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Why Is The Film Biz SOOOOO Slow To Change?
By Ted Hope
I know many of you recognize that the writing is on the wall. Filmmakers have to stop planning first and foremost to bring their work to market at film festivals or elsewhere. The entire industry needs to get off of the single product focus and justify greater value in cinema in general. Release patterns need to change. We need to think of story worlds and long term relationships. The end of the era of feature film dominance is inevitable. The list goes on. And on. And on.
I certainly have done my share of list making, be it Best Practices for today, or what is currently wrong with the film biz. I think such lists can save us — provided we are willing to not just behave passively but heed the call to action. And I am not alone standing on my soap box. But if things are clearly broken why is change within the film biz not more evident?
Allow me to start with a list of what once where ten factors, and continues to grow… Some of these will be well recognized by loyal readers of this blog. I have to write them down and share them just for my sanity. Evolution has always been too slow a process for my taste. Doesn’t it feel like sometimes your head may pop because of the pace of things and those around you? And I am not saying anything is moving too fast from my taste…
- The Endowment Effect: As both behavior economics and psychology has long shown, we overvalue what we already own. This holds true to our processes as well as our objects. We are rightfully afraid to throw the baby out with the bath water, but we have a great difficulty examining the true value of what we already possess — and generally think it has more value than it does.
- Hyperbolic Discounting: “temporal myopia causes clarity to decrease with distance, but it applies to our perception of the future rather than of our sense of sight. Instead of inspiring caution, our brains’ typical response to this uncertainty is to sharply reduce the importance of the future in our decision-making, an effect known as hyperbolic discounting. Consequences which occur at a later time, good or bad, tend to have a lot less bearing on our choices the more distantly they fall in the future… even when one’s life is at stake.” We are always willing to take less if it comes now, than to wait later for a bigger reward. And that’s idiotic. We dig ourselves into a hole that begins to look like a grave. The present is past, or at least our ability to benefit more from it. Our happiness can increase by providing for the future.
- Creative people are the best liars — even to ourselves. “We make decisions towards what we want to do and reverse-engineer them towards what we believe the right thing to do is.” Regarding some recent experiments, “Intelligence,” it turned out, wasn’t correlated with dishonesty — but creativity, which we already know is all about connecting things, was.” Intentionally or not, we fool ourselves into thinking we are doing the right thing.
- “Base rate neglect is the tendency for people to mistakenly judge the likelihood of a situation by not taking into account all relevant data.” We think we know what we are talking about , but let’s not forget what William Goldman told us. We are all prone to bad judgements, even when we think we have the power to “blink“.
- The Film Business is about keeping your job. This is true for any industry for that matter. People are loath to do what may risk their employment. It’s self preservation. So even if we recognize that virtually the entire business is predicated on concepts (like scarcity of product, control of that product through centralized distribution, the ability to focus mass market audiences on that product) that no longer apply, why risk the paycheck?
- Living in the Dream Factory, we get infected by our imagination. The Availability Heuristic applies to our imagination as much as it does anything. If we picture it, we think the probability of it is more likely — which is not true and should not influence our decisions, but it does. “Our tendency to overestimate the dangers of terrorism, crime and severe weather can cause us to live in unwarranted fear and take unnecessary precautions. Our bias to underestimate the dangers of common diseases can lead us to have undesirable dietary habits, to avoid medical exams and to be noncompliant with prescription drug regimens.” The Film Biz is a culture that worships success; we think it will come more often than it will. We end up striving for that more. We imagine failure as a bad thing and grow to fear it more than we should.
- People only change when the pain the of the present outweighs the fear of the future. And we have grown accustomed of the future taking too long to arrive. We were promised jetpacks.
- We misread the Long Tail as a cause for help, when it is actually a Power Law graph, where “a small number of outcomes have dramatically higher values than the remaining population” — and thus a cause for alarm. The few having most and the many having little has always been true in the Film Biz where a few movies, stars, and players, have most of the audience, money, and deals. The thing is that social media and greater interconnectivity only reinforce this; they don’t rebalance as some of us once dreamed. We may have more options than ever before, but we pay attention to less as more and more people parrot what is already being said. This too is a logical response to the tsunami of new that crushes the long tail before anyone can grab hold. When so much is available and always rushing towards us, we listen more to the familiar. The rich get richer and a diet of less but bigger movies with more familiarity and saturation keeps the studios keep on keeping on.
- The film business is one of navel gazing and ego-centric focus. The film biz does not think outside of itself, be it studio or indie. To quote Chris Dorr, we “use the “film” hammer to pound the nail, when we need to find a new hammer”.
- We are followers who like to be led. And our leaders are not walking the path to change. They will continue to repeat the past “success” even if many of the factors that should govern their decison-making process have changed. Unfortunately our tendency to follow infects us with the March Hare perception where we learn “to like what we get” and not demand to get what we like.
- The principal agent problem, whereby generally everyone looks out for themselves. Sure this governs most interactions, but the film biz has it’s own twist on it, because the industry has so little trust to begin with. We know they are trying to make money on us, but we undermine being able to act on this because we think the other side has a power we don’t. This used to be true as information was fiercely protected, but now we see most of it in one form of the other. Once someone has a made several films and paid attention, they generally can know what goes on. Sure there are always secrets to be revealed (Cats bark!), but what do they have that you don’t have? Relationships, check, but beyond that, what is it? But the problem remains, as long as someone is driven by power or money, they can’t advance the cause. There is no golden hand when it comes to culture, or really even enterprise. In terms of the film biz, those days are over. To lift your boat, you must raise the tide. (Thanks to Christropher Petzel for this).
- The only people who will ever change will be those that want to change. If you have ever been with a partner who is a depressive or a habitual anything and tried to do something about it, you know the fallacy of this technique. Surround yourself with people of superior character, dedicated to truth and honesty and growth. Unfortunately, that’s a bit hard in the film business! (but maybe you can be fortunate to find it in your personal life).
What did I leave off?