Christopher Nolan writes op-ed on the 'bleak future' of cinema due to rise of video on demand

Director also addresses that troublesome term 'content'

Interstellar director Christopher Nolan has written an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal about cinema's diminishing importance in the culture, predicting that while the move to TV and VOD might all but kill it off, cinema will be re-born when people realise the importance of film as a shared experience.

Declining cinema audiences is something on the minds of many directors at the moment, given that viewing a movie on a TV or tablet completely changes the viewer's experience of their work, often making it less immersive due to the lack of a giant screen, surround sound and the halting effect of the pause button.

In the article 'Films of the Future Will Still Draw People to Theaters', Nolan is more positive than many, though in spite of its sunny title he does paint a bleak picture of the way filmic creative output is headed, taking aim at the rise of the term 'content'.

He writes:

"As streams of data, movies would be thrown in with other endeavors under the reductive term “content,” jargon that pretends to elevate the creative, but actually trivializes differences of form that have been important to creators and audiences alike. “Content” can be ported across phones, watches, gas-station pumps or any other screen, and the idea would be that movie theaters should acknowledge their place as just another of these “platforms,” albeit with bigger screens and cupholders." Will cinemas become a thing of the past? (Picture: Getty)

He goes on to posit that the current shift in paradigm will benefit big budget blockbusters and harm the chances of independent films making it to cinemas.

"Instant reactivity always favors the familiar. New approaches need time to gather support from audiences. Smaller, more unusual films would be shut out. Innovation would shift entirely to home-based entertainment, with the remaining theaters serving exclusively as gathering places for fan-based or branded-event titles."

It's not all doom and gloom though, with Nolan having faith that people will eventually miss watching as an audience rather than as a solo viewer.

"This bleak future is the direction the industry is pointed in, but even if it arrives it will not last. Once movies can no longer be defined by technology, you unmask powerful fundamentals—the timelessness, the otherworldliness, the shared experience of these narratives. We moan about intrusive moviegoers, but most of us feel a pang of disappointment when we find ourselves in an empty theater. [...]

"The theaters of the future will be bigger and more beautiful than ever before. They will employ expensive presentation formats that cannot be accessed or reproduced in the home (such as, ironically, film prints). And they will still enjoy exclusivity, as studios relearn the tremendous economic value of the staggered release of their products."

It's easy to overstate the importance of cinemas given their obvious flaws and the exciting opportunities that VOD does present (Netflix's experiments in release formats and running times are a case in point), but it would be sad to lose theatres altogether, so hopefully there are enough people out there who share Nolan's passion for watching with others.

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