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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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