Keeping Art Alive in the Movies

John Cameron Mitchell is a a writer, actor and filmmaker best known for his feature films "Hedwig and the Angry Inch." "Hedwig," originally an Obie-award-winnning off-Broadway play, is the story of a transgendered East German rock star chasing after an ex-lover. The film version won Mitchell a best director award at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival, and a Golden Globe nomination for "Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy." His other films include "Shortbus" and the soon-to-be-released drama "Rabbit Hole."
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TRANSCRIPT

Question: How can films stay artistically vital in the coming decades?

John Cameron Mitchell:  We’re in a strange pocket of time where we don’t know how films, films haven’t yet been, there’s no comprehensive way of delivering films digitally to everyone—i.e. all films on demand, quickly, easily, cheaply.  Movie theaters don’t have digital projection yet, which means there’s financial constraints for certain films that right now are doing well, but because of the economics, doesn’t make sense to make prints for other theaters.  It’s just better to show them on demand, in the theater, on DVD, as the day and date situation, which means everything, you know, you can see it in different forms all on the same day.  Which is what I see in HD Net and other companies are doing more, which may be the future, looks like the future.

So right now, people aren’t, can’t quite figure out how to make money on the small films, you know, there’s the fear that the product’s being devalued and people don’t feel like they have to pay for films the way they have for music over the last few years, so that’s going to be very difficult to... you know, will that change, will people... I think the only way it will change is if they figure out that technology immediately, and all the companies agreeing on a single way to deliver the films by broadband to people’s TV’s.

So, that kind of stuff is making, there’s probably a third the number of the films being made, small films, all films, than there were two years ago.  And they tend toward the giant, you know, 3D kind of thing, genre thing, Hollywood thing, or the other side, which is small films packed with stars, in a low budget, less than 10 million, and there’s also this opportunity for very cheap films to lead the way, perhaps in quality, but also in... economically, it’s like how they’re delivered.  So films made for less than half a million, you’ll see a lot more of.  You’ll see them over 100 million and less than a half a million and not as much in the middle.  Stars seem to be less important for what people want to see now than they used to be.  They don’t guarantee grosses any more, which I think in a way is probably a relief, but it’s confusing for the studios, people aren’t sure of where to put their money.

Unfortunately, it takes time for good filmmakers to develop, there’s not too many whose first films fully develop because you need so many skills, musical, actor, financial, visual, you know, it’s not just like writing a song, you can have people who are, you know, prodigies, musically, but in a way you have to have prodigies, people who can do all kinds of things in order to be a good director.  So, the first film isn’t always the best.  Once in a while you’ll have someone very unusual will come out, like Jonathan Caouette, who did "Tarnation," or you know, Tarantino... when he, you know, "Reservoir Dogs," or someone who seems to have mastered it on their first go, and those are very, those are rare.  But it’s, you know, the David Lynches of the world and Scorsese and such made a lot of shorts and made some early films that were finding their way before they made their "Taxi Driver" or their, you know, "Blue Velvet."

So, it’s easier to make films now, technologically, financially, you know, the equipment is there for young people to do it.  There is the Internet for distribution, but how do you make money while you’re doing it, is the piece of the puzzle that’s still to be figured out.

Recorded on May 3, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen

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