Letter From the Editor

LetterEditor750a

Cinematic Cycles

The U.S. motion picture industry has always been dominated by cycles that were mainly predicated by the opportunities to gather the largest viewership or attendance. That has meant blockbusters and tent pole action fare in the summer and dramatic feature films in the fall for awards season, while documentaries were relegated to spring so they could gather the most traction over a longer period of time. The TV, or maybe more correctly nowadays, the ‘small’ screen cycles were mostly aligned with school vacation periods where most episodic comedy and drama started close to the U.S. first day of school spread from the East to the West Coast.

Close to the start of summer vacation, the season ended and reruns became the mainstay of programming. In this big cycle there were mini cycles like mid-season replacements after the educational institutions’ holiday break and the weeks in February and November when network TV tries to sell their advertisement slots based on the ratings administered by Nielsen. These cycles, of course, have a big impact on when and how productions have to deliver their product and consequently editors are majorly impacted on this as well because the rigid network schedules do not allow delays no matter what causes them. Next to the cliffhanger-dependent breaks in the broadcast to allow for commercials, it challenges the editors to test their storytelling talents to the hilt trying to fit the drama or comedy into the tight straight jacket of network programming.

Although theatrical motion pictures seem to have more latitude in the area of screen time, there are boundaries as well, set by the number of movies that theaters can put on in a day and the financial stakes can be much higher. But there are big changes looming on the horizon, jump-started with the rise of Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video and other streaming-content companies that do not rely on their revenue from advertising, on demand or ticket sales for their material. With a subscription model that is largely based on the general popularity, quality and diversity of their product over an elongated period of time, they are not dependent on the fickleness of singular shows that stand or fall by the ratings released the next day. The spread of DVRs that allow viewers to skip the commercials, further erodes the reliability of the Nielsen ratings that set the price for airtime and hence some networks have started their own streaming platforms to stay relevant when eyes are becoming harder and unpredictable to catch.

The consequences of how streaming seems to overtake the network and cable broadcasters are huge. Time slots are gone, screen time has become more flexible, seasonal programming is history and binge watching challenges timing and dramatic structures of the shows. The distribution of content across theatrical and internet at the same time also starts to strike at the core of how invested money in motion pictures can be profitable. All these changes have and will have consequences for how editors do their job. In an economic sense, the cycles that determine when jobs become available, like the ubiquitous pilot season in spring or the start of network shows in May and June, the inevitable deadlines for festivals like Sundance, the start of tent pole franchises and blockbusters in September, are becoming more and more unpredictable. Some networks started to premiere shows in July and August well before the ‘official’ start of the season, and studios now even premiere their product in the before-known theatrical distribution dead-zone of January and February and the ‘summer blockbusters’ are now arriving as early as March or April; all this because the streaming companies have thrown off these cycles.

They do not care when their productions premiere since their viewership is already guaranteed and these eyes create their own cycles not at all guided by traditional market patterns. It also will affect how we have to adjust our storytelling to these new parameters. Eventually the disappearance of commercial breaks will eliminate the need for mid-show cliffhangers, and being able to continuously watch a show in a binge or over consecutive days could also make a rehash of the drama a thing of the past. Adjusting the storytelling to the changing times and needs is something editors have always been doing as the history of cinema and TV has shown over the years and we at ACE are determined to stay at the forefront of these changes. As the prime representative of excellence in editing, we can do nothing less. –Edgar Burcksen, ACE

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