Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, E3Last night Empire's focus switched from high-octane Forza Motorsport 5 news at the E3 gaming to a high-profile Q&A down the road involving two of cinema's elder statesmen. Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, helping to open the University of Southern California’s new Interactive Media Building, offered a rather bleak prognosis of the future of cinema. Revealing that Lincoln was "this close" to appearing on HBO, Spielberg predicted that a few high-profile blockbuster flops will spark a radical overhaul of the Hollywood business model.
"The big danger is that there’s eventually going to be a big meltdown", Spielberg said, "where three or four, maybe even a half a dozen of these mega-budgeted movies are going to go crashing into the ground. That’s going to change the paradigm again."
"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", he added, "than make a whole bunch of really interesting, deeply personal projects that may get lost in the shuffle."
The pair's big worries - of fragmenting distribution channels, the vast choice open to audiences and a breakdown of the narrative form – add up to a world in which their own passion projects, Lincoln and Red Tails, struggled for distribution.
Citing the popularity of premium cable networks such as HBO, the rise of on-demand streaming services and consumers with increasingly large screens in their homes, Lucas believes that the multiplex will gradually become a luxury product - with prices to reflect. "You’re going to end up with fewer but bigger theaters [and] going to the movies is gonna cost you $50, $100, maybe even $150." That, even for the most hardcore of blockbuster fans, isn't pretty.
Adds Spielberg: "You’re going to have to pay $25 to see the next Iron Man and you’re probably only going to have to pay seven dollars to see Lincoln."
These two grandees of cinema - the fathers of the modern blockbuster, lest we forget - echoed some of the concerns raised recently by Steven Soderbergh (see Empire's July issue). Like Soderbergh, they pointed to the emergence of television as a threat to moviemaking, as well as an opportunity for up-and-coming talent. "The Lincolns are going to be on television," predicted Lucas, to which Spielberg added, "Mine almost was: ask HBO. This close."
Not all filmmakers share their apocalyptic vision. Duncan Jones tweeted that the pair were "out of touch" with emerging moviemaking ideas.
Check back later this morning for the full E3 transcript. In the meantime, post your thoughts below.