LOS ANGELES – Hollywood legends Steven Spielberg and George Lucas have sparked a surge of debate in Tinseltown after warning that the film industry is set to implode, amid soaring budgets and cable TV rivalry.
"E.T." icon Spielberg revealed that his Oscar-winning political biopic Lincoln almost didn't make it into theaters last year, while Lucas said the path to release films in theaters is "getting smaller and smaller".
Pricing structures could also change with, for example, theaters charging $25 for the next "Iron Man" blockbuster but only US$7 for a ticket to see Lincoln, or even a Broadway-style structure, with much costlier tickets and longer runs.
There has long been a trend in the major Hollywood studios towards more sure-fire commercial hits, either with bankable A-list stars or blockbuster sequels to already tried-and-tested franchises.
But the constant introduction of new technologies, from DVDs to BluRays to on-demand entertainment, as well as the widespread illegal peer-to-peer sharing of movies, have steadily eaten into the industry's bottom line.
Speaking at a debate on Wednesday at the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts, Spielberg said some young filmmakers' ideas were often "too fringe-y for the movies."
"That's the big danger, and there's eventually going to be an implosion – or a big meltdown," he said, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
He added: "You're at the point right now where a studio would rather invest $250 million in one film for a real shot at the brass ring... than make a whole bunch of really interesting, deeply personal" films, he was quoted as saying.
"There's going to be an implosion where three or four or maybe even a half-dozen mega-budget movies are going to go crashing into the ground, and that's going to change the paradigm," he said.
Star Wars legend Lucas added: "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." Lucas said: "I think eventually the 'Lincolns' will go away and they're going to be on television."
"As mine almost was," Spielberg interjected, physically illustrating how near Lincoln was to being released on cable TV channel HBO. "This close – ask HBO – this close," he said.
Lucas added: "We're talking Lincoln and Red Tails' (a 2012 film which Lucas executive produced) – we barely got them into theaters. You're talking about Steven Spielberg and George Lucas can't get their movie into a theater."
The trend towards making "edgier" films for cable TV rather than theater was highlighted recently by "Behind the Candelabra," Steven Soderbergh's biopic of flamboyant entertainer Liberace, starring Michael Douglas and Matt Damon.
The film's gay theme prompted mainstream Hollywood to shy away from financing the picture. As a result, Soderbergh turned to the US cable TV giant HBO, meaning it cannot be an Oscar contender. Films with budgets of $250 million are increasingly common, and a number have failed in recent years, including last year's John Carter, which led to the departure of a top Disney boss and cost the studio some $200 million. Hollywood A-lister Will Smith's latest movie After Earth, with an estimated budget of $130 million, flopped badly earlier this month, making a less-than-stellar $27.5 million on its opening weekend. – AFP/VNS