Earlier, we showed that Olivier Assayas, a world-class filmmaker in his own right, has some nuanced opinions about the current state of the film industry, particularly when it comes to the big debate over what constitutes real “cinema.” Well, his opinions go a bit deeper than just that, as he also explained the overall thoughts on the studio system and how Netflix plays a role in film distribution.
Speaking to Le Monde, Assayas was asked about blockbusters and why he feels they seem to dominate theaters nowadays. Obviously, this is an issue that affects the filmmaker quite a bit, as he’s not a blockbuster filmmaker and apparently doesn’t want to be. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have opinions as to why those films are earning big bucks and why that’s something that deeply worries him.
“I avoid them, but I have no hostility, why should I?” said Assayas. “That being said, I have little sympathy for the industrial and stereotypical forms of fiction that seem to dominate Hollywood today. This is due to the contempt for the audience that shines through them and makes me very uncomfortable. They apply ready-made formulas, not quite algorithms, but not far from it. They’re on the repetition of patterns that are used until exhaustion.”
He added, “Art is only possible, in my opinion, if you hold the viewer in higher self-esteem than yourself. When I make a film, I speak to someone who knows as much about the world, and even more, than I do…So I can’t make a film if I don’t start with an infinite respect for them. This is – I believe – not the perspective of marketing experts who have taken power in the entertainment world in Hollywood or elsewhere and look down on the audience, considering that it is not unworthy to pervertedly pander to its worst instincts.”
He continued by explaining how Disney, the largest studio in the world, has set the standard for which all other studios are attempting to copy, with endless remakes, franchise films, and cinematic universes. These are the issues that Assayas has with the modern film industry and he thinks there’s no one cause that we can trace it all back to.
“What is this due to? Lots of things, but maybe and firstly because the old-fashioned studio bosses, who were film people, disappeared long ago,” the filmmaker said. “The studios are integrated into the economic fabric of capitalism. Marketing and judiciary have taken power. It is an evolution that has gradually but deeply transformed cinema, and today we are in the final stages.”
The end result of all this turmoil in the studio system, where films that get the big theatrical push are those blockbusters that are guaranteed to earn hundreds of millions of dollars, is that films by folks like Assayas, Alfonso Cuaron, Martin Scorsese, and others are being sent straight to streaming services that will spend money on content. And unfortunately for those filmmakers, having your film being distributed by Netflix means that most people will discover the film on a laptop, phone, or TV. Not the big screen.
But for Assayas, he understands this and wishes it were different. However, he knows that having a film in theaters for a short time, followed by home release isn’t a model that has changed all that much over the years, as films have always had an extended life in physical media, cable TV, and other formats.
“As far as I’m concerned, and I think I speak for all filmmakers, I make films with the big screen in mind. This is where films have their first life, be it the multiplex or the most modest arty theater, there is a special quality of focus for a collective viewing in a dark room, an encounter between the work and its viewer impossible on other supports. After that everything is possible, as it has been for quite a while, and that we can’t do much about it.”