What's Film Got To Do With It?

PLENTY, if the 65th Prime Time Emmy Awards on September 22 is any touchstone for the future.

Many of the winners and nominees for the Emmys read like a Who’s Who of the movie world. Critics had plenty to say about the ceremony, both good and bad, but the awards themselves, seen by some 17.6 million viewers around the world, were but a glimmer of how much talent is now, and will in the future, be migrating to TV from the film industry. More than that, it is a sign of an industry toddling towards maturity with a new vision of itself and its creative boundaries.

Steven Soderbergh, Michael Douglas, Jeff Daniels, Claire Danes, Laura Linney, and David Fincher took to the stage to pick up their prizes for best performances in TV land. All had spent the better part of their careers in the film industry, with an occasional wander from time to time over to the halls of TV. Emmy nominees for 2013 also included Oscar winners Julian Fellowes, Kevin Spacey, Tom Stoppard, and Helen Mirren.

The secret is out - and has been for some time. Once considered just a bit downmarket compared to the glamorous world of film, TV has now become a main driver of the entertainment industry, pulling from the film world talent, money - and, yes, glamour - as never before.

“These are remarkable times for television. The content has never been more varied, the viewing has never been easier,” said Emmy host Neil Patrick Harris, speaking to the 6000 or so people gathered in the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles for the ceremony. “You can now watch TV on your TV, on your laptop, on your mobile device, on your watch, on your Google Glass and,” he added, “right now I’m actually watching an episode of American Horror Story on my contact lenses.”

His tongue may have been firmly in his cheek but Harris is not far off the mark. At no time in the history of TV has so much talent and money from the film world crossed to TV. Through most of the last century, film has been the Holy Grail, success on the big screen the mark of true artistic achievement. Film is still pretty hot when it comes to  prestige, talent and money but the industry is growing up, just a bit, when it comes to how it perceives creativity and what it does with it. And television is what’s driving that growth. It’s not about the “big screen” or the “small screen” anymore, not when 80- to 100-inch screens are selling like hotcakes to home entertainment fans and the 200-inch screen is being readied for the luxury brigade. And it’s not about size anymore when younger people believe that TV “is the thing you watch on your phone,” as Harris joked on Emmy night. neilpatrick

Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Steven Soderbergh, and a myriad of A-list talent have had plenty to say about the future of film and TV over the last year. Most of it spells turbulent times for film but at least interesting times for TV. Like most things in life, there are no guarantees but there are exciting times ahead. Speaking at the University of Southern California (USC) a few months ago, Spielberg told the audience there were major hurdles in the film industry that were making TV more and more attractive. He added it was becoming increasingly difficult to get films into a theatre, even for proven talent. George Lucas, also on stage with Spielberg, added: “We’re talking Lincoln and Red Tails. We barely got them into the theatres. You’re talking Steven Spielberg and George Lucas can’t get their movie into a theatre.” Spielberg added future filmmakers might find that movies are not the best place for creativity. In fact wanting more creativity has been one of the primary reasons given by top film talent for moving over to TV. 

Box office around the world and a slew of top- drawer film festivals makes it clear that interest in film is alive and kicking, especially in China where the Wanda Group has just ponied up $8.2 billion to help make the Chinese film industry the biggest in the world. Ewan McGregor, Leonardo DiCaprio, Nicole Kidman and John Travolta were among the Hollywood stars who flew in for the ground-breaking ceremony of the new film and entertainment complex in the eastern Chinese city of Qingdao.

The long and the short of it is that film has not lost its cachet but the days when film as the first window, the marker of having made it to the top of entertainment’s celestial pile, are over. Welcome to the 21st century, where top talent like Spielberg, Douglas, Soderberg, Danes, Linney and Fincher can now take their artistic talent and creativity to TV, film, games, or whatever window, platform or medium now and in the future is best suited to their creative impulse.


Caption: Top - Michael Douglas, lead actor, miniseries or movie, for Behind The Candelabra

Caption: middle right, Emmy host Neil Patrick Harris.


Left: Laura Linney, lead actress, miniseries or movie for The Big C: Hereafter.

Middle: Claire Danes, lead actress, drama series, for Homeland.

Right: David Fincher, directing, drama series, for House of Cards.