Modern audiences can watch movies on everything from a cellphone to a multistory IMAX screen. Some of the most popular films are coming not from studios like Warner Bros. and Universal, but from such relative filmmaking newcomers as Netflix, Amazon and Hulu. People seem just as eager to binge-watch a 10-episode story arc of "House of Cards" as the latest two-hour movie from Steven Spielberg.
Clearly, the rules governing moviemaking and movie distribution are changing, and audiences seem to be happily going along for the ride. But what about the filmmakers? How are they adapting to the new rules? Are they enjoying a surplus of opportunities to flex their creative muscles, or are the road maps for success changing so drastically and so quickly that it's hard to keep up?
"It is a world that is literally changing every day," says Jed Dietz, director of the Maryland Film Festival, which will be hosting a discussion Saturday night aimed at getting a handle on just what the availability of so many new frontiers means to the filmmakers hoping to take advantage of them. "It can't be all bad, for sure. But it can't be all good, either."
Baltimore's own Matt Porterfield ("I Used to be Darker"), currently at work editing his fourth feature film, "Sollers Point," will moderate the discussion, set for 7 p.m. at the Maryland Institute College of Art's Brown Center. Also on hand to discuss their own experiences will be directors Lodge Kerrigan ("The Girlfriend Experience") and Marielle Heller ("The Diary of a Teenage Girl").
Porterfield, a Northeast Baltimore native and film teacher at the Johns Hopkins University, released his first film, "Hamilton," in 2006. In just the decade since, he notes, the filmmaking landscape has changed dramatically. For one thing, while there may be more filmmaking opportunities out there, many of them are no longer geared toward the traditional feature film, he says.
"There are decreasing opportunities for a traditional theatrical run in the United States," he says. "In 2006, you could still place a film, printed on film, in festivals and at theaters throughout the country," he says. "That is no longer a possibility. A lot of distributors are just handling video on demand, selling to online platforms. ... It's rare that small distributors are going to mount a theatrical campaign for an indie film — it's just impossible to make any money off of it."
The situation remains fluid, however, and it's way too early to count traditional filmmaking and theatrical runs out, Porterfield believes. Blockbusters continue to be released and pull in millions, he notes. Maybe it's simply time for independent, smaller-scale filmmakers to try a new tack.
"People do get tired of the blockbusters the studios pump out," he says. "You hope that what will happen is the people will look to the cinema to be adventurous when it comes to cinematic form and content. Hopefully, with more people going to TV for the strong characters and very strong story arcs, that will leave the cinema open to experiment in other directions."
For Dietz, who is hoping to open the Maryland Film Festival's $17 million Stavros Niarchos Foundation Film Center in time for next year's 19th annual festival, the future of feature-film cinema is clearly a concern.
"This is an issue we've been following for years," says Dietz, who has led the festival since its inaugural offerings in 1999. "Because of the explosion of movie- and television-making options, we just thought, 'What do the filmmakers think of this? What's this world like for people who have worked in both parts of it?'"
The Maryland Film Festival's "Between the Screens: An Inside Look at New Ways to Make Movies" is set for 7 p.m. Saturday at the Maryland Institute College of Art's Brown Center, 1300 W. Mount Royal Ave. Tickets are $40 ($200 for cocktails beforehand and dinner afterward). mdfilmfest.com.