Barry Jenkins: No Matter the Format, Filmmaking Is as Expensive as Ever

You bought it?

I bought it. But then someone told me the reason the DVDs were there is because that place had the largest concentration of transgender teenagers in all of Mexico, and so the person who delivered the DVDs had brought “Moonlight” there. That kind of shifted my ego. Was it a 35-millimeter print? No, but there you go.

I remember when “Bird Box” came out, it was such a hit on Twitter, and people were asking where Trevante Rhodes had come from. He had just starred in your movie, a best-picture winner, but when those people were told to go watch “Moonlight,” they’d reply, “Is it on Netflix?”

I saw that too on Twitter. There’s something quite humbling about that conversation. A sea change is happening, but the problem is that making films is as expensive as it’s ever been. There’s no big-budget, department-store, $1.99 white-T-shirt version of making films — every film is some version of a really fancy $300 T-shirt from Calvin Klein. That’s just how much this kind of art takes to make! You can make an album for $5,000 and it can have the same quality as Frank Ocean’s “Blonde,” but it just takes so much damn money to make a film.

I don’t know how you offset that cost, and that’s why there’s so much tension between theatrical and digital distribution. For 25 years, DVD and VHS [were] a major revenue stream. We’ve got to figure out what another version of that revenue stream is, and how it can be applied to something like Lucrecia Martel’s “Zama,” where an American version of a film like that can have a reasonable expectation of breaking even.

Do you think that in 10 years, there will still be specialty theaters to play a film like “Zama”?

Look, I go to a few theaters in Los Angeles to see movies — not even specialized theaters, like Tarantino’s theater — and there are always, always audiences there. Who are these people? There will always be people who prioritize the experience in a cinema, who treat it as fine arts in a certain way, and they’ll make it their prerogative to keep these theaters open. Will there be as many theaters? I can’t say, but I’m an optimist, and I think there will be. The Angelika is always going to be there, right?

Maybe! Who can say? We always think buildings are permanent, and they never are.

But then you have something like the Metrograph popping up. Or even a company like the Arclight. Now look, I haven’t gotten too deep into the Arclight’s business plan or funding or any of that, I just know that a couple months ago, I went to see “Burning” there and decided I wanted to see “Border” right before. I bought my ticket and expected to be in this really tiny theater, but it was on a massive screen and the sound was amazing. So I think there are always going to be companies like the Arclight or Laemmle that are going to prioritize the cinematic moviegoing experience.

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