He forecasts major bumps along the way, but also plenty of opportunity for filmmakers because of the basic appeal of the medium in a column for the Wall Street Journal.
“We moan about intrusive moviegoers, but most of us feel a pang of disappointment when we find ourselves in an empty theater,” he notes.
The article’s titled “Christopher Nolan: Films of the Future Will Still Draw People to Theaters” with the subtitle “When Movies Can Look or Sound Like Anything, Says the ‘Dark Knight’ Director, Extraordinary Work Will Emerge.”
One of Nolan’s key points is that movies are heading for a future in which they become essentially channels on a dial — those with the biggest “ratings” will be given more screenings and those that don’t will be ditched quickly.
“The distributor or theater owner (depending on the vital question of who controls the remote) would be able to change the content being played, instantly,” he wrote. “A movie’s Friday matinees would determine whether it even gets an evening screening, or whether the projector switches back to last week’s blockbuster. This process could even be automated based on ticket sales in the interests of ‘fairness.'”
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That would mean that smaller, more unusual films would be shut out for awhile.
“Innovation would shift entirely to home-based entertainment, with the remaining theaters serving exclusively as gathering places for fan-based or branded-event titles,” he added.
“This bleak future is the direction the industry is pointed in, but even if it arrives it will not last,” Nolan said. “Once movies can no longer be defined by technology, you unmask powerful fundamentals—the timelessness, the otherworldliness, the shared experience of these narratives.”
And Nolan believes the film business will respond to the changing circumstances.
“The public will lay down their money to those studios, theaters and filmmakers who value the theatrical experience and create a new distinction from home entertainment that will enthrall—just as movies fought back with widescreen and multitrack sound when television first nipped at its heels,” he asserted.
The theaters of the future will be bigger and more beautiful than ever before, Nolan added.
“They will employ expensive presentation formats that cannot be accessed or reproduced in the home (such as, ironically, film prints),” he added. “And they will still enjoy exclusivity, as studios relearn the tremendous economic value of the staggered release of their products.”
Nolan also predicted that new voices will emerge amid the despair that there is nothing left to be discovered.
“As in the early ’90s, when years of bad multiplexing had soured the public on movies, and a young director named Quentin Tarantino ripped through theaters with a profound sense of cinema’s past and an instinct for reclaiming cinema’s rightful place at the head of popular culture,” he added.
And Nolan noted that the absence of formal standards offers tremendous opportunities.
“Whether photochemical or video-based, a film can now look or sound like anything,” he said. “It’s unthinkable that extraordinary new work won’t emerge from such an open structure. That’s the part I can’t wait for.”