Indywood’s Grand Assumption
A year ago, my sister and I bought a projector from our friend for $400, built a screen out of two-by-fours, bought some old hotel chairs and opened a movie theater.
We did this because we have a dream—a dream built on a grand assumption.
At Indywood, we assume that even in the age of Netflix, movie lovers still hunger for the classic moviegoing experience.
Over the past century, cinema went through an epic rise and then an epic fall. Let me tell you the story of cinema’s demise. And let me imbue hope that it will rise again!
The Dark Age
We live in a dark age of cinema. Fifty years ago there was a movie theater in just about every neighborhood in the United States and the screens were filled with a constant churn of well-written Hollywood films. We filmmakers think of that time as the Golden Age. But as a wise man once said, nothing gold can stay.
Part One: the Downfall
Over the next fifty years, the emergence of television put a chokehold on movie theaters.
American audiences began consuming their entertainment at home. Hollywood shifted to making “event” films—movies so spectacular that people would want to see them on the big screen.
The quality of a film became less important than the packaging of a film. It became more desirable to have big names attached to a script than to actually have a good script.
Single-screen neighborhood theaters were suffocated, and in their place arose giant megaplexes in the suburbs.
Part Two: Digital Death
Enter the internet and digital technology (dun dun dun). If television rang the initial death knell of the Golden Age, the rise of Netflix and digital cinema struck strong nails into the coffin.
American audiences now consume most of their entertainment via online streaming. Last year, the average American saw only five movies on the big screen, but she consumed almost 560 hour of streamed content. Hollywood now struggles to make a profit on American audiences. The only reliable theatrical market in America is teenagers. Hollywood does still make money, but that money comes increasingly from overseas: China and India. In the past ten years, Hollywood’s profit from China alone rose from $6.7 Million to almost $5 Billion. Like any business, Hollywood has to design its product to appeal to the audience whose willing to pay for it.
Subsequently, Hollywood hedges its bets by making “Tent Pole” films—films designed to appeal to the broadest audience possible. In other words, films that can appeal to both American teenagers as well as everyone in China.
What’s the restult? Hollywood now produces bland and unimaginative films—films that feature broadly identifiable characters like, say, superheroes.
On top of that, celluloid film has now been replaced by digital video. In 2007, the major studios stopped releasing movies on celluloid film. To keep up with the times, theaters had to upgrade to digital projection. Upgrading to digital costs at least $100,000.
Many of the last surviving single-screen, neighborhood theaters couldn’t afford to upgrade. The shift to digital forced many of them to shutter their doors and abandon their screens.
This is not the end of cinema.
Though the best stories are now being told through high-quality television, are we to think that “cinema” in the 21st century will be reduced to curling up on the couch and binge-viewing into the wee hours of the morning? No I say! No, no and thrice NO!
What we are really talking about here is the difference between cinema as culture and cinema as consumption.
Culture is something you share with other people. Consumption is something you do to indulge yourself.
We live in a Dark Age of mindless consumption. But there is hope. The cinema will rise again.
Proof That the Dream Will Soon Be Reailty: Indywood is proof of this hope. Over the past year, we have built a successful single-screen movie theater, and our neighborhood loves us. How have we done it? What’s in out future?
In my blogs to come, I will explore and elucidate those two questions. My ultimate goal is to encourage other people to start their single-screen neighborhood movie theater.
At Indywood we are bringing the cinematic medium back to its roots by utilizing the new technological tools of the 21st century.
We are living in a Dark Age, but new hope is brewing. Come along with us. Let us rise into a new Golden Age!