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May 15 at 1:41pm

38 American Independent Film Problems/Concerns

By Ted Hope

Okay, I think it’s obvious that I prefer to look at the opportunities and solutions before us, as opposed to the problems and concerns, but I am afraid this post may obscure that just a tad.

I am going to be on the Fox Business News network’s “America’s Nightly Scorecard” (630P-730P EST) tonight and I thought I would put my mind to what issues are affecting indie film right now. Off the top of my head I came up with a few issues that we need to solve to return to the glory days of years passed.   I am sure with your help, we can come up with some more too.
I don’t have time to rank them so maybe you can let me know how you feel.
  1. Too many leisure options for film to compete without further enhancing the theatrical and cinematic experience.
  2. Too many “specialized” films opening to allow such films to gain word of mouth and audience’s attention.
  3. Too many films available and being distributed to allow films to stay in one theater for very long, making it more difficult to develop a word of mouth audience.
  4. No Access

    No Access

    Lack of access — outside of NYC & LA –to films when they are at their highest media awareness (encourages bootlegging, limits appeal by reducing timeliness).
  5. Distrib’s abandonment (and lack of development) of community-building marketing approaches for specialized releases (which reduces appeal for a group activity i.e. the theatrical experience).
  6. Distrib’s failure to embrace limited streaming of features for audience building.
  7. Reliance on large marketing spend release model restricts content to broad subjects (which decreases films’ distinction in marketplace) and reduces ability to focus on pre-aggregated niche audiences.
  8. Emphasis on upfront compensation for star talent creates budgets that can’t reasonably recoup investment.
  9. HP&W fringe levels at too high a level to allow low-bud production to benefit from know how and talent of union labor.
  10. Lack of media literacy/education programs that help audience to recognize they need to begin to chose what they see vs. just impulse buy.
  11. Collapse of US acquisition market requires reduced budgets for filmmakers, and thus resulting in limiting content.
  12. Collapse of International sales markets requires reduced budgets for filmmakers, and thus resulting in limiting content.
  13. Foreign subsidies for marketing of foreign film makes reduces buyers’ acquisition appetite for US product.
  14. Foreign subsidies for foreign productions contribute greater budget percentage than US tax rebates do, allowing foreign productions to have larger budgets and thus more production value and expansive content — thus making it harder for US product to compete.
  15. Recession has reduced private equity available for film investment.
  16. Credit crunch has reduced ability to use debt financing for film investment.
  17. Threat of piracy makes library value of titles unstable, which in turn limits investment in content companies and reduces acquisition prices, which in turn reduces budgets, which in turn limits the options for content — so everybody loses.
  18. No new business model for internet exploitation at a level that can justify reasonable film budgets.
  19. Lack of community embrace of new creative story expansion models that would facilitate audience aggregation and participation (to seed, build, drive audiences).
  20. Emphasis on single pictures for filmmakers vs. ongoing conversation with fans has lead to a neglect of content that helps audiences bridge gaps between films and that would prevent each new film to be a reinvention of the wheel for audience building.
  21. Panic due to the 15 year promise of crystal clear downloads over internet despite the reality that it still has not developed — allowing the fear to move to a business practice of inactivity.
  22. Bootleggers have developed a platform that allows audiences to simply download whatever they want where ever they want whenever they want — something that the film industry has yet to do.
  23. Loss of job for newspaper based film critics reduces curatorial oversight which lessens word-of-mouth and want-to-see.
  24. Reliance on synopsis style reviewing fails to provide enriching cultural context for film and thus reduces audience satisfaction.
  25. Lack of marketing/distribution knowledge by filmmakers limits DIY success.
  26. Indie filmmakers mimic Hollywood’s obsession with regurgitating past success models, by regurgitating past festival hits’ story-lines or navel gazing. Cinema is 100 years old but we still tell the same stories in the same ways.  Audiences get bored, move on, play video games.
  27. Amer-Indie filmmakers are only recently starting to look at non-US-centric stories that can “travel” into international territories.
  28. America has no funding for the arts so filmmakers have to develop material based on pre-existing markets instead forward thinking inspiration.
  29. America has no co-production treaties (other than Puerto Rico’s Letters Of Understanding) that allow filmmakers to access foreign soft money subsidies.
  30. The specialized distributors force exhibitors to program for full week runs, preventing them from developing local community audience or niche programs on off nights.
  31. The truly independent exhibitors are not yet developed into a collaborating organization that would allow true independent features to be easily booked nationwide.
  32. There is no independent collection and disbursement agency that could allow DIY distribution to take hold.
  33. Filmmakers still believe that festivals are first and foremost markets and not media launches.
  34. The ego-driven approach to filmmaking vs. one of true collaboration generally yields lower quality of films and greater dissatisfaction amongst all participants.
  35. Lack of real role models who represent integrity and commitment to the craft (in order to inspire others).
  36. Corporate hierarchy and access that is driven foremost by privilege (college, connections, class) limiting diversity and new content and approaches.
  37. Inability for filmmakers to influence iTunes editors to promote their work.
  38. Lists like this make the foolish despair.

Ted’s note: I wrote a sequel the next year.  Here are 38 more problems. If you want to move into the future still further, here are the Really Bad Things In Indie Film 2013.

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  1. Ferienwohnungen am Meer / May 15 at 1:41pm

    This post is exactly what I am interested. we need some more good information. Please add more good information that would help others in such good way.

  2. Mark Savage / May 15 at 1:41pm

    There is no independent collection and disbursement agency that could allow DIY distribution to take hold.
    The film and video business does not have the music business’s equivalent of organizations like APRA or ASCAP?

    It sorely needs that.


    I’m no longer a believer in ‘giving content away’ because it further fosters an entitlement mentality. Why is it suddenly bad business to put a price on something people can enjoy?

    What other business gives things away for free? if you’re doing that, it’s not a business.

    Is the garment industry going to do this? Give a pair of jeans away and it’ll encourage people to commit to your brand?


    Another huge cause of current problems is the fact that, for years, the majority of foreign sales agents screwed filmmakers/producers out of residuals and jacked up ‘expenses’ to avoid paying returns.

    As usual, GREED destroyed what could have been sustainable if everybody had played fair.

    Of course, most don’t play fair, so you get what we have now.


    Now we have AGGREGATORS, and they’re the new middlemen who will destroy future revenue for filmmakers/producers.

    37. “Access driven foremost by privilege”. You said it, Ted.


    A solution is to create hubs committed to truly indie films only with simple sign-up procedures.

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