This month Dustin Hoffman gave an interview in The Independent and caused some considerable debate after he claimed: “I think that it’s the worst that film has ever been – in the 50 years that I’ve been doing it, it’s the worst.”
The two-time Academy Award winner bemoaned the rise of digital technology due to the pressure it put on filmmakers to finish movies in just a matter of weeks thanks to the advanced technology’s ability allowing them to shoot more scenes in a day and on a smaller budget. Hoffman went on to say: “It’s hard to believe you can do good work for the little amount of money these days. We did The Graduate and that film still sustains, it had a wonderful script that they spent three years on, and an exceptional director with an exceptional cast and crew, but it was a small movie, four walls and actors, that is all, and yet it was 100 days of shooting.”
It would appear Hoffman is bemoaning that unless a filmmaker and their project has considerable studio backing, they don’t stand a chance critically. I mentioned in an earlier article about the need for more original blockbusters, rather than the deluge of reboots and sequels, but to disregard today’s film world as the worst the medium has ever been is ludicrous. On the contrary, it’s incredibly exciting.
At this year’s Oscars, independent film outperformed the competing studio efforts. This best picture winner, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), was shot in only 30 days on a budget of $16.5 million. Its rival, Boyhood, took much longer to shoot, 11 years, but only cost $4 million. Adjusted for inflation, The Graduate cost $21 million hardly a tight budget when compared to other recent award-winning efforts including Whiplash ($3.3 million) and Beasts of the Southern Wild ($1.8 million)
The evolution of digital technology has allowed more filmmakers than ever to bring their vision to the screen. Take Sean Baker’s Tangerine – a hit at this year’s Sundance Festival and shot on an iPhone 5S using an $8 app!
We are more accepting of foreign language work, which has resulted in terrific films like the Iranian A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night and Girlhood from France getting more exposure this year than they would have even as recently as ten years ago. Film output from less renowned countries is on the rise. The same goes for female directors (Ava DuVernay’s Selma and Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook) though they are still underrepresented.
It’s hard to argue against us being in a golden age of animation, with the different formats coexisting rather than competing. Just take a look at the remarkable Inside Out and Song of the Sea.
Directors such as Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass and Kingsman: The Secret Service) have argued that there is no British film industry and it’s merely a service provider for major Hollywood pictures by offering generous tax rebates. Yet in the last year, Britain has been responsible for excellent, diverse films such as Pride, Belle, The Falling, Frank and Second Coming.
What Hoffman should have been criticising is not the quality of today’s films but rather the pressure for them to make money. And there the problem doesn’t lie with technology or filmmakers, but Hollywood and the studio system as a whole.
But this new era of modern filmmaking and its digital technology has allowed more films without major financial backing to get a theatrical release and to be appreciated and celebrated when previously they may have existed only as an idea. The rise of on demand services and TV going through something of a renaissance means the film industry is being put under greater strain than ever before to appear relevant. The more films that get made and distributed, without the pressure of satisfying shareholders and investors, the better. Studio bigwigs may not like it, you can’t buy a mansion in the Hollywood hills with creativity, but it was the desire to create and entertain that the very medium of cinema was founded on. Long may it continue.