Kirsner, S ~ Inventing The Movies


The last point (pages 195-199) is VERY good.

“The major studios had one perfectly valid business reason not to license certain films to television: they knew they could make more money by re-releasing their old films to theaters. “…Video just can’t pay enough,” said Dore Schary, MGM’s head of production. “We probably couldn’t even get more than $75,000 the way things are now. But if we re-release something like Mutiny on the Bounty to the theaters it would probably bring in upwards of $200,000.” There were rights issues, too, since with contracts drafted before television, it was often unclear whether broadcasting a movie’s soundtrack over the air was permitted or not.
While the biggest studios kept their movies out of the living room, others were willing to supply television stations with content from Hollywood. Initially, they were small “Poverty Row” studios such as Monogram and Republic, independent producers, and foreign studios.
(“If I had my way, we wouldn’t sell to television, ever.” – Fox executive Alex Harrison)
Some of the most popular movies broadcast during television’s early days were westerns featuring Hopalong Cassidy. As it happened, Hopalong (played by the actor William Boyd) controlled the rights to 54 of his movies, and he wasn’t hesitant about turning those rights into cash. Hopalong’s strategy provided one hint that television might not prove to be the death of cinemas: attendance at his movies actually rose the more he appeared on TV.
Part of the problem for Hollywood was that the arrival of television wasn’t just about the arrival of a new technology in the home (similar to radio in the 1920s). Television was accompanied by major lifestyle changes. Americans were migrating out of urban areas and buying homes in the suburbs, away from the downtown movie palaces. With more space in their suburban homes, they were inclined to stay in more often. They were commuting to the office in their new cars.
Entrepreneurs who paid close attention to these new trends saw an opportunity. They started opening drive-in theaters to serve the new suburban, car-oriented populace. Though the first drive-in opened in 1933 in New Jersey, the concept really accelerated in the 1950s, when there were about 4000 around the country. At one point, in the summer of 1956, attendance at drive-ins actually surpassed that of indoor theaters. One early drive-in operator was Michael Redstone, father of Sumner Redstone; his company would eventually evolve into Viacom. Many of the drive-in entrepreneurs later diversified, opening indoor theaters in the new shopping malls that were cropping up like clover around the country.
The studios, hunting for a way to take advantage of television while retaining control over the distribution of their product, kept trying to figure out the right response to the new technology, and the changing behavior of the post-war consumer. They made two attempts to create early video-on-demand systems. The first was called Phonevision (dial a special number, and pay $1 to see a relatively-recent movie) and the second, supported only by Paramount, was called Telemeter. During a test in Palm Springs, Telemeter, though expensive to install, was a mild success, generating revenue of a $10 per month from each of its 2,500 households. But local drive-in owners fought it, arguing that Paramount was violating the still-fresh consent decree, by producing and distributing movies, and also controlling the means of exhibition (the Telemeter box atop the TV.)”
Just like cinema/TV vs. Internet/digital today!

“But while the studios had frequently complained that they could make more money by re-releasing a movie to theaters, prices for television rights started to rise, from an average of $169,000 per title in 1962 to $500,000 in 1966.”
Just like cinema/TV vs. Internet/digital today!

“”The videotape machine would be used to steal our property,” said Disney’s general counsel, Peter Nolan, “and we could never be fully compensated for the loss that would occur.”
Just like cinema/TV vs. Internet/digital today!

“At a congressional hearing in 1982, Valenti famously declared that the 3.5 million VCRs then in use posed the same kind of danger to the American film industry as “the Boston Strangler [posed] to the woman home alone.” Left unchecked, free home recording would eventually choke the revenues of the studios; by Valenti’s estimate, home taping was already costing his constituents $2 billion a year. Attorneys for Universal and Disney threatened that the result could be that the studios would no longer allow their movies to be shown on free television. But advocates for home recording painted the royalty on tapes and VCRs as a tax, lambasting Valenti as “the troll under the bridge,” and no royalty was ever enacted.”

“Visual effects artists tended to see technology as a fast-growing beanstalk that could take them to new places each time they climbed it. “Whenever I finish a show, I imagine the work I just did as already being obsolete, but I don’t know what’s next,” said Dennis Muren.”
Filmmakers are entirely different! They fear (and therefore hate) the new.

“Catmull said one of the main challenges of his job was stoking the fires of originality and experimentation. “The message has to be that technological change is good,” he said. “It’s the air you breathe, the water you swim in.”
Filmmakers are entirely different! They fear (and therefore hate) the new.

“”The art of any time,” he concluded, “is usually made with the technology of that time.””
This is most definitely not the case with film today!

There are 3 areas of tension between innovation and preservation in film/Hollywood:
1. New technologies make it possible to watch anything anywhere anytime.
2. The boundaries between movies, the Internet, and video games are dissolving.
3. There is high friction between the movie industry’s elitism and today’s democratisation.

About the author

Woitek Konzal

Producer, Consultant, Lecturer & Researcher. I love working where technology meets media in novel ways. Once, I even won an Emmy for digital innovation doing that. Be it for a small but exciting campaign about underground electronic music collectives or for a monster project combining two movies, various 360° videos, 72 ARG-like mini puzzles, and a Unity game, all wrapped up in one cross-platform app – I have proven my ability to adapt to what is required. This passion for novel technologies has regularly allowed me to cross paths with tech startups – an industry and philosophy I am all set to engage with more. I intensely enjoy balancing out my practical work with academic research, teaching, and consulting. Also, I have a PhD in Creative Industries, a M.Sc. in Business Administration, and love to kitesurf.

Readers Comments (2)

  1. Hi, Can i take a one small photo from your blog?
    Thank you

  2. Woitek Konzal 30.09.2009 @ 11:50

    Hi Jinny,

    Sure you can. Although I don’t think there are any on my blog…
    Are you a spam-bot?



Leave a Reply