Sonnenfeld Opines on Internet, Future

At his Tuesday Spotlight Series session, producer Barry Sonnenfeld warned his audience that his talk would be pessimistic — and that the Internet is the prime culprit.

“We are probably looking at the last generation of Americans that exists in a democracy,” he said. “Totalitarianism is not far in our future and the next generation will go down that road happily. My only hope is that the Bush administration has screwed things up so profoundly, socially economically and environmentally that, perhaps, our kids will face such hard times that they will be angered by how much our generation has selfishly destroyed their future, and will put down their computers and become socially aware human beings.”

The Facebook generation has no concept of the right to privacy, and in fact will not understand the need for it, he said.

“They’ll have no problem with additional government supervision, spying and intervention,” he said.

Before Sonnenfeld spoke, TV critic David Bianculli showed clips of four works that illustrated Sonnenfeld’s frenetic comic style: “Men in Black,” “The Tick” “Addams Family” and “Pushing Daisies.”

“The interesting thing about the four clips we just watched is that any of these shows could have been a feature film or a television show,” said Sonnenfeld. “The nature of both television shows and movies are changing. Feature films have become so expensive to market that the major studios aren’t looking to make quirky, interesting or different kinds of shows.”

The studios are playing it safe with easily marketable sequels and romantic comedies. That leaves the networks, facing pressure from big screens at the theaters and small screens driven by YouTube, as the innovators. “The solution the networks have come up with is new programming that looks like [something] you can’t get anywhere else,” he said. Hence, “Pushing Daisies.”

Also on the bright side, he said, is the rapid embrace of high-definition TV, along with vastly improved production. Take a look at a show like “Lost” or “24” and compare it with “T.J. Hooker” or “Matlock” to see how far we’ve come, he said.

So the movie studios will turn more and more to 3-D to distinguish themselves from TV without actually making better movies, he said.

The new generation, meanwhile, is heading the other direction, to smaller and smaller screens, along with a refusal to watch TV when it actually airs, plus compulsive multitasking.

Sonnenfeld highlighted how technology helps production. He can review dailies and castings over ftp from his home in East Hampton, N.Y., for example. DVDs have provided a great source of income for movies. And you can shoot a movie on a $13,000 camera, but it will still cost a studio $40 million or more to market and distribute a feature. ©2008 NAB