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June 4 at 8:30am

Towards A Sustainable Investor Class For Film Culture And Business

By Ted Hope

In my 38 Ways The Film Industry Is Failing Today post, I cited at #2 “The film industry has never tried to build a sustainable investor class”.  That was over two years ago.  What progress has been made?

The need for greater transparency, access, education, and community in film investment circles is only now being generally recognized in the film industry.  For over a century, the powerful kept close hold on the financial side of things, limiting access between creators and supporters.  This required always paying a visit to the representative, regardless of whether you were looking for projects or hunting for money. When the access to funders and creators is an open flow, the power will have changed, and with it, the work that gets financed (as well as the artists who generate it) will begin to look considerably different than what we have today.

In case you are wondering… yes, that is a very good thing.

It is very difficult to innovate when the powerful seek to repeat, consciously or not, what has worked before, hiring those that replicate them, incentivized to maintain the status quo.  You end up with a creative culture that just regurgitates what has been served before.  Business structures influence the art that gets produced, particularly when it is capital intensive.  But there is a wave building, and it’s power to change is phenomenal.

Let’s look at the seeds and see if we can project what the forest will be.

We have crowd funding and that has certainly enabled many artists to launch new projects and aggregate audiences in the process — but for the most part, the scale of things on crowd funding platforms does not allow for established film professionals to rely on it as a primary source of funding for feature length projects (although it certainly can be relied on to foster engagement — provided you deliver the rewards that is).  We have also been witnessing the first dip of the celebrity culture toe into the crowd funding waters, and with it a ripple and wake of effects ranging from new users of the platform to fear of diminished or ill-placed resources.

I look at crowdfunding in general and Kickstarter in particular as an audience aggregation platform for those whole love independent culture. The folks gathered here are not generally people with significant means, but people who do believe a share of their earnings should go back into the system that drives the things they love and appreciate. It is the first indication  of a wonderful transformation: from fans being supporters to actual patrons.  And it has been a game changer — and with it, it points to the potential of an even greater change.

What would happen if a large group of diverse funders entered the independent culture generation sector?  You know what I mean?  What would happen if we had new money in indie film (or any other cultural strand) that wasn’t stupid money, money that worked together to further the culture and the business prospects?  Money that was equally committed to making sure that the creators and their supporters (i.e. them!) were the direct financial beneficiaries of their work? Money that was sustainable and did not get out after a film or two, win or lose, but had a long term portfolio approach?

We have already seen this happen, right?  We are living in the greatest generation gap the world has ever seen.  The difference between digital natives and the old fogies like most of you and me is beyond a giant chasm.  We will never understand.  I personally find that wonderful, and I thank VC culture, primarily the aka Silicon Valley. Smart money, through it’s investment in technology, has brought about tremendous societal change.

Film would be a better investment if we changes both the whom and the how the capital was utilized.  A greater more diversified community of artists would be getting their work made is a mover diverse group of investors entered film culture.  More people would see films.  The audiences’ experience with film — their engagement — would improve if we could change who our investors are, what they demand, and how they think about what film actually is.  The world would be a better place.

Now, what would it take for that to occur?  Well, that brings us back to the beginning of this post and what could happen if we had greater transparency, access, education, and community in the investment side of the film biz.

That’s part of my mission.  Stay tuned.

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