Content creation ≠ cinema, but the film industry confuses the two

Written by Ambra Reijnen

1/07/2024


Sometimes I feel like a film editor suspended in time. I do not like some aspects of modern times at all. I don’t believe in trends and nifty short-cuts. I still do believe that film is an art form and I’ll make it my mission to safeguard it from being confused with content.

Nowadays, everybody is a filmmaker. Or claims to be. Many have access to a 4K camera, even if on their mobile phones, and there are many free editing software options out there. But many confuse cinema with content. Hence the oversaturation on streaming platforms.

Overloaded with stories, we don’t know what to watch. So we accept what an algorithm has arbitrarily offered us as a suggestion. And we watch and sometimes it does satisfy us, but mostly we feel it didn’t do so at all and so we keep scrolling and searching for more as we keep longing for some nourishment of the soul.

See, that is exactly where the big difference lies. While cinema is made for the soul, a form of communication from the heart to the heart of another, content is made to be sticky. It is made to keep you long for more, and keep you consuming, even if you’re already full. It is the difference between a social media post that keeps you scrolling, and a beautiful book that, after reading the last page, makes you sigh and reflect on life and feel a deep sense of contentment.

Content is all about audience retention, cinema is search for meaning. Content is business, cinema is a take on life.

It may look like I am demonising content, but I don’t intend to. I think content is incredibly valuable and a very important tool into today’s attention economy. What I am rather advocating for, is that we do not confuse content and cinema. They don’t have the same intention, they don’t play by the same rules. And yet, we are allowing the rules of content to be applied on cinema.

We know that the two are not the same, but our compulsive social media behaviour has inadvertently changed the way we interact with audiovisual footage forever. We want to cut to the point, we want access to the message but lack the patience to slowly uncover it: we want it instantly and ready-made. There is less attention for the process and more for the product. We don’t care the food we order has been made in a hurry with hormonised ingredients. We don’t care our clothes are cheap because factories at the other side of the world manage to produce them as soon as possible thanks to the exploitation of human workers. Likewise, we lost the appreciation for different rhythms of storytelling that do not obey the fast pace of content. Children who were born in a world of shorts and stories instead of short stories at bedtime have a hard time watching slower paced movies.

But this applies to the “adult world” as well. Films should offer a clear impression of the who, what, where and why of the story it tells within the first 5 minutes in order to thrive in the film industry. Our very own industry has fallen prey to the logic of content creation.

Again, content is not bad. It serves a commercial need. In fact, the film industry has been using content creation since shortly after the medium was invented. How do you market a film? With a trailer! A trailer obeys to the content creation rules: make it quick, fast-paced and exciting. Make the spectator long for more… So they eventually choose to buy a ticket for the movie theater.

The problem is when we start to make feature length films that feel like an extended trailer: a fast-paced recipe for audience retention and consumerism. Hence, the spectator keeps watching because of the addictive dopamine rush and not because she/he has been genuinely touched by the story itself.

No wonder self-producing streaming platforms are facing crisis ever since they started to produce their “content” themselves: they have been making films that are unsustainable in pace. On one hand, their content-like films can never compete with real short-form content, on the other hand, given the fact that spectators still associate depth and the sense of meaning to watching films, they are left unsatisfied after having viewed yet another movie that didn’t meet their expectations.

That sense of deep fulfilment after a deeply inspiring story that keeps you thinking about it for days. 

So much, in fact, that you abstain from starting to read a new book or watching another film because you just enjoy the aftermath of such inspiration and need time to process it all. Now those are the films we are all looking for deep down, even if we love to distract ourselves with content.

Not only spectators, but also us filmmakers get distracted and pushed by the very same film industry to produce our films as if it were content. By going through endless rounds of pitches and funding applications, we learn what “sells”, what the decision makers are looking for, as we train our own internalised algorithm to respond, and adjust our film idea if necessary.

That is why I advocate for a more conscious rupture between content creation and filmmaking. Let it be two separate art forms if you will, but never mix up the two.

Let’s reinvent a (slow) cinema movement in which film is an art form again, with an industry that appreciates it as it is, and doesn’t dictate how to make them in order to be marketable. A film industry where films with unique voices and perspectives thrive over nifty content creation.