Inventing the Movies: The Hidden Technological History of Hollywood
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Most movies are still shipped to theaters in celluloid form, often in battered metal containers like these. Photo shot in 2007, at a multiplex in Los Angeles.

Did They Really Say That?

These are my ten favorite predictions about technology and the entertainment industry.

Some have already been proven wrong, like Thomas Edison’s belief that movie projectors couldn’t possibly surpass his business of selling Kinetoscopes (personal viewing machines), or the late Jack Valenti’s assessment of the VCR as a terrible threat to the movie studios. Others haven’t yet been proven wrong, like Sumner Redstone’s dig at YouTube, or the forecast from Panavision, Hollywood’s leading camera company, that cinematographers will still be shooting on film in 2026. But if we live long enough, I suspect they may be...

The quotes are in rough chronological order. I’ve starred the ones that show up in my book Inventing the Movies.

1. “If we put out a screen machine, there will be a use for maybe about ten of them in the whole United States. With that many screen machines, you could show the pictures to everyone in the country — and then it would be done. Let’s not kill the goose that lays the golden egg.” *

Thomas Edison on movie projectors.
At the time, Edison had a thriving business making viewing devices called Kinetoscopes, which showed movies to one person at a time.

2. “I wouldn’t give a dime for all the possibilities of [motion pictures with sound]. The public will never accept it.” *

— Kodak founder George Eastman

3. “...[S]ound is a passing fancy. It won’t last.” *

— MGM exec Irving Thalberg, after seeing “The Jazz Singer” in 1927.
The talkies are still with us in 2008, making them the most enduring passing fancy of all time.

4. “I do not believe that black and white will disappear entirely. It will still be the ideal medium for certain subjects, not merely for newsreels and shorts, but for full-length pictures.” *

Rouben Mamoulian, director of one of the first three-strip Technicolor movies, “Becky Sharp”

5. “Films made expressly for theatrical distribution should not be funneled into television, nor should big-name personalities be encouraged to appear too frequently on video, because the public will tire of seeing them and thus their pictures will suffer at the box office.” *

— A group of thirty Hollywood producers and cinema owners, 1951.
Turns out that putting celebs on Leno, Letterman, or Conan actually helps ticket sales.

6. “I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone.” *

Jack Valenti, 1982.
Within a decade of that statement, studios were making more money from home video than from movie ticket sales.

7. “...[W]ithout even knowing what’s happening, audiences might gradually absorb that the digital images they’re watching in theaters are no different than what they see at home, that they’re actually just watching TV with more people. And that could be the end of movies as we know them.” *

— Variety film critic Todd McCarthy, writing about digital projection in 1999.

8. “...Digital technologies can enable a level of piracy that would undermine our capacity to produce films and entertainment, undermine deployment of broadband networks, undermine the digital television transition, and ultimately result in fewer choices and options for American consumers.”

— Disney chairman Michael Eisner, speaking to Congress in 2002.
Eisner neglected to note that digital technologies can also radically reduce Disney’s costs of distributing content to consumers and to theaters. Also: at the time, Disney movies were not available legally on the Internet, and today, most of the Disney catalog is still available only on DVD. Who exactly is presenting consumers with fewer choices and options?

9. “There are great cinematographers who’ll shoot on film for the next twenty years.” *

Bob Beitcher, chief executive of Panavision, 2006.
Though Panavision has been a pioneer of digital cinematography with cameras like the Genesis, its bigger business is renting high-end film cameras.

10. “Think about it: You cannot pay the rent posting videos on YouTube.”

— Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone, 2007.
YouTube may never represent a big source of revenue, even for the entertainment companies that partner with it... but distributing video on the Internet, I believe, absolutely will pay the rent... just give it a few years.

Quotes with an asterisk (*) show up in Inventing the Movies; several are included in the book’s free preview.