, because they don't have as much dialogue as you might imagine, they're easily translatable to foreign countries and foreign languages. They don't suffer from dubbing as much as a more sophisticated, thoughtful classic.

When you've had a bad year at the box office, and everybody is telling you've had a bad year at the box office, and you had a couple of stinkers that lost $50 million ... sometimes the box office is a bit of a stranglehold on your psyche.

So those drive the engine of your studio. We're the only country that can really afford them. We understand the process by which these spectacles are created. But behind that, almost every studio has its classics section. It has its low budget section, its $20 million pictures, its $30 million pictures. And furthermore, now I think for the first time, you're seeing the studios reach out to foreign countries to develop local theater, local movies in a way that it broadens their appeal.

I think if somebody had said to you that "Crouching Tiger" would do $125 million in the U.S. box office, they would have died laughing. ... It's in Mandarin Chinese and it's subtitled. They would have said, "Not a chance." But there's an element in there that says that if America can cross international boundaries and share in the experience of building movies with broader appeal, then it will become an even more multicultural, multinational event.

When countries like France and Italy do very narrow-focused provincial subjects, they can create art certainly, but they can't create a large audience. And I'm not suggesting, by the way, that a large audience is the only criterion; it isn't. But you have to sort of know what you're doing. We do $2 million pictures and $3 million pictures, knowing that we can create a movie for a sophisticated audience, but not expecting it to travel widely. But we're learning more and more not to be parochial ourselves, and to be more global in our outlook, and to understand that actually there's great talent overseas.

As we find that talent and develop it, I think you'll see other kinds of movies reaching out to broader audiences in the way that "Crouching Tiger" did. Maybe Japanese movies or Italian movies, and even Indian movies. The Indian movie industry is a huge industry that's never crossed international boundaries very successfully. ...

You gave many examples of markets and places where films will be able to go. Can you go back and describe those more? Where do you see the future of the market of films going?

I think that it's twofold. Domestically, it's video on demand. I think there will be huge audiences for movies that people want to see when they want to see them. And they'll be able to download them on a multitude of devices at convenient moments in convenient places. That's got to change the nature of viewing. It doesn't mean people won't go to a theater, because the theater is the shared experience, particularly for young people. ... But its afterlife will mean that people will be able to watch it on small screens, medium-size screens separately or together wherever they are, wherever they travel.

Then again, at the moment part of the problem of sending movies around the world is that the prints are expensive, prints get scratches on them. By the time a print gets to the outskirts of Cairo, the movie is like watching rain, the pictures are smothered in lines. But when you're able to distribute a digital picture via satellite directly to a digital projector, the movie will be pristine no matter where it's shown and no matter the conditions, that's going to develop the enthusiasm for movies in faraway places. A shed in rural China in Szechuan somewhere, you should be able, perfectly easily, to download a movie into the village hall and allow audiences to see it in relative splendor, even if their chairs aren't especially comfortable. That becomes more and more true worldwide, and that will be the power of digital delivery. And I think that, again, will demonstrate, as we've demonstrated up to now, that the power of a movie is ultimately transportable to all societies.

Do you think that, by films being more accessible to people all over the world, that's going to encourage the people making the films to think of them in terms of having a worldwide appeal?

Yes. The difficulty of thinking about a large audience is that if you think commercial all the way, you'll never surprise yourself. So the quality of your films is likely to suffer if commercial exploitation is the only thing that you think about. Then you're into lowest common denominator. And we do, and we see a lot of it. Some of it really works. Car chases and epics that involve battle scenes from wall to wall have a place in the spectrum of moviemaking.

The question for everybody is, how do you make the story a thoughtful story, appealing and imaginative without having to resort to every commercial trick in the book? There's room for all kinds. There's always been. It's always taken all shapes and sizes of movies to get to Oscars and get to the audience and get to the critics, either all three or one of the three.

But I think if you're going to love movies, you are going to want to make thoughtful movies as well as spirited movies and action movies and so forth. That's probably where the international market has some great opportunity. We knew that in the 1960s, for instance, the Italian cinema was enormously strong. It was extremely imaginative with Fellini and Visconti and so forth. And something happened to the Italian cinema as something happened to the French cinema. Part of it was financial, part of it was national, part of it was the way they deployed the funds for filmmaking.

But it did demonstrate that there's as much imagination for the art of the film in those countries. And if there was, there can be. How we float that to the surface so that artists in those countries bring their perspective to the art of moviemaking is a challenge for all of us. Sometimes Hollywood is a small town on the West Coast of America at the furthest point from everywhere else, and that can make it a little provincial and insular.

They've done a remarkable job of presenting a united front of world global entertainment but at the same time, it's probably time to reach across those borders and find other ways of doing things, because we are repeating ourselves continuously. The very hard movies are the very well-written movies, the complex movies involving relationships and so forth, many of which have been dealt with in television, but ultimately can transport a movie beyond the narrow, narrow boundaries of commercial cinema. Whether it's Jim Brooks or other filmmakers for whom the written word is as important as the live action, we need to find that talent and make it worth their while to be in the movie business. That talent comes from everywhere, and somehow we have to find that, because otherwise we're repetitious.

I couldn't agree with you more. I find that more a sense of idealism than the reality I see playing out. Films like "Pearl Harbor" are coming out, and "Crouching Tiger" [is] the exception rather than the rule, it appears.

Well, there's room for all of them. I think you'd agree that a great spectacle like "Lawrence of Arabia" is also something that's uniquely suited to the movie screen. It's big, it's bold, it's spectacular. It has fight scenes, it has tremendous breadth and pace. But at the same time, it's artful and thoughtful and has something to say to its audiences. So you can aim high in almost every aspect of the medium, whether you're small or large.

But I think for studios, we've got to be able to convince a lot of people, including directors and writers, that it's OK to aim high. There is the obsession with ratings, just as in television. Similarly in the movie industry, the obsession with box office makes people very nervous about being risky on the culturally exalted end. Everybody begins to feel that they know what the audience wants, and what the audience wants, they believe, is sort of mass entertainment. It does make it sometimes hard for writers to aim high.

Writing is the hardest part of moviemaking. There are many directors who can take over a picture and cut sequences together of computer graphics and action and death and destruction and so forth. That's an art form that's pretty well understood by lots of people. But to make a human drama, complex human drama come alive on the screen and convey insights and intimacy in a darkened movie theater, is still an art form. It's not easy, and it requires great courage and carefulness on the part of everybody involved.

But it is our duty to present a beacon for that kind of filmmaking. I know in our own studio that we constantly say, "At the end of the year, don't add up the box office as the only single criterion for a successful year." Even though, by the way, we're routinely judged that way. In the end, you want something that makes you proud. And for us, "Crouching Tiger" and Ang Lee's direction of that, the sensitivity of that production, is something that will take us through the year. Regardless of if nothing else happens -- and I'm sure something will -- but that alone gives us reason to feel that this business is more than just selling tickets and popcorn to a lot of people. We should have a broad aim at lots of audiences.

And I'm not elitist about it. I would love to have done "Toy Story" and "Toy Story 2," which I thought were singular art forms, as well as "Crouching Tiger." I'd love to do "Lawrence of Arabia," though these days, "Lawrence of Arabia" would be so expensive, I don't know if we'd ever be able to afford to do that kind of movie again. But I think Stephen Spielberg is always capable of offering this generation's "Lawrence of Arabia."

From the outsider's point of view, it seems that there's such pressure on the creative people to maybe not adhere to their own desire, but just produce the film that's going to make the money back the first week in the box office. One gets the sense that the real creative juices are kind of sublimated a little bit.

But you have to be careful of pigeonholing the film industry. The only thing that belongs in pigeonholes are pigeons. Yes, some of us, if you are spending $120 million on a computer graphic spectacle, we all know what we're going after and we really can't afford to lose $60 million on that picture. So you pull out all the marketing stops and everything else and there's a great deal of effort. But we do somewhere between 25 and 30 pictures, and of those, lots of smaller budgets. We have a John Singleton movie opening this weekend which is sort of an African-American theme, which is quite different from the big spectacles, and so forth.

So, yes, there's lots of pressure. We're pressured because market share is reported on every Monday morning in the press. Everybody knows a failure instantaneously, and a failure is drummed into us. I went to see "Moulin Rouge." I know that's described as a box office failure, but for me it's an artistic success, not because it's perfect, but because the director is aiming high. And at moments there are some soaring sequences in that that I would've been proud to have put on the air.

You have to be very careful not to assume that everybody's behaving the same way. Because I could turn the tables on you and say, "Well, there are directors who won't let us near the finished product." I've had movies with directors with final cut. My attitude will be that it's too crass or too long or too lightweight and so forth. So it works both ways. People want to be successful. Directors want to be successful. Writers want to be successful. So, in their heads, success is always a large audience.

For a $20 million picture to make $30 million at the box office, that's a success, and we've had quite a lot of those in the last few months. But I do think you're right, in the sense that we might subliminally send a message to filmmakers that the only way we judge success is by box office.

But I tell you this: When you've had a bad year at the box office, and everybody is telling you've had a bad year at the box office, and you had a couple of stinkers that lost $50 million, ... sometimes the box office is a bit of a stranglehold on your psyche. But that's not an excuse, because in the end, we still have to put some high quality movies on, lots of different kinds of movies, because if you did the same old movie, you will fail more often. There is absolutely no question about that.

When "American Beauty" was done by DreamWorks, a very sophisticated high concept film, I can imagine people turning down that idea and saying, "Well, it's a little too dark, and what do you mean he kills himself at the end? Isn't this a romantic picture?" And yet the studio had the foresight and the strength to sustain the director's vision. The result of that was a remarkable picture. And you see that time and time again.

The pressures are there because, as you know, movies have sunk studios. "Heaven's Gate" sunk United Artists. We're all aware that if we throw $150 million to $200 million at a picture and it's an outright disaster, we'll live with it. So, in fairness, I would say a lot of the time, "Give me a small picture every time. The risk isn't so bad." Chances are I might create something artistic and valuable.

We have to have something for all tastes, and give directors and writers the chance to spread their wings in different arenas. And if you don't, if your fear of the box office clouds your judgement, then you'll never produce great movies. You've got to get past that moment when the people running your studio are so afraid of failures after perhaps experiencing them, that they play it safe. Then the cycle goes on and on. I think it was ever thus. ...

If you look back at all the movies that were ever made, we have hundreds and hundreds of films in our vaults, many of which you would never want to see again. The movies that seep into your memory, whether it's "Casablanca" or "Lawrence of Arabia" or "The Best Years of Our Lives" or "Citizen Kane," these were the best of movies in their time. They were not standing at the head of a long chain of artistic triumphs. There were disasters in the past, just as there are today. But it is a balance that we have to strive for.

It does take a kind of courage on the part of everybody involved to say, "It's OK to aim high. We'll share the consequences of failure." I think we've tried to do that here. When things go wrong, you get [discouraged] by every, "When are you going to change your studio chiefs? When are you going to fire executives? When are you going to make a change?" And my attitude has been, I would rather grow through failures, to seek toward success with executives whose core vision I trust and find a way to some nirvana, beyond the flush of box office mania and so forth. I believe that's possible.

How important, really, is the opening weekend to a film's ultimate success, with the big picture of all the ancillary outlets in mind?

You do have an awful lot of information from opening weekend. There's no question. And something is happening this year which I find slightly troubling. We used to say that your [domestic] box office was probably three and a half times your opening weekend, and it seems to have dropped to two and a half. Now, you seem to have these big budget pictures open quite wide and drop quite suddenly, losing half their audience by the following weekend. One doesn't really know whether that's because there are too many pictures and therefore the theaters are crowded with movies, stacked up like planes over an airport, or because there's too high a level of expectations from the movies that we're marketing. But you can pretty much judge how it's going to do from the box office. ...

Particular kinds of movies have quite an afterlife. "Crouching Tiger" went on week after week after week, as did "Titanic," as did our mouse movie. ... "Stuart Little" just opened quietly, and the little mouse went on scurrying week after week after week. So it isn't an automatic.

But in the period of high summer with a lot of big box office openings coming one after the other, it does seem that they kind of shunt each other into oblivion, like cars on a train bouncing. We've noticed this summer that they're not lasting quite as long. But I venture to suggest that the really good movie is still capable of sustaining an audience for a long time. And I guess the example this year is "Shrek," which just goes on attracting audiences, and is one of those movies that gets kids to come back again and again. That settles down the nerves for all the rest of us, I think, to suggest that you can get it right.

[Note: See "Open Big, Open Wide" for more comments on what's behind the opening box-office mania.]

What percentage of the overall market for a film is the U.S. box office versus everywhere else?

With a big picture, you'd like to duplicate the domestic audience internationally. So if a picture does $100 million, you want to do another $100 million overseas. I've seen numbers range the domestic box office from 20 percent all the way up to 40 percent. But I'm not sure there's a rule of thumb anymore. ... People say, "Why don't you spend $20 million less on marketing, because you'd save $20 million and you wouldn't have to make so much money?" Well, part of the problem is that the world of journalism is also part of the world of hype. So if you don't spend a lot of money on marketing, you don't generate big box office, which is translated in so many eyes as one of the criteria of hits.

If I had a $100 million picture and I only spent $10 million marketing it, for instance, I haven't really saved $10 million, because people will start saying, "If you didn't have a big opening weekend, you weren't a success." And if I'm not a success, I can't sell it to television or cable, and I threaten my video sales and DVD sales, and so forth and so on.

So there is a sort of spiral of pressure to drive that opening weekend. There are lots of debates in the studios about how much marketing cost is too much marketing cost. I guess with "Godzilla" and perhaps even with "Pearl Harbor," if you hype it too much, you run the risk of raising expectations so high that the audience is going to be disappointed whatever. So you have to get the balance right.

But you can't afford to let a picture creep onto the air unless you've spent nothing on it, and you're afraid of it or ashamed of it. You have to push it, because everybody involved wants to believe that you believe in it. The writer does, the actors do, the director does. ... Everybody involved in the process says, "I am not a success unless you drive the audience to the box office." No matter who you are; you can be the most artistic director, a $2 million opening will be a failure to that person. You say, "But look, it got great critical reaction and it's really a thoughtful film. It'll be up for Oscars." ... But it's a failure because, at least in every second paragraph of the column, it said, "It was a disappointment in the box office. An otherwise thoughtful film, but we were surprised at how badly it did, considering how well it was reviewed." ...

I don't think you can diminish expectations, really. You can sneak up on someone. You can do limited release, as we did with "Crouching Tiger," as Disney did with "Atlantis" and Fox did with "Moulin Rouge." But at some point, you've got to pay the piper, you got to release it. And the other is just a device to trick the audience to create word of mouth, so that they will come in droves when you do open a picture that you believe might have some difficulty in generating a large audience. When it works, it's exciting. "Crouching Tiger" was a creative success. It won Oscars.

But it was still pretty exciting to the director and everybody involved to have a picture that was huge at the box office. Its afterlife is a reflection of that. It's afterlife internationally, its afterlife network television, wherever it goes, it is a success. It's a double-barreled success, which is what we've, truly, in our hearts would love to achieve constantly. We'd like a two-fer. We'd like it to be an Oscar-winning box office success. But it's a tricky business.

Is a film's success in the United States essential for its success overseas?

A success here isn't a guarantee of it overseas. Some pictures are peculiarly American. And if it's a very rural American story, it probably doesn't translate, particularly if it's very heavily scripted, it doesn't necessarily have an afterlife overseas. We're all a bit aware of that, of what kinds of pictures do best. So you don't want a $100 million rural heavily overwritten picture ... you're going to lose your money overseas. But that said, we don't sit around and think about it. What we tend to do is decide how to promote it and market it overseas based on our belief of how it will do. If you are narrowly parochial, you will compete with that country's own parochial pictures, which it would invariably prefer. That's just a reality.

Why have movies gotten as expensive to make as they've gotten?

Well, they have probably reached a peak in recent years, in part because in the pressure to produce successful financial pictures, there's a temptation to throw money at stars who can open a picture and spend money on computer graphics that create exciting effects. And to throw money at something is seen as a kind of a failsafe, so that, unfortunately, when you fail, the visibility of the money you've spent is greater. It's obvious to everybody around that you've overspent.

The reputation of your studio and the impact of big spending is pervasive. ... We have lots of pictures under $30 million. But on the whole, the average cost of a movie has gone up to around $50 million. I don't think it'll go any higher. I think we've all recognized that it's too high.

I think we've all realized that, in fact, you can open a picture with Russell Crowe before he's well known, and do very well. But there's a certain fear that creeps into a lot of decision making on the way to moviemaking. I can remember people, a favorite director of mine, recommending Russell Crowe for a project she was working on. It was in a studio -- not my studio -- running away from Russell Crowe because ... nobody's ever heard of Russell Crowe. Well, nobody's ever heard of anybody. I mean, nobody's ever heard of Peter O'Toole until "Lawrence of Arabia." So it's having the courage to override the naysayers and the nervous people that try to create a failsafe, a hedge against disaster.

By the way sometimes contrary to popular belief, studios let directors have the stars of their choice and the stories of their choice and sometimes they've failed. It isn't a one-way street. The studio tends to always be the sort of monolithic villain in all these cases. There are lots of examples of studio of moviemakers ... being given total artistic freedom and driving the ship onto the rocks with an enthusiasm that takes your breath away. If they've got their piece of the action up front, it's the studio that loses the money, not the creative elements of the show.

Obviously, too many of those disasters will ruin anybody's career. But I think fear of failure has this sobering effect on many creative judgments. We're in the middle of talking about a picture now, a biographical picture about a historical figure. And the first instinct is, well, can Tom Hanks do it? Can Tom Cruise do it? Can Mel Gibson do it? Can Russell Crowe do it? And Harrison Ford. And they said, "Well, there must be more than five male actors to play this male lead." And of course there are. Of course there are. But you've got to go to a great deal of trouble to expose them and care in finding them and giving them that opportunity. You've got to start somewhere, because you wake up and suddenly your stars are all 60 and they can't kiss the heroine with quite the same level of credibility. ...

In your opinion, what elements make a really successful studio head?

It would be a combination of business sense, vision, experience and boldness. I think avoiding the fear of failure. Fear of failure is really an inhibiting factor in our business, because it changes all your judgments, and all your judgments become cautious and conservative. And we put a lot of pressure on the studio heads, everybody does. It's a high-profile job with a lot of press attention.

Only success tends to lighten the mood and the psyche of the studio head. A couple of successes make people bolder and braver. It's clear to me. For instance, our own studio that's now had, I think, 20 out of 25 profitable movies, and in many ways creative successful. ... Thereafter the mood in our studio clearly lightened, because there wasn't a jinx. There wasn't some intrinsic flaw somewhere, something that prevented us from having a series of successful movies.

Then we launched some smaller successful movies and we'll be going after bigger ones. Obviously we have "Men In Black 2" and "Spiderman," which are classic movies that will terrify all of us until we first see them on opening weekend and so on. But the smaller pictures and so forth have been doing very well for us, and that's generated a level of confidence within the studio. The studio head's expression of confidence filters down the creative pyramid very quickly. You don't do good work when you're tight. Your fear is a creative disaster. Once fear evaporates, creativity flourishes.

I'd love to get back to how the industry is changing. It would be great if you could talk about how a movie studio needs to adapt to be ready for this new era.

Most studios are moving to replacing film with digital technology. And, in order to understand that, you have to experiment with a new media. George Lucas is using a Sony Panavision digital camera, and he's finding that this affects the way he makes pictures -- quite transforms it, if you like. He's a great believer in the precision of digital photography and the new elements that this generates for the audience. I think that some of that will evolve in smaller projects to lower the costs and reduce the risks, perhaps, and that might help.

But the digital delivery will change the way we do movies, because you've got to send a movie on so many different devices, it's going to look different and feel different. The ability to animate it is going to be different. The three-dimensional graphics that you're seeing on "Shrek" and other pictures that are coming out now are giving the filmmakers new tools.

But I don't think anything will change the realities of storymaking and storywriting and the process of the building blocks to a picture. The technology will not do the movie for you. Technology will take it somewhere else. Technology will expose you to a different audience. Technology may make things cheaper, may make technology more available to a wider group of filmmakers. ...

Digital cameras and the technology will make will make movies available for a wider group of filmmakers, starting with very small cameras all the way up to the Panavision Sony digital camera that George Lucas is using on the next "Star Wars." So the technology will both distribute it to a wider audience and make it available to a wider group and larger group of filmmakers, and hopefully that will generate more ideas and more excitement and more enthusiasm for new forms of cinema.

In the end, they will still have to tell stories the old-fashioned way. There are very few examples of movies that are technological miracles that sustain an audience over a long period of time. I don't think digital actors are going to replace real actors. I don't believe that. We have a digital movie coming out with digital characters, men and women who are digitally composed. ... I think, in the end, it's the opportunity to reach across international barriers, and to teach a generation of future filmmakers how to get started.

When you think of Spielberg with his Super-8 or 8mm camera making pictures as a teenager, that's quite a complicated process, and was not readily available to many people. Well, tiny digital cameras, such as you saw used in "American Beauty," are readily available. And the Internet means you can transport pictures and the software tools available to interact with other aspects of the medium, and then to cut other pictures and other images is much more ubiquitous now.

That's a thrilling opportunity. We've had hints of that in the last few years of pictures coming out of nowhere. But we we'll see more and more of it. And probably overseas we'll see young people devising, making movies that they think may reach a wider audience faster than the elder generation of cinema that they are used to.

[Note: See the "Dreaming in Broadband" section of this site for more on digital filmmaking and Hollywood's future.]

It seems like that's where new creative visions can appear. Are creative types going to have to adapt to this? Will it in any way change the way they create?

I think it just makes everything a little bit easier. The digital camera is so precise, that people are going to have to get used to the fact that you can see the middle distance now, and the wheels of a stagecoach actually go the right way around. But I don't think it will fundamentally change anything about the way that people make movies. It will just make it really easier. And you just simply adapt to the technology to do it at home. You can do it without the infrastructure, perhaps, of the old fashioned 1940s studio.

I think that's one of the things we're all looking at, if you do you need the infrastructure, the superstructure of yesterday's Hollywood to sustain a digital vision. It's not clear that you do. And once people become more confident with the tools, the software that's available, then there's plenty of reason to do movies all over the place. You remember the shock of "Sex Lies and Videotape." Well, ultimately, "Sex Lies and Videotape" is a story that any teenagers can put together, so long as they have the artistry. They will have the tools to do it in ways that they didn't used to.

Do you think that's going to affect the movie studio?

Yes, I think it is. It's easy to criticize the studios, but the studios, in the end, can find filmmakers. And the filmmakers can find the studio if they're good enough. I believe that. We've been waiting for the Internet and the Independent Film Channels and so forth to produce a Steven Soderbergh full blown right before us. It doesn't really work that way. It's a process in which learning at the American Film Institute or learning on the Internet simply develops existing talents. Creativity is in lots of different places, but it's still in its basic form. It's rare, and not everyone's a star. Not everyone's a great basketball player. Not everyone's a great baseball player. Not everyone's a great writer. Finding writers and finding filmmakers requires an apprenticeship.

The digital world will make that apprenticeship easier. It will make the technology of filmmaking, anyway, much easier. It won't necessarily make the literacy of films any greater, because writing is still the rarest art form, hardest to teach and the longest to develop. So if people start early enough making films in the digital era, they will learn to write for films. I think we'll see young filmmakers coming out of corners of foreign lands and states beyond California faster than one can imagine. ...

What keeps you most excited about your job?

I have to admit, the opening weekend is like opening night on Broadway and the day of publication and so forth. I think the sense of releasing to the world great movies, or in Sony's case, great music, or even dazzling products. Each one of those is the end product of a lot of creative minds. This is a collaborative world. Music is collaborative. Pictures, movies, are particularly collaborative. Creative engineering for great Sony products and devices is.

So when they all emerge, blinking into the sunlight, the reaction is always the same -- the thrill of something new that is bound up with quality and caring and love and energy and hard work. That's the payoff. That's the payoff. We know we have some commercial failures. We know we have some commercial successes. But every so often, there in the spotlight is something that you are extraordinarily proud of, and that makes it all worthwhile. And that happens quite a lot in this company, both in electronics and music and television and movies.

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