Hollywood is the only industry, even taking in soup companies, which does not have laboratories for the purpose of experimentation – Orson Welles
There are two golden ages in Hollywood’s 100 year old movie history. The first golden age kicked off in the 1920s, and was built upon the sweat and vision of Jewish and European immigrants keen to be a part of a new approach to mass entertainment. Hollywood, provided sanctuary and a collaborative meeting place where the constructs, and rules around motion pictures and sound were set in stone.
For the best part of 30 years the Hollywood Movie industry became synonymous, for creativity, talent, and inventiveness. But the Hollywood system was also inherently conservative in it’s outlook and a key factor in its downturn at the end of the 50s. For example, movie stars, directors, writers and technical staff were tied to long-term studio contracts that acted as a barrier for wider collaboration. In addition film studios, in the US at least, effective operated a cartel by owning not only the production, but also the theatres that ran the films. It became common practise for studios to block book films for a long run in theatres to ensure profitability.
In effect, the Hollywood machine was no longer dynamic, it was devoid of fresh ideas, and had become complacent in the light of internal constraints and external forces. That external threat manifested itself in the shape of television – a new medium of cheap entertainment that you could watch without leaving your home.
It took a new breed of writers, directors, and producers to change the studio paradigm and kick start what known as the second golden age of Hollywood from the mid 60s to late 70s. Lucas, Coppola, Spielberg, Friedkin and others were effectively outsiders looking to dismantle the rigidity of the Studio system and decided to compete with television on it’s own terms.
What’s become clear is that Â the Hollywood system finds itself again on the downward curve, unable to grasp its role in the post digital age. Whilst the notion of Hollywood is still rooted in film making, it’s the business ties with legal, and the entertainment press that has preserved it’s hegemony but at the same time created a mutually beneficial but bloated ecosystem. The advent of the internet, has impacted the film industry in two key ways:
- Previously high barriers for the copying, editing, and distributing digital content have effectively been dismantled. Anyone with a laptop and an internet connection can fulfil these activities just as effectively as a film studio
- Engagement and social interaction between people has fundamentally changed. Previously our social interaction were restricted by time, relevancy and distance. Social platforms and channels have helped to facilitate a conversations that transcend these barriers.
Critics for example are paid to objectively review movies and to report their findings. Yet as the following article in the Sunday Observer reported, critics are today anodyne in their views and opinions for fear of straying too far off message. This select group of critics are now finding themselves being challenged by the views of the public being published through a variety of social media channels. This crowdsourcing of opinion has two advantages, firstly it’s timely and not subject to a deadline, and secondly its relevant to its target audience because its written by the public for the public.
The film studios continue to be wary of utilising social media channels and platforms to ship products. They are clinging to old ways of thinking that people will continue to passively consume product when the internet has championed a proactive engagement with content. Â That’s not to say Hollywood has ignored social media completely – you only have to see the transmedia campaign for The Dark Knight – to see how effective that was for creating buzz around the film outside traditional PR and Marketing channels.
Hollywood has a tendency to see technology as a solution to declining sales rather than looking at the bigger picture of how people are communicating, sharing, and consuming their product or brand. There is something of the Emperors new clothes with the rolling out of 3D as a viable opportunity to ship their products in the theatrical and Home Entertainment markets. Yet where is the engagement opportunity with that?
The entertainment model is changing with 2010 seeing the biggest ever entertainment release – and it was a video game Â Call of Duty – Black Ops . Game manufacturers are giving Hollywood studios food for thought in terms of a shipping their products. Yes technological advancements have narrowed the gap between video games and the movies, but what game manufacturers have embraced is good story telling for their linear games and active participation with multimedia games. Halo, for instance has created a content ecosystem that allows people to upload footage from games. That footage is in turn being repurposed and shared across digital channels such as YouTube.
Hollywood studios will need to re-evaluate what intellectual property means in the post digital age. A phalanx of lawyers challenging individual users for distributing or repurposing content is not having the desired effect. Hollywood can help themselves by helping to facilitate the repurposing, and sharing of content. Create the framework and conditions to engage with users to create content over and above the original feature film. It requires a complete shift in its modus-operandi, but by releasing it’s control over Intellectual Property it opens a doorway to limitless opportunities for creative repurposing that can only add value, not take it away.
A third golden age for Hollywood is attainable. The Hollywood system should be looking at alternative business models applied in the post-digital space, rather than fighting them. Hollywood should take a leaf out of start-ups, by getting lean and agile if it’s to react to the shifting digital space. Yes it requires a degree of risk but the alternative is a slow and painful decline for Hollywood where it’s relevancy diminishes in the eyes of a switch on consumer.