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Will We Ever See Drive-In Theatres Again?


It's quite funny that people are getting nostalgic about drive-in cinemas and thinking it may be time to revisit them as a concept. Just recently a collection of black-and-white photographs from their heydays was published via Buzzfeed showing people rolling up to drive-in cinemas with their families, attaching a speaker to the window and catching a double feature on a big screen over the weekend. From Planet of the Apes to the 10 Commandments... for a long time this was the way that people consumed cinema via open a parking lot with a giant screen where you use a wired speaker or tune into a specific station to get stereo sound.

This was a more popular way of doing movies because you could relax in your own car, fall asleep if you really wanted to or make out in the back seat if the movie sucked. Advances in technology made the cinema-going experience far superior in terms of sound and visuals. You could even argue that a breakdown in the family unit meant that there were less family outings, resulting in a more individualistic society. Blockbusters and cinema multiplexers became the next big thing encouraging patrons to catch the latest releases rather than a double feature of classics. The big screen dwarfed the television screen and with the advent of Dolby surround it just became the obvious choice to move indoors.

Drive-In Theatre Nostalgia via Buzzfeed News

While cinema multiplexers remain relevant, they do seem to be in decline as home theatre technology and the online availability of the latest films makes the prospect of going to a public screening less inviting. 4DX and 3D technology have gone a long way to refreshing the cinema experience, however based on the current economic climate people are looking for more cost-effective ways of consuming entertainment. Streaming services have gone a long way to curbing piracy, connecting subscribers to massive repositories of entertainment for a small monthly fee.

Instead of buying DVDs, Blu-rays and owning the physical media, entertainment culture centres around accessibility rather than ownership allowing users to tap into a multitude of films online. With the advances in Internet speed and compression, it's become a lot easier to get what you want on-demand and a culture of instant gratification this seems like the way that entertainment is going allowing the individual to remain separate, able to customise their entire entertainment experience in a rather alienating way. With individual profiles, streaming services and are able to target each user's likes and dislikes, improving the customer experience by giving them more of what they want but possibly making it easy to distance oneself. As society becomes more self-sufficient and emotionally disconnected, binge-watching to essentially "chill" is becoming the self-soothing opiate for the masses.

Checking out of life and escaping to what has become a steady stream of mediocre entertainment with little substance, there's very little to challenge and inspire people. One of the biggest problems at the moment is that there's too much of everything. In the past with fewer options, channels and means of consuming media, it was easy to stay on top of things. Many people were watching the same things and there was a shared pop culture currency. Nowadays there's just so much fragmented content – all doing its best to be edgy and capture your attention for a minute. Online entertainment streaming services based on the pioneering Netflix business model and gaming destinations such as Karamba Casino South Africa are on the rise as Internet connectivity becomes more integral to our devices and lifestyles.

The marketplace has been filled with loads of shouting and very little value. This hustling and bustling environment is not the best for a competitive quality cinema culture. Capturing bankable audiences has become the new norm and while eye-popping and spectacular something's been lost in the process. Perhaps the nostalgia associated with drive-in theatres is actually our longing for deeper connection, tighter family bonds and a sense of belonging. It seems as though without these fundamental elements, things have become quite rudderless and even reckless. Perhaps the concept of a drive-in theatre is ready for a comeback as it dawns upon culture and society that we do actually need each other and that technology is a poor substitute for intimacy.

 
Where Musicals and Jingles Collide...

In the last year, we've seen a Queen and Elton John biopic emerge with an Elvis Presley picture on the way under Baz Luhrmann. Besides being a timely tribute, it seems that this is the latest and greatest way to give records another spin. It's great if the music biopic can make money in a standalone capacity, but the spin-off effect of all the related film marketing probably boosts sales and royalties two-fold. The Lego Movie demonstrated that you can create a legitimate film experience with positive effects and in the wake of Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman, it seems it can be a win-win for everyone.

Where Musicals and Jingles Collide

The digital revolution means that a performing artist's entire catalogue of music is available to the masses almost immediately. You don't have to own a CD player, buy an MP3 album or attend a concert to hear their music anymore. While the new streaming model has undermined the music industry, giving new and old fans the ability to deep dive into their favourite band's entire backlog of music means everything is as good as brand new. The Beatles, arguably the greatest band of all-time, may have some of the most easily recognisable tracks on the planet but they're also enjoying the showcase as one generation introduces them to the next. To keep the stone rolling, music artists have to keep reminding people about their music, which involves reunion tours, publicity stunts, TV appearances and of course, movies.

All of these films, including Across the Universe and now Yesterday, create their own soundtrack by blending or relying on the actor's voices. This bypasses expensive licensing issues, creates an entirely new product and makes fans long for the original recording. Across the Universe was a psychedelic tour of the music of The Beatles, creating a musical platform for baby boomers to reconnect and for their offspring to connect. Artful, immersive and capturing the spirit of the times, it made a big and lasting impression, possibly stoking the embers of die hard and peripheral fans enough to buy or demand more Beatles. Yesterday is similar but instead takes a high concept story to connect with more heart, tracking a struggling musician who wakes up after an accident to discover a world where things like The Beatles and Coke have never existed.

The result is leveraging a pre-existing fan base much like the Marvel universe has done for its superheroes, but instead channeling fans back to the music instead of comics, merchandise and films. The music industry desperately needs reinvention in a more visual-driven age and while there are pioneers like Billy Corgan, who has truly embraced the digital age by creating more visually-enticing mediums for the music of his band, The Smashing Pumpkins, there's still no new standard. This new strategy of creating a tribute film is fresh, gets radio station play lists more in tune with upcoming releases, captures the imagination of lifelong fans and revitalises music sales whether in-store, online or streaming. In fact, it's difficult to prove but it did seem like Deezer were adding Rocketman into their Flow play list more often than any other song ahead of the film's global release.

Thankfully, the glut of music films based on popular recording artists has been credible and strong, not simply serving as a cheesy marketing gimmick but delivering on the promise of entertainment without leaning too heavily on the music. You could argue that there's even a market for artists to launch their albums by way of film if you think back to John Carney's influential music-driven romance drama, Once. If they're able to keep the standard high, no one's complaining. It's when associated films start running out of good excuses to showcase the music that we'll start to see a drop off. Let's hope that day never comes...

 
Film and Television are Converging...


It's no secret, film and television are converging as technology and viewing habits evolve. Gone are the days when film actors were too good to lower their standards to appear in "inferior" television productions. Nowadays, the TV industry has raised its standards to the point that actors are interchangeable between mediums, not forced to define their careers. The quality of television productions, the advances of the Internet and rise of streaming services has made a major impact on the entertainment distribution model. While this international phenomenon has seen many traditional actors shift into starring roles in TV series, possibly as their between films work, it's also happening in South Africa.

This is the case with Die Byl, a South African TV series loosely based on the life of the late South African super detective, Piet Byleveld. The police procedural follows workaholic, Piet van Bijl, a brilliant detective who specialises in crime sprees and chasing down serial killers. Set five years after the events of series 1, the second series is launching on Showmax. Directed by Quentin Krog, who's best known for Vir Die Voels and Ballade Vir ‘N Enkeling, the TV series has a filmic quality and shows a marked improvement on the original.

Primarily based at police headquarters, Die Byl follows van Bijl and his colleagues, who investigate crimes and bring criminals to book. The series stars Waldemar Schultz as Colonel Piet van Bijl and Lika Berning as Captain Lena Evans, who both won Tempo Awards for Best Actor and Actress in 2017. Some years later, van Bijl's relationship with Nicky van As has capsized, while Evans is married with child. With a number of makeovers from the offices to the lab, this tense crime drama is produced by Marche Media, the company behind Kanarie and Johnny is Nie Dood Nie. With guest appearances from award-winning acting talent such as Denise Newman, Deon Lotz, Marius Weyers and Jody Abrahams, it seems Die Byl - Series 2 is gearing.

From the True Detective inspired opening credits to stranger than fiction investigations, the detective series is finding its identity. Hopefully it can inspire a resurgence of top crime television to rival Britain's long-running and respected array of slow-boiling murder mystery shows. Based on the first episode, Die Byl is loaded with potential... from its classic detective show elements, aim for docudrama realism, homegrown investigations and well-respected ensemble, it could be the start of something great. Catch the first episode as Bijl and his team interrogate suspects around the deaths of a notorious Cape Flats gang, the Sons of Samson.

 
"Watching Movies for a Living..."


"Watching movies for a living" does seem like a dream job. Whenever I run into people who discover that I'm a film critic, this is one of the first things they will say, a statement often loaded with a twist of envy and a touch of naïveté. Movie critics don't simply watch movies for a living. In fact, it's very difficult to make a living from "watching movies"... maybe not quite as scary as this nightmarish image, but still.

The profession has evolved over the years, graduating from a situation where journalists were based at a newspaper and able to specialise, focusing their attention on film almost exclusively and writing for publications that were able to pay them a salary. This model has changed for a number of reasons. With newspapers downsizing, it's become a case of entertainment journalists rather than film critics.

While reviewing movies is a very specific commission, papers aren't getting the advertising monies that they are used to, also under pressure to slowly migrate from print to digital. Being able to measure digital more accurately, it seems that advertisers are gravitating towards specific measured results over the more general feedback of readership demographics and simply being in the paper. Distribution of newspapers has also diminished with many people finding the news they need online, not requiring as much in-depth reporting and older newspaper reading generations dying out.

Nowadays, film reviewers almost have to have a day job in order to support their love for movies and writing. While there are still instances where movie critics who are connected with newspapers are able to write about film almost exclusively, the next generation isn't quite as fortunate. With print media being one channel, the Internet and expanse of digital has created a number of channels for film critics to feature on.

Accessibility has certainly played its part in limiting the importance of a film critic, allowing just about anyone to get an opinion about any film critic from anywhere in the world. Consensus film rating sites such as IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes have also made it possible for moviegoers to get the raw basics and a rough idea of what to expect from a film. Having this information at your fingertips, means that you don't have to go and buy a newspaper to find out what films are showing, what's worth seeing and give you a rough idea of what to expect.

This has made the role of a movie critic less important in the public sphere, forcing these entertainment journalists to broaden their writing across theatre, television and gossip. Moreover, they've had to diversify their types of reviews, keeping one foot in the domain of writing for print, online and in the same breath shifting over to the digital medium of podcasts and video. The idea of an intellectual pontificating on a subjective viewpoint has become an even more niche area, despite the ability of the Internet to spread the message further.

In terms of making a living, it's quite rare for film critics to be able to find one source of income to get by on. Journalists are traditionally underpaid, often undermining their peers and themselves by working for less or next to nothing. This has made it easier for struggling newspapers to underpay their full-time staff, to cry "no budget" to freelancers and generally get content for next to nothing. This collapse of the entertainment journalism world has made the content and quality of the writing less important through syndication deals and getting content almost gratis.

Nowadays, commercial publications and radio stations have come to rely on a jack-of-all-trades for gossip, TV, film and theatre news. While this approach has its benefits, the lack of specialisation makes for superficial reporting, pressuring the entertainment correspondent to try and know a little bit about everything rather than a lot about something. Writers who were used to getting paid a salary are now finding they have to operate in a more freelance capacity, peddling their services to multiple companies and even embracing the entrepreneurial spirit in setting up their own income streams independently.

It's a little bit like being a struggling actor some days, where you are trying to win new gigs and cement long-term working relationships with companies in order to keep your head above water. For many, their passion for writing about movies forces them to actually get a day job making the film writing a sideline passion project instead of a full-time pursuit.

The idea of filmgoing is now seen as an infrequent activity. Years ago, going to the movies was more of a weekly occurrence, whereas it's now seen as more of a monthly thing. This has relegated the importance of reviews in the general media and made it more niche. Thankfully streaming services like Netflix, Showmax, Hulu and Disney+ have once again opened the floodgates in terms of the importance of entertainment.

Instead of illegal downloads/sharing, people are subscribing to streaming services and finding themselves at a loss when it comes to figuring out what to watch next. With so many options at their fingertips, it seems that the idea of getting a review from a pundit is becoming more and more important again. Having many people simply reviewing films as a hobby can give audiences a better idea of what to watch. For the more discerning viewers, getting a voice that is tried, tested and trusted is the way to go.

Watching movies for a living isn't quite what it's cracked up to be. Sacrifice is definitely felt in terms of income and often the work continues after hours with many screenings and events taking place in the evening. This means that you may actually be working much longer than the average person, yet getting by with less. So the trick is either to find a general entertainment journalism job and try to focus towards film with a reasonable salary.

Otherwise, the freelance route requires you to build healthy working relationships around you, using your content to leverage better returns and reach more people. Also be open to the possibility of broadening your skill set, offering your services to write more general film content, broadcast online or via radio or TV or even act as a judge.

The fact of the matter is that while watching movies for a living sounds amazing, very few employers are willing to actually pay someone to be a film critic. It's a tough profession with perks, which has been made much more accessible thanks to the Internet yet undermined by societies where art and culture is deemed less important. If you truly want to become a film critic, just like acting, you need to get a part-time job in order to cover the basics and then branch out from there.

 
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