A few months back, I looked at the growing tide of making movies on mobile phones. I was referring not only to the typical home videos that we used to capture on a large home video camera, now on our portable phones, but semi-professional and even professional films on your iPhone or Android. Specifically, I was concerned with what this trend means for high-end camera makers.
This week, I saw a short – all of 1:22 – fantasy film called DragonBorne, which was done entirely on an iPhone 6. Not just the filming in HD, but the entire production, from filming to editing to soundtrack, to mixing, to special effects, everything was done on an iPhone 6. The producer, Matthew Pearce, even has a dedicated YouTube channel showing how to do advanced filmmaking on an iPhone.
While my original focus was on what this means for high-end camera makers, I also would like to take a look at what this means for film producers.
Producing films requires a few key inputs (non-exhaustive list):
- Talent – actors, editors, etc. essentially labour
- Equipment (i.e. capital)
- Distribution – movie houses, TV network contracts, etc.
The Internet, and specifically YouTube followed by Vimeo and other platforms, have significantly reduced the value of distribution channels. Yes, you can make a lot more money when major movie houses show your film and your distributors advertise it heavily. But you, as a producer, can use Web video channels to get the film in front of as many people as a movie house, if not more. Further, with YouTube available on most large-screen home TVs, whether via dedicated boxes such as the Apple TV or Roku, Smart TVs, or via streaming over Chromecast or similar, anything that can be watched on the Internet can be watched in large-screen at home.
Talent is often broadly available, with far fewer people “making it” as producers/actors/directors than are capable. A mixture of luck and contacts combined with skill is what puts someone in the neon lights (assuming we still use neon and not LEDs).
All of this leaves the big constraint to widespread film production as capital. It takes a lot of money to buy the equipment – cameras, soundstations, editing software, all sorts of specialty gear – that is necessary to make a film.
The massive reduction in cost of such equipment is a risk not only to the camera makers, but to the studios. Yes, few will be able to match the quality produced by the well-funded and well-trained studios. But if 100x or 1,000x such “mini-studios” pop up, some will, inevitably, be as good as or better than the currently dominant, and very expensive, ones.
For years, even the Internet did not put the content creation business at risk. Anyone could distribute video, and with Facebook and Twitter even tell millions of people about it, but the quality was the sole domain of the pros. The simplicity of the newer software, the sheer availability of the hardware, all combine to put the studios firmly in the cross-hairs.