How Streaming Video and Traditional Movies Can Lead to New Art Forms

I came across this Atlantic piece about Christopher Nolan’s recent criticisms of Netflix. Nolan believe that the Netflix’s policies are hurting, even killing, the movie theater business. Specifically, he mentions the policy of allowing internet access to films on the same day Netflix releases those films in the theater. Why not release the films in the theaters for a short period of time, and then stream them online? he asks. After all, Amazon does this, and they have had success. This seems like a reasonable point, and it got me to think, not only about ways online streaming services can actually boost the viability of movie theaters, but also of the new cinematic forms that could result if these two media formed the right, symbiotic relationship. Here are some ideas off the top of my head:

Synthesizing TV Shows and Movies

One idea I’m most excited about involves taking elements of TV shows and movies and putting them together. Essentially, the comparison, and a good starting point, is to think of a TV mini-series, which is basically a longer movie. So what’s new about that? Well, there are variety of modifications, leading to iterations that appeal to me.

I’ll get to some examples in a minute, but I want to mention a way to think about this–namely, factoring in the strengths and weaknesses of each medium. In the streaming TV show format, a strength is time–that is, a filmmaker has a lot of time to tell her story. In conventional TV shows, the episodes often had to be self-contained, but cable and online TV shows that this no longer needs to be the case. However, one weakness, in my view, is that production values and visual aspects of the TV shows. In my view, TV shows almost never look as good as movies–they’re not cinematic. Perhaps, for smaller type of fare this doesn’t matter, but I think it does matter for “bigger,” more epic fare.
If it’s not obvious, the strengths and weaknesses of films flip-flop the strength and weaknesses of TV shows. Films are limited by time, but they can look great and provide a cinematic experience in the way that TV shows cannot–not just be the actual movie itself, but the venue of a theater versus the home.

Given what we know about the strengths and weaknesses of both media, what are some ways they could complement each other?

1. Imagine a TV show that involves a big climatic ending, like a military battl, and let’s suppose the story needed eight hours. You could break the series into one hour episodes. The first seven could be streamed with the last one screening in the theater. To me, this concept would be exciting for the marvel shows on netflix. You’d hook fans into the series, and then have a built in group of movie goers who would go to the theater. The climatic movie could be just like a blockbuster film.

2. With the subsequent episodes, filmmakers (Note: I’m going to refer to artists who make either TV shows or movies as filmmakers.) could focus on character development, more subtle nuance plot details and backstories. All of this would support the blockbuster finale. The blockbuster finale need not be one film. (It need not be one hour either.) It could be a two part film or even a trilogy.

3. Additionally, the streamed episodes need not follow one line. That is, it doesn’t have to be one series. You could have two or three series, like rivulets that eventually merge at the end (or cross over at certain points). Think of something like Lord of the Rings. One “series” could involve Aragorn before he meets up with Fredo, et al. It could might only be a few episodes. Or for certain stories, you could have separate series from different perspectives, telling the same story from the point of view of different characters.

4. The episodes (movies) that are shown in theaters need not occur at the end. They could be in the beginning or middle. You could have one at the beginning, one at the end. What would determine this is the nature of the episode and whether it was best suited for the big or small screen.

Again, I think fiddling with these iterations/forms could be a huge boon for the Marvel/comic book franchises. But I also think there is great potential for other types of fare as well. There’s a lot of potential, for example, in adapting Russian novels into what I’m talking about. In the TV format build the characters and intricate details, and then in the film feature some grand ballroom or scenes of romance. Think of something like Titantic. What if you used the streamed TV shows to really develop the characters before they get on the boat? If the characters were interesting and you had interesting stories to tell, you could do this on the small screen first and build up to the big screen.

5. To be clear, the streamed content need not be linear. You don’t have multiple series moving linearly. The structure could be more web-like. You could have short films that feature character of details. Or with someone like LOTR (or something like Dune), you could even have documentary-style episodes that support the overall film/TV thing. You could even have art film shorts/episodes or other styles. Basically, for the online streaming content, the space/time is almost unlimited, and when approaching the content, that should be kept in mind.

There are other possibilities and ideas, I’m sure, and I have a specific project concept that I’d like to see, but I’ll stop here for now.

4 Responses to “How Streaming Video and Traditional Movies Can Lead to New Art Forms”

  1. don

    What about “Firefly” and “Serenity”?

  2. Reid

    I’m not sure what you mean. Are you saying: what about combining them in the format I mentioned? Or are you saying that what I’m saying has already been done?

    If it’s the latter, I think you’ve had movies made from TV shows–Star Trek being the most obvious example to me. But what I’m suggesting is different–more integrated and also expansive, if that’s the right word. I’m talking about using TV show and theater movies in a more symbiotic one. Additionally, I think this symbiosis can lead to new things–such as, the way a TV series can morph into several going on at the same time; how this can take the form of a web, more than a line; how you can also integrate other genres into the series. Does that make sense?

  3. don

    So if you didn’t see the TV series you wouldn’t be able to see the movie or vice-a-versa because it would be one continuous story?

  4. Reid

    Yeah, basically. There might be a way to make the TV series or movie self-contained in some way, but my basic idea is to integrate the two forms, make them work together. It would be like chapters in a novel. On the other hand, with the web-like structure, some of the components could be self-contained.

    I didn’t mention this, but I see this is as huge opportunity to revive movies seen in theaters.

    Another idea: netflix could create a short miniseries and show it exclusively in theaters for a while and then shift it to streaming. Perhaps the first episode could be shown for a week or longer, and then the second episode the next week, etc.

    Netflix might consider purchasing some theaters as well, where they could do this. I wonder if they could make this part of their monthly subscription as well–i.e., subscribers would see these films free in the theaters or pay a much cheaper price. This could get more people on their monthly subscription.

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