I wrote a story for the Suicide Girls Newswire about George Lucas, who recently said that he was just about done with blockbuster movies.
"We don't want to make movies. We're about to get into television. As far as Lucasfilm is concerned, we've moved away from the feature film thing because it's too expensive and it's too risky."
Lucas said that the secret to success is "quantity." Surprising nobody who has seen Star Wars Episodes I-III, Lucas made no mention of "quality."
All betrayed-geek snark aside, I actually agree with Lucas' reasoning on expensive, huge studio films versus smaller, less-expensive films.
Spending $100 million on production costs and another $100 million on P&A makes no sense, he said.
"For that same $200 million, I can make 50-60 two-hour movies. That's 120 hours as opposed to two hours. In the future market, that's where it's going to land, because it's going to be all pay-per-view and downloadable.
Firefly fans may understand the reasoning. How many episodes of the series could have been made and distributed via DVD or online (if no network was interested) for the cost of Serenity?
There's more at the Geekwire, including some stuff that I think is pretty funny and plan to use in a bit at ACME tomorrow night, but Lucas' comments and his decision reflect something I've been thinking about for a long time, especially since I watched Serenity on DVD.
Though I enjoyed it, I thought it could have been two or three really fantastic episodes instead of a movie that spent a lot of time telling non-Browncoats why they should care about these characters.
See, that's a huge problem with making film versions of television shows: the studio needs to count on getting the hardcore fans into the theater, so they have to give those fans what they want. But they also need to bring in a much broader mainstream audience, so they have to spend a lot of time and energy bringing non-fans up to speed, often at the expense of those same hardcore fans. Studio marketing departments have an incredible challenge, too: they have to convince the hardcores that the movie is worth watching, while also convincing the rest of the audience that they won't need to be a fan of the TV show to enjoy the film. More often than not, in an effort to make everybody happy, they make nobody happy, and then the studios can claim that film versions of television shows just don't work.
Of course, Star Trek IV is a massive exception to this rule, but it was the only Star Trek film to successfully find vast mainstream success, and while that was mostly because of the quality of the writing -- you could enjoy it without ever watching another Star Trek episode -- at the time, Star Trek was already 20 years old; it's not like a lot of people didn't know at least something about the characters and mythos.
So here's my idea: when you have a passionate, built-in audience for a specialized show, like Firefly, or Babylon 5, (or some non-Sci-Fi show, even,) instead of trying to make a big and expensive theatrical feature that just won't cross over into the mainstream audience, and give the studio an excuse to kill the entire show, why not take the money you'd spend on one big movie, and use it to produce a full season that would be released on first-run DVD, in stores or on the intertubes?
Assuming that the show in question has already been taken off the network, the hardcore fans that the studio or network wants so badly to get into the theater would most likely leap at the opportunity to have more. Unlike a one-shot movie, they don't have to waste time and resources introducing characters to the audience, and they can focus on telling stories and developing characters that the creators are passionate about. (To borrow a phrase from Joel Hodgson, "We don't ask ourselves, 'Will anyone get this?' We say to ourselves, 'the right people will get this.'") They could even write stories that may be considered too "inside baseball" for television, because the self-selecting audience that buys the DVD would know enough about the characters and mythos to grok and enjoy it.
This isn't a revolutionary idea, and I'm sure people like JMS have thought about this already, but since I haven't seen it written down anywhere else, I'm opening the discussion. Would this work or not? The only real issue, as far as I can tell, is whether the hardcore audience for Show X is big enough to financially support a a project like the one I'm suggesting.
UPDATE: Well, it looks like JMS is already doing this. Why am I not surprised?
From WWdN:ix reader L.E.M.:
JMS is writing/producing/directing a series of direct to DVD Babylon 5 movies. Called Babylon 5: The Lost Tales, the first one, Voices in the Dark starts shooting in Vancouver in November:
Date: 3 Oct 2006 00:17:35 -0700
I'm kind of up against it right now on an assortment of deadlines, so this'll be quick, but I did want to address some of the questions that have been asked.
Yes, we're shooting this HD, so this is going to be quite a learning curve for me as a director, since I've never shot HD before. There's also a HUGE amount of green-screen involved, so again, lots of learning to be done.
For those who are getting the B5 scripts books -- and eventually the B5:TLT scripts will be released -- you'll notice a substantial difference between them and these scripts in that I decided to kind of direct them on the page more than usual: calling out specific angles and camera directions, locations and setups more than in any prior B5 script. It probably resembles an animation script more than a standard TV script, because it incorporates my directorial notes, shot for shot, as we go.
The first three-segment DVD is called "Voices in the Dark." We've narrowed down the cast, and hope to have their deals closed this week. There are already ten crew members working on this thing up in Vancouver, pulling together stages, offices and other prep work. The first day of shooting will likely be either November 13th or 14th (due to a Canadian holiday). The last twiddlings to the script should be done by this coming Monday. Storyboarding starts the end of this week.
It's balls-to-the-wall right now, but it should be fun in the end.
message content (c) 2006
synthetic worlds, ltd.
permission to reprint
specifically denied to
I absolutely love that "permission to reprint is specifically denied to SFX magazine." Maybe JMS has the same relationship with SFX that I have with Entertainment We(a)kly.
UPDATE 2: I just want to clarify something that may be unclear, based on several comments. I'm not suggesting that creators skip television entirely and go straight to DVD. Someday that will most likely be a viable business model, but right now, it's too financial risky. I promise you, though, when the penetration of high-speed intertubes reaches some industry-defined critical mass worldwide, there will be a golden opportunity for a someone to broadcast specialized programming directly to a truly global audience. This will be a nightmare for the unions and licensees, but it's coming.
Anyway, my idea (which doesn't seem to have resonated with too many other people) was that after a series had been canceled by the network, rather than take it to the big screen for one last hurrah, creators could take it to DVD for 13 last hurrahs.