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July 28 at 7:57am

The Ever-Growing Filter Crisis (aka Is Too Much Too Much?)

By Ted Hope

Whenever I walk into a grocery store, I can’t help but wonder if people really want so many choices.  But does the same applies to tomato sauce or frozen waffles also apply to art, literature, music, and movies?  Sure Pandora can source new music for me based on my prior expressed preferences, but music also works as a background pleasure.  The same is hard to say for movies.  And man, do we sure have a lot of great stuff readily available to us.  What are we going to do to filter and search through all our choices?

My NetFlix  WatchInstantly queue has 275 titles in it currently.  Since at best I do two such titles a week, I am pretty much set for the next three or four years for the $108/yr I dole out to them.  And I think I add to that queue faster than I subtrack.

Snag recently mentioned their ambitions to aggregate over 100,000 documentaries (up from the current 1,500.  I recently heard of a VOD experiment utilizing something like 50,000 titles.  My consumer side loves even the mention of such volume.  But my filmmaker side starts to get the shakes as I wonder how the hell will people find my movies.

We’ve all heard that titles that begin with the letter “A” do better on VOD than any others.  Viewers have a hard time investing much search time in the current interface.  The Netflix algorithm for finding what I like is a nice tool for adding to the queue, but it an anonymous source and sometimes I want to know more of the “why” that than “just because you liked X”.  I was excited to stumble upon WhichFlicks.com the other day and added ten more titles to my WatchInstantly queue as a result.  Yet they were all generally well known titles.

If the annual film production number estimates I was given recently by Chris Hyams of B-side fame were even 50% accurate (7000 films in the US, and 45,000 films produced worldwide per year), every filmmaker’s most pertinent question is not “How do I get my movie made?” but “How am I going to get my film seen?” .

Who wins in the volume game?  The same folks who win in the limited supply game.  Who has the most money at the end of the game?  The same folks who had the most money at the start of the game.  Who gets their story told in the history books?  Those that write the history books.  Wait… I’m off point.  Okay, just sort of, but… you get the picture.

If we can’t get attention for the work, how is it going to get seen?  I know many out there believe that the cream rises to the top, just like their are many that believe that hard work and a good attitude can bring you all you dream.  Me, I feel that the exceptions to those stories are what we must all work to prevent, that with effort and support, we can make it better together.

I don’t think it needs to just be volume and quantity of the message that gets your work noticed, but that is still how it is all working.  Sure design is still effective and originality scores points too.  And occasionally we see the underserved community come up and respond to a direct address (remember FAHRENHEIT 9/11 and THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST) or even a well served community respond to something that even just smelled authentic (BLAIR WITCH, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY), but what about good work in general, good stories well told, how can we find those and make them a priority for people again when they are being assaulted with choices from every sector under the sun?  Call me an optimist, but I am confident it can be done.

We lost an incredible service when all the film critics lost their pulpits at the national and local papers.  Individual blogs don’t work the same way papers did.  Now you want sports news, you go to sports sites, and the chances are you aren’t going to find news on some obscure indie film gem.  Sure you may get personalized ads on your social network and your thousands of friends and all those you follow have an opinion about what may be important that minute, but it isn’t the same as a long standing relationship with a critic with a history of well thought out opinions — you know how to judge the critic’s taste against your own.  I know you can go to MetaCritic or RottenTomatoes but I personally find the aggregated opinions don’t deepen my relationship with a critic or a film; they feel generalized, even after I drill down to the individual.

Even those friends whom I know whose tastes resemble my own, I don’t know what they are watching.  Or listening to.  Or reading.  Or where to easily get those things even if I did know.  And when I get a recommendation, what do I do with it anyways?  Why can’t I have one list that keeps it altogether for me, whether I am going to find it in a theater, or on Netflix, or VOD, or whether I want to purchase it?

Some solutions are also a bit terrifying.  If I let my tastes known about all things, if we have a set of common tags that I can like or dislike, even to varying degrees, presumably my next new favorite thing can be effortlessly found and delivered in this glorious digital age.  But when IT could happen here, when civil liberties are consistently ignored, do I really want to share my data?  Maybe such specific personalization is not such a godsend.

And what is it that we really want from such filters anyway?  It’s not just what to watch, but also when to watch what we watch.   Doesn’t eveyone miss those water cooler conversations about last night’s Seinfeld episode?  Isn’t the pleasure of going to the movies, largely about seeing it with other people?  We want to watch what are friends are watching so we can discuss it easily with them?  And not just really our friends, but also those we hope might become our friends too.

Really, when we all have over 1000 films on our To Watch list, how do we begin to make a choice?

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