quote of the day
The screen is a magic medium. It has such power that it can retain interest as it conveys emotions and moods that no other art form can hope to tackle.
Stanley Kubrick
rant n' rave

The kerfuffle over whether movies released simultaneously in theaters and streaming services or SVOD services alone should be able to qualify for the ACADEMY AWARDS has been framed as a STEVEN SPIELBERG vs NETFLIX argument. But it’s not. It’s tradition vs. future. I admire the passion on both sides. Spielberg recently said: “Once you commit to a television format, you’re a TV movie… You certainly, if it’s a good show, deserve an Emmy, but not an Oscar. I don’t believe films that are just given token qualifications in a couple of theaters for less than a week should qualify for the Academy Award nomination.” I don’t want to make this about Spielberg. The man has given me more joy, entertainment and things to think about than any other director in my lifetime. I love his work. It’s very personal to me. I disagree with this stance. A movie should not have to be in the theater in order to be nominated. The theater is a technology. It’s a format. It has nothing to do with narrative. It is not the artform or the artist. Merely a mechanism to display the work of art. I like movies in the theater better than at home. Your phone is verboten. When those lights go down, you’re in a different world for a few hours. I love the big screen. I love the sound. I love the suspension of disbelief. And for me, it may enhance a movie. But, again, it is not the art. And there are some ironies. Lots of them. Some about this issue and some realities of the trajectory of the movie business. I've been going to SUNDANCE and TRIBECA film festivals for 15 years. One of the reasons I've gone in the past is because most films wouldn't get deals. After that festival, they would be hard to find. The arrival of the streaming era has had a huge effect on that. Almost all the movies, after the festival, are available somewhere. That is a remarkable thing to be celebrated. And while many filmmakers have the dream of theater exhibition (I get why), most will never see a theater. I called my friend, legendary producer, and Tribeca founder JANE ROSENTHAL to discuss these ideas. She's always a great source and understands the history of things. Jane reminded me that in recent years the number of movie seats in NYC has plummeted. Not exact numbers, but here is a little tidbit of the hypothesis. Below 23rd street alone, minimum 5000 seats have been lost. Logic: a theater may have an average of 5 showings a day. 5 times the number of seats is your potential cume per theater. Theaters are closing. They are being downsized. Some are focusing on bigger seats. Some focus on revenue per customer with food, wine, etc. When I was a kid, I went to the palaces. RADIO CITY MUSIC HALL (my mom took me to see PETE'S DRAGON). THE ZIEGFIELD is closed. When I was on the board of MGM STUDIOS, where did we do the SPECTRE premiere? At The Ziegfield. Now it's called the ZIEGFIELD BALLROOM and you can have a lovely Bar Mitzvah there. Many new theaters in the city are "micro-theaters." They are great. Names like METROGRAPH or THE LANDMARK. 35 seat rooms, 50 seat rooms, and maybe one house in the hundreds. This fact alone would make it harder for a small film or what others you refer to as "the middle" to get a screen. Not if you're Spielberg, or STAR WARS or MARVEL and so on. My bet is if SCHINDLER'S LIST was pitched today it's doubtful it gets made in the big studio ecosystem. Now, yes, having Spielberg may change that, but that kind of movie, sans explosions, is unlikely to come out into the theater ecosystem as the future progresses. If it does get made, it likely would have been released on Netflix. Oh, the irony. Jane produced the movie WIZARD OF LIES about BERNIE MADOFF's ponzi scheme starring ROBERT DE NIRO. Directed by BARRY LEVINSON. Tour de force. Great film. It aired on HBO. HBO spends money. They are in a different business. SVOD. Not the same rules. And yet it was still a movie. Try to get that film done at that budget at a studio today. Very, very hard. It could not be nominated for an Oscar. It was nominated for some EMMYs and GOLDEN GLOBES. "Limited Series or Movie" or "Outstanding Television Movie" type stuff. You know what else also in that same category? DOLLY PARTON'S CHRISTMAS OF MANY COLORS: CIRCLE OF LOVE. Ironic. The film HURT LOCKER won the best picture against AVATAR and others at the 82nd ACADEMY AWARDS. That likely doesn't happen unless the Academy sends out DVDs to the old dudes that are members. The film wins because the members themselves didn't need to go to the theater. Should they have had to watch it in a theater? Oh, the irony. Netflix's ROMA was released in theaters to qualify for the Oscar. It was also on the service. But let me ask you this: in what universe does a movie released in the UNITED STATES with an all Spanish-speaking cast, entirely in Spanish, filmed in black and white get seen on a wide basis? None. That universe no longer exists if it ever did. In many communities, there aren't theaters nearby. The theater is Netflix. And that's righteous. These kinds of films, "the middle" are dying by a thousand cuts. The studios are largely run by non-maverick acquirers in the brand/IP management business. Great films come from this. Like Marvel movies. But a type of film is disappearing and in many ways, it's because film was thought of as a theater business. It's not anymore. In fact, I think direct to consumer movies with modest budgets will be great for HOLLYWOOD. Had FOX SEARCHLIGHT released SHAPE OF WATER or THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI only on HULU (which their parent owns) and been able to be marketed as an Oscar nomination, it's possible that the asset value of HULU could have grown by hundreds of millions of dollars in weeks. Like it did when HANDMAID'S TALE won the EMMY. Huge growth in subs. I wonder if the Academy has lost sight of its purpose. To serve the art and the artist. And the awards should be about that. But it's a business or ratings, ads, and revenue. If this rule stands, what will the nominations look like in the next few years or decade? It will be sobering. This week was not a good one for the idea of choice. And yet, that is what the future is about. Choice. Empowerment. No matter who tries to fight the tide. This generation of audience and others to come are in control. They have power. And while I would admit that watching AVATAR in a theater is a better experience for me, that doesn't make it a movie. And if you make a movie you should be able to qualify for an Oscar. Tech platforms are disrupting the movie business. If the business doesn't embrace the future in all its forms. Others will own the future. It's that simple. We've seen enough of media taking a shiv to its own gut. The screen is magic. It comes in different forms. It's not an "either/or." Long live all the screens. Long live movies. Long live theaters. Long live the credibility of the Oscars. Long live the real reason the Academy exists. Let's discuss. Thank you for listening. I'm going to watch a movie now, wherever I want... Happy Anniversary to JARRETT AND PAMELA. Happy Birthday to BRENDAN LODER, MIKE HUSKINS, KIMBERLY TURCK, and AILEEN BUDOW. Belated to CONNOR SCHELL, TREVOR TRAINA, SABINE HELLER, SARAH WAGMAN ELLENBOGEN, and JOSH GROTSTEIN.

Jason Hirschhorn, curator

May 17, 2019