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Bubble, Bubble, Toil and Trouble

Posting about Google Book Search has kept me from what I’ve wanted to write about for some time: Steven Soderbergh’s most recent film, Bubble.

This isn’t a movie review. I haven’t seen the movie.

What interests me is how Soderbergh, aided by Mark Cuban, is trying to probe the limits of the standard Hollywood business model.

Within four days of its release, “Bubble” will not only appear in movie theaters but on DVD and television, challenging the long-standing model the business has operated on for decades.

It’s part of Soderbergh’s effort to spark change in the industry, particularly in the way films are financed and talent is compensated.

“All this stuff needs to be redesigned, the whole thing from top to bottom,” said Soderbergh. “The risk-reward ratio, how people are compensated up front, how they’re compensated on the back. In my view, all this needs to be rethought.”

The film — a murder mystery that takes place in a doll factory — is an experiment of sorts that has generated excitement as well as anxiety in the movie industry. If “Bubble” is a success, it could start a trend that has the potential to cripple the already suffering movie theater industry, and to change the way movies are made forever.

Success? Doubtful. Theatrical exhibitors mounted a concerted effort to block access to the film.

It seems that Hollywood watched what happened to the music industry, and learned precisely the wrong lesson. But that’s the industry’s choice. It does seem to me, though, that if IP owners can exert such powerful control over their products via physical exclusion then they really don’t need all those complicated statutory rights. Why have a public performance right for theatrical exhibition when theatre owners have the keys to the auditorium? Why not get rid of it?