Sure, there are stinkers–bad movies and terrible shows on the Glowing Tube–but overall, we are living in a golden age for entertainment on Whatever Type of Screen You Prefer.
Why is that?
A few theories:
1) Looking good is half the battle
In the old days, most movies and shows (a) were cheaply made and (b) looked cheaply made. The real exception to this are sitcoms filmed in a studio, which look about the same. Everything else? Massive differences in production values.
So when a film truly looked good–typically because it had a great director and a big budget–it blew everything else out of the water.
The difference was even more stark on television. A great example: back in the day, BBC seemed to take pride in the worst possible production values on the planet.
Lighting, costumes, camera angles–all that matters. You notice bad production values the most when it comes to terrible monster costumes and special effects.
These days, everybody has upped their game. Even bad movies and shows LOOK good.
And CGI has gotten cheap enough that average TV shows can afford to do special effects you used to only see in blockbuster movies.
2) Massive competition
When there were only a few big studios, and three major TV networks, competition wasn’t nearly as tough.
Today, you have movie studios around the world cranking out more films than ever, plus 3.53 bazillion cable channels making content along with Netflix and Amazon making shows AND movies.
There’s never been more choices.
This has two counter-intuitive effects: (1) it’s easier to get things made, since far more sources might bankroll it, and (2) killing a flawed project or series is easier, too, since there are plenty of other projects that deserve a shot.
The fact that most movies and series don’t become amazing successes isn’t the real point. You can’t predict which ones break out and make mountains of money.
Can’t win if you don’t play.
So everybody plays, and takes risks, because being safe and conservative isn’t the way to hit a home-run.
That creative, competitive environment helps give birth to today’s great shows and movies.
3) CGI takes planning, and great planning makes for great stories
With production values good across the board, and special effects cheaper than ever, what makes a movie or show stand out and break out?
A few years ago, when cheesy CGI spread across the land, I hated it. Terrible CGI was easy to spot and immediately killed your suspension of disbelief.
Today, CGI is incredibly advanced.
Here’s the unintended side-effect, though: great CGI is more affordable than ever, but it still takes a lot of time, money and most of all, planning.
You can’t rush it.
And good planning makes for good storytelling.
There’s a reason Pixar is famous for great stories. They know exactly how long it takes to do an animated movie.
If they screw up Act 3, the director doesn’t call back the actors and do reshoots for a few weeks. Redoing all that footage in an animated movie takes a lot more work.
That’s why Pixar goes crazy with storyboarding and planning the structure of each film. You have to nail that story before you commit. This is why Pixar spends so much time emphasizing storytelling, and perfected their 22 Rules, which are worth checking out. Roll film:
With live actors, you can shoot hundreds of hours of footage and a great editor can take all that footage and do the structure and storytelling.
Can’t do that with animation–or CGI-heavy movies, which is just about everything today.
The more action and CGI you use, the more important planning and storyboarding becomes.
I think this is a key reason why Marvel has been on a hot streak. Every one of their superhero movies takes a ton of green screen and CGI work. They know it. And they have to plan not just for each movie, but how all the different movies tie together, with setups and payoffs stretching all the way back to the first Iron Man movie.