When’s the last time you went to the theater? I am referring not to the movie theaters, which themselves are experiencing dwindling ticket sales, but to a theater with a stage?
They do exist, though they are mainly frequented by two types of audience members. The first are the traditionalists, the connoisseurs, people who appreciate theater as a unique art form. These people tend to be middle to upper class, middle age to elderly, and may or may not bring their families with them, if they have families. These people often see the same productions over and over, usually by different theater companies. They may be particular fans of Shakespeare or Frederico Garcia Lorca, and usually these patrons have a long history of going to the theater that often began when their parents took them as children.
The second type of theater patron would be those who are members of the theater community. They are actors and directors and writers and stage hands, and their families and friends. These people are often theater majors in college, and may or may not be making a meager living in the community. They show up for their brethren’s shows, as much to support each other and for camaraderie as for appreciation for the art itself.
With the exception of spectacular musical theater shows, which consistently draw larger crowds than non musical theater, there is a very small market for stage productions. What money there is to be made is rarely enough to grow rich on. But this essay is not about live theater. It is about movies and television. The screen. Specifically I am considering the future of movies, which I believe is swiftly going the way of traditional theater; contracting, becoming a niche, and falling out of the main stream.
Yes, I foresee the era of big budget films ending, and Hollywood ceasing to exist as a grand centralized location for the film and television industry. Soon. What will we supplant these forms of media with? Video games. Posh you say. That could never happen. Video games are cartoonish and pedestrian, not a true art form like film. But what happens when a video game becomes more real than film? Virtual reality role playing scenarios may one day be able to mimic all of our senses and fool the keenest of participants into confusing them with reality. Whatever reality is.
In this hypothetical VR, we are active participants, not passive observers. Artificial intelligence will adjust itself to accommodate our individual desires, decisions, creations and interactions. In the future, perhaps, we will all be writers, directors, and actors in our own epic improvised adventure journeys. This technology, should it come to fruition, will render obsolete film as the medium of choice for our entertainment needs. But the question is, what will happen to the writers, directors, and actors?
For the answer to that, I take as an example a local theater called Improv West, at which I have taken in a few live shows. While I was in the audience, I paid attention to who was sitting around me, and gleaned that most of the people there to watch were also performers, students of the improv school, or family and friends of performers and students. Few of the people there were not involved in the comedic improvisation community in some capacity.
Film, I believe, will be much the same way not to long from now. It will still be a valued medium by few but not a massive industry as it is today. It will be valued not by the general public, but by die hard aficionados, people who are in it for passion for the art form. They will be accompanied by their family and friends, who themselves may not be film makers, but who get a thrill out of seeing the work of someone they are close to. Niche genres like sci fi and horror may still be valued by certain audiences, as will cult films that posses unique cinematic qualities. But the era of big budget actioners, romantic comedies, and dramas with big name actors will probably wane.
So where does that leave Hollywood? I live in Hollywood, and I work in the film industry, so I am very aware of how many people rely on it as their means of paying the bills. No matter which way I look at it, I foresee Hollywood contracting, perhaps slowly at first, but eventually giving out completely. It is going to become more competitive for jobs as more people eschew giving up an hour or two of their time to watch film and television, in favor of chatting with friends online or making movies of their own using inexpensive high definition camcorders to upload to YouTube.
It should be noted that spectacle is always going to have it’s place. This is why I think musical theater is still such a strong art form that can still sell large amounts of tickets. Humans always want to see crazy spectacular performances live, for the same reason cult films will always be in vogue, and street performers will always gather crowds on busy streets. We just like crazy shit. The only problem in fact is that there isn’t enough spectacular groundbreaking films and stage performances to saturate the market and keep dvd sales and ticket sales up. It takes an enormous amount of creative output and some luck to come up with something that is just outrageous enough to captivate audiences for generations and not be forgotten among the stacks of okay and semi-decent formula movies. A perfect example of this would be Blade Runner, a spectacular film of cult status that has been unmatched by any of Ridley Scott’s many directorial efforts since despite his efforts.