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The Last Straw: Why Now Is Different Than Before

Why Now Is Different Than Before

| On Apr 10, 2013

“To me, the great hope is that now these little 8mm video recorders and stuff will come out and some people who normally wouldn’t make movies will be making them and suddenly one day, some little fat girl in Ohio is going to be the new Mozart and make a beautiful film with her father’s little camcorder, and for once the so-called professionalism about movies will be destroyed forever and it will become an art form.

— Franics Ford Coppola, Director of The Godfather and Apocalypse Now, 1991

We’ve been waiting for the tide to turn for many years now. From almost the beginning of cinema, it’s been a business for most. For a century, this amazing art form has been owned and operated by corporations focused on the bottom line. This inevitably means that films look the same, sound the same, are the same. Creative experimentation is discouraged. Beauty is an afterthought. Story is a reproducible financial equation.

And it’s not just that cinema has been too expensive, too difficult, too time-consuming for the young artist. It’s that the medium operates almost exclusively out of one region, one city. If you want to make movies, you have to go to Hollywood — or so it’s always been.

So what’s to become of the common artist, drawn to the great potential of the cinematic art form, but squelched or rejected by an industry that sees no profit in his endeavors? This artist has never had a chance. Never had the opportunity. Until now.

A Revolution Forty Years in the Making…

We’ve been waiting for the tide to turn for many years now. In the seventies, we saw the studios shaken by a changing culture that deemed them irrelvant. Hollywood turned to young talent, the so-called “film school generation” to save them. These young artists — like George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, and Brian de Palma — the rare few, plucked out of obscurity by Hollywood, were given an awesome chance and succeeded at revolutionizing cinema — while also restoring the studios to power. It was counter to everything filmmakers like Lucas and Coppola wanted, but there was no alternative. Hollywood needed fresh, artistic talent, but that talent needed the resources of Hollywood even more — production equipment, facilities, and of course distribution.

By the eighties, times had changed again. The studios were once again at their height, but the introduction of the video camera would open new doors for aspiring filmmakers. Now, the ability to make motion pictures no longer required expensive film. While video could not compare in quality, it did the important thing — it could tell stories in a visual, moving medium. That was useless though, unless you could do something with the footage you shot. Hollywood was still a necessity.

And then the nineties came along. Home computers, digital video, editing software — everything you needed to produce a film, and it was all becoming so affordable and accessible that any high school kid could make their own motion picture extravaganza. Hollywood needn’t fear though, because even as the technology improved and got closer and closer to film, there was one piece that Hollywood still had the monopoly on: distribution. And without that, those kids could make whatever they wanted, but they had no hope of showing it to anyone outside of their small circle of friends and family.

Why Now Is Different Than Before…

We’ve been waiting for the tide to turn for many years now. And in this last decade, we’ve finally seen the last straw and the weight it has placed on the great camel’s back. The internet is the final piece of the puzzle, opening the door for limitless, worldwide distribution for every filmmaker. Every cinematic artist that’s been yearning for the chance to make movies and have their work seen now has everything they need. They have the tools to shoot their movies, the tools to complete them, and now they have a place to present them.

This is unlike any other time in the history of the medium, but it’s all come about so naturally that we hardly noticed. Sure, there’s plenty of talk about democratization and the downfall of Hollywood, but even that misses the point. Everything is already different. Media is everywhere. It is ubiquitous. And it can be anything you want it to be. In the past, we studied film simply as a vehicle for narrative — two hour motion pictures, the weekly television series. This is what cinema has been to us for most of the last century.

But consider how much more diverse the medium is — consider all that we’re doing now and all of the potential that remains untapped. It is as if the printed word had only ever been used to write novels and all of a sudden we realized that — while novels were great — there was so much more that we could write about!

At its core, cinema is the art form of capturing time — capturing and preserving events so that we can experience them again and again. This is a remarkable process, but technical and economic limitations kept this power bottled up within Hollywood. Now it is everywhere and we’re all creating videos and sharing videos and we don’t even realize that all of this is an art form — not just the scripted movies and short films, but the video blogs and the music videos and the on-the-fly journalism — all of it is art and it has the potential to change the world.

Now is different than before. Whether you’re chronicling an important event in your life with home video, or crafting media for a client, or telling a story, or simply capturing a beautiful, fleeting moment of time — stop for a moment and realize just how amazing that is. How even a decade ago, most of what we do with media today would’ve been impossible.

The times are changing and that’s why at Houston Baptist University, we’re focused on the future — on the new opportunities that media and technology are offering us to create and to share. Most film schools are still focused on sending their students into Hollywood. We aren’t thinking that small — media is everywhere now, it can be anything you want it to be — and we’re here to train the next generation of artists for this new world.

Joshua SikoraJoshua Sikora is the director of the Cinema & New Media Arts program at Houston Baptist University. An award-winning filmmaker and new media entrepreneur, Sikora has written, produced, or directed more than a dozen productions including feature films, TV series, and documentaries. Committed to high-quality, low-budget filmmaking, he has a passion for the freedom and creativity that independent cinema offers. Before joining HBU, Sikora founded New Renaissance Pictures and, partnering with Hulu and YouTube for a variety of popular web-based productions.

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