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The Really Bad Things In The Indie Film Biz 2012

Posted By Ted Hope On December 26, 2012 @ 8:30 am In Truly Free Film | 171 Comments

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 [1] of 75 problems [2] 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 [3] (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 [4]. 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 [5]. 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 [6], 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 [7] and STARLET [8] 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 [9].
  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 [10].
  15. To quote A.O. Scott [11] 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 [12]“.  I have to admit though Napoleon Dynamite was a surprise [3]; 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 [13] 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 [14]

If you want to move into the future, here are the Really Bad Things In Indie Film 2013 [15].

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171 Comments (Open | Close)

171 Comments To "The Really Bad Things In The Indie Film Biz 2012"

#1 Comment By Holly Hardman On December 26, 2012 @ 10:03 am

Kudos to you for writing an in-depth blog post about the creative and financial inequities and injustices that threaten to do in a robust indie filmmaking world. I hope that it is widely read and shared. Perhaps we, your readers who are also filmmakers, will absorb it and even act on it. Perhaps more of us will begin to stick our necks out and stand up to some of the nonsense that goes on with deals that assume and dictate diminishing returns. Why are we supposed to spend years of our lives bringing a film to fruition only to face a reality that assumes filmmakers do not expect to be compensated on the back-end for their work? Make a documentary that might even be deemed excellent or important — and maybe you’ll be lucky enough to score a reality TV series. Isn’t that what Morgan Spurlock is doing? And most of us would probably jump at the opportunity. We’d be out of our minds to try to develop future film projects. Oh, but we do. Because we are a crazy, driven breed, and we don’t do it for the money. So the cycle of creativity with built-in financial loss begins again. We are too often fools. That’s what the business side of the industry counts on. How do you change an age-old and worsening paradigm?

#2 Comment By Lindy Boustedt On December 26, 2012 @ 11:25 am

Thank you for such a thorough, thoughtful, assessment. It’s nice to know that others out there feel changes need to be made. AND feels things can change for the better. :-)

I have a question though. How do those of us, in the trenches of the indie world, struggling to climb the mountain, help make these changes happen – or help further the discussion? It feels much better to be a part of the solution than sit by hoping, waiting for something to change. How do we “call our congressmen” so to speak in your opinion?

#3 Comment By Joe Orlandino On December 26, 2012 @ 1:37 pm

Great post!

#4 Comment By Jeremy Wilker On December 26, 2012 @ 1:41 pm

re: #14: 3 months isn’t realistic but we ALL need to be more mindful and active in our preservation and it should always be part of the conversation. I’d say every 6 months to year, you should be spinning up your hard drives (indexing them refreshes the magnetic media: see my post here: [18] ) and then find a way to get your film on not only 2-3 separate drives, but also onto an LTO tape. We have a place locally that’ll dump your drive of data onto a tape for a nominal fee and then you’ve got a 30+ year archive. Until LTO drives are more affordable and easy to use (ie: don’t require specialized and high-prices interfaces), having a local resource is your best bet.

re: #17: media literacy in the schools is VERY VERY important. we aren’t taught how to deal with the spin, the hard sell, the bias and yet we are immersed in it daily. Read some Robert McChesney and let’s have a conversation on how to improve this. It was once floated that we should have a 1% tax of all advertisements to go towards media literacy programs. It’d be a lot of money and education for that little tax!

#5 Comment By Paul Bright On December 26, 2012 @ 2:56 pm

Your call for leadership is based on the concept of a centralized Hollywood system, but the new indie world is totally fragmented and scattered. There are leaders in film communities all over the country; you expect indie leaders to work on a national or international stage and yet this new industry works on local levels and in niche international communities.

#6 Comment By samzalutsky On December 26, 2012 @ 5:48 pm

Great post with lots of great ideas. Definitely labs and support for films/filmmakers that explore popular genres but also are artful and important is something I think about a lot. So many stories and types of stories not being told. Thank you!

#7 Comment By Jb Bruno On December 26, 2012 @ 5:54 pm

I spent so much of this post nodding my head it hurt. I could write a treatise on each point – and they are all so good. Let me address just one or two.

1. Filmmakers making a living and number of years between films. I have a writer/director friend who won a major award at a major festival and it took him almost 5 years to get his next film made. If reviews don’t guarantee box office, major awards (this is one of those we all dream of) are no longer a guarantee of getting your next film done.

1A. If that is true of the writer/director, what of talented crew people, from art department to D.P. to production, wardrobe, etc who are asked to work for insane rates. How do we grow tomorrow’s talents that support directors if they can’t make a living? I line produce, and I’m given insane budgets to work with – here’s my 110 page script with 50 locations – can you give me a budget for $650K? Yes, if I put all the below-the-line at poverty rates, because these same people want me to leave room to make big offers to name talent. THEN, when I show them the sad low rates, they ask me, “Can I get someone good for that?” You see the cycle there?

2. Investors being able to recoup and new indie producers.
I was post-supervisor for a film I just loved – shot in Southeast Asia by a French director and a first-time producer. She had put together Asian investors. It looks incredible, and the final cost, with post, was under $400K. A few weeks back, she asked if this was a normal question from distributors, “Do you need to make your money back?” She got this question often.

Now, how does she go back to those same investors if the answer is, “No.” Why is the work – and I stress that word, work – of artists considered somehow less valuable than the work of other businesses? Would you ask a restaurant owner if he ‘needed to make his investment back?’

I won’t take up your space with a rant, but I think the answer begins, at least, with the acknowledgement that we are a community, that we are all in this together. I attended a forum on theater with two artists from the NEA fights of the past, and they stressed that those grants were to be given to artists, not the work, and it was about supporting artists. I turned to a fellow filmmaker and said, “I will not ask an experienced person to work for free again – I just won’t”

Right now, we cannot control what the distributors give us, etc. I watched a documentary of the Baseball owners collusion against players and free agency – that is nothing compared to what filmmakers are looking at.

The truth is a few filmmakers turning down these percentages means nothing they will just move on to the next. We need to reach out to the name filmmakers – the ones with the films the distributors want and need. We need them to stand with us in some form – because without that sort of clout, I dont see how we change things,

The technology is constantly evolving. Maybe we need a “Sundance” for distribution, some place that isn’t just about screening films, but saying, if you buy a film, this is a minimum. Call it a guild, if you will. What if the major festivals, for that matter, actually started serving the filmmakers and not the distributors, helping to set standards for sales?

Is that complicated? Absolutely. I’m not Polyanna enough to believe we will all join hands, sing “kumbaya” and make the system “fair” (whatever that means) in a day. It does need to be something we are talking about seriously and working toward.

Sorry for the long post – only way I knew how to get the overall point across. Hope it helps.

#8 Comment By Ted Hope On December 26, 2012 @ 6:03 pm

How do we identify them and help bring them together to work to solve these problems?

#9 Comment By Ted Hope On December 26, 2012 @ 6:04 pm

I like what you started already. I sent you a Facebook message so we can try to make it all happen. Thanks.

#10 Comment By Adam Bhala Lough On December 26, 2012 @ 10:24 pm

Ted I read your insights daily and i consider you a mentor. I discovered a lot of great direct distro tips on your website and used them for my film THE UPSETTER, the only of my 4 features that I own all rights too with my co-producer. I have had great luck in this industry, more than most, that’s for sure. I’ve made a living but now I have 2 kids and much more at stake including their futures. I often wonder if I shouldn’t focus my energies elsewhere. Your website is full of no-bullshit honest advise and at times I don’t want to read lists like these because it makes me question what I am doing continuing to direct feature films. I could be getting rich in the video game industry right now. But I love what I do so I keep on doing it. I have friends who made very acclaimed films this year, COMPLIANCE, STARLET, THE COMEDY, my friends produced all those films and none of them made a dent in the box office. It’s insane. But kids dont want to pay for movies anymore they want to spend money on the hardware and then they want that hardware to come pre-filled with movies and music that they can just flip through at random and watch whatever they feel at that moment. I wonder what I can do to help? I had breakfast with Ondi Timoner last week adn she’s putting all the dailies of her new documentary A TOTAL DISTRUPTION ON YOUTUBE to start getting an audience before she even begins to edit (her Reddit piece went viral). But that approach doesn’t feel right for every film. It’s all confusing Ted. I feel to a certain degree movies should just be free and we need to find a way of monetizing things around the movies as Stacy Peralta has done with BONES BRIGADE. He’s made 500K on selling custom boards that come with the download of the film. But then how would that approach work for a movie like Starlet? I don’t know. If there’s something I can do to help, I would like to do it. I mentor at the Sundance labs and I feel guilty when I tell these kids they should quit their day jobs and go for broke and just make their film. You know what I mean?

#11 Comment By frank1569 On December 26, 2012 @ 10:42 pm

Couple of thoughts:

Maybe it’s time to stop using the term ‘Independent Film.’ To evolve beyond it, that is. Rebrand. For at least an entire generation, maybe two, ‘Independent Film’ means either dark and depressive with subtitles, or schlock. No number of outstanding Independent Films is going to change that perception. Plus, it’s an ‘old’ term at this point. The ‘youth’ rarely respond to old anything.

Off-Studio Films? Fan-sourced? Non-Corporate? Gypsy Films? Bet Don Draper could put a hot fresh coat of paint on the genre.

Also: with the economy struggling and ‘youth’ unemployment at near record levels, maybe it’s possible to negotiate deals with multiplexes where they dedicate one or two screens to Off Lot Films and add a new OL ticket price tier that’s half the ‘Hollywood film’ ticket price. Seriously, why are we charged the same ticket price whether the film cost $100K or $100M to create anyway? It’s like charging the same price for a KIA and a Caddy. We already shell out more for 3D, so why not less for incredibly smaller Off Lot films?

What Independent – er, I mean Off Lot Films – lack is, like, a trade group that does general advertising for the brand. Like the Milk Board reminding you how great milk is every day. OL films need an organization dedicated to reminding people why watching small works of passion on the big screen is so awesome, as opposed to on their giant flat screen or gadget. The ‘youth’ need to be constantly reminded that this ain’t grandpa’s Indy Film world – it’s way cooler and better.

And, of course, we need awesome films that deliver something the ‘youth’ can’t find instantly with a flip of the remote or flick of a finger. Which may be the biggest challenge of all…

#12 Comment By Jb Bruno On December 27, 2012 @ 4:15 am

Since I read this post this Wednesday morning, I can’t get it out of my head. My apologies for the 2nd comment.

Maybe one way to break the hold the people at the top have on the artists is to change the model, as it’s a model that serves them but not even one an audience really wants.

Movie-going in its infancy was about people buying a ticket, which got them into a show, where they could get entertainment they could not get at home. While there, they could buy snacks like popcorn and peanuts and sodas. This was the same model as other forms of entertainment; baseball games, circuses, traveling shows, etc. Buy your ticket, get in, watch it, buy our over-priced snacks, get out.

Today, we have entertainment at our fingertips everywhere wherever we go. What is our theatrical model? Buy your ticket, get in, watch it, buy our over-priced snacks, get out.

Maybe that works for the spate of blockbusters that are basically extensions of video games or franchises, but not only doesn’t it work for the types of stories we are talking about telling, but it doesn’t appeal to the type of person that wants this type of fare.

Could we not find ways to partner with other activities where seeing the movie was only part of the experience. What if people could purchase memberships that got them not only in to see a movie, but also combine with other things that are part of their interests. Those “other things” could be part of packages that could be tailored to people’s taste: for one person, it could be opera, or museums; for another, stand-up comedy or dinner; for someone else, metal clubs and hookah bars.

What if this expanded also ethnically and culturally, and we started speaking to audiences outside of middle-aged White guys like me?

It would mean forming communities with other groups, and isn’t the of the larger community a good thing?

The only people the “buy your ticket” model serves is the current establishment, whose interest certainly isn’t with the filmmaker.

Those packages could range in price-scale, so in the end, it wasn’t $13-15 dollars for a two-hour-and-out experience.

Changing the model would be hard work, but would it be any harder, or more frustrating, than the one-size-fits-all model we now have no control over? At least, we wouldn’t be at the mercy of the gate-keepers.

#13 Comment By Ted Hope On December 27, 2012 @ 8:21 am

Thanks for this JB! All good ideas. Frankly that is one of my goals and one of the reasons I accepted the Executive Directorship of the San Francisco Film Society: I want to start a not-for-profit distribution and marketing service. There are already some out there, like the FIlm Collaborative, and hopefully we all can work together to make it better. I agree with you on “names” needing to take responsibility for their work. We did it with DARK HORSE and I hope you’ve bought it! It is a vicious cycle you cite: filmmakers/investors don’t earn enough licensing their films and crews can not get paid enough. The culture changes when we work with smaller and smaller crews. I do think it does require a bit of a re-education. All film programs focus on feature film production as opposed to educating their students on how to be prolific — which I think is closer to the future business model for all artists. More on all of this later.

#14 Comment By Ted Hope On December 27, 2012 @ 8:22 am

I have a post coming on this in a week or so. I was only looking at combining theatrical with VOD offerings, but I like what you state here, and will look to post it (with your permission).

#15 Comment By Ted Hope On December 27, 2012 @ 8:27 am

I am with you 1000%. The label is a problem but I don’t think it is a winnable war. I started “TrulyFreeFilm” precisely because of this. We no longer have to create for the mass market. We can create for any of the specific communities that are out there. We are free to explore any subject in any style and in any form. It is truly free now. And completely different from indie. But good luck getting everyone to run with that. Ditto on the brand promotion. I am pretty sure that both of these are hit on the original list of 38 Problems. I also like the idea of variable pricing but I am not sure about basing the pricing on the content. It could create a ghetto perception. I prefer it based on the timing of the show. But there is a solution, even if it hasn’t been put into play yet.

#16 Comment By Ted Hope On December 27, 2012 @ 8:35 am

I totally get what you mean. I stopped (for now) producing films in order to produce a better infrastructure. I feel my greatest talents are in script development and editorial — but that they were not valued as I felt they were worth. I have to give away my greatest gifts — but that’s not really so bad. I do hold great faith in collective action. As impressed I was with Music Box, I did not want the the STARLET team to accept that deal. Imagine if all three films that you cite had teamed up and done something together, perhaps with the support of a not-for-profit distribution/marketing service and support org like the San Francisco Film Society. Imagine if all three of those filmmaking teams worked to build the same community that loved challenging and ambitious film. Imagine if this year there were three other talented filmmakers who did the same for the same community. And the same the year after. I would give my labor and support to that initiative. Would you too? Imagine where we would then be as 2015 arrived. I think it would be a better world, one where I might feel encouraged to produce a film again.

#17 Comment By Ted Hope On December 27, 2012 @ 8:37 am

I would love to read many community-built lists on the types of stories they want told. Ideally all communities would be based on participation so they truly were for the communities that built them.

#18 Comment By Ted Hope On December 27, 2012 @ 8:42 am

Thanks for sharing the tweakdigital post. I tweeted it out to this community. It’s true we won’t get everyone to migrate their data so regularly. And thanks for the tip on Robert McChesney. I have so much to learn and read. Should I start with the most recent?

#19 Comment By Ted Hope On December 27, 2012 @ 8:43 am

Yes, this is why I devote time to this blog. I hope we can make it work better by working together. I think being transparent and talking openly is a huge start.

#20 Comment By cj On December 27, 2012 @ 11:41 am

Excellent work, Mr. Hope. Most here know that few indie films will ever see a theater screen, that DVD sales are flat and there are no longer belly crawl or drive-in theaters for farm team (API) films. We need a dist. platform that pays better than sharing ad revenue with YouTube. I guess it will come into being with the launch of APPL’s iTV and the Samsung equivalent. Let me give it the cheesy name “Breakthrough.” It will offer downloads for reasonable prices (iTunes) in categories such as, shorts: 30 sec. 1min. 2min. 5min. ( a fine showcase for aspiring advertising filmmakers as well as being entertaining), longer forms, 10min, 15min, 30min, 1hr, 2hr, (here will be the categories of doc, narrative features, episodic shows etc.). Popularity and paid reviewer (film reviewers are out of work as newspapers and magazines fold) recommendations can rate the offerings so as to give viewers a guide. Copyright issues will be the responsibility of the filmmakers who will be paid immediately for the downloads. This may liberate the hold of form (2hr. film, half hr. sitcom etc.) established in the golden age when theaters needed to show a picture twice a night (2hr. film) to make money; and by network TV conventions. There is plenty of venture capital available for such a site at present, it need not take a whale like APPL to start it. Real wealth is natural resources and labor.

#21 Comment By Jb Bruno On December 27, 2012 @ 1:47 pm

Absolutely. The genesis of many of my ideas spring from your sense of community, anything I post here, feel free to share.

#22 Comment By tajmilan On December 27, 2012 @ 2:20 pm

Agreed. Paul, while the industry is working on local levels, that may be true but we’re all connected. We could tap regional leaders that have the pulse of what’s going on in their areas and those leaders could meet (not even in person as we have this [19] or pick a filmfest) and share both problems and successes. I believe the rising tide lifts all boats. So the scenario you point out is an advantage rather than a detriment. then as a producer, if I’m looking into shooting in certain places I could tap into this local leader’s network or just their summary of the local film environment instead of always seeming to have to learn the hardway. I’m up for sharing.

#23 Comment By Brian Scofield On December 27, 2012 @ 3:51 pm

Thank you for taking the time to write such an in-depth and thoughtful article. My hope is that by posing the questions we can collectively begin to create solutions! I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on what indie filmmakers can do to get involved beyond lamenting along with you.

And after reading the comments below… thank you equally for being so engaged and responding to others’ comments!

#24 Comment By Occupy Wear On December 28, 2012 @ 2:33 am

Hi Ted,
Regarding 17 (not enough money to teach media literacy in the schools) maybe you’d like to have a look at my article on Propaganda in the Cinema: [20]

#25 Comment By Danny Indio On December 28, 2012 @ 11:26 am

Thanks Ted. Even when you pinpoint the negatives I remain optimistic because you’re living proof that you can succeed on your own terms without having to become beholden to formula and money.

As a practical idea for filmmakers to make some money, I’d like to suggest more screenings of short films in cineplexes (primarily a section of the theater [the smallest one?] dedicated to shorts for all or part of the day). I understand that there might be projection issues, fees, marketing issues and so on to be figured out but still… why not? Fact is the majority of filmmakers make short films ONLY because they are cheaper and easier to make (meanwhile, the feature they hope to make may never happen). Yes, film festivals screen them but then after its over off they go to a DVD collection, a video aggregator site, VOD, a demo reel or the closet. Exhibited in a theater, these films could play for a week or 2, in half hour increments (bundling 2 or 3 or more within that schedule) at a way lower price than you would for a 90+ minute movie. There could be a membership package price and a slightly higher one-off price for non-members [I'm sure I'm not the only who walked past a movie theater and said, "I have a half hour to kill waiting for friends, I'll catch some shorts."]. There can be additional benefits, like Q&A’s, discounts on snacks or movie tickets, etc. The short’s exploitation window can come before they play online just as they do for traditional features. What’s in it for filmmakers is obvious… breaking even, more publicity and prestige, aesthetic satisfaction for seeing their work played in the big screen. What’s in it for cineplex corporations… modest profit from films playing in disused theater, more foot traffic means more popcorn, etc to sell and more trailers to show, a cooler image and more engagement with a community that could lead to more foot traffic too… what’s in it for audiences… watching cool, fun, weird stories on the big screen for a low price and other benefits, discovering the next Tarantino or Spike Lee, engaging with and supporting film culture, and did I mention its on the big screen?!

In this day and age of cultural ADD, shorts have viability for more than just the cineaste. The high view counts on YouTube and Vimeo can attest to that (and yes, I know not every video on there is a short film.)

Anyway, I’ve said my piece. Thanks for listening.

#26 Comment By Ted Hope On December 29, 2012 @ 7:40 am

I never think lamenting is an answer. Producers produce. Creators create. But we remain focused on our individual projects and the evidence is in that hurts us. We all need to look at the collective situation and figure out how to contribute to the community good. A big part of that is sharing what we learn and experience, and we can do that very easy through social media and websites. We can’t hide failure but instead must help others build upon our experiences. We all have to experiment more and take some risks. We have to promote what we love and become passionate advocates for the culture we want. I chose to change my life and uproot it. I moved from NYC to SF. I have taken a hiatus from project producing in the hopes that I can help contribute to a better infrastructure for all. I hope to lead by example — but it is hard to do and requires a great deal of support.

#27 Comment By Ted Hope On December 29, 2012 @ 7:42 am

Here, here! I can’t wait for that day.

#28 Comment By cj On December 29, 2012 @ 8:30 am

if I may make a second comment, the need for the transparency of VOD numbers along with the numbers from every dist. platform can’t be overstated. With this data a movie may be evaluated as a mark to market asset instead of a mark to model asset. Without mark to market evaluation, every producer is ” a Skittle-shitting unicorn” in the eyes of the serious investor.

#29 Comment By Justin Feltman On December 30, 2012 @ 3:12 am

I am relatively new to the business. Can someone help me understand #2 a little more? Excellent article! I really enjoyed your “negativity” and find it very helpful moving forward

#30 Comment By Thomas Mathai On December 31, 2012 @ 6:58 am

Independent filmmakers should look at how their counterparts in the music,art, gaming/software, and publishing worlds have dealt with similar issues.

Why do filmmakers stick to the same distribution models, when newer ones are opening up? Are they soo comfortable with “business as usual” to see there are other options?

Is the whole industry also stuck on the “business as usual” model?

Why can’t a film festival also be an opportunity for filmmakers to sell directly to festival goers. At the very least filmmakers could sell merchandise. I’ve always seen bands selling t-shirts, CDs, stickers at all the shows I’ve been to. Most art at gallery openings are available for sale. Maybe filmmakers and festivals are too enamored with the hope and publicity of getting a big deal. It looks like these big deals are like winning the lottery.

Apple released iBook Author for free, so anyone can create their own iBooks to sell or freely distribute. If you decide to sell, the creator takes 70%, just like App Store. Less if you decide to go through a third party aggregator.

iBooks can contain images, audio, video/animation and interactive elements. It’s an electronic version of a DVD.

FXGuide created a free iBook about the making of a short film, and it includes the short film.


While iBooks are exclusive to Apple, I wouldn’t be surprised if you can do something similar for Amazon Kindle, and Google Android platforms.

Apple’s App store has created lots of opportunities for programmers, so a filmmaker created app of his short for 99 cents.


Youtube and Vimeo are thought to be just sites to check out quick and amusing clips. There people who make a decent living from them. Here’s an article about Youtubers making a living on Youtube.


Vimeo is looking ways to create revenue for creators too.


When motion pictures was a new medium, the theater community laughed at those exploring it, the film community laughed at early television. We’re at the beginning of the same cycle with all these new technologies. The only difference is these technologies evolve much faster, and the tools are readily available.

#31 Comment By Thomas Mathai On December 31, 2012 @ 7:06 am

Problem 14 is a real issue. Also realize film isn’t automatically a preservation medium either. Most early films are lost forever because of it was nitrate and just plain neglect.

I don’t think studios were actively thinking about preserving their library until the 90s.

The digital dilemma is a serious issue, and not sure what the long term solutions are. The short term ones are definitely using archive systems and having multiple archives.

#32 Comment By Adam Bhala Lough On January 1, 2013 @ 2:21 pm

OK Ted, well I’m all in. I am in the edit on my new feature right now. We are discussing distribution plans for the film. I definitely have the opportunity to do something new and bold with this film. I’m all ears, let me know what moves I can make to use my film to help others, and what the SFFS could offer.

#33 Comment By Mark Cira On January 3, 2013 @ 5:42 pm

This was an awesome read, despite its inherent gloominess. I’m a young filmmaker from Toronto and our team have been trying to do grassroots filmmaking. We have to take the art back into the artist’s hands. And you’re right. It can only be done in a collective force. This is the feature we tried to get off the ground: [25]

The concept isn’t foreign from your own. Take several different unique perspectives (not just the white male POV) and together share a vision. We’ve already made one of the seven films and we’re just raising money through local events and fundraisers. We plan on distributing throughout various theatres in Toronto (before they all close) and online. This next generation of filmmakers are going to need to be excellent PRODUCERS and DISTRIBUTORS. The game has changed. But we can win if we play our own game.

#34 Comment By Ben Perez On January 4, 2013 @ 11:58 am

Number 8

“People don’t go to the movies anymore — particularly young ones…”
This is completely false… [26]
I don’t know why so many people have the misconception that ticket sales are decreasing every year when it’s simply not true. This year ticket sales have increased higher than the past two years! And 13th most all time! The total gross keeps increasing every year. The number of screens keeps increasing to an all time high this year.

Sorry, there is no way to spin this to make your point that “People don’t go to the movies anymore” Next time get some real data not a touching story about your son.

#35 Comment By Art Thomas On January 7, 2013 @ 9:12 am

Thank you for your insight. I will incorporate this into our strategy for our latest film, [27]. We had another film get distribution (albeit DVD) with Lionsgate. If interested in how that was accomplished, email me at: [28]

#36 Comment By Art Thomas On January 7, 2013 @ 9:17 am

Ted, have you ever considered speaking at the Colorado Film School (ranked 25th worldwide)? Our students produce 1000 shorts per year. [29]

#37 Comment By Art Thomas On January 7, 2013 @ 9:19 am

Not only did I listen, but I heard you as well…good post.

#38 Comment By Art Thomas On January 7, 2013 @ 9:34 am

Mark, like you our campaign, [30] is gaining more support offline. The numbers are not reflecting the whole picture. Where do you stand on your film?

#39 Comment By Art Thomas On January 7, 2013 @ 9:55 am

JB, as a former executive vice president of programming for 8 years with a national cable channel, I could not agree with you more. Take a look at what Tyler Perry has done and how as a independent content creator, is on his way to surpass the $1 billion mark. I could go on but if interested feel free to email me; [28]

#40 Comment By Ted Hope On January 9, 2013 @ 9:56 am

I have been waiting for an invite… why the delay? Just email me in SF.

#41 Comment By Ted Hope On January 9, 2013 @ 9:58 am

Everything about what we can offer at SFFS is on our website. Check it out. We are about to have new submission periods both for the grants and the fiscal sponsorship.

#42 Comment By Ted Hope On January 9, 2013 @ 10:05 am

Yes, ticket sales went up this year, but we are still below where we were a decade ago. And meanwhile the population grows so as a % of everyone, it is a bleaker picture. Further when you talk to the young they clearly have far many more leisure options than those that came before them and their devotion to movies is a lesser degree (granted this is not hard data). I can speak from my experience and the number of people I encounter in their twenties who are passionate about film is far less than those I met a decade ago. Just saying…

#43 Comment By Ted Hope On January 9, 2013 @ 10:06 am

It’s not gloomy. These are all opportunities. You recognize it and others will. It is very exciting to hear what you are doing. Please do keep us updated on it. It’s inspiring.

#44 Comment By Ted Hope On January 9, 2013 @ 10:08 am

Excellent points. It is so true that filmmakers must deviate from the established ways of doing things. Thanks for sharing!

#45 Comment By Ben Perez On January 9, 2013 @ 10:22 am

Now you are just cherry picking numbers… A decade ago just happens to be the best year in moving going history!!! Again, you’re trying to spin numbers to make your point and the numbers just aren’t there to spin. If you think a constant increase in ticket sales along with rising ticket prices and an increasing number of people willing to pay those prices in addition to the cost of tickets with 3D is a bleak picture, I would not share the same view. Sure the population has increased, but that doesn’t make your original statement,
“People don’t go to the movies anymore” completely false.

#46 Comment By dmichae1 On January 12, 2013 @ 7:27 pm

But WHAT are they going to see? It does nothing to resurrect midrange budget films, let alone the independent filmmaker, if all those tickets are purchased just for the huge Hollywood blockbusters.

#47 Comment By dmichae1 On January 12, 2013 @ 7:43 pm

Not for profit distribution? Hell, I’d settle for a for profit distributor that was fair and honest.

#48 Comment By Shirar On January 15, 2013 @ 12:42 pm

Hi Ted, This is great as usual and thank you.

This is a detail, but it is a big deal in the way of shooting ourselves in the foot.

#13 – Makers should include donated labor and equipment in their public assessment of how much the film costs to make…So that makers and investors understand real numbers. In that way it would also give an accurate representation of the potential benefit the community. The micro-budget mythology is not helping the industry.

#49 Comment By Ted Hope On January 15, 2013 @ 12:58 pm

Excellent point. We need to come up with all the key things to truly get the data we need.

#50 Comment By Ted Hope On January 15, 2013 @ 12:59 pm

I think your settle is to high a peak for this era. I think there is great potential for not-for-profit orgs to provide a reasonable alternative. I am very inspired by what the Film Collaborative is doing.

#51 Comment By Anthony Laura On January 15, 2013 @ 2:28 pm

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

#52 Comment By David Larkin On January 15, 2013 @ 3:41 pm

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.

#53 Comment By John Chi On January 16, 2013 @ 1:57 pm

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.

#54 Comment By Heidi Haaland On January 21, 2013 @ 7:32 pm

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.

#55 Comment By Cesar Rubio On January 25, 2013 @ 5:31 pm

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

Can you please tell me the reason?


#56 Comment By Cesar Rubio On January 25, 2013 @ 5:43 pm

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.

#57 Comment By Cesar Rubio On January 29, 2013 @ 1:56 am

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…):



#58 Comment By Mark Savage On March 17, 2013 @ 3:37 pm

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.

#59 Comment By Ted Hope On May 10, 2013 @ 2:53 pm

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

#60 Comment By SayNoToBadPodcasts On May 11, 2013 @ 12:58 am

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.

#61 Comment By SayNoToBadPodcasts On May 11, 2013 @ 1:07 am

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

#62 Comment By Harriet Happ On June 11, 2013 @ 5:37 am

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.

#63 Comment By David Nerlich On August 14, 2013 @ 10:47 am

I propose a new genre “Filme Masochisme”.

#64 Comment By kevin foxe On August 20, 2013 @ 10:32 pm

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!

#65 Comment By Shane Loader On August 24, 2013 @ 1:14 am

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
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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: [33]) 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?

#66 Comment By Shane Loader On August 24, 2013 @ 1:35 am

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: [34]

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#69 Comment By Out in the Street Films On December 8, 2013 @ 5:09 am

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.

#70 Comment By Out in the Street Films On December 8, 2013 @ 5:18 am

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.

#71 Comment By Out in the Street Films On December 8, 2013 @ 5:24 am

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

#72 Comment By Out in the Street Films On December 8, 2013 @ 5:47 am

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?

#73 Comment By Out in the Street Films On December 8, 2013 @ 5:57 am

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

#74 Comment By clive frayne On December 8, 2013 @ 12:30 pm

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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Article printed from Truly Free Film: http://trulyfreefilm.hopeforfilm.com/

URL to article: http://trulyfreefilm.hopeforfilm.com/2012/12/the-really-bad-things-in-the-indie-film-biz-2012.html

URLs in this post:

[1] original lists: http://trulyfreefilm.hopeforfilm.com/2009/05/36-american-independent-film.html

[2] problems: http://trulyfreefilm.hopeforfilm.com/2010/05/38-ways-the-film-industry-isfailing-today.html

[3] net profits grow more of a joke daily: http://www.donerlaw.com/client-alerts/?p=202

[4] Here’s HwdRptr on it: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/showeast-2012-is-end-film-386088

[5] fond remembrances: http://blog.nwfilmforum.org/?p=6144

[6] urther the discussion of why there are not more women: http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2012/08/14/how-can-women-gain-influence-in-hollywood/get-with-the-times

[7] DARK HORSE: http://movies.nytimes.com/2012/06/08/movies/todd-solondzs-dark-horse-stars-jordan-gelber.html

[8] STARLET: http://movies.nytimes.com/2012/11/09/movies/starlet-with-dree-hemingway.html

[9] Ditto for the UK: http://www.screendaily.com/5049743.article

[10] this: http://www.oscars.org/science-technology/council/projects/digitaldilemma2/index.html

[11] quote A.O. Scott: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/09/magazine/film-culture-isnt-dead-after-all.html

[12] Harry Potter “net profits: http://www.deadline.com/2010/07/studio-shame-even-harry-potter-pic-loses-money-because-of-warner-bros-phony-baloney-accounting/

[13] this interview with Terry Zwigoff on The Playlist: http://blogs.indiewire.com/theplaylist/terry-zwigoff-talks-battling-over-bad-santa-turning-down-juno-and-the-beaver-and-much-more-in-candid-interview-20121220

[14] The Really Good Things In The Indie Film Biz 2012: http://trulyfreefilm.hopeforfilm.com/2012/12/the-really-good-things-in-the-indie-film-biz-2012.html

[15] Really Bad Things In Indie Film 2013: http://trulyfreefilm.hopeforfilm.com/2013/12/30-really-bad-things-in-the-indie-film-biz-2013.html

[16] Tweet: http://twitter.com/share?via=&count=horizontal&related=mohanjith%3AS%20H%20Mohanjith&lang=en&url=http%3A%2F%2Ftrulyfreefilm.hopeforfilm.com%2F2012%2F12%2Fthe-really-bad-things-in-the-indie-film-biz-2012.html&text=The%20Really%20Bad%20Things%20In%20The%20Indie%20Film%20Biz%202012

[17] Image: http://pinterest.com/pin/create/button/?url=http%3A%2F%2Ftrulyfreefilm.hopeforfilm.com%2F2012%2F12%2Fthe-really-bad-things-in-the-indie-film-biz-2012.html&media=http%3A%2F%2Fhopeforfilm.com%2Fwp-content%2Fuploads%2F2012%2F12%2FIMG_5076.jpg&description=The%20Really%20Bad%20Things%20In%20The%20Indie%20Film%20Biz%202012

[18] : http://www.tweakdigital.com/2008/09/spin-your-disks.html

[19] : http://www.thing

[20] : http://wp.me/pwAWe-iG

[21] : http://www.fxguide.com/featured/moving-day-now-a-free-making-of-ibook/

[22] : http://www.redprincessblues.com/buy.html

[23] : http://www.wired.com/magazine/2011/12/ff_youtube/all/

[24] : http://vimeo.com/blog/post:523

[25] : http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/elmoblatch/to-and-from-0

[26] : http://www.boxofficemojo.com/yearly/

[27] : http://www.singletrack-themovie.com

[28] : mailto:info@mainmanfilms.com

[29] : http://www.coloradofilmschool.net

[30] : http://www.indiegogo.com/singletrack

[31] : http://dna-rubio-s3d.com/

[32] : http://dna-rubio-s3d.blogspot.mx/2013/01/small-venue-3-d-cinema-theaters-finally.html

[33] : http://www.torchlightfilms.co.nz/digital-projection/

[34] : http://www.torchlightfilms.co.nz/hls/

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