Talk with anyone in the film industry and they’ll almost certainly have an opinion on the ongoing recent debate over the true definition of cinema as filmmakers from Steven Spielberg to Martin Scorsese have all weighed in on the topic of direct-to-streaming films, theatrical windows, blockbuster vs. indie films and so forth.
There’s no question that the landscape is changing rapidly as mid-budget films dwindle in favor of safe four-quadrant blockbusters theatrically and streamers with multi-billion dollar budgets are taking risks the big studios simply won’t take anymore.
One person who has weighed in this week is actor-turned-filmmaker Edward Norton, currently out tubthumping his period drama “Motherless Brooklyn”. Norton went a traditional theatrical release for his film, but if you think that makes him a champion of the ‘theatrical experience’ argument – think again.
Speaking to The Daily Beast, Norton didn’t hold back on the current state of the film industry starting with the actual theaters themselves whom he says are often ruining the presentation of films:
“A lot of filmmakers and cinematographers that I know that have really started to look into this say that more than 60% of American theaters are running their projector at almost half the luminosity that they’re required by contract to run it at. They are delivering crappy sound and a dim picture, and no one is calling them on it. You want to train people. Like, go get your money back. If the movie looks dark, it was – go get your money back! I think we should rally around that. I really do.”
He also doesn’t subscribe to the notion that streaming services are a threat and are ruining the theatrical experience:
“To be super clear, I would say that today, as a creative person who’s interested in telling stories, there has never been more opportunity to get original and diverse visions of a narrative across to other people – ever, in the history of American cinema, television, whatever you want to call it… it’s easier than ever to tell complex, long-form, character-driven stories.
Netflix invested more in ‘Roma’ theatrically – theatrically – than any boutique label at any studio would have by a factor of five. They put a Spanish-language black-and-white film all over the world in theaters. Hundreds of theaters, not just a few; as many as Sony Pictures Classics would have done. They put more money behind it, in a theatrical context, than anybody would have.
You can’t tell me there’s a whole lot of people making black-and-white Spanish-language films and putting that investment behind them. And you can’t tell me that there’s a lot of places making five-part documentaries about the Central Park Five.”
Norton goes on to say had he wanted to make “Motherless Brooklyn for a streaming service, he would not onlly have landed a deal ‘in five minutes’ but would’ve had a bigger budget and not had to ask actors to work for scale. He only went the traditional distribution method because he wanted to make a film similar to the older films that influenced him.
“Motherless Brooklyn” arrives in cinemas on November 1st.