This week Neil Calloway looks at the changing face of how films are released…
This week, two unrelated stories seemed like they could herald the end of films debuting in the cinema. First there was the news that Ricky Gervais’s new film, Special Correspondents, his third as director, would get its premiere on Netflix. This was closely followed by the news that Grace of Monaco, starring Nicole Kidman and the film that opened last years Cannes Film Festival, would not be released in US cinemas, but would instead be shown on Lifetime, the channel best known for such classics as The Craigslist Killer and Fab Five: The Texas Cheerleader Scandal.
Netflix have begun to revolutionise how we watch TV shows, and are gaining real success with producing their own shows, but moving into feature films seems like it could be a game changer; we still expect our movies to be shown in cinemas first; “Debuting on Netflix” seems like the 21st Century equivalent of “straight to video”, shorthand for schlocky exploitation movies from the 1980s, featuring gratuitous nudity and gratuitous explosions starring a has been action star; films you may have loved growing up, but are never going to trouble any greatest films of all time list.
A clue to how the industry feels about films bypassing the cinema came when Gervais talked about his deal with Netflix for his new film; he talked about how great the service was, how Netflix had shaken up TV and would do the same with films. Ask yourself this: would he have done the same if his film was just being produced by a different studio? Probably not; he’s protesting too much, rightly or wrongly, there is still a stigma attached to a film not coming to cinemas first.
It is faintly ridiculous that this stigma still exists; using a streaming service or downloading a film has many advantages over going to the cinema; first, you’re in your own home, and you can watch what you want, when you want, there are no couples sitting behind you talking throughout the film and it’s cheaper. If you live outside a big city, it might not even be possible to see a smaller film in the cinema; even in large cinemas some of the most talked about and best reviewed films might only be shown for a short run in a few cinemas; film-makers and studios can get their product out to their audience as soon as they have read a review with streaming services. The potential audience can only increase by releasing a film on demand. The latest edition of the Flickering Myth Movie Show had an amusing plea to end delayed UK release dates of films; dumping everything on streaming services and ignoring cinemas would help this, so why do we look down on films that don’t get a release in theatres?
First, Hollywood demands it; for a film to be eligible for the Oscars, it has to be shown “for paid admission in a commercial motion picture theater in Los Angeles County for a qualifying run of at least seven consecutive days”, however, “Films that, in any version, receive their first public exhibition or distribution in any manner other than as a theatrical motion picture release will not be eligible for Academy Awards in any category”. In short, to even qualify for the chance of an Oscar, you have to be shown in a cinema before anywhere else.
Certain films demand to be seen in the cinema; I’ve enjoyed both of Ricky Gervais’s films as director so far, but they can hardly be described as cinematic; nothing in the viewing experience will be lost by watching them on TV. If the next Christopher Nolan or Terrence Malick film wasn’t getting a big screen outing, I’d be disappointed. Some films demand to be watched on a big screen, in a dark cinema with a bunch of strangers, and some films don’t.
The difference between Special Correspondents and Grace of Monaco is that Special Correspondents hasn’t been hawked around different studios and distributors after it has been made; Netflix are involved right from the start; Grace of Monaco is being dumped on a cable channel a year after it was first shown.
I feel like we’re going to end up with two, or perhaps even three models for film releases; first, the traditional model of cinema release, then a gap before it comes out for the home viewing market, the simultaneous release in a few cinemas and via on demand services, and those that are only released via streaming and downloading, bypassing theatres. This two or three tier system can only be good for cinema; films that get theatrical premieres get the kudos, and smaller independent films no longer have to compete for cinema space with the big boys.
On my morning commute this week I’ve been confronted with two posters for films coming out this month; Good Kill and Last Knights. Good Kill promises that it is “only in cinemas” whereas Last Knights is “in cinemas and on demand”. Which sounds better? “Only in cinemas” sounds exclusive; I know which film I’d rather see. Cinema isn’t dead, yet.
Neil Calloway is a pub quiz extraordinaire and Top Gun obsessive. Check back here every Sunday for future installments.