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Posts Tagged ‘Blockbuster’

“In my mind and in my car, we can’t rewind we’ve gone to far.”
The Buggles/Who Killed the Radio Star

I thought it would be fun to revisit a post I wrote way back on November 15, 2009 called Cocaine Cowboys & the Future of Film. I wrote it the day after I watched my first Netflix movie online.

Before that most DVDs were mailed to you, or you went to a video store. I remember after viewing that film thinking, how long until Blockbuster video stores are out of business? According to Wikipedia, in 2010 Blockbuster had 4,000 videos stores in the U.S. and 2,500 international stores.  That year Blockbuster went through a world of change. They filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy production in September of 2010 with $900 of debt.

After that Blockbusters began closing stores and I think there are a few stores scattered around the world. There still is a Blockbuster website with a link of some kind of deal they have with dish.

But its retail store days of being a regular part of American pop culture are long gone. Like record stores before them, just a reminder of how the times keep changing.

Cocaine Cowboys & the Future of Film
(blog post from 11/15/2009)

Yesterday was an important day personally. I got a glimpse into the future. And, yes, it did involve illegal drugs.

I watched the documentary Cocaine Cowboys on immediate viewing online through Netflix. The movie has been out for few years but I had never seen it before. Having attended the University of Miami in 1981-1982 the topic alone was of great interest to me. It was impossible to live in Dade County in the 80s and not be acutely aware of the drug trade and the murders that followed in its wake.

In 1981 there were 621 murders in Dade County. (A record that still stands there.)  I distinctly remember the news at that time where each murder seemed more bizarre than the next.  One official on the documentary called Miami at that time, “the most dangerous place in the world.”  (In reality, I think Medellin, Colombia, as in the Medellin drug cartel, in the 80s  technically had the highest rate of murder per capita in the world.)

I personally didn’t see any of the crime (I was safely editing my first 8mm film in my Mahoney-Pearson dorm room) though it was hard miss all the Ferraris & Porsches kicking around Cocount Grove.  And it didn’t take much for a film professor to show us A Clockwork Orange and connect it to Miami. Stanley Kubrick’s futuristic look at a chaotic culture full of brutal violence and murder without remorse was a daily realty in Miami.

But as fascinating as that era was it’s not what caused my mini glimpse into the future. It was simply because I could watch the movie immediately online. Legally. While I have watched LOST online before this was the first movie I have ever watched online.

It was an epiphany of sorts. I had a flashback to standing in line to see the movie ET, 15 years of renting VHS tapes (and paying all those Blockbuster late fees & rewind fees), to marveling how Netflix revolutionized things by having DVDs delivered to your home. Supply & demand and distribution channels seem to be changing quicker than ever.

Now I’m a mid-level tech savvy guy and try to somewhat keep up with where things are heading. I edit every day on Final Cut Pro. I Twitter, blog, and use Facebook yet I just learned yesterday that the push this Christmas will be TVs that are interconnected to the web. This will make your TV more like a computer, stereo, photo gallery and movie theater all in one.  There you’ll link to You Tube, Twitter, Facebook and the like.

Just as people are dropping their land phone lines you have to wonder what internet connected TV will do to regular cable TV. If all you do is push a button and watch the movie of your choice, what will it do to DVD sales that have been in decline for a while? There’s talk of streaming videos the same day they open in theaters.

The battle is on. And some would say its getting bloody. On production as well as distribution.

Anne Thompson wrote a post on indieWIRE called Toronto Wrap: Indie Bloodbathwere she said this year’s Toronto Film Festival marked the end of the old independent market.

There were few sales made at the festival leading producer Jonathan Dana to say, “It’s a massacre.”

Thompson explains, “Fox Searchlight, Overture, Summit, Focus Features, Lionsgate, Sony Picture Classics and Miramax all wanted to buy in Toronto. While they may buy later, at fest’s end, they walked away empty handed.”

It’s one thing for independents to raise the money to get a film made and to get it into the key festivals (Telluride, Venice, Tornoto & New York) but what happens to those films if they don’t get a distribution deal?

Thompson explains, “Most of the 145 films on sale at Toronto will wind up streamed, downloaded, and viewed on a small TV or computer or mobile screen.”

At the end of Cocaine Cowboys one of the ex-girlfriends of one of the drug runners asks, “What I want to know is what happened to all that money?” That’s what filmmakers are wondering these days.

Actually, Cocaine Cowboys may be a good template for the small and micro-budget films made outside L.A. It was produced by rakontur in Miami, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2006, got picked up by Magnolia Films and had a limited theater release ($150,000 domestic), then a cable run, good DVD sales, and eventually streamed onto my computer last night. Don’t know if anybody made any money along the way but I have read rumors that  HBO television is developing a dramatic series based on the players in the doc.

Hollywood in 2009 is not a more dangerous place than Miami in 1981, it just feels that way. I imagine the film industry is going to follow the path that Miami took after the city was declared DOA. It emerged as a thriving city and a land of new opportunity to those who embraced the change.

Update 4/25/17:  Cocaine Cowboys director Billy Corben (a University of Miami grad) of Rakontur has a new film coming out this year (or next) called Cocaine Cowboys: Los Muchachos.  He also is active and interesting on Twitter @BillyCorban.

And just yesterday, the Orlando Sentinel reported that former Cocaine Cowboy Gustavo Falcon was arrested in Central Florida where he’d been living the last five years under an assumed name. He evaded authorities for over 25 years. He’s now in a Federal Detention Center in Miami and I’m sure Corban and he’s team would love to interview him. But regardless, the new press helps keep Cocaine Cowboys in the news. And as Bill Murray says in Scrooged, “You can’t buy this kind of publicity!”

Related Posts:
Postcard #24 (Coral Gables) Billy Corben also directed The U doc
La La Liberty City
Postcard #25 (Miami Beach)
Miami vs. Florida 

Scott W. Smith

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“The wolf is always at the door.”
Don Henley
New York Minute

I don’t remember when I first asked myself, “How is Blockbuster going to survive?”—but it was a few years ago. Now with a debt load of over a billion dollars and stocks currently selling at 11 cents, everyone is wondering, “How is Blockbuster going to survive?”

“After dominating the home video rental business for more than a decade and struggling to survive in recent years against upstarts Netflix and Redbox, Blockbuster Inc. is preparing to file for bankruptcy next month, according to people who have been briefed on the matter.”
L.A. Times

August 26, 2010

The first Blockbuster video store opened in 1985 just as the VCR movie rental business was taking off. If I recall correctly, the video rental market at that time consisted of mostly mom and pop type stores. By the early 90s Blockbuster stores were everywhere and they became the largest movie rental company in the United States.

For a long time its major competition was Hollywood Videos (also known as Movie Gallery) which at its peak had over 4,500 stores in North America. Early this year Hollywood Video/Movie Gallery filed for bankruptcy and the last of its stores just closed within the last month.

Whether Blockbuster  finds a way to reorganize and survive or becomes the new Fotomat is unknown at this point.  But either way, they had a great 20 plus year run and filled a niche between Hollywood and consumers. I wish I could hit a button and look at how many movies I’ve rented from them over the years. And the list of movies itself would probably a few good memories.

I know there are more efficient and convenient ways to rent movies these days, but if all the large video rental houses fade away I will miss just being able to wander through the store and stumbling on a movie I had never seen before or hadn’t seen in a while.

But I’ll never miss those dang late fees.

Scott W. Smith

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Once upon a time in Hollywood…every film was shot on film. edited on film, and distributed on film. And once upon a time the studios that made the films also owned the theaters. It’s been a slow train coming but changes that began in the 50s & 60s are coming into fruition in our day.

When you break down the number of feature films that are released every year in the United States the number is actually fairly small. (Say between 400-600 films every year find their way to the theaters.) So it’s no surprise that there are only 40-60 distributors in North America.

This is the way Dov S-S Simens breaks that down in his book From Reel to Reel:

1) The major studios: These are the six or seven distributors (Universal, Fox, Paramount, Sony, etc) that make 20-30 movies a year at $10-$70 million (2005 numbers)
2) The mini-majors; The six or seven distributors (Miramax, New Line, Artisian, etc.) that make 5-20 movies a year at $5-$20 million budgets.
3) The independents; The 10-15 distributors (Fox Searchlight, Orion Classics, Samuel Goldwyn, Sony Classics, etc.) that male three to five movies a year at $1-$5 million budgets.
4) Exploitation. The 20-30 companies (Concorde, Crowe, Troma, Curb, Trident, etc.) that make 3-15 movies a year with words like “Blood,” “Zombie,” “Slime,” “nightmare,” or “Massacre” in the titles, at budgets under (well under) a million, and generate mostly foreign and video revenues.

And over the years there have be people like Warren Miller who have niche markets (like surf & ski films) and go from town to town renting auditoriums to show their movies. I have actually heard about a few independents who are doing a new version of this where they take their film into a town and then do a Q&A afterwards. I personally would love to see that model take off. Filmmaker as a traveling band.  While I could see doing one of those tours as fun, I don’t see that as a big money maker or a long term solution for most filmmakers.

I will say that young filmmakers today have an entrepreneur spirit today that was unheard of in the past. Perhaps it’s because the tools have changes. I have seen filmmakers not only make their own films, but design the posters and t-shirts, the DVDs, set up websites to distribute their films on top of the normal film festival route.  This stuff is changing quickly and has for at least the last 30 years.

In the 70s Betamax seemed like the future of distribution, until VHS dominated in the 80s. Mom and pop stores opened up to meet the new demand to watch movies at home until the giant stores like Blockbuster and Hollywood Video took over. Of course, DVD overtook VHS as the preferred way to view movies at home. (DVDs have held off Blu-Ray so far and now Blu-Rays machines can be found for under $100.) Meanwhile Netflix and Redbox have signaled the end of Blockbuster and Hollywood Videos as those two giants continue to close store after store.

It doesn’t take a genius to see how quickly this all evolves. The traditional way for films to be distributed is for the reels each film are shipped to each theater.  I imagine within a few years that will all switch over to some kind of digital delivery system.  One thing that slows this down is each theater has to switch over to expensive digital projectors. (This is not a good economy to do this.) Another concern is piracy. Imagine how easy it would be for people to steal & copy a high quality digital file of a feature film.

But just like the film editing process where almost all films are cut digitally, and how a growing number of films are shot digitally, and how feature films are starting to be digitally downloaded by Netflix and others, it’s just a matter of time before the theater distribution is totally digital.

Perhaps the only thing that hasn’t changed over the years is people still love movies. They still love stories. I hope that never changes.

So while there will be power shifts and jobs lost, there will be also new opportunities for creatives.

And the best news is it still all begins with a good solid script. (Well, at least it did until the success of the Paranormal Activities.) Happy Writing.

Scott W. Smith

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