If you love movies and the way movies have been distributed, then Kyle Buchanan’s must-read article in The New York Times will probably bum you out! In the article, Buchanan speaks with various producers, studio heads, writers, and actors to discuss how the rise of streaming will impact theatrical distribution ten years from now. As you can expect, there’s both cause for optimism and pessimism. On the one hand, streaming is not only filling a gap of titles that studios have abandoned like rom-coms, but they’re also providing opportunities to female filmmakers and filmmakers of color who didn’t get the same chances as recently as ten years ago.
But there was one harrowing anecdote from Oscar-nominee Kumail Nanjiani about how younger audiences just aren’t particularly interested in movies:
I was at a bar with a friend who directs big movies, and while we were in line for the bathroom, he was saying that movie theaters were going to go away. He was like, “Kids don’t watch movies, they watch YouTube.” Which I thought was crazy. So he goes, “Watch this.” There was a girl in front of us in line, and he said, “Hey, excuse me, what’s your favorite movie?” And she said, “I don’t watch movies.” Just randomly, he picked someone — and she was like 25, she wasn’t a child or anything. We were like, “Well, do any of your friends watch movies?” And she said, “Not really.”
I don’t want to sound like an old idiot, because I try to keep up with what’s happening on YouTube, and it’s a lot of people talking to camera, very personality-driven. I grew up watching “Ghostbusters” and “Gremlins” and “Indiana Jones.” If I had grown up watching YouTube, I don’t know if I would like movies.
And it’s very hard not to be, as Ava DuVernay puts it, “Old Man Yells at Cloud”. As she points out:
My nieces and nephews don’t really care about produced content in the way that we do traditionally — my niece can sit there and watch IGTV for hours, which is on her phone, on Instagram, and it’s basically little clips of nothing. That’s why, when I hear people being so rigid and so strict about certain forms and presentations, it just reminds me of that “Simpsons” cartoon, “Old Man Yells at Cloud.”
It makes sense why things are moving in this direction. From a financial perspective and ease-of-use alone, why wouldn’t a younger generation just spend time on YouTube and IGTV? It’s free, it’s in their palm, and it will never run out of something new. Setting aside the fact that there’s no curation and some truly gross and heinous shit will infect the minds of young people who don’t know any better (say what you will about the MPAA dude; at least there’s a rating system), it’s tough for movies to compete.
The general sense you get from this article is that movie theaters won’t completely die, but that there will no longer be movies for adults. It will be four-quadrant stuff that’s pretty much blockbusters, expensive animated movies, and low-budget horror. Those will be your options, and if you want to watch something substantial, you’ll watch it at home. And that’s a bit of a bummer, because my home is filled with distractions. I watch movies to be transported, and the direction things are headed is that movies are the thing you have on in the background.
Even if there’s something that I loved like DuVernay’s When They See Us, I’ll cop to occasionally checking my phone simply because I needed an escape. I couldn’t be locked in with the story and that’s on me. And perhaps I need to retrain myself to make my home theater a “sacred space” like a movie theater, but I doubt younger audiences will have the same qualms. Someone will pour their heart and soul into making a hard-hitting drama, and it will be something you half pay attention to in between rounds of Candy Crush.
The upside of all this is that the onus is now on viewers more than ever to be active. You don’t have to treat every single movie like it’s Lawrence of Arabia and there’s certainly a place for background movies you know by heart. But these days, when I’m watching an older film, I put my phone on silent and across the room. The temptation for distraction is just too great, and it’s disturbing that mind has become so warped. If you’re a younger viewer who wants to be into movies, you’ve got to want it.
And not everyone does, and that’s okay. The downside is that those who don’t care so much about movies are the ones who will get to say where the industry goes from here.