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December 26 at 8:30am

The Really Bad Things In The Indie Film Biz 2012

By Ted Hope

I can’t always be optimistic.  My apologies.

I did start this HopeForFilm / TrulyFreeFilm blog in the hopes that community action could improve things for us all.  My original lists of 75 problems of indie film remain relevant, alas; and with this latest addition we are almost at 100 such challenges.

But don’t be bummed, every problem is an opportunity, right?  To quote the great Walt Kelly of Pogo:  “We are surrounded by unsurmountable opportunities.”  We just need the will, the strength, the hope, and the power to change them.  12 Steps to progress?

I admit, even blessed by my last name, even I can’t be always be optimistic, at least not if I want to also speak the truth. Sometimes throwing a brick is an act of love; you know what I mean?  And granted I’ve thrown a lot of bricks at this indie film thing. What can I say?  There’s a great deal really wrong with our culture these days and a hell of a lot that can hurt our business.  We have to work together if we want to build it better.

Let’s get started and call these “opportunities” out (in no particular order); maybe they are not so unsurmountable after all:

  1. Filmmakers are unable to earn a living even when they consistently make successful films.  Budgets have been dropping over the years — and fees go down with them.  Movies are few and far between in terms of years for their makers and without overhead deals or teaching gigs, it’s hard for a creator to stay focused on film unless one is wealthy.  And of course, net profits grow more of a joke daily (although they don’t have to).
  2. The acquisition price for US rights hovers around 10% of the negative costs — and no one complains.  Sometimes doesn’t it seem like a cartel where all buyers got together and said “let’s just offer less”?  If no one breaks rank, other than occasionally, all the buyers benefit — and the only thing that can drive things is passion — and the markets are supposed to be devoid of that.  We are better than just letting a market race to the bottom.  We should be able to recognize that the health of a culture is dependent on those that create and innovate being able to live a financially secure life.
  3. “Oops, I Farted” is the dominate “specialized” title of desire in these United States Of America.  Art film be damned. The gaseous (fictional) title is courtesy of producer Mike Ryan who used it as shorthand for what he saw as most companies’ acquisition strategy: the audience-friendly falsely-transgressive youth-focused star title.  Art film is dead.  Distribution companies don’t just aim to give people what they want.  They also lead as everyone knows that people generally like what they want (The White Hare syndrome).  Where are we being led?
  4. This is the last year of celluloid.  Here’s HwdRptr on it. What could be a better signifier of this than the fact that Kodak filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection earlier this year.  People are writing sad eulogies & fond remembrances. Nostalgia arrives in the same year as a passing these days.
  5. IMG_5076Although women directors proportionally make up the as many directors as men do in documentaries, they are not even close in narrative features.  This is true even if the Sundance competition is proportionally represented in terms of gender for the first time ever.  It sure took a long time to reach this point.  And how much does anyone want to bet that it slips back fast?  And what of all the festivals that are not so progressive?  Sure, folks say it really needs to always just be the best films, and I am not arguing for quotas anyway, it’s just that we need to acknowledge that the system does not grant the same opportunities to everyone.  And further, equal opportunity has never come close to providing equal outcome .  We need to further the discussion of why there are not more women, youth, and people of color in positions of power in the entertainment industry.  After all they are the top consumers; it would make sense they know better what the people really want.
  6. Great reviews — even in the most important newspaper in the world — have no effect.  It used to be that indie & art film was good business because it was completely review driven.  You did not need to do much advertising if the critics gave you love.  Those days are dead and gone.  Two films I produced this year, DARK HORSE and STARLET got excellent NY Times reviews, but fat lot it did them.  DARK HORSE even hit the trifecta with awesome reviews in the New Yorker and New York Magazine (Time and LA Times too), but fat lot of good that did.  Granted there are many factors to a film’s lack of real cultural impact, but still: it once was that reviews like those films were worth a huge weight in gold.  And not they are not.  Critics were once our guide through the cultural landscape — and that is how we selected our films.  Maybe it is time for a change, but for now we not only haven’t found it, but losing what we once had makes it even harder to distribute what once was recognized as quality.
  7. The NY Times and others are going after the film and television tax credits.  These tax credits create jobs and spread wealth.  These tax credits keep our #2 national industry afloat.  Film is a migratory industry and these jobs will flea if they suspect tax policy is not stable. When the press goes after something in such a one-sided fashion, we have to wonder what really is afoot.  Further, we have to start to get serious about combatting such wrong-headiness.  We need to truly quantify the spend nationally in indie film.  If anyone wants to help fund this effort, I would love to undertake it at the San Francicso Film Society (hint, hint).  For more on this, see #13 below…
  8. People don’t go to the movies anymore — particularly young ones.  My tale of my 12 year old son (“I don’t like movies, although I love many that I have seen”) got quoted globally.  Sure, I need the statistics to back this up, and I hope you send them to me, but we all recognize that youth attendance is dropping.  Isn’t it time we woke up from our dream, and started making films that had real youth appeal?
  9. Virtual print fees suck (VPFs are how digital projectors were both financed and indie films are shut out of national chains).  We had to turn down dates for DARK HORSE due to them.  Sure we have a DCP but between the traditional film rentals you a pay an exhibitor and the VPF most indie films can’t expect to make money.  Let’s say you pay 60% to the exhibitor and anticipate only a $2K gross.  That leaves you with $800.  And guess how much the VPF generally is?  So you  get nothing.  And it is not just in the US that the structure does not work.  Ditto for the UK.
  10. Even worse than not having any transparency in VOD numbers, there is not enough outcry about the lack of transparency in VOD numbers.  How can we make all of this public?
  11. VOD is still treated as a second-class citizen as VOD premieres can’t get reviewed in major media outlets.  I am thankful we have On Demand Weekly, but when will the major media publications get wise to it?  And why is this not happening now?  Is it that they fear they would then lose the advertising for the movies?  Would they not be opening up a new advertising revenue source?  What’s wrong with this picture?
  12. The US reports box-office revenue figures but not attendance.  How do we know how our business is and culture is doing if we can’t get access to the numbers?  When will we truly have transparency in all things?  I thought information wanted to be free.  We were promised jet packs.
  13. We have yet to begin a real effort to quantify the spend on indie film, both directly and indirectly.  If we don’t harvest the data our work generates, we don’t control the power that is rightfully ours.  Since the only thing that talks in this town is money, we need to be able to speak accurately about how we create jobs, benefit communities, and generate wealth.
  14. The Digital Disaster is digging in deep. There are many aspects of this, but we particularly bury our head in the sand when it comes to preservation of digital works.  Recommended best practices for digital data is to migrate it from your drives every 3 months.  If you don’t do that, you can not be assured you will have an archival quality copy.  As of five years ago, very few cinema makers finished their work on celluloid — which could preserve work for over 100 years.  So in the race for technology to save us, we traded 100+ years for 3 months.  Hooray, right?  Read this.
  15. To quote A.O. Scott of the NY Times: “By the end of this year, The New York Times will have reviewed more than 800 movies, establishing 2012, at least by one measure, as a new benchmark in the annals of cinematic abundance.”   Grand abundance is not a bad thing; choices are wonderful when you know they are there.  I even argue from a cultural point of view, this abundance is splendid.  The problem is we still haven’t evolved our culture or business infrastructure to adapt for this change.  We still rely on the methods of promotion, discovery, consumption, & participation that were built in the era of scarcity and control.  Without pivoting our methods towards this new reality, more movies don’t get seen, more movies don’t recoup, and more frustration abounds.  Items #1 & 2 on this list are a direct result of this one.
  16. The industry undermines the possibility of creating a sustainable investor class.  We all know about the Harry Potter “net profits“.  I have to admit though Napoleon Dynamite was a surprise; how can the creators only get 12.88%?  Even it being legal, it’s not right.  The best thing any of us can do for our industry, culture, and community is to make sure that those that create, as well as those that support them, are able to be rewarded for the work they create.  We are so far away from this being a reality, yet I see and hear so little discussion about it.  This should be an urgent matter on all of our leaders’ lips.
  17. There is not enough money to teach media literacy in the schools.  We are bombarding  kids with content and yet we don’t give them tools to decipher it. let alone defend themselves against it.  It’s great all the conversation that Zero Dark Thirty has stirred up, but it only underlines the support we must give our children.
  18. Blog commenting burn-out is the law of the land.  Comments were my favorite things on blogs.  I used to get a lot here.  Now we get “likes” and tweets.  I started blogging because it seemed to me to be a community building tool.  When it is one sided it is not community.  Maybe it is me.  Maybe I am writing in a style that no longer encourages commenting.  Or maybe it is the community itself.  Or maybe all the comments just end up on the facebook page.  Whatever it is, it was more vibrant when people participated.
  19. There is so little that reads as truthful in the press.  It was so refreshing to read this interview with Terry Zwigoff on The Playlist because he told it as he sees it.  And that is so rare.  It is a shame.  Imagine a world where people recognized it was okay to share how you felt — oh what a wonderful world that would be.
  20. We limit culture by the limits of what we support.  I got to make movies because a few folks recognized that although they didn’t personally like my films, there not only were those that did, but also that my films were furthering the cultural discussions.  The success — and now necessity — of the various film support labs for screenwriters, fiction directors, and doc directors are invaluable, but they are also limiting.  American documentaries are generally all social issue, personal triumph, and pop culture surveys as that is what our support structures encourage.  Ditto on the fiction tale of triumph over adversity.  And I love all those forms, but there is so much out there that is still being overlooked.  And we even neglect the commercial forms.  Where are the labs for horror films or thrillers, the genres that actually work in the marketplace?  Where are those that really are trying to advance the cultural dialogue?  Is there a way we can start to pivot to widen our reach?  This may sound like something minor to most, but I do think we are doing our culture and community by not supporting more of what the audience wants.  Can this be a symptom of the gatekeepers thinking they know best?  How can we give the community a bigger say in what gets advanced?
  21. The bifurcation of the have and have-nots, I mean the tentpoles and passionate amateurs, has created a possibility gap.  Indie film was once a farm team for the studios.  David O. Russel, Ang Lee, Quentin T., Spike Lee, Kathryn Bigelow, and many many more of our current greats all came through true indie work.  The next wave is being deprived of access to all the colors on the palate.  The drop out of the mid-range picture means that some of our greatest hopes for the future will never get to mix for the Atmos Sound System, will never get to play with something beyond the Cannon 5D camera, will never get the opportunity to build out a full story world architecture.  We are going to limit our dreams of the future by not giving new waves of artists access to experiment with all the tools that are available.
  22. Narrative film, despite firmly embracing micro-budget limits, has no staged-financing structure yet implemented.  Although I definitely want to do something about this, there are very little options available for filmmakers other than raising all their money upfront.  Now, many may argue that is irresponsible to shoot a film without full financing in place, one only needs to look at the doc world to see  the positive results from staged financing.  Doc films have proportional representation in terms of gender in the directorial ranks; could this be related to staged financing?  Since indie will always be an execution dependent art form, wouldn’t it make sense to have a structure that allows for proof of principal?
  23. Investors have nowhere to turn to get better information regarding non-traditional film investment.  When they can only turn to the agencies for “expert” advice, they only get one side of the story.  Yes, they can hire high-priced consultants, armed with all sorts of numbers, but where do they usually find these consultants?  Why  from the agencies of course!  The agencies have tremendous insight for sure, just as these consultants do, but it is hard for change to take hold, when all our advice comes from the same source.  Imagine if we had a real investors’ summit, led by folks outside of the business or power centers?  Imagine if we had services in place to train new investors in specific areas of  what might become their expertise.  Imagine if we had the structures in place which allowed these same investors to collaborate across projects.
  24. Where are the leaders in indie film?  I was very inspired by both Joana Vicente’s & Keri Putnam’s move into not-for-profit commitment.  Without them taking a first step, I probably would not have been willing to put down my project-producing magic wand for a time, and focus on rebuilding infrastructure for a time.  But frankly I expected many more at this point to be committed to giving more back. Those that have made a life time of non-profit counter-balance that a bit, but I expected more.  I started the blog because I thought if I spoke up, others would too.  There have been many positive contributions to the blog, and yes new leaders have emerged to some degree, but frankly I would have expected more producers, directors, executives, and screenwriters to step up and say that we have a tremendous opportunity before us and we best act on it or else that window will close.  I still believe it to be true: if you are not on the bus, you are part of the problem.  There may be 99 Problems but make it clear that you are not one.

Just remember: Lists like this only make the foolish despair.  We can build it better together.

And if that is not enough to get you through the night, I did write a couple of antidotes.  You can always read “The Really Good Things In The Indie Film Biz 2012

If you want to move into the future, here are the Really Bad Things In Indie Film 2013.

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  1. Anthony Laura / Dec 26 at 8:30am

    Do you have any advice on what independent filmmakers can do to help the independent industry become stronger?

  2. David Larkin / Dec 26 at 8:30am

    Ted- Thanks for the post. Like Thomas Matthai, I think the filmmaker community can learn a lot from the musician community. Even though the market for recorded music has plummeted, musicians have begun to adapt by being more energetically self promoting, selling more merch, making as many live appearances as possible, etc These tactics may not directly translate to film, but by many measures music is as culturally relevant as it has ever been. New things painfully emerged to help make up for what was displaced. I think a lot of filmmakers are still just so focused just on making their film and don’t give enough thought to what comes next after they do – or don’t – get their theatrical premier The “industry” will not be forthcoming with solutions for the indie community. Solutions will have to emerge through content creators willingness to experiment with new distribution methods, new ways to engage with fans, new business models for production and financing and for attracting talent, and bold and imaginative partnerships with emerging technology platforms. Your content is your currency, you have to spend it.

  3. John Chi / Dec 26 at 8:30am

    Thank you for being the independent film world’s greatest advocate. Your ongoing work to bend and rebuild the infrastructure for independent film will one day hopefully lead to a breakthrough. As of now, it’s still a very difficult road to make films independently, despite the technology, the depth of will and want from filmmakers around the world, and the wealth of struggle everywhere that makes for original artistic content. Like any production, where hundreds, if not thousands of decisions have to be made, with efficiency and accuracy, you need some angels too. It will take those with insight, vision, and the means (billions?) to make REAL SUBSTANTIVE changes to the infrastructure to make independent film distribution/exhibition viable. What the SFFS is doing now in grants and financial assistance, and the support from the Kenneth Rainin Foundation, is tremendous. But is that sustainable? There needs to be a way to make it sustainable, align the interests, creative and financial, of those who have the means to make change, and the artists who create the content. Right now, there isn’t enough real competition among distributors and exhibitors to drive things down to a natural equilibrium of where things should be. As you’ve pointed out on numerous occasions, distribution right now is flawed and almost punitive for most independent films. Distribution without theatrical exhibition is an accepted avenue for most indie films, but ideally, distribution will always have a theatrical component. The only way that can happen is if we solve the exhibition component. Who is going to build that infrastructure where thousands of independent films that are made outside of the studio system, can be seen in a theater? What are the economics of such an infrastructure? I think it can be done. Filmmakers are among the most resourceful human beings on the planet. We need the same resourcefulness and commitment from those in the investment, technology, and business communities to partner on a solution. Who is going to take on the challenge of building an alternative infrastructure to distribute and exhibit independent cinema? We’re seeing really innovative alternatives in the VOD world, but we need the same innovation and creative resourcefulness in theatrical exhibition. I’m a strong believer in competition and choice. The content is there. It shouldn’t cost $12 to see a movie in a theater. Popcorn shouldn’t cost $10 a bag. A soda shouldn’t cost $5. If you build the infrastructure where your independent cinema film house looks just like the Arclight or AMC or Edwards theater chain, you will solve a lot of the problems you’ve cited. If it looks and feels the same, but costs half the price, people will go. If the movies in theaters more closely reflected what people are watching on youtube, VOD, hulu, netflix, etc., people will go to the theater for the experience. There’s no reason, with digital cinema, that a theater can’t be more nimble/flexible with what it shows on any given day. It may resemble what a film festival environment looks like, without all the frenzy and hustle of commerce. Just the sense of adventure and joy of watching movies where they might not know a whole lot about before going in. It can and will happen one day, thanks in large part to what you and many others are doing to champion the movement. Until then, we must not lose our resolve and continue to push forward.

  4. Heidi Haaland / Dec 26 at 8:30am

    I think young persons might not be terribly interested in film because non-theatrical viewing has become the new normal. When I think back on classic films from the 30s-70s, there are precious few I’ve seen anywhere but the small screen – either a television or dvd player or laptop – and although I devoured movie reviews as kid, I really didn’t enjoy movies until I saw them on large screens and in a proper audience, i.e. the way they were intended to be viewed. And yet, despite the decline of revival houses and drive-ins (which you’ve written about also, Ted) and all the myriad entertainment options out there, on hot summer nights crowds of people will still huddle together in parks – or even parking lots with proximity to a windowless wall – just to be in that moment, in the company of others.

  5. Cesar Rubio / Dec 26 at 8:30am

    Was my last comment deleted, and if so, WHY?

    Can you please tell me the reason?


  6. Cesar Rubio / Dec 26 at 8:30am

    NOTE: If you are going to delete this comment again, at least please let me know why, thanks.CR.

    Wow! a very good read Mr. Hope….but also sad in many ways.

    Its sad that the BIG machine of the Hollywood studios don’t leave room for the
    Indie movie maker…and especially for Stereoscopic 3-D cinema productions, as
    there are fewer screens than regular 2-D screenings.

    I’ve been working trying to integrate the best and most affordable professional
    grade 3-D camera system since 2006…and for what?

    The average Joe like me do not have almost any chance to make it not only
    “BIG” in the biz, but even in the low end of things…

    Our system cost like 15 times less than competing systems of almost the same
    quality (ours is better in many important aspects of 3-D movie making even…)

    I am a member in a Linkedin Group (Stereoscopic 3-D Professionals Worldwide)
    with more than 10,000 members, by far the largest in the world…

    But most can not even make a living outside the circle that the studios
    control, and even if you want to make 3-D productions for 3-D HDTV they already
    have all the saying and control too…

    According to one member, 3Net (a 3-D TV channel by Discovery, Sony and IMAX.)
    don’t want to pay fair wages for productions. They only offer $12K per hour of
    a 3-D production …and 3-D is more difficult and expensive to make than
    ordinary 2-D productions…

    So what else do we have left in order to screen our work?…

    No wonder almost everyone is discouraged with the current situation,and looks
    elsewhere to try to make a living…the studios greed will make for sure 3-D
    fail once more in history if things continue the same.

    A few years ago I proposed the creations of small venue 3-D cinemas for Indie
    3-D producers, but it went no where, because that business model does not align
    well with studios and big cinema theaters chains in most parts of the world
    that they control…

    And not only that, some obscure powers in Hollywood want to get rid of me and
    my system for obvious reasons…they don’t want the big guys to look at this
    kind of 3-D system because that will mean they will lose their “A”
    wealthy costumers in the biz…and besides the money, there are HUGE egos in
    this business…just by that you can end up dead.

    They don’t like people that expresses their true (like you and I Ted)…

    What to do? run and hide? give up on my Indie 3-D effort, or keep fighting in a
    war that is almost already lost?

    Cesar Rubio.

  7. Cesar Rubio / Dec 26 at 8:30am

    This might be a viable alternative outlet for Indie producers (2-D & 3-D), to show their movies on (as time passes and the user base of such cinemas increases worldwide of course…):



  8. Mark Savage / Dec 26 at 8:30am

    Ted, you raise so many issues here and provoke a debate on solutions.

    The issues, mostly, are financial. The costs of non-studio filmmaking (and distribution) are way out of sync with returns, thereby creating a situation that is unsustainable.. Unless a film is directly studio-financed, it does not go into the global, studio-driven network that enables the return of substantial funds to producers and investors. The dominance of American studios has a deleterious impact on distribution of non-studio films because they are drowned out by the noise of big marketing spends and campaigns. And, being the greedy behemoths they are, the studios don’t like to see anybody else taking consumer dollars for their ‘product’. That’s why they buy up indie-focused companies and bury the sources of their intended remakes.

    A non-studio system is essential for growth outside the studio-financed system, but, once again, economics are the issue. Non-profit organizations have their place in promoting certain types of films, and distribution of ‘difficult’ pictures can be enabled by them, but films cost money, and in order for any filmmaker to prosper, the money spent needs to be returned. That’s just not possible with the non-profit scenario unless the film has a miniscule budget and returns aren’t expected. To truly service a film’s distribution, a huge amount of time needs to be spent by specialists who can’t be expected to work for free any more than a producer should be expected to work for free (although they often do!).

    In parts of Europe, where cinema is seen as an important contributor to national ‘culture’ it’s easier to finance films with government grants and concessions because expectations on return are not so rigid. In the US, where the government does not see cinema as anything but ‘business’ and ‘pop culture’, the non-profit paradigm is unworkable. When a film’s finance is made up of government grants from five different countries, for example, there is (let’s be honest!) not the same expectation on returns as when the money is provided from private sources; therefore, a distribution system is essential.

    There are many problems with non-studio distribution:

    1)The majority of distributors/sales agents are dishonest. They have the morals of used car salesmen. They are content to burn bridges with each producer rather than forge long term relationships because they know there are thousands of new suckers born every minute making their first films every year. The well, fueled by Hollywood hyperbole and film festival BS that anybody can get rich and famous, is not going to run dry.

    2)Companies most definitely collude on licensing fees, and current licensing fees are so far out of sync with the reality of budgets, it’s a black comedy. Imagine if General Motors or Ford sold their cars for 20% of the production price?! They would all go out of business overnight. In a sense, the non-studio film business (especially the creative side) is actually out of business. People are not getting paid. People are subsisting. People take other jobs to survive. This creates the impression that the business is flourishing when it isn’t. To return to the car biz analogy, this present film biz situation is akin to Ford workers building cars while taking a second job at the bank to make ends meet.

    Only in the film and music business do so many work so hard for so little.

    3)Even when sales agents do sell territories, the attached expenses are outrageous, and make it virtually impossible for producers to see substantial returns. Not only do the sales companies collect very reasonable distribution fees (a percentage of sales), but they also expect producers/filmmakers to finance their reckless lifestyles. Fortunately, the need for global sales agents is diminishing.

    Because the system is reliant on the old models, the frustrations continue, and will remain. Very few distribution companies are prepared to change their ways, so they have put it on the producers to change their ways instead. Essentially, that means: expect smaller returns and live with it.

    The trouble is, there’s very little live to live with or on instead. Result: a totally broken system.

    Solutions. A few spring.

    Youth interest in cinema going has dropped a lot. That’s understandable. The kids have many options these days: internet, gaming, communal piracy, and a multitude of ‘apps’ to keep them busy. These new technologies also make cinema going seem quaint, don’t they?

    Ted suggests that filmmakers try harder to make films for this audience. That’s a logical solution. But, isn’t there another audience that isn’t being catered to? I’m talking about the 45-75 age group. They’re clearly hungry for product. Just look at how successful film geared towards them such as QUINTET and THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL are doing.

    This age group grew up with Antonioni, Imamura, Cassavetes, Kurosawa, Schepisi, Bergman, Fuller, Ichikawa, Truffaut, Rohmer, Bresson, Malle, Fellini, Kadar, and so many more I can’t possibly list them all. They’re not dead. They’re very much alive. And they remember the vibrancy of the cinema, it’s ability to blend entertainment with protest.

    Surely, a system geared towards this group makes sense. What begins as a trickle can become a river. Why not?!

    Money is why not. Films cost too much. Fees are too high across the board. A new paradigm has to be about realistic costs.

  9. Ted Hope / Dec 26 at 8:30am

    Personally speaking, I think the A2E program we have launched at SFFS is going to tackle many of these problems.

  10. SayNoToBadPodcasts / Dec 26 at 8:30am

    This is all so depressing in multiple ways. It’s a loud, distracting world and 21st century independent films are only gonna get a certain amount of attention.

    When anyone can make a film, the world of indie film will be crowded. It’s the consequence of digital technology. And it’s only gonna become more so.

    But that doesn’t take away from the possibility of a filmmaker creating an interesting story. And that’s still the beauty of independent film, I just have to go out of my way to find such films.

  11. SayNoToBadPodcasts / Dec 26 at 8:30am

    The great thing is, we all are identifying the problems at hand. That alone is moving forward.

  12. Harriet Happ / Dec 26 at 8:30am

    Big machine of Hollywood does not only NOT leave room, they have eaten up the so-called INDIE film world so you almost can’t tell the difference. It’s called murder your competition or eat your competition. Capitalism. Make your own movies anyway you can.

  13. David Nerlich / Dec 26 at 8:30am

    I propose a new genre “Filme Masochisme”.

  14. kevin foxe / Dec 26 at 8:30am

    as always, Ted, your years of insight and experience,are helping build a better future! start by asking the right questions, and lots of smart, talented people will find solutions. i trust they are finding them, piece by piece. this current disruption is happening quicker than those of the past, and this first digital generation is responding the best we can. consumption is part of the solution, and in just a few years we have radically changed our viewing habits with storytellers not changing our creation and distribution as quickly. i think the studios are caught off guard as we are. i believe the solution is happening, and big changes are just on the horizon. i was part of the disruption to production, and sadly, did not take distribution into account back in the day. i wanted to, but the concept of self, or indie, or low budget distribution was not truly possible when this whole new world of ‘everything is now’, fell from the sky. i think we are very close to that possibility now. there will be a film that exploits the holes in distribution of the studio system and will make a fortune for itself, very soon, allowing many other wagon trains to follow in their blazed trail. lets keep this conversation going, with more questions, and more answers! it took decades of studio films before a real independent movement happened, lets not wait that long in this new era to create a way to get our stories made and seen! count me in as part of the solution, I am on the bus! thank you!

  15. Shane Loader / Dec 26 at 8:30am

    In little New Zealand (pop. 4.5 million) we’ve been, in the last few years,
    developing a healthy and vibrant indie film making community. This is about to
    get a real kick in the guts by the virtual print fee. Whether it’ll be fatal only
    time will tell. Self-distribution was beginning to show itself as the only real
    financially viable option able to return money to investors because maverick
    exhibitors in art-house and provincial cinemas were screening on High
    Definition MPEG2 files. I believe it was in just NZ and India where this happened. Basically playing the films off a computer, but some of the systems had become very
    sophisticated. (for more detail go to: http://www.torchlightfilms.co.nz/digital-projection/) Not the highest quality but on the small boutique screens throughout the country good enough to keep audiences happy to pay for their tickets, especially to see local films. Though always limited by our small population it had become possible even desirable to self-distribute and some low and no budget indie films were doing better at the box office than those with multi-million budgets. As a result our local industry seemed in a healthier state than our much bigger neighbor Australia. BUT along comes the VPF and exhibitors who don’t sign up are being starved of product, a number have closed shop and the fees are looking at being so high that screening your indie film will no longer be financially sensible. Maybe a legal challenge on the grounds of restriction of
    trade is our only hope but who can afford to do this?

  16. Shane Loader / Dec 26 at 8:30am

    Everything you said makes sense. Here in NZ because of our small size we have governmental ‘cultural’ funding for films but the youth obsession remains. Two years ago I distributed an indie film to 50 cinemas (our pop is only 4.5 million). When approaching the relevant art house and provincial cinemas all but one wanted to know if the film appealed to “women over 30″ because that is the mainstay of the cinema going audience in our country. Fortunately it did. See: http://www.torchlightfilms.co.nz/hls/

  17. Ig / Dec 26 at 8:30am

    “Fiction should reflect process now more than never” u were looking story telling concepts for next eyer here u have it but wait..only exceptionally   it can be done collectible it’s as usual an Authorship exercise

  18. Out in the Street Films / Dec 26 at 8:30am

    A great script remains rare. The crowd is a crowd of junk. It was always there. But now it has feet and a voice. The problem is that the gems are lost in the crowd.

  19. Out in the Street Films / Dec 26 at 8:30am

    Filmmakers have the option to set their price. They sell themselves short in hopes of exposure as a foot in the door of a lucrative career. How many filmmakers even get to the point of distribution? But when they do, does that actually launch their careers? It seems more likely it launches them into an oblivion of yesterday’s news. No doubt the experience is frustrating enough to turn them back to their original day jobs. And the distribution machine no longer wants them, since they’re onto the scam. So their next project is likely doomed, even if it is actually good. Filmmakers are like voters duped by the promises of politicians. And that’s the way the corporate studios like it. They want writers and directors as employees, not as people who think and make decisions.

  20. Out in the Street Films / Dec 26 at 8:30am

    Why should kids go to the movies when they have the internet at their fingertips?

  21. Out in the Street Films / Dec 26 at 8:30am

    Its interesting that in the year, or so, since this post, so much has changed. 3D is on its way out, if not over. Studios are freaking out about losses, attributed by actual creatives as lack of story (perhaps foreseen and forewarned by Spielberg and Lucas). This seems to leave a gaping hole in the industry for indies to move in and corner the “story” market. But I think that the huge proliferation of indie crap makes it hard for anything of real interest and quality to gain traction; or more to the point, hard for good filmmakers to have the resolve to distinguish their films. And maybe even to know that they have good films. Why would anyone bother to encourage or help a filmmaker just because they have quality work if there’s no profit margin?

    One comment below mentions that indies keep going the traditional conventional distribution route, which obviously fails them. And the question is asked why? Indeed, filmmakers need to be as creative about distribution as they are about making movies. ‘Blair Witch’ comes to mind. The movie incorporated a fantastic marketing concept form the start. But you can’t copy that, just as you cant copy any model that is successful by another film. You have to come up with your own distribution strategy, just like you have to come up with your own compelling original film worthy of it. You actually have to have talent, which can be cultivated, but can’t be learned in film school or an MBA program. You can’t figure this out by research and analysis of other films or the market. And even if you could, every film is different and requires a different approach. And I think this rings true for every level of filmmaker. Regardless of experience and success, we all have this problem. It’s the challenge of being an artist.

    Can you actually be successful, sustain yourself through your art, without cutting off your ear or having success only after death? It’s the question of all time and the resounding obstacle, cause, and nemesis is “money,” the invention of which is the bane of humanity. How’s that for a logline?

  22. Out in the Street Films / Dec 26 at 8:30am

    I propose a newer genre, filme sadochism. And don’s suggest some kind of middle ground to incorporate both.

  23. clive frayne / Dec 26 at 8:30am

    Yeap, this all strikes me as hideously true. The alt-cinema scene is a mess at the moment. And, the points you make are all spot on. For me there are three key issues:

    1) There is a chasm between the films being made and potential audiences. Every year I am lucky to see some wonderful films that I know will not connect with the people who would enjoy them. Generally, the people who want more from a movie than the standard commercial shapes. I get to see a small fraction of them because, when I can afford to, I go to film festivals. The end result of this chasm, is the propagation of the myth that only certain kinds of films are commercially viable. Of course, without that ability to connect the films to the audiences, there is some truth in that assertion. However, what’s worrying is that the reaction to this is the flattening out of what a film is to “this is commercial and safe.” Surely a better reaction would be to ask “How do we connect with these audiences?”

    2) Financial transparency – About six years ago I did a meeting with a financier who found “high risk, high yield” investments for people who are into that kind of thing. His take was that film’s lack of financial transparency was its downfall as a potential investment. If film offered a 30% return in three years, with a less than 50% risk, then it would get parity with other high risk investments. However, because it’s damn near impossible to provide projection that are concrete, money we could be getting is going to other places. In the UK it is really only the tax incentives that drive investment. How messed up is that? When our investment model is predicated on our ability to generate taxable losses.

    3) Digital Disaster – I hate to agree with this one, as I’ve been a fierce advocate of the digital revolution. But, in reality the real effect of plummeting production and post-production equipment has been: more noise in terms of content, less project development at the script stage, a expectation that no one will be paid (particularly at the script stage). The independent film making communities have really suffered in all of this, simply because rather than a small group of like minded film makers working together, more and more the community feels like a lot of people shouting about their project, in a room where everyone else is doing the same. If the noise in terms of content is deafening, then the noise in terms of self-promotion is enough to shatter glass.

    I wish I had answers to these issues. I suspect that at least part of it is to do with the development of alterative distribution and marketing strategies. On a personal level, I’ve decided to have another go at curating and aggregating information about new films that interest me. I’ve also made a commitment to addressing the educational needs of young film makers in the UK.

    Personally, I am still excited by the challenge.

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