The Man Who Killed The Movie Studios

Wonder Wheel Amazon Studios

Who would have thought Woody Allen, the most conservative of filmmakers (in the good sense of “conservative”), would be the guy leading the charge to kill the movie studios?


Amazon Studios is going to release Allen’s Wonder Wheel directly to theaters, bypassing the traditional distribution chain. Which means Amazon is going to become a movie studio. Which means the brick & mortar studios are dead.


Thank God. They won’t be missed.


The movement in this direction has been inevitable, and strong, and spurred largely by the legendary stupidity of the studios themselves. Like Chandler has a studio executive say in The Little Sister:


“The motion-picture business is the only business in the world in which you can
make all the mistakes there are and still make money.”


Reed Hastings (aka Netflix) was the first one to embrace the virtual-studio idea in a big way, ratcheting down disc distribution as quickly as he could and softly selling everybody on the many virtues of streaming. Then came Netflix’ original series—a phalanx of Trojan Horses meant to lead the way for them to become a studio as big as—and, there’s little reason to doubt, better than—any of the dying brick & mortar dinosaurs.


But Amazon (aka Jeff Bezos) seems to be making the savvier moves. Their content tends to be better, and they’ve positioned themselves to deliver the death blow.


It’s been a long time coming. The studios became little more than an extension of gaming years ago, churning out the equivalent of theme-park thrill rides, betting their audiences would never grow up. The studios have nothing to show us anymore—about how movies should be made, or what they should be.


The sad decline of Pixar is one of the strongest signs the studios are kaput. They released one brilliant, groundbreaking film after another in their early days, and made a kazillion bucks in the process. But a kazillion apparently isn’t enough in the brick & mortar world, so now they’ve become just one more purveyor of retreads.


Everybody’s sensing the new paradigm, but its reality hasn’t quite sunk in. Streaming—or, more broadly, bandwidth—changes everything.


Like all fat, overweening overlords of empire, the studios, production companies, and theater chains got way too cocky, thinking they’d be able to sustain their blind excess forever. But they’re already irrelevant. Most people would rather stream movies at home because they can watch better content on systems better than the local multiplex—and nobody can blame them.


So there’s no going back. The studios, theaters, and even the audiences don’t yet realize how big this is. But it does change everything. Finally. And forever.

—Michael Gaughn

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & 
Vision, marketing, product design, a couple TV shows, some commercials, and
now this.

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