Where's our work going? creators ask at CES
The consumer-electronics industry this week has excitedly introduced numerous new ways to deliver content anywhere, anytime on any device...
Seattle Times business reporter
LAS VEGAS — The consumer-electronics industry this week has excitedly introduced numerous new ways to deliver content anywhere, anytime on any device.
That's practically been the mantra of the International Consumer Electronics Show, a gigantic industry gathering that wraps up its four-day run today.
But the writers, actors, directors and other creators of that content are less sanguine about the changing technological landscape through which their work travels, and how they will be compensated when you watch a rerun of "Grey's Anatomy" on your computer.
"If I'm making a movie for the cinema, I'm thrilled that it's on DVD. I'm less thrilled if it's on a cellphone," said Michael Apted, the director of everything from independent documentaries to the Loretta Lynn biopic "Coal Miner's Daughter " and "The World is Not Enough," a big-budget James Bond movie.
He's also president of the Directors Guild of America, one of at least three unions representing content creators who have started coming to CES recently to learn the implications of new technology on their members.
They are leaving with more questions than answers.
"Emerging technology will affect the future of our contracts and creates a whole new vocabulary of words and terms that have to be learned," said Mark Carlton, an actor and Screen Actors Guild board member who chaired the new-technologies committee for five years.
"When you see something on TV for the first time, and the next morning it's for sale over the Internet, what does that do to our rerun formula that used to generate income for us?" he asked.
Even terms the consumer-electronics industry uses for their work can be grating.
"I recoil at our work being called 'product' or 'content,' " Apted said.
"It is an artistic form. It does represent the way we live and who we are. ... It's not just filling up cellphones or the latest of Mr. Gates' gadgets. It is fulfilling a cultural need."
Apted also fears that home theaters and other private-viewing modes threaten the experience of going to the movies.
"It's a much bigger issue than just entertainment; it's an issue of community life, and in some ways the film business is right in the middle of it," he said.
While their concerns are many, these entertainers and artists are also attracted to the creative and financial potential of new platforms.
Apted, who spoke at the booth of movie-downloading service Movielink.com, said the idea of creating programming that would be specific to the small screen and viewed on a cellphone is intriguing. And new delivery methods are opening the door to more daring, smaller films for niche audiences.
"In the old days, it was doing a film for HBO," he said. "Maybe today it's going to do a film for AT&T." (AT&T is one company rolling out television delivered over Internet Protocol using Microsoft software, which has the potential to offer an expanded menu of video options for consumers.)
Actors see dollar signs in the battle between Blu-Ray and HD DVD for the next-generation video format. Guild contracts provide residual payments to actors when studios move their libraries onto new platforms, said Carlton, a Screen Actors Guild member since 1971.
"For instance, I was in the movie 'Robocop,' " he said. "It then went to network television, and I was paid very handsomely. Then it went to VHS. Then it went to DVD."
When it comes out in high definition, Carlton said, "I will expect income down the road from that."
But high definition also has a downside for actors, Carlton noted after looking at all the 100-inch HD monitors on display throughout the show.
"You get to see every pore on a performer's face," he said.
Said his fellow Guild board member Brian Hamilton: "Plaster of Paris will not help you now."
Benjamin J. Romano: 206-464-2149 or firstname.lastname@example.org