I have often said that show business is a three-legged stool, that must all be in balance for productions and endeavors to be successful. The three legs of the stool are also three aspects that drive the industry forward. These are Money, Technology and Art.
It is called show Business for a reason. It is incumbent on creators working in the field to be aware of all three legs of the stool. Everything costs some money to make or distribute, even if that money is in the form of time spent filming cat videos on your phone instead of doing other work. For most people toiling in the industry, their ultimate dream is to be able to live from their work as filmmakers, screenwriters, or actors.
Similarly, the Studios, Networks, and production companies, along with all the companies providing services to the industry, expect to be able to make money with projects. They can only carry so many art house films that lose money but bring prestige, which are funded by the success of blockbusters. The Oscar ® winner, James Coburn, used to complain back in the 1980’s that studio heads were like “shoe salesmen” who wanted to take the money out of the industry. He remembered the old days when the studio heads wanted to “make movies that made money in order to be able to make more movies”. Today, nobody wants to lose money, but the audiences are demanding better content – that is to say, they pay for the art.
The Art leg is where the aesthetics, taste, meaning and cultural relevance and value come in. Audiences want to be thrilled, moved, and entertained. Moviegoers are more sophisticated than they are sometimes given credit for. As viewers or consumers of popular culture, audiences have learned not to be satisfied with mere spectacle. We want compelling stories, interesting characters, and cleverness in our entertainment, including in our commercial movies, our TV, and our curated streamed content.
Technology is the third driver, not just of the creation, but of the ways that we can consume the content. Once there were only live performances. That has its own technology. Eventually there was radio, phonograph, and the beginnings of film. With television, at first it was all live performance again. Now everything may be recorded in some way and kept digitally. Once the characteristics of film itself informed the filmmakers’ ability to create effects. Watch Hugo (2011) – about George Méliès. Now computers allow filmmakers to create anything they can imagine, for lower and lower costs, and older ways of doing things, like stop-motion animation, are chosen intentionally for their whimsy and warmth – that is to say, for the Art.
Audiences will pay more for a reclining seat in a state-of-the-art theater to watch something good, that moves or inspires or entertains. Three Pillars.
The point is, you can’t ignore any one of them, or be tunnel-visioned towards only one. You can’t be so high-brow that budget is beneath you, or you will run out of the wherewithal to finish your movie. You can’t be so cynical that your goal is entirely to write the next blockbuster, because audiences see right through it and stay away. You can’t ignore the possibilities of technology, or your film will feel old fashioned, or worse, look and sound cheap while costing more.
All three considerations, in balance, keep the industry upright, and allow makers to create great films. Which is why Black Panther (2017) may be the perfect movie.
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