Last Sunday, 12 Years a Slave made Oscars history. On a $20 million production budget, the pre-Civil War drama became one of the cheapest films to ever win Best Picture.
But for every 12 Years a Slave, there are many more films like The Lone Ranger, which cost $250 million and performed abysmally at the box office. In fact, Hollywood spent nearly $1.3 billion on its biggest box office flops in 2013.
It begs the question: Can the film industry generate more blockbusters without the blunders? Solving Hollywood's problems may start with Silicon Valley. I spoke with Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, who emphasized the divide between the two worlds.
"Hollywood is placing far too many big bets," he said. "Certainly some pay off, but too many don't. I think the industry is moving in the wrong direction at the moment and needs to innovate before it's too late."
Stone speaks from experience. Together with legendary director Ron Howard, he participated in Canon's Project Imaginat10n, an experiment to turn the filmmaking process on its head. With no pre-written script, Canon challenged Stone to create a short film by crowdsourcing inspiration. Using Twitter, thousands of people submitted photos, which served as touch points for a potential storyline. Stone then spent weeks sifting through the photos, writing a script, casting actors, and directing on set. The result was Evermore, a moving story of a girl who reunites her mother and grandfather using motifs from Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven.
"This whole idea was born out of the world I lived in for the last 15 years, which is people sharing their own content online," Stone said. "There are so many creative people out there and Hollywood needs to involve them more. I really hope they look at Canon's project and take notice."
But will Canon's crowdsourcing model catch on? It's already a growing trend when you consider initiatives like Joseph Gordon-Levitt's hitRECord, which brought together 80,000 users to collaborate on the script, score, and production of independent films. Even Amazon joined the movement. In 2010, the retail giant launched Amazon Studios, another platform for filmmakers to submit scripts, solicit feedback, and win upwards of $600,000. In just three years, the site now boasts over 8,500 film and 1,700 TV series scripts. With Hollywood buckling, Warner Bros. offered to produce top projects from Amazon Studios, hoping to use crowdsourced data to avoid future box office bombs.
Does this mean Hollywood will continue making big bets? Or will technology enable more cost-efficient blockbusters through crowdsourcing? The answer is coming soon to a theater near you.