For years now — especially since The Sopranos ushered in a new era of smart, complex, visually sumptuous television programming — Hollywood insiders and consumers alike have been saying that TV is a better avenue for gripping, intelligent entertainment than film. (EW actually declared this to be true way back in 1995, four years before David Chase’s mob series debuted.)
And yesterday, two majorly influential voices indicated that they may be joining the pro-TV chorus: George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.
The directors had teamed up for a chat about the state of the film industry at the University of Southern California. (The school is Lucas’ alma mater; Spielberg applied but didn’t get in.) Neither seems to think that state is particularly strong: Enormous marketing costs and increasing studio pressure have made it more and more difficult to create and release any films that don’t seem like shoo-in blockbusters: “The pathway to get into theaters is really getting smaller and smaller,” Lucas said, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
The Star Wars creator also called cable TV “much more adventurous” than film today, adding that he believes “the Lincolns” will eventually disappear from theaters and appear only on TV — “as mine almost was,” Spielberg said, interrupting. “[It was] this close — ask HBO — this close.”
In the end, Spielberg added, Lincoln made it into theaters only because he co-owns his own studio.
Another celebrated Steven wasn’t so lucky when he began shopping around his Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra: Steven Soderbergh told EW earlier this year that every major studio dismissed the film as “too gay,” leading him to bring it instead to HBO — where it enjoyed dazzling ratings after premiering May 26. If each of the 3.5 million people who tuned in for both Sunday airings of Candelabra had instead paid to see it in a theater that weekend, the $23 million film would have earned nearly $28 million, assuming an average ticket price of $7.96.
Don’t expect that number to hold, though. Spielberg predicted a future of price variances at theaters, where viewers will “have to pay $25 for the next Iron Man,” but “probably only going to have to pay $7 to see Lincoln.”
And that’s assuming movies like Lincoln are available on the big screen in the first place. “We’re talking Lincoln and Red Tails — we barely got them into theaters. You’re talking about Steven Spielberg and George Lucas can’t get their movie into a theater,” Lucas complained.
Spielberg, though, got the last laugh: “I got more people into Lincoln than you got into Red Tails,” he joked.