I was surprised to hear Steven Spielberg take a dump on films that get distribution deals with streaming services, slapping them back with “they deserve an Emmy but not an Oscar.” His point: they suddenly become a “TV movie.” Well, maybe to Spielberg’s generation. Not to those in my daughter’s generation. They see no difference, and in fact probably see, at most, one or two movies a year in tehaters. That’s not really the fault of streaming services. It is simply the way our culture and our technology is rapidly changing. Evolution dictates adaptation or extinction. As Carl Sagan said, “Extinction is the rule. Survival is the exception.”
Really, dude? This is the guy who flipped out when he didn’t get a Best Director nomination for Jaws (which he deserved). Back then, Spielberg and others like him didn’t get much respect from the industry that awards Oscars. Spielberg worked hard for his, no doubt, absolutely reaching for it until they finally gave it to him with Schindler’s List. But believe me, when Jaws first hit theaters, Spielberg’s predecessors were mostly in the “it’s the end of everything” camp. In fact, Spielberg himself has said that he and his pal George Lucas were largely responsible for to shift Hollywood in a direction where someday in the future the only theatrical releases will be big event movies. You pay a shitload of money and maybe you go once a month but it’s one hell of a ride. That’s the future Spielberg helped make. The blockbuster is also the future he helped make back in the 1970s.
[Variety, 2013] Looking into their crystal ball, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg predicted the imminent arrival of a radically different entertainment landscape… Both directors see “quirky” or more personal content migrating to streaming video-on-demand, where niche audiences can be aggregated. “What used to be the movie business, in which I include television and movies … will be Internet television,” said Lucas. “The question will be: Do you want people to see it, or do you want people to see it on a big screen?” he added.
“There’s eventually going to be a big meltdown,” Spielberg said. “There’s going to be an implosion where three or four or maybe even a half-dozen of these mega-budgeted movies go crashing into the ground and that’s going to change the paradigm again.”
Lucas predicted that after that meltdown, “You’re going to end up with fewer theaters, bigger theaters with a lot of nice things. Going to the movies will cost 50 bucks or 100 or 150 bucks, like what Broadway costs today, or a football game. It’ll be an expensive thing. … (The movies) will sit in the theaters for a year, like a Broadway show does. That will be called the ‘movie’ business.”
“There’ll be big movies on a big screen, and it’ll cost them a lot of money. Everything else will be on a small screen. It’s almost that way now. ‘Lincoln’ and ‘Red Tails’ barely got into theaters. You’re talking about Steven Spielberg and George Lucas can’t get their movies into theaters.”
Spielberg admits that the tent pole film ruined the way things were in Hollywood for the first 60 years, and says this unironically, without adding that “oh and hey by the way I made that happen. I was the mutation that helped build the tent pole blockbuster — yeah that was me.” He also admits that “television” is thriving, and so is creativity on Netflix and Amazon — where they don’t have to depend on the opening weekend numbers or the predilections of studios that make their demands on artists that inevitably cripple them.
Films that earn Oscars are those that deserve them, not films that polish the knobs of the five families and the exhibitors. You either care about the art or you care about profit for stockholders — and the Oscars are supposed to only be about the art, right? It seems the patch of territory is narrowing as to what Oscar voters are allowed to choose. It looks like our pile of “Oscar movies” is going to get even smaller if we say “TV movies shouldn’t win Oscars.” I’m imagining reading this blog post ten years in the future and laughing at how this was even a conversation.
Either the Academy goes bigger and louder and starts including the CGI action films that will eventually dominate the theaters entirely, or else they open their minds to other possibilities. And someone should tell Spielberg that his good friend Martin Scorsese is about to release one of the most anticipated films of next year, The Irishman, on… wait for it… Netflix. Is Steven going to break the news to Marty that no matter how good the movie is it only deserves an Emmy?
I suspect that as long as it’s Dee Rees and Mudbound that shit will fly. But not with The Irishman. It’s possible that Spielberg, who probably hasn’t much of a hard time getting a movie made since Jaws, might have forgotten what it feels like to have to struggle.
I’m a Jaws fan (as readers of this site know) and a hard core Spielberg fan, but it’s depressing to hear him diminish the work of those who are helping to keep the creativity flowing and reaching audiences who maybe don’t have access to the arthouse. Most of the people who read this site don’t watch the “Oscar movies” until they hit VOD, I hate to break it to Spielberg. I love to keep the magic of the movies alive and I hope that people continue to go to the theaters to see them, but I also know that when it comes to awards the pile has to get bigger, wider, and more expansive — not smaller and more exclusive.
Adapt or die, my friends.