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is this the future of movies?
We hear that digital technology and the Internet are transforming Hollywood, or soon will. It goes like this: technology will level the playing field and break the distribution bottleneck for low-budget independents, while broadband video-on-demand, soon to be available from major studios (and not just on your PC but on your television screen), will create a bonanza for the media conglomerates that control the movie business. Yet, no matter how the business changes, some things will stay the same. Here are excerpts from FRONTLINE's interviews with filmmaker Allison Anders; Variety editor, Peter Bart; producer Lucy Fisher; industry analyst Larry Gerbrandt; Mandalay Pictures chairman, Peter Guber; New York Times critic Elvis Mitchell; filmmaker Kevin Smith; and Sony Corporation of America's chief executive, Howard Stringer.

the editor-in-chief of Variety, Hollywood's most powerful trade newspaper, he spent 17 years as a studio executive

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On many levels, technology remains the most exciting thing going on in several ways. I mean, the rise and fall of the whole dotcom culture was an amazing phenomenon [to observe] here in Hollywood. On the other hand, the changes that will be made the next few years in the technology of filmmaking, they're just astonishing. You know, there will be the digital exhibition of film. There will be more digital filming. There'll be more and more people able to make pictures cheaper and quicker. Maybe not as pretty, but cheaper and quicker. ... When you consider the fact that the basic process of shooting a movie was exactly the same between 1920 and 1998, you know, nothing changed. Now all of a sudden everything has changed. I mean, that is in many ways the biggest story. Now in Hollywood, change for the better? Who knows. That remains to be seen. But it could change a lot for the better. The changes in technology could loosen the chokehold of the major companies on the pop culture. That's what could happen.

chairman and CEO of Sony Corporation of America since 1998, he had a distinguished 30-year career as a journalist, producer and executive at CBS

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Where do you see the future of the market for films going?

I think that it's twofold. I think 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. And 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 [the movie's] 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. And 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. And 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.


How does a movie studio need to adapt to be ready for this new era?

Most studios are moving to replace film with digital technology. ... And 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 I don't think anything will change the realities of story-making and story-writing and the ... building blocks of a picture. The technology will not do the movie for you. ... The technology will both distribute it to a wider audience and make it available to a wider group of filmmakers, and hopefully that will generate more ideas and more excitement and more enthusiasm for new forms of cinema.


When you think of Spielberg with his Super 8 or 8 millimeter 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 available to interact with other aspects of the medium, and then to cut other pictures and other images, is much more ubiquitous now. And that's a thrilling opportunity. We've had hints of that in the last few years, of pictures coming out of nowhere. But 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.

Are creative types going to have to adapt to this? Will it in any way change the way they create?

... I think 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 easier. And you 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 need the infrastructure, the superstructure of yesterday's Hollywood to sustain a digital vision. It's not clear that you do. ...

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

Yeah, 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. ... The digital world will make [a filmmaker's] 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. ...

she has been a top executive at MGM, 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros., Columbia TriStar, and Sony Pictures, and has been behind such films as "Jerry Maguire," "Men in Black," "As Good As It Gets," "Gladiator," and many others

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Does the digital age enable young talent to be discovered?

It feels like the digital revolution or whatever you want to call it could be a really wonderful avenue for filmmakers to take the means of production back into their own hands and not have to ask for permission and not have to fit into a preordained slot of what they should be. So, that seems very promising. "Blair Witch" seemed like it was going to change everything, and it changed everything for one movie, and maybe it will again. Certainly, any inexpensive ways of making movies will open the field to more people and then more voices can be heard and then the great ones will always, I personally believe, maybe it's just Pollyanna, that the great ones will always rise. ... So I think that the fact that there is going to be easier means of making movies will be very interesting.


Why is there no other mechanism in place that allows the public to see some of the really good festival features?

I think broadband would probably allow the public a way to see some movies, for instance, the best of the festival movies that never come to their town and never come to their theater. What I don't think will ever be popular is the other 900 movies that the board at Sundance had to look at before they chose the 30 that they chose, or the 100 ... the ones that got weeded out. I don't think anybody's going to want to wade through a lot of those, but there always is the needle in the haystack.

chief content officer and senior analyst for Kagan World Media

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There was a time when people thought that "Blair Witch Project" was gonna be the undoing of Hollywood because you're going to have people running around with video cameras competing with the studios. As it turns out "Blair Witch" was the exception, not the rule. And it certainly wasn't the future of the business.

A fair number of people point to broadband as a possible threat.

... I don't think broadband is necessarily a direct threat to the business unless they lose the ability to protect their content. As long as you own the library and you keep making new hits, if you own the blockbusters, continue to refresh that library and you don't lose control of that, I don't think the studios are at risk from broadband. In fact, they intend to use broadband to deliver films directly to consumers. If anything some of the video stores are more at risk than the studios from broadband because it does allow them to bypass both the video store and also allows them in some cases to bypass the cable operator.


There was a time when I thought that some of the new technologies might actually take something away from the theatrical experience. I think I've now come to realize that we're going to have theaters. In the future, it may be digital theaters where instead of film prints, it'll be electronic prints. But I think we're going to have theaters for a very long time because it's the key. ... there's a magic that occurs in that exhibition environment that you could not create any other way.

the director of such independent films as "Gas Food Lodging" (1992), "Mi Vida Loca" (1994), and "Things Behind the Sun" (2001), which was shot in digital video

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I think there's some great hope, actually, for the new generation, because I really expect that technological inventions are gonna help tremendously. ... I mean, when I think about the huge places we used to have to edit in, you know, rooms and rooms of footage, and, and now, you know, you're sitting at a computer doing that. It's incredible, in a little tiny, you know, corner of your room. And, uh, you know, kids can be doing that in their dorm, you know.

It's amazing, the changes. And that's fantastic. But the big thing is, like, how they're gonna get audiences to see those movies? And I'm really hoping that the Internet or different kinds of things ... maybe broadband cable, all kinds of things I think that are coming, may really help that. I think that if people can get access to ways to distribute their work, that's the key, really.


When I was at Sundance this past year, I was talking to Sherman Alexie, the American Indian writer and filmmaker. He just shot a film on digital. I was talking about my experience working on digital, which I loved. And I said ... I know that women, and Indians, and blacks, and Mexicans, we all helped contribute to the beginning, to the birth of motion pictures, but we were cut out so early. ... And so film always felt to me like a very borrowed medium. ... It always felt like it belonged to someone else, and I was just getting to use it for a while. Whereas with digital, when I used a digital camera ... I really felt, like ... I understood the language of the camera. I really did. I felt like I understood the medium, and that it was accessible to me, and that it was mine, you know, that I could own part of this. You know, whereas film, I always felt, like, I was shut out. And [Alexie] said to me, he goes, "oh, yeah, you know, digital is the freeing device for women and brown people." So I think it's really true. ... I'm excited about it. And it's not just because it's cheap and easy. It's really the idea that nobody is telling us we can't use it.


What do you think about the future of film making?

Well, I'll tell you. My experience working with digital was threefold. I mean, the first thing was that it cut a third of my budget right there, you know, by going digital as opposed to film. The other thing was this access to the language, where I once again felt like it was my medium and not a borrowed medium. Um, the other thing was the incredible flexibility I had. It changed performances. I have the best performances. I always tend to work with really great actors anyway, but the performances in this particular film are, you know, tremendously superior to, you know, work that I've been able to do before. Partly I've learned more, but also I think it was because there was so little, you know, it was less equipment in the room, it was less interference with them. They were able to create very intimate environments. The tapes run longer, you know, it was interesting working that way.

And actors love digital. You know, I mean, I thought that the actors were going to walk into the room and go, what the hell is that? That's the camera? ... But of course that didn't happen. Actors love it because there's less space that the camera is taking up ... and more time for them to stay in character before there's a big change. ...

And I want to continue working in digital. I don't really see any reason to move back to film. I might alternate back and forth, but I really love, love working in it.

And I really think that those kinds of things, the flexibility of the camera and the equipment, I think is really going to change things a lot. I think it's going to make for better storytelling, actually. And because, ironically, I think it's less techy than film, which is so weird to me. I thought it was just going to be the opposite, especially when I went to do my post effects. ... I think you're more in control. You could, you know, learn Final Cut Pro yourself and be editing half the time, you know, so I just think it puts more in the filmmaker's hands. ... You can really make your own destiny.

Peter Guber
former studio chief of Columbia Pictures and former chairman and CEO of Sony Pictures, he is now the chairman of Mandalay Pictures

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I think the most interesting [trend] is new technology, because this business has always been transformed by new technologies. The shaman in front of the campfire danced his dance and sang a song and stood in front of the flickering images until somebody one day picked up a cape and horns that were drying and put it on his head and danced around behind him acting out the hunt, and suddenly the prop was born. New technology. And everything changed. ... You know, everybody was slow to embrace it and then they figured out how to incorporate it. And today ... the rate of change is accelerating. ... It's a compelling adventure now just to stay alive, just to keep afoot of all the things that are going on.

But one thing that I think has the greatest advantage to both change the financial underpinnings of the business and create a wider circle or a wider orbit of audience, and differentiated audience, and a wider orbit of talent that can feed that audience, is World Wide Web broadband. The idea that it'll collapse the distance between the "Eureka" of the artists and the "Wow" of the audience, collapse it all and get them much closer together without a lot of intermediaries who made money in the process, people carrying film cans around, all kinds of other distribution mechanisms, marketing mechanisms, being commoditized, intermediated out of the business, and allow those two forces to come together with a greater frequency and greater selectivity, to my mind has enormous potential.

elvis mitchell
a film critic for National Public Radio and The New York Times

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When the VCR hit, people thought that was the end of the theater experience, and it wasn't.

It's so funny, whenever there's a new technology introduced, there's always this fear it's going to end entertainment as we know it. You know, when records came around they were going to be the end of live music. ... When television came around we were told it would be the end of movies. Well, then we got wide screen. You can't get wide screen at home on the TV set, can you? No. ... It's always astonishing to me how many naysayers there are about an innovative form of technology that really deepens our experience into entertainment.


Peter Guber [former head of Sony Pictures and Columbia Pictures, now head of Mandalay,] suggested broadband, by linking the artist with the audience, and doing away with the middle man --

So doing away with Peter Guber.

Are you as excited about it as Peter Guber was? ... Do you think it's gonna be the same guys in control?

... What broadband is potentially offering is a chance, I think, to make cheap movies. What I'd love to see broadband be is something like the New Wave. ... what it's saying is there's a new technology that is making this democratic. ... If you make a movie for $200, and eventually you'll be able to do that, the technology that bankrupted Francis Ford Coppola with One From The Heart, everybody has access to now. ... And this technology's gonna sort of, I hope, free things up. I hope we don't get an AOL version of somebody controlling, or making us feel like access to broadband is basically sort of manipulated solely by them, even though it's not really all AOL, but everybody feels like it is. ...

I think what big-deal producers hope is that it's a way to sort of scout talent cheaply, in the way the film festivals are, so you're basically buying somebody who's made nine or ten films for no money, and then you're gonna give them a chance to make your big-budget movie that has nothing to do with the reason they made movies in the first place, and then they'll be disgusted and go back to broadband. ...


What always fascinates me is now how quickly what feels like the independent voice is just subsumed into the middle. It took hip-hop a long time to find purchase in the mainstream, and now it's everywhere. It's part of everything. In a way, the studios are still afraid of it because, you know, what are really sort of the last independent voices are filmmakers of color. And women. I mean, women aren't the minority, although you wouldn't know it from the movie business, it's still controlled by white men.

And what I'm hoping these new technologies will do is, you know, have that, you know, that Eurasian Lesbian filmmaker make this movie that comes out of her, that's a part of her subconscious, that overtakes the country, that, you know, excites us all about the possibilities of dreaming somebody else's dream through broadband. And then she gets to make her big-deal movie, or she makes this movie for the Internet, or digitally, that gets bought up by somebody and spills over the world, that takes over everything. That's what I want to see happen. That's what still keeps me going to the movies every week. That's what sends me out to film festivals, is waiting to hear that voice that I haven't heard before, that hasn't yet been infected by the idea of getting a major movie star to ruin her dream, because this movie star's not gonna want to do what she wants to do, but she's got these actors we've never heard of before. That's what still thrills me about this, that, you know, you can't corrupt everything yet.

Kevin Smith
he wrote and directed such independent films as "Clerks" (1994), "Chasing Amy" (1997), and "Dogma" (1999)

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The Internet, to me, is always the most fascinating aspect of filmmaking now. And not so much for the reasons, like "The Blair Witch Project," [which] takes off because of the Internet community they built around the movie -- the Internet buzz they built around the movie long before anyone saw a frame of film -- but just because it's instant feedback. You know, you're talking about a time where you can put a movie out and get a reaction to it from people that see the first show on the East Coast at, you know, noon, the first matinee. You go check the Internet at two, two thirty, you can get instant feedback. I mean, you didn't get that kind of thing back in the '70s, the woebegone '70s. ... And that's what I think is great about the Net. ... You can follow the life of the movie before it comes out, from the moment it's announced as a concept, to the moment it finally hits theaters. Being in touch with the audience in that way, and being able to read right from the horse's mouth. You know, not necessarily from a critics mouth, because you're used to reading film criticism at this point. But reading some guy's, or some woman's, completely misspelled, honest thoughts about your movie. ...

The Internet is probably the most exciting thing that's going on in movies right now. And not so much for, like people think, oh, the Internet is where movies are going to go one day, you can download a movie. I don't care about that, I don't care about the technology. I care about being able to hear what somebody's reaction is to what's going on, to what's being made out there. And every filmmaker should care about that. Every entertainer who puts something out there to be viewed, should really give a shit about that, that's the kind of thing that's important. That's because that's ultimately what you're doing it for. If you're not doing it for the pay check, ultimately what you're doing it for is communicating. To throw your idea out into the void, into the black, and see if anybody identifies with it. And [the Internet's] the most incredibly instant way to find out if you've done your job correctly ... if you're not alone in the world.


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