on-cinema-noframe

what is happening to cinema?

eduardo gonzalez, Oct 2022


summary

DVDs' disappearance → films mainly profit from ticket sales

  • maximizing profits ≔ maximizing audiences.
  • simple style, easy plots, few cultural references = universal accessibility
  • ∴ repetitive, successful formula > than unique creative input.
  • → market saturated with similar-feeling movies.

Streaming now an accessible alternative, but profits = time spent on service

  • → films become ambient content for passive consumption.
  • globalization strengthened the film industry, auteur cinema lost economic and cultural influence.
    • Sequels, remakes, existing material-based movies capture most profits and influence.
    • only 3 of top 50 grossing films of 2010s were original stories
    • Oscar viewership and revenue from Best Picture winners has declined.
    • → Cinema ≠ dominant form of artistic expression in 21st century?

New consumption patterns and movie-making techniques are at heart of the shift.

internet speed and phone camera improvements → global increase in social media's influence

  • online media evolved from text to photos to video.
  • engagement tracking as likes in 2009, retweets in 2010.
  • rise of photo-sharing services → everyday people ∈ authors of online media. (see people aren't meant to talk this much)

≈ 2014: platforms shifted to algorithm-based content presentation → birth of viralization.

  • TikTok's success ≈ adaptation to new dynamics.
  • app design allows personalized content curation with every interaction.
  • viral reach from algorithm selection → no need for status, fame, followers or friends.

cinema's transformation in the face of changing media landscape.

  • on-demand → loss of continuousness.
  • availability on personal devices → collectiveness.
  • phones & computer as primary screens → cinema lost the big screen.
  • Cinema lost grandeur and became content.
  • ∴ Cinema risk of losing position as primary storytelling medium.
  • cinema ≠ dying, movies are evolving
  • personalized entertainment, global audiences, collective auteurism as new driving forces in media landscape.
  • algorithm-chosen popular culture ≔ average taste of global audience.
  • la chance to adapt cinema into new dynamics
  • Internet and smartphones' global presence ≈ cars' transformation effect → ubiquity of a technology reshapes society and industries
  • TikTok's success → Short-form portrait video as one potential evolution.
  • if further evolution, will it still be cinema or something new? what comes after cinema?

full article

Recent trends describe the current state of cinema as fragile and in decline. Industry figures have expressed this opinion, notably Martin Scorsese who in 2019 wrote an essay arguing that "the situation at this moment is brutal and inhospitable to art." Many of these statements blame franchise films and the modern way of producing them as the main drivers behind cinema becoming increasingly homogeneous and formatted, resulting in a market saturated with movies that look and feel the same. ⠀

Studios today have the option to release a movie in cinemas, but since the disappearance of DVDs, movies have lost most of their ability to make money after leaving theaters. Revenue now comes almost entirely from the number of tickets sold, which means that maximizing profits now means maximizing audiences. A movie is more accessible across cultures if it has a simple style, an easy-to-follow plot and few cultural or ideological references. This explains why many studios now consider following a repetitive (but successful) formula as more important when making a movie than the individual creative talent behind it.

Streaming releases have become an alternative to theatrical ones now that every major studio has launched its own platform. This is not always a bad option since it allows smaller movies and filmmakers to instantly reach an audience of millions without having to worry about selling tickets. But streaming platforms need users to consume as much content as possible to be profitable, and since hours spent on the service justify subscription prices, many of their productions are designed to be consumed passively, while users cook, clean, or browse their phone. These movies are not cinematic experiences but rather ambient ones, where results are "as negligible as they are interesting," as Brian Eno wrote when defining ambient music in 1978.

These two recent tendencies have helped studios and the film industry grow, but sequels, remakes, and movies based on existing material now capture most of Cinema's profits. Only 3 of the top 50 highest-grossing worldwide films of the 2010s were original stories.¹ Additionally, "good" (or at least recognized) Cinema is still struggling. The Oscars, arguably still today's biggest event and celebration of popular cinema, have seen their viewership steadily decline for decades. 55 million people watched the awards in 1998, compared to 41 million people in 2010 and just 10 million in 2021. Recent Academy Award winners have also grossed less money as time goes by. The combined Best Picture winners from the 1990s made around $5 billion worldwide, while combined winners of the 2000s made $3.4 billion and those of the 2010s, $2 billion.

This is the main idea behind recent statements and opinions on cinema: While globalization has strengthened the film industry, movies have lost economic and cultural influence. Cinema now risks not being the most popular form of storytelling in the 21st century, and newer forms of artistic expression could take its place.

black-adam

DC Comic's Black Adam (2022) being reviewed before its release in a small TV screen, by businesspeople in a business room.

Even if the modern way of making movies is partly responsible, it would seem that new consumption patterns are also at the heart of this situation. Internet speeds started to increase globally in the early 2010s and the primary way people express themselves online evolved from text and photos to eventually, video. As phone cameras got better, photo-sharing services like Instagram started pushing ordinary people to take and share pictures, not only professional photographers. Snapchat pushed this even further by making the camera, not content, be the first thing users see when opening the app.

A collective of ordinary people became the main authors of mass amounts of content and media that started to be uploaded, shared, and consumed online. Social media companies soon needed to show posts based on popularity to keep users longer on their apps and make their platforms more attractive. This began in 2009 with the introduction of likes and retweets as tools for finding the most engaging posts, but rapidly escalated. By 2014, most social media platforms showed content based on their engagement, not in chronological order. This marked the first time that algorithms chose what people saw and the beginning of viralization, which allowed content from anyone on earth to reach an audience of millions (now billions) of people.

Recent companies like TikTok have thrived by taking these new dynamics even further. Since the only way to browse content is by swiping up or down, TikTok's algorithm can learn about users' interests with every single interaction they make –if something's not interesting, the user will swipe quicker. Combined with its near-infinite supply of videos from all cultures and languages, only a couple of minutes are needed to learn and personalize content for anyone on earth. Since algorithms are also set as the main referees of what people see, TikTok helps people go viral without the need for network effects. Any user can reach millions of views without fame, status, followers, or even friends on the app. The implementation of these dynamics into the design and mechanics of the app is partly responsible for TikTok's huge success. The company seems to also understand their impact, stating in April 2022 that they didn't see themselves as a social media platform, but rather an "entertainment company."

Cinema then found itself in the middle of this new changing world, but failed to adapt. It soon started to be consumed like every other form of online media, getting transformed in the way: as movies became available anytime and could be paused, they lost some of Cinema's continuousness. Since movies also became available anywhere, people started watching them alone or with few others, which broke Cinema's locality and collectiveness. And as phones and computer screens become the primary ones for most people, Cinema lost the big screen.

This is where Cinema lost its grandeur and got transformed into simple content. Without these qualities, movies risk not being the primary storytelling vehicle for the 21st century. But I don't think this means cinema is dying, but rather that it is evolving. There is an old saying that "the first 50 years of the car industry were about creating and selling cars, but the second 50 years were about what happened once everyone had a car." After a majority of people owned one, they transformed businesses, suburbs, cities, people, and culture. Access to the internet is on track to become a human right, and the number of smartphone users is rising rapidly, with 83% of the world population owning one in 2022 (!).

As these technologies become universal like cars before them and algorithms determine more and more of popular culture, it seems like we're entering a democratization of media creation that allows anyone's voice to reach a global audience. But content chosen by algorithms only represents the average of everyone's tastes and interests. This is where filmmakers have the opportunity to think about how they could play with these new formats and adapt the cinematic experience. To do so, Cinema might need to move away from some of its traditional characteristics and embrace other new dynamics.

In this sense, TikTok's success could mean that short-form portrait video is an initial evolution and answer to the question "what happens to Cinema when everyone has a phone and Internet?" But as movies, technology, and people keep changing, short-form video might evolve even more and resemble Cinema even less. At that point, will it still be cinema, or something new? What comes after cinema?

Notes

¹ Frozen (2013), Zootopia (2016), Secret Life of Pets (2016).

note mentions

  • ego-simple-noframe

    this is a collection of notes that i've written over time, mostly for myself. in the spirit of working with garage doors open, i've published them and open sourced this website. works under writing are original, my notes a mix of thoughts with quotes from the artwork subject of the note.


    writing

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    notes

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    books

    ⠀⠀

    articles

    ⠀⠀

    film

    symbols

    • ∴ (therefore)
    • → (if then)
    • ↔ (if and only if)
    • (consequence of)
    • ≔ (definition)
    • ⫫ (independent from)
    • ∵ (because)
    • ∃, ∄ (there exists/does not exist)
    • ∈, ∉ (belongs to/does not belong to)


    ⠀ ⠀

    ⠀ ⠀

    writing keeps ideas in space

    speech lets them travel in time

    we use paintings to decorate space

    and music to decorate time

    ⠀ ⠀

    ⠀ ⠀

    find the way by moonlight

    see the dawn before

    the rest of the world

    ⠀ ⠀

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    unconscious time, no peace of mind,

    falling in space but still alive.

    sketching the future in a single line,

    everything's spinning, cannot sit down.

    moments in space, places in time,

    thoughts penciled in, now come to life.

    ⠀ ⠀

    ⠀ ⠀

    As of today, no one knows how to translate paintings, flowers or music into language. Their beauty is implicit and exclusive to their form, which is why it's so hard to explain how a particular piece of art makes us feel.

    ⠀ ⠀

    ⠀ ⠀


    Eduardo Gonzalez

    ego-noframe

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    notes

  • futurecinema

    what comes after cinema?

    eduardo gonzalez, aug 2023


    summary

    AI images have quickly evolved to a point of near-perfect photorealism and some have already gone viral worldwide.

    text-to-image models are not creative but derivative. they use data from countless artworks, sometimes without the author's consent, to create new and original results.

    • this mechanism is largely responsible for negative reactions + debates around copyright, misinformation and ethical implications of artificial intelligence in the creative process.
    • record labels are hostile but they'll embrace it as soon as they profit from it. maybe some new art = dead artists + current artists (Bad Bunny + The Beatles?)

    it seems this new era of media creation is hostile to artists, but its not the first time technology has disrupted art.

    the rise of photography in the 1850s is a good example.

    • photographers could capture reality instantly and with perfect accuracy than painters.
    • photography enabled mass reproduction of art that allowed multitudes of people to see them, but degraded each artwork's individual impact (∴ influence)
    • privacy concerns: taking photos of others without their consent
    • copyright concerns: who owns the photo? photographer or photographed?

    until then, painters were judged by their ability to accurately represent reality. they felt threatened since anyone with a camera could now do their job.

    • as photography became accepted as a new form of art, it suddenly helped to reduce these expectations. artists could now explore ideas without worrying about visual accuracy.
    • ⤷ painting (art) had its biggest revolution, visually and philosophically: impressionism (1860s-1880s), cubism (1910s), surrealism (1920s-1930s), abstract art (1910s-now) and eventually, cinema.

    text-to-image generation is still in its infancy (!) but text-to-video models are imminent.

    • current ai models already show impressive understanding of cinematic language (on ai) and it won't be long until anyone is able to create photorealistic movies using natural language. this will challenge cinema like photography did to art.
    • users specify cameras, lenses and framings, AI models create photorealistic sets, props, actors and dialogue.
    • no need for physical locations, crews or large budgets → cost of making movies will significantly decline.
    • democratization of the hollywood film studio → new voices previously limited by costs of filmmaking.

    as of today, no one knows how to translate paintings, flowers or music into language. their beauty is implicit and exclusive to their form, which is why it's so hard to explain how a particular piece of art makes us feel.

    • a new epoch of cinema will arrive: anyone will be able to make a movie using natural language ∴ film and text will become the same thing. (→on ai)
    • every frame will be generated, not filmed.
    • anyone will be able to read, write or watch a movie.
    • cinema will detach from the camera.
    • this won’t be better or worse, just different. (→on cinema)

    ⠀ ⠀

    full article

    Usage of AI tools skyrocketed on launch and their impact is being felt in many fields, from financial accounting to psychologist's offices and creative studios. Image generation with AI has also evolved in a short time to a point of near-perfect photorealism and some artificial images have already gone viral worldwide.

    AI models are not creative but derivative, meaning they use elements and styles of countless artworks and paintings, sometimes without their creator's consent, to create new and original results. This mechanism is particularly responsible for negative reactions and debates around copyright, misinformation and the ethical implications of artificial intelligence in the creative process.

    Just recently on April 14, TikTok user Ghostwriter977 released "Heart on My Sleeve", a song that used AI to mimic the voices of singers Drake and The Weekend, without neither singer being involved in the process. Just 3 days later, their record label, Universal Music, condemned the use of AI to create the song, invoked copyright violation to take down the track, and asked streaming platforms to block AI companies from accessing their songs. The 2-minute-14-second song had already been listened to over 20 million times by then.

    Not all reactions have been negative: the Japanese government became the first one to settle that they won't enforce copyright on artworks used for AI training and British singer Paul McCartney recently announced that the 'last Beatles song' will be completed using AI and released in 2023. The use and progress of these tools will only increase, soon disrupting all areas of artistic creation, from music and painting to photography and cinema. And while Record labels and Studios are currently hostile towards AI, I believe they'll embrace it as soon as they start to profit from it. (Maybe dead artists and actors will be revived to make new songs and movies with current artists, Bad Bunny+Freddie Mercury?)

    fridas

    Feb 2022⠀ April 2022 ⠀July 2022⠀ Nov 2022 ⠀March 2023
    "Frida Kahlo browsing her phone"

    But even if it seems we might be entering an new era of media creation that is hostile to artists, this is not the first time technology has disrupted art. The birth and rise of Photography in the 1850s enabled a mass reproduction of art which allowed paintings and sculptures to be seen my multitudes of people, while simultaneously degrading their individual influence and impact.

    Artists who made a living making portraits of people or vedutas (hyper-realistic paintings of cities, often souvenirs for tourists) felt threatened since photography could capture reality instantly and with more accuracy than them. The jobs they had for centuries could now be done by anyone with a camera. Privacy and copyright concerns became a heated issue as well: if people can photograph others without their consent, who owns the photo? Photographer or photographed?

    If photography is allowed to replace art in some of its functions, it will soon have supplanted or corrupted it completely, thanks to the natural alliance it will find in the stupidity of the multitude.

    – Charles Baudelaire, Salon de 1859

    Until then, painters and their art were usually judged by their ability to accurately represent reality. As photography became more adopted and accepted as a new form of art, it suddenly reduced these expectations. Artists were now free to explore and pursue their own interests, passions and ideas without needing to worry about visual accuracy. Modernists movements like Impressionism, Cubism, Surrealism and Abstract Art soon followed, and painting had its biggest revolution, both visually and philosophically.

    photo-on-art

    Art in the 1850s⠀⠀Photography (1850s)⠀⠀Art in the 1900s

    Photography kept evolving and eventually allowed for the birth of an even more powerful art form to arrive, cinema. Although AI technologies are still in their infancy and limited to image generation, the arrival of text-to-video models is imminent and could challenge Cinema just like photography did to art. Current models already show an impressive understanding of cinematic language and it won't be long until anyone is able to create a photorealistic movie by simply writing a script and describing the rest of the movie using natural language. Users will be able to specify cameras, lenses and framings and AI models will create photorealistic sets, props, actors and dialogue that match the user's intentions.

    Without the need for physical locations, crews or large budgets, the cost of making movies will be significantly reduced, allowing for a democratization of the Hollywood Film Studio that will open the door for new voices previously limited by the cost of filmmaking.

    Images from these movies might not be human but knowledge behind them certainly will be. Human creativity will then ultimately determine how meaningful AI-aided cinema is: ideas and stories explored will need to be powerful to allow them to travel through minds and eventually become culture.

    beethoven

    An example where I asked an AI model to generate an image of
    "Beethoven directing an orchestra in mars"
    in 8mm, 16mm, 35mm and digital film

    As of today, no one knows how to translate paintings, flowers or music into language. Their beauty is implicit and exclusive to their form, which is why it's so hard to explain how a particular piece of art makes us feel.

    Traditional Cinema will always exist, but as progress in AI image and video generation continues, I believe a new epoch of cinema will emerge where anyone will be able to make a movie using natural language. For the first time, film and text will become the same thing: anyone will be able to read, write or watch a movie and every frame will be generated, not filmed.

    This new Synthetic Cinema will allow movies to detach from the camera, empowering filmmakers to break free from the limits of traditional cinema and pioneer new visual styles, just like impressionists did when they created a new visual style by removing physical influence from painting a century ago.

    These movies won't be better or worse, they'll just be different.

    after cinema

    • this won’t be better or worse, just different. (→on cinema)
  • cinema


    cinema

  • people aren't meant to talk this much


    • Your social life has a biological limit: 150 (number proposed by Robin Dunbar) people with whom you can have meaningful relationships.
      • We can reasonably expect to develop up to 150 productive bonds, but we have our most intimate, and therefore most connected, relationships with only about five to 15 closest friends. We can maintain much larger networks, but only by compromising the quality or sincerity of those connections; most people operate in much smaller social circles.
    • Online media gives the everyperson access to channels of communication previously reserved for Big Business. Starting with the world wide web in the 1990s and continuing into user-generated content of the aughts and social media of the 2010s, control over public discourse has moved from media organizations, governments, and corporations to average citizens. (see: on cinema)
    • The capacity to reach an audience some of the time became contorted into the right to reach every audience all of the time.
    • First, the platforms invented metrics to encourage engagement, such as like and share counts. Popularity and reach, of obvious value to the platforms, became social values too.
    • To constrain the frequency of speech, the size or composition of an audience, the spread of any single speech act, or the life span of such posts is entirely accordant with the creative and technical underpinning of computational media.
      • companies have long embraced constraints. Tweets can be 280 characters and no more. YouTube videos for most users cannot exceed 15 minutes--before 2010, the limit was 10.
      • Later, Vine pushed brevity to its logical extreme, limiting videos to six seconds in length. Snapchat bet its success on ephemerality, with posts that vanish after a brief period rather than persist forever.
      • On LinkedIn, your profile stops counting after 500 contacts, which purportedly nudges users to focus on the quality and use of their contacts rather than their number.
      • It should be shocking that you pay no mind to recomposing an idea so it fits in 280 characters, but that you'd never accept that the resulting message might be limited to 280 readers or 280 minutes. And yet, nothing about the latter is fundamentally different from the former.
    • technology companies would surely fight any effort to reduce growth or engagement. Private citizens would bristle at new and unfamiliar limitations. But the alternative, living amid the ever-rising waste spewed by megascale, is unsustainable.

    people aren't meant to talk this much

    • Online media gives the everyperson access to channels of communication previously reserved for Big Business. Starting with the world wide web in the 1990s and continuing into user-generated content of the aughts and social media of the 2010s, control over public discourse has moved from media organizations, governments, and corporations to average citizens. (see: on cinema)
  • Martin Scorsese: I said marvel movies aren’t cinema. Let me explain.


    • For me, for the filmmakers I came to love and respect, for my friends who started making movies around the same time that I did, cinema was about revelation — aesthetic, emotional and spiritual revelation.
    • It was about confronting the unexpected on the screen and in the life it dramatized and interpreted, and enlarging the sense of what was possible in the art form. And that was the key for us: it was an art form.
    • My sense of what is possible in telling stories with moving images and sounds is going to be expanded.
    • There was some debate about that at the time, so we stood up for cinema as an equal to literature or music or dance.

    • Many of the elements that define cinema as I know it are there in Marvel pictures. What’s not there is revelation, mystery or genuine emotional danger. Nothing is at risk.
    • The pictures are made to satisfy a specific set of demands, and they are designed as variations on a finite number of themes. They are sequels in name but they are remakes in spirit, and everything in them is officially sanctioned because it can’t really be any other way.
    • That’s the nature of modern film franchises: market-researched, audience-tested, vetted, modified, revetted and remodified until they’re ready for consumption.
    • In many places around this country and around the world, franchise films are now your primary choice if you want to see something on the big screen. It’s a perilous time in film exhibition, and there are fewer independent theaters than ever. The equation has flipped and streaming has become the primary delivery system.
    • Still, I don’t know a single filmmaker who doesn’t want to design films for the big screen, to be projected before audiences in theaters.
    • But no matter whom you make your movie with, the fact is that the screens in most multiplexes are crowded with franchise pictures.
    • If people are given only one kind of thing and endlessly sold only one kind of thing, of course they’re going to want more of that one kind of thing. But, you might argue, can’t they just go home and watch anything else they want on Netflix or iTunes or Hulu? Sure — anywhere but on the big screen, where the filmmaker intended her or his picture to be seen. (on cinema)

    In the past 20 years, as we all know, the movie business has changed on all fronts. But the most ominous change has happened stealthily and under cover of night: the gradual but steady elimination of risk.

    • Many films today are perfect products manufactured for immediate consumption. Many of them are well made by teams of talented individuals. All the same, they lack something essential to cinema: the unifying vision of an individual artist. Because, of course, the individual artist is the riskiest factor of all.
    • Today, that tension is gone, and there are some in the business with absolute indifference to the very question of art and an attitude toward the history of cinema that is both dismissive and proprietary — a lethal combination. The situation, sadly, is that we now have two separate fields: There’s worldwide audiovisual entertainment, and there’s cinema.

    I fear that the financial dominance of one is being used to marginalize and even belittle the existence of the other.

    • the situation at this moment is brutal and inhospitable to art.

    why marvel movies aren't cinema

    • If people are given only one kind of thing and endlessly sold only one kind of thing, of course they’re going to want more of that one kind of thing. But, you might argue, can’t they just go home and watch anything else they want on Netflix or iTunes or Hulu? Sure — anywhere but on the big screen, where the filmmaker intended her or his picture to be seen. (on cinema)