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June 6 at 8:30am

Why Is The Film Biz SOOOOO Slow To Change?

By Ted Hope

 

The Road To Change Is Hard To Find…

 

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…

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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“.
  5. 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?
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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”.
  10. 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.
  11. 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).
  12. 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?

 

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22 Comments

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  1. Dean / Jun 6 at 8:30am

    Interesting as always !

    Point 8: Is the most problematic for me, through social networking you have the capacity to reach thousands of people, who ( lets be honest ) are not really interested in your movie.

    Twitter, etc is a great place for talking about movies/filmmaking and discussing different things in general with other people, but as a vehicle for promotion …I am not sure,

    I view social networks, only as “social” networks, while I ( like anyone ) may promote a short from time to time, I do not expect massive results or views from this, I primarily see Twitter etc as a place to discuss movies and share the love.

    I feel like festivals still have a very important place, not for the purpose of capturing a large distribution deal, but because they are still the best venue, to find people who would actually want to watch your film and are more likely to spread the word if they liked it.

    Truthfully the biggest problem confronting me as I think about film-making going forward, is that increasingly people are convincing themselves that films are not something that need to be paid for or purchased, ( especially indy films ) I have seen far too many independent features ending up playing for free on youtube etc…as a last ditch attempt to get people to watch them.

    Which is fine, maybe films going forward are not a product to be paid for ( as that is what the audience seems to be moving towards ) however, even the cheapest production costs a certain base amount to make and increasingly it just becomes a situation in which you are making content at a loss for an audience that does not care.

    The only viable option at the moment until a clear path to monetizing content in some way can be dreamed up, is to market to the ever dwindling audience that we know will at least possibly, pay for the content we create. ( maybe not )

    It seems to be that audiences want quick bite size content that fits around their lives, that is also free and without commercials.

    I’m not saying its all about the money, but I am saying that nobody can operate at a loss forever…that may make me a dinosaur.

    I would love to figure out a solution and I have some ideas, but dinosaurs are now extinct and in museums,

  2. chrisdorr / Jun 6 at 8:30am

    Ted, Some very good points, though some are a little too abstract. For me, if you boil down why the film business is so slow to change it comes down to two words, “fear” and “ignorance”. If indies had real courage (as a few really do), they would change. If they really had a desire to learn about the massive change brought about the internet to all forms of media (as a few indies do) they would thirst for knowledge, start learning and change. The problem is most indies and the people who run the studios prefer fear and ignorance to courage and knowledge. They should act more like those heroes they like to put into their movies. You know–those heroes of myth that Joseph Campbell wrote about in Hero of a Thousand Faces.

  3. Scott Murden / Jun 6 at 8:30am

    I just had a “What’s wrong with the film industry” discussion with an investor. By the end of it, we’d covered all the major changes in film history, the advent of TV, Video/DVD, and now the internet/technology shift. By the end of the discussion it seemed you could say that the industry has never completely “changed”, but it’s certainly grown. And I think it is doing that right now. Perhaps the pain is just not knowing when we will figure this next part out.

    And yes, in the meantime, we need to eat and make a living, but what I’m really focused on is it’s an exciting time to be a filmmaker. We can make films very readily now. And inventive films, made cheaply are finding audiences. So we just have to get out there and try shit out!

    My call is that we’re about to see an new film renaissance. And sometime, somewhere, we will get paid. Eventually. And in all of that, a new model will have emerged.

    So come on, fuckers! Grow!

  4. Tom Broadhurst / Jun 6 at 8:30am

    I remember when the film business was an impossible thing to gain access to. It was like a wall garden protected by the connected and in some ways it still remains this way. The internet has provided a new avenue for the savvy, focused niche orientated filmmaker to find a channel of expression and revenue. It takes time to build those niche audiences and it takes a focused team. We live in a digital world that gives creatives the illusion of an immediate result. It simply doesn’t work that way. Filmmakers need to be consistent, giving away a mix of free and paid content as the slowly build a loyal following.

    I live in a country whereby government grants are the means by which a filmmaker can evolve their career. We talk it big, but in actual fact we think small, change is slow, progress has a recalcitrant feel to it. This can be extremely frustrating, especially when the path forward seems clear. People have become fooled by the new channels of distribution, these channels are just platforms of distribution to an audience suffering from digital fatigue.

    Social networks work if the audience attracted to the concept have a niche interest in what the filmmaker is pushing, if this niche audience can’t be developed, usually by giving away large amounts of content for free, the filmmaker will struggle to build a consistent awareness of the films they are trying to make profitable. These are exciting times and frustrating times. People will pay for content but it must appeal to their taste for genre and niche interest. That content must be cheap and quick to purchase and consume. Short format documentaries with niche appeal have huge possibilities for an established or aspiring filmmaker to produce and distribute.

    To make a living as a filmmaker the creative individual needs to be
    pragmatic and shrewd. Any time making a film is an opportunity to learn
    even if the film in question doesn’t suit the filmmakers sense of genre. We spend too much time not making films and too much time navel gazing.
    Filmmakers need to look at themselves like carpenters or builders, not
    every house you build you will love, but if the focus of the work is to
    deliver a liveable and inspiring house to the customer, the carpenter or builder will
    potentially gain more work and build towards a long tail focus of
    building the house that will be the essence of their creative vision and
    skill. In life you get a limited amount of opportunities and you run out of chances when you stop taking them.

    http://www.fueltank.tv

  5. cj / Jun 6 at 8:30am

    Things would change quickly if there was a strong demand for product. There isn’t. How many cinephiles (people not in the business who are sophisticated and passionate film consumers) do you know? How old are they? Can they easily find the product online? Can they even begin to consume a fraction of the product available? The days of the passive audience are coming to an end.

  6. Daniel Lowe / Jun 6 at 8:30am

    Good article. In 2011, I helped found a film festival, it was one of the first festivals to ONLY accept online films for submission.

    In the future, we’ll all be able to have our own TV channels via the internet.

    Content and marketing will be the absolute King at that point; not held hostage to distribution networks like in the cable-TV era.

    That, in a nutshell, is why I got into filmmaking. I wanted to be part of the revolution.

    Sure, Big Media will always want to control things, but the age of the Independent Filmmaker bringing millions of viewers to see their own films on the internet.. it’s happening now, but isn’t monetized with appropriate advertising or revenue.

    I don’t know about other people, but I’m a little tired of being told what the “next big movie of the summer” is going to be, before it even comes out. Smart minds have disengaged themselves from this mechanism already, and are seeking alternatives.

    All the industry needs now is an online “Blair Witch Project” with appropriate revenue, IMO.

  7. TheTakes.com / Jun 6 at 8:30am

    True. It’s changing. But yes, slooooooow.

  8. Ted Hope / Jun 6 at 8:30am

    Thanks Daniel, but even when THE CHANGE arrives, we will have new issues to deal with of course. I find no shortage of great movies to watch every day and night. It makes it even harder for me to explore new material or take a chance on something that I don’t know about. That’s the irony of our time: we have access to more, but discover less!

  9. Ted Hope / Jun 6 at 8:30am

    That’s a good point. All cultural industries need to also be in the business of manufacturing desire. We don’t work for years on a film only to put it up on the shelf. Why do people wait fro the equivalent of ten thousand knights to arrive to declare them and their work brilliant. It needs to be a life long pursuit to aid in the discovery if we want our work to be seen.

  10. Ted Hope / Jun 6 at 8:30am

    Excellent points! Although of course we do need a house to live in, and we never need to watch movies — so it is even harder. I do think that question you pose: how do we develop our niche audiences? — is very vital. Of course if we think only for ourselves, then those who arrive first, and make a lot of free but useful content, must also be willing to do so without financial renumeration so that those that come later may have a better chance of having a sustainable life creating what they love. That is a bit what this blog is all about for me….

  11. Ted Hope / Jun 6 at 8:30am

    I do think there has never been a better time to be a filmmaker — creatively speaking, or in fact, in terms of engagement. We just need to develop secondary income streams that are primary.

  12. Ted Hope / Jun 6 at 8:30am

    I hear you Chris, but my point was that I don’t think people prefer “Fear & Ignorance” but that they get stuck there and find it hard to move on. The points may be abstract, but I was looking for the reasons why “F&I” continue to dominate.

  13. Ted Hope / Jun 6 at 8:30am

    I think people do want to support what they love, what improves their lives. I think this next era will involve a great deal of effort moving audiences from fans to patrons. I would give a filmmaker who delivered a multiple of good experiences to me $100 for early access to their work through the next 4 features — if others were too.

  14. kevin foxe / Jun 6 at 8:30am

    when we made The BWP, we couldnt control distribution. now we are dangerously close to doing that…the ‘industry’ doesnt need another BWP, filmmakers do! when we can make a good low budget story that captures peoples imagination and can reach an audience on its own, then we will see change, lots of change…and i believe we (as flmmakers) are well on the path to do just that. thanks, ted, for creating a dialogue around this and inspiring us to make change happen.

  15. Ann Rutledge / Jun 6 at 8:30am

    Great analysis. What’s left off: Hollywood accounting stands in the way of a liquid market for film asset investment, which would be good for film creatives.

    Many of your points are effects, not causes, and are exacerbated by invisible financial incentives. Only by changing the financial incentives (which reward others than the people reading this good analysis) can these be changed wholesale rather than singly if at all.

  16. Out in the Street Films / Jun 6 at 8:30am

    Sounds like a market targeting problem. I would defer to music as an example of abundant material, but yet has so many genres that it can target audiences. But then, is that successful? And the filmmaker has to market, which may be easier now with the internet, if the product excites people. It’s becoming more and more success by merit, assuming what people like and want has merit.

  17. Out in the Street Films / Jun 6 at 8:30am

    Government corporate indoctrination through our education and media. We are supposed to follow and serve. Be a wage slave or become homeless. But perhaps the reality is that you just need the balls to keep making movies and fail spectacularly until you don’t.

  18. Out in the Street Films / Jun 6 at 8:30am

    WHY aren’t they interested in your movie. It’s your job to make them interested or not care if they aren’t.

  19. Out in the Street Films / Jun 6 at 8:30am

    I tell my kids to never work a job they hate just to make money, if they can avoid it. Do what you love and you’ll be a success. Even if you’re not, at least you’ll love your work. And I’m no example to follow. I learned this the hard way.

    But my point is that the “biz” is the problem. If your film is your art and the biz is completely secondary, then you have the opportunity to come up with that unique original work that can turn heads. If you keep going the biz route you’ll forever be emulating stuff that was a hit five years before you hit the market.

  20. lustgarten / Jun 6 at 8:30am

    what would be the value of early access to you?

  21. Kun Aguers / Jun 6 at 8:30am

    good article and i agree

    Pintu dan jendela

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