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December 12 at 8:15am

15 Predictions On The Future Of Indie Film

By Ted Hope

The future shines brightNote: If you’d like to share this post, please use this link: http://bit.ly/18LXym8

I have written about the good things in indie film. I have done it quite a bit. I have written about the bad things, and more than several times there too.  I have written about the thinkers and doers who are shaping where we are (and will post that later this month).  I have examined the cultural changes, the realities of our industry, and provided recommended best practices. I examined why it is sooo slow to change. I would like to help us find our path forward; what more can I do to help?

I tried to take action.  I left the city of my youth (and many years well beyond that), and the practice that I had dedicated my labor to (i.e. producing films), on the hope that the support of an organization in a land of innovation could accelerate the pace of change for my industry and culture (taking the reigns of the San Francisco Film Society). Okay, so that wasn’t to be, and I have now resigned from that gig and again I am pushing new boulders up the mountain now. But where are we all headed? What will we see on the way? Will we miss the path before us? How can we shine a light so we don’t stumble and get crushed by our own labors?

Specifically, what really is on the horizon and what is the mirage? Where will the seeds that have already been planted bloom most glorious in our indie film evolution?

Can we actually future-cast #IndieFilm?  And if so, how exact can we get? Francis Ford Coppola predicted Youtube, right?  If we look at the options, observe the patterns, consume the inputs, and free ourselves from routine, we won’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

Future-casting summons both our desires and fears — giving voice to either might secure their position, or at least bring them one step closer… Should that alone scare us off from the process?  I’d argue further-casting helps us arm ourselves against the negative, pointing us to what we have to actively fight harder against. Gifting that mindfulness is hopefully our collective windfall — and if so, what’s the harm in a little daydreaming? So….

My predictions for the world of #IndieFilm over the next 18 months:

  1. Some Unknown Filmmaker Is Going To Get Rich Via Direct Distribution - Direct Distribution works.  So far we have had the examples of those that had a pre-developed audience like Louis CK and those that had a clearly identified affinity group pop and do well.  But we haven’t yet witnessed someone who made it on the strength of their story.  It’s happened in music.  It’s happened in book publishing. It will happen in film and it will happen this year.  We have the tools.  We have the talent. We have the helpers.  And we have the desire for fresh original storytelling. Better get ready.  I would make a subset of this (or vice versa) that Either 2014 or 2015 Is The Year That Direct Distribution Takes Off.  I wrote about this in my “Really Good Things About The Indie Film Biz In 2013” Post.
  2. Multi-territorial Short Term Limited Platform Licensing Will Start To Take Hold Internationally – Sure, long-term all-media individual territorial licensing will always apply to about 5 or 10 percent of the films generated globally annually, but what about the rest? The current practice of trying to apply that to all films makes little sense.  Language and national boundaries make it difficult in Europe for a different process to take hold, but it will.  It will start with cooperative ventures between VOD and digital partners, but eventually the boundaries will shatter.  Similarly, rights holders will recognize that long term licenses for an emerging medium also makes little sense. When something is inevitable, change occurs — although if we could accelerate, we’d all be better off.
  3. Customized Positive Ratings For Films - The fact is ratings don’t tell us very much.  Violence, sex, drug use, sure.  But what about human respect? Racial or gender bias? Certain religions want greater specificity. In the past ratings were always about the negative, the things you wanted to avoid.  I anticipate a shift to the positive. I think we can expect Sweden’s embrace of the Bechdel test of gender bias to take off. Is it too much to ask that two female characters with names have something to talk about other than men? This will be a local phenomenon, and used as a marketing device.
  4. A Reduction In Creative Compromise - We have been producing a culture of knockoffs. Our commercial industry is forced to play it safe and capital seems so scarce many compromise up the wazoo just to get it made. We have grown corrupt and fool ourselves into thinking that just getting it made is a worthy goal.  We will see this process begin to stop.  Artists — the true among us — will not have faith in a system of compromise and will refuse to participate. Once a funder backs that conviction and it succeeds in the marketplace, some others will recognize that is not a triumph of genius, but one of infrastructure and process (albeit one that allows the genius to develop). In some ways it is already happening — Michel Gondry’s takeaway from his Chomsky doc was celebrating that he “does not compromise at all”.
  5. Independent Exhibitors Will Get A Cut Of VOD & Other Ancillary Revenues – If you want to go Day and Date, it still is very hard to get theatrical bookings unless you are willing to four-wall.  It makes sense to, since the exhibitors are doing the promotion for the VOD system.  It would be hard to cut a deal to a large chain, although I must imagine someone is at work doing this now.  I would imagine it would be far easier to start with a group of independents in some key markets and get their buy in first. Still though, this is a slippery slope.  We know that movies are just an excuse 
  6. Priming - Let’s call it the psychological equivalent of foreshadowing in storytelling. Many studies have shown that we can influence people’s future behavior by what we tell them.  One can expect to see far more attempts to integrate this into both the marketing aspects and storytelling of cinema.
  7. Netflix Will Make Some High Profile #IndieFilm Acquistions – presumably this will come out of Sundance.  They have already gotten started of course.
  8. Immersive Cinema – Forget 3D.  We want to go deeper.  I like GRAVITY a lot , but I still want to go deeper.  I am excited by the Screen X reveal that happened in Busan, but we will still have to wait for that to arrive new home. If you’ve been in NYC and you read this blog, I imagine you’ve been to SLEEP NO MORE. Ditto if you’ve been to London, you’ve been to THE DROWNED MAN or attended a Secret Cinema event. New practioneers are emerging. More are still to come.  I expect this to really break (in a good way) over the next 18 months.                                                  

    The X from Filmmaker Magazine on Vimeo.

  9. Film School Attendance Will Drop – Forget about the fact that startups are the indie films and indie bands of yesteryear.  Coolness is only partially to blame.  The digital recession basically promises most that there will be no employment come graduation.  Although film school is art school and the goal really should be a cultivation of craft and creativity, it is hard to engage in a passion when the promise of future participation has long ago been rescinded. Film school once was about getting your hands on the tools, but now they are within the grasps of many.  Film school was once about getting information and forming alliances, but the web does that well. As media literacy and creation should be part of any core curriculum, one has to think the specificity of the film school education will diminish as the generality expands.
  10. Dynamic Pricing – Marc Schiller was the first of my circle to speak of this, and it is one of the many attributes of direct distribution.  Imagine a world where you could drop or raise the price of your film according to your own dictates.  Well, we are there right now.  If you are selling directly to your community, utilizing any of the many marvelous platforms that allow this, you can use price to drive more sales or increase revenue.
  11. Filmmakers Will Start To Share Data –  Sometimes it seems like filmmakers are their own worst enemy; they keep the information on what succeeds or fails to themselves, preventing them from learning at a reasonable pace.  Yet when I speak to filmmakers they tell me they are willing to do it, they just want to make sure that they are not penalized for it  (i.e. they are not thought to be a failure).  The upside demands that we get over this hump and start to learn collectively.  There are many ways this can be done.  Had I remained at a non-profit with a mission to support filmmakers this would have been very high on my agenda.
  12. Bundling – Why sell one thing when you can sell many?  Offering options leads to more sales.  Bundling will take off in 2014.  We already see it all over TopSpin.  Stacey Peratta did it well on Bones Brigade.  We are seeing new forms of it too, for instance on VODO where multiple titles are bundled together. There are numerous new start-ups out there predicated on this idea, and I think it will really work out well for everyone.
  13. Physical Copies Of Media Will ALWAYS Come With A Digital Copy – the lack of this is one of the most boneheaded thing the industry does.  I agree that it is one of the main reasons for piracy.  The Experts are not so stupid that they will continue to neglect this for much longer.  Right?
  14. A Market For Independently Produced Serialized Content Will Develop – Isn’t it time that independent artist stopped focusing exclusively on one-off features?  Why produce a movie when you can produce a show?  If you make three episodes and they rock, and you have the scripts or outlines for five more, surely someone some where will want it.  And if the big guns don’t swoop in and pile on the cash, with all the new platforms out there for distribution and funding, doesn’t it make sense to make serialized stories instead?
  15. A Vibrant Film Community Will Blossom Somewhere Outside of LA, NY, SF, Portland, Seattle, or Austin – For a creative community to grow, they need to be able to be able to afford to live.  These are possibly the most creative non major cities.  For a creative community to thrive, the participant’s need to thrive and their needs to be people who have made enough to invest in a better world. These are the cities with the most economic mobility.
  16. This one is not mine: “Over the coming decades and across the world, Internet TV will replace linear TV. Apps will replace channels, remote controls will disappear, and screens will proliferate.” via Netflix Shareholder report. I thought you might like a bonus prediction…

Note: Since writing this I have been eagerly waiting for other bloggers and journalists to follow suit.  Everyone writes 10 Best Lists, but there are so few evaluations of where we are, let alone projections as to where we may be headed.  If you ask me, the whole point of posting is to help give us perspective and make better considerations.  I was very heartened to find at least one other prediction, my friend Brian Newman’s: http://www.sub-genre.com/2013/12/30/ten-predictions-for-2014/

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  1. Sasha Santiago / Dec 12 at 8:15am

    I really like #14: A Market For Independently Produced Serialized Content Will Develop. This makes total sense to me as a filmmaker and filmwatcher.

    As a fan of a certain filmmakers or types of content, it would be exciting to know what I’m watching is designed to grow and take shape in interesting ways. I would want to subscribe to it and maybe even contribute creativity to it if I can. Whether it’s happening online, at a neighborhood coffee shop, a movie theater at mid-night or on a few circulating DVDs discovered by it’s core fans. And if I knew my dollars for watching it were going directly to the makers, that would be even more motivation to support it. It could start off as a short film made with close friends, a more involving web-series with some talented young actors. Then maybe someone will see it and swoop down and suggest to make it as a feature with an A-lister or two, and then after that, maybe several all serials will spring from it using the same storyline or characters in different scenarios. And if there was a live concert event featuring the music in it, if I’m a fan, I’m a fan and I’m going or watching it online.

    As a filmmaker, this #14 concept tied in with your stage financing ideas means the skies the limit to how one can design his or her uncompromising movie concept efficiently so that it’s a dynamic story with outstanding performances, and more importantly, economically doable. With direct distribution, the filmmaker can blast their 5 or 35 minute introductory film on multiple platforms and festivals and because we’re using “PRIMING”, it will be understood that this multifaceted story is just getting started. Let’s reward it and see what happens next when the creators have few more bucks to play with.

    #14 works because your not only suggesting a sustainable model for moviemaking, but a much needed model for digital film curation.

    I love this list! I’m printing it and showing it to people.

  2. tajmilan / Dec 12 at 8:15am

    Another great post Ted. I definitely need to learn more about effect direct distribution. Number 15 especially resonates. I split time between LA and NY. I’ve made my films there and PA. Just made my last one in Louisville KY (willing to talk to anyone that’s serious about it) and it was a refreshing change. Thanks again for your content and forum.

  3. Ted Hope / Dec 12 at 8:15am

    I am glad it is of help. I should have taken the crystal ball out sooner.

  4. Zelda / Dec 12 at 8:15am

    Many of the things you are talking about are already happening. Online television is a robust community. There are official organizations like the IAWTV where content creators can talk about numbers, platforms, monetization and even provide training. Online content has been rewarded by the mainstream organizations with shows like Anyone But Me winning a WGA award and The Lizzie Bennet Diaries winning an Emmy. These are tiny productions who grew niche audiences into national and international recognition. And The Lizzie Bennet Diaries has one of the most unexpected monetization experiences I believe anyone has ever seen and few are talking about. They ran a kickstarter campaign AFTER the show had aired for free for a year on YouTube. The producers wanted to raise money to provide DVDs to their fans who were requesting hard copies of free show. The goal was $60,000 to manufacture and distribute the physical product. Within a few weeks fans of the show contributed almost half a million dollars, not because they wanted DVDs but as a way of giving back to the show. There’s a lesson in there, not sure what it is but one thing I do know – the future is now.

  5. 10th Planet / Dec 12 at 8:15am


    I wonder if I might be able to ask for your assistance. The organisation I work for has launched a digital download/VOD solution tailored for independent filmmakers to sell their films online. With platforms such as Amazon, Netflix, Blink Box and Love Film being dominated by Hollywood blockbusters, independent filmmakers are being squeezed out of the market place.

    I feel it is of great importance to gain an understanding as to what independent filmmakers would want from a VOD service.

    We would very much appreciate your input in this process and ask you to kindly to complete a very quick survey to assist us in tailoring this service to your needs?


    Thank you in advance for your support.

  6. mike vogel / Dec 12 at 8:15am

    These are great and I think #14 (independent serialized content) is closely tied to #16 (apps replace channels). I would also add to the list that filmmakers need to think beyond just a one-off feature and let their story expand to other mediums/platforms, like short fiction on a Kindle or a point and click adventure game app. This has to be considered strategically early in the process and not just tacked on as marketing after the film is made. Also, I think serialized stories will benefit from giving some control to the audience through fan-generated content. Thanks for the great list.

  7. meritagepic / Dec 12 at 8:15am

    We are going to attempt to make a film this year that we directly distribute to our fans ourselves. We’ve learned a great deal on our other films and we’re ready to take the helm on distribution. Wish us luck!

  8. Ted Hope / Dec 12 at 8:15am

    I am wishing you luck and good fortune, the calm to see all the options, the wisdom to make the right choice, and the alignment of things so it all arrives at the right time!

  9. Ted Hope / Dec 12 at 8:15am

    I have been encouraging filmmakers to move off the one-off product model to relationship based business — supplying a variety of content across multiple platforms. I just don’t see it happening en masse next year… unfortunately!

  10. meritagepic / Dec 12 at 8:15am

    Thanks so much Ted! I hope all is going well in your venture back to producing.

  11. Ramon Hamilton / Dec 12 at 8:15am

    We’ve been innovating a lot with our latest multi-award winning film and have found that there is so much possibility as independent filmmakers right now. We made our film with a very limited budget and small crew and decided to self-distribute after a successful film festival run. We’ve been very happy with our distribution process and our ability to find a model that works for us. Currently, this model allows us to give away our film for free (through digital copies) to fans and to spread our work and generate revenue through academic screening events and sales. We’re excited that this model is working for us and is allowing us to build our database and supporters for the next project. As we move further into development with that project, we’re benefiting from everything we’ve learned from SMUGGLED and feel even more confident about a larger reach with our next media piece.

  12. Dave Pultz / Dec 12 at 8:15am

    Hi Ted, any thoughts on the future of the post world, esp. color grading? Are the remaining big post houses doomed? (My apologies if you’ve written about this previously) It was great working with you all those years ago. I’ve transitioned into the digital world of colorists & kept my toes in indie filmmaking.

  13. polfilmblog / Dec 12 at 8:15am

    Hi Ted,

    I have a powerful experimental film concept that involves crowd-sourcing the footage from filmmakers around the world, for a narrative, dramatic film. This would be groundbreaking, a first. Needs a producer, some experience, web infrastructure to make it work logistically. I can be contacted through my blog. Peace.

  14. Martin Wagner / Dec 12 at 8:15am

    I have always been interested in exploring the serialized film from an independent standpoint. And with internet distribution growing, it’s more viable for indies, not have to rely on a traditional TV/cable network to get your work to an audience. (Or have to worry about capricious cancellation because you aren’t drawing 15 million viewers per episode.) Couple that with the fact that the best film storytelling right now is being done as series, and not theatrical features, and I cannot fathom any filmmaker not wanting to pursue that if they could.

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