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December 3 at 8:15am

Over 30 Really Bad Things In The Indie Film Biz 2013

By Ted Hope

"It Feels Like A War Zone" 30 Really Bad Things About #IndieFilm Biz 2013

“It Feels Like A War Zone” 30 Really Bad Things About #IndieFilm Biz 2013

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Ah…  I have given my thanks so now it’s that time of the year when I get to complain about what’s wrong — and what hasn’t yet been fixed.  I have done this before (several times), but this is that post on where we are right now. Like always, I suggest you don’t forget that lists like these only make the foolish despair.  After all, we can build it better together.  Let’s take this post as an action list. All are opportunities to truly ToDo. It does not need to be this way.

  1. The film business lives in Bizarro World, thinking we do something for the love of it, but in fact creating something far far far away from what we actually love — and thus making it so much harder to do what we love in the process. We have turned our strengths into our weaknesses. The worst of course is we now take it for granted that this is how it is and this is what the film biz needs be (if you are not fully following me here, I suggest you click on the link above).  It’s not and it doesn’t but I don’t hear a whole lot of folks saying we need a complete systems reboot of the whole film ecosystem (see #2).
  2. It’s not enough to just think outside the box.  The box is a trap and a false representation of a reality.  We have to break the box, probably smash it to bits and then build a better box together. The red pill or the blue? We have chosen the wrong one and we fail to recognize the cultural factors weighing on film culture and build for that.  Recognize the false construct and see through the matrix.  This is the reality. And we are now poised to forever be slaves to it, versus living in a far preferable world where we would use these truths to deliver a better world (as we should).
  3. The corporate suits see NO business in art.  They have removed the bowtie from the building. It should Schamus. They have determined that blockbusters are the safest bet, even if yields a Lone Ranger regularly.  Studios will make films for the world, and what travels is not beautiful.  Expect more loud, fast, dumb.
  4. Film is no longer the ultimate pop culture art form.  Be it video games or television, it seems pretty clear that cinema has lost the battle, both critically and commercially. Sure there is plenty of good stuff to watch and play, but when they kicked out the throne, it meant the next generation of possible saviors also just opted for another field.
  5. Successful artists can not support themselves through their work.  We’ve known for a long time that most of us can’t but it did seem like once someone had made it, they were safe.  Those days are over too.  We have our poster boy in David Byrne speaking up and out that “the internet will suck all creative content out of the world”. What we have now does not work for anyone but the global corporate powerhouses.  Our culture is threatened.  We can no longer permit the wholesale exploitation of our creative classes.  There needs to be a global action.
  6. The interests of the artists & the “stores” that sell our work are no longer aligned. The largest distributors and stores have no real incentive to actually sell good work, yet the best way for artists to survive and create a regular supply of great work is to be fairly compensated for it.  Okay, this may be far more true in the music business, but they experience everything the film biz does, only a few years ahead. And there the business is either to sell computer products or gain audience base so you can flip it and make a mint.  Read this.
  7. Superabundance not only applies to content but also to platforms.  There are now more than 500 video on demand services available in the EU dedicated mainly or wholly to feature film. Options and choice are generally a good thing, but it can also lead people to shut down and not take action. Ultimately we need to know where to go to connect us with what we want.  We need to create the promise of a good experience and not further confusion of the what, where, and when.
  8. The long tail no longer exists, if it ever had. Or if it did, it is crushed by both the tsunami of the new and the last battalions of the corporately-funded superstars.  Good luck getting noticed when 1% buy a louder scream than what the rest can yell combined. Artists struggle to survive in the era of the blockbusters’ total domination.
  9. The Digital Recession - We know it is hard to get work, any work.  And we know that it is hard to make filmmaking a sustainable profession.  But it also goes beyond that.  Technological advances increasingly reduce the value of basic filmmaking skills. Jim Cummings nailed it in this HopeForFilm post earlier this year.
  10. Indie Film is not about community or the culture — it is more about business and success than ever before. This is where I let my gray hair (what’s left of it) show.  The folks in this business generally forget that we are first and foremost a community. We could be lifting it all up together, but no. When they know you, and there is no business in you for them, they don’t bother generally with a personal touch.  If they pass on your film, or your script, they rarely call, or write a personal letter.  I have seen the biggest of film festivals do this to some of the most successful of filmmakers.  I have seen agents ignore former clients.  I rarely see people in the business do that extra something unless there is something in it for them. Everyone asks and few offer. I have witnessed this firsthand, and seen and heard of it with my collaborators. It is a shame, a downright dirty shame.
  11. We don’t budget — let alone train people  to budget — for the full life cycle of the film, and thus lose most of the value for our work without receiving proper compensation.  Film schools train people only half way — just getting the film to the festivals and market.  We have to learn to schedule, project revenues, and budget for the longest of hauls.  Without that, we will never truly recognize the value of our work.  And without that, we won’t be prepared to extract or maximize revenue from our work — and generally if we don’t change that, the creator class won’t survive.  Fixing this, was the motive behind A2E (and something I would do if I found the proper host).
  12. It’s as if the industry wants all independent films to fail. There are numerous educational initiatives that our leaders and institutions could (and should) undertake  that could help indie films succeed that no one has yet undertaken. We have no marketing check list for bringing your film to release.  We need a map to run this race.  It’s a simple fix not yet executed. Although I am no expert in this arena I have been working on one, and now that I have quit my job, hopefully I can complete it. I could use a wise marketing hand to run through it with me (hint, hint).
  13. The exhibition calendar remains overcrowded with too much of the same — particularly when it comes to summer (for blockbusters) and winter (for Oscar bait). Why can’t we have a balanced or logical release schedule? Films cannibalize each other. New York City has over 25 films opening on any given weekend.
  14. Print media continues to die – and with it the film biz’s key way to market to the masses, and allow quality work to be discovered. Newsweek is no more. In 2010, it sold for one dollar, signaling the state of the business.  Last year’s “magazine of the year”, New York, will go bi-weekly now.  So much for accolades. Newspapers were wonderful things: people bought them generally to read the horoscope, but discovered wonderful things turning the pages, like revolutions in far off lands, and auteur films playing around the corner.
  15. There is no uniform reporting, clarity, transparency of data from digital viewing that would allow the business and culture to advance.  This has been true for awhile and I have mentioned it in my annual round ups before.  However, the fact the establishment is calling out for it, gives it new prominence, both in the UK and in the States. The EU even has a film body dedicated to it: The European Audiovisual Observatory. ”Transparency is .. actually its raison d’être”  Wow. Imagine if the US had a film entity that could say the same?
    Maybe it will start to get better here too…
  16. The creative community is completely confused by the pros and cons of copyright.  On one hand, there appears to be no evidence supporting a reduction in revenue from infringement of individual copyright.  On the other hand, we can’t afford to lose anything and are desperate to hold onto any possible way to make money there is. If we had an independently minded media think tank it would be great terrain for a white paper. As much as I dislike panel discussions, I could stomach a few more on this.
  17. The creative class has allowed themselves to become corrupt and settle for getting their film made, thinking that is enough. Compromise is the name of the game and our quality suffers as a result. Quantity is encouraged over quality and the corporate structure promotes playing well with others as the most praised quality in their creative “collaborators”.
  18. The creative community does not know what to do next — in terms of not getting totally wiped out by the glories of the internet. We can look at the music industry, and know Indie Film Biz is next. Ouch.
  19. Hollywood & The MPAA have enacted a cunnilingus censorship.  Evan Rachel Wood has thankfully made this a cause to rally against. It seems pretty evident that to feature it, leads to a R rating from the MPAA currently.  It is up to filmmakers to normalize oral sex. As The Guardian points out ”The more film-makers that feature oral sex as normal and non-symbolic, the less hostile it becomes for the MPAA – and the more it’ll be embraced by culture more generally. There’s surely a silent majority of adults who would rather see two characters love one another than a piranha choking up a penis.”
  20. We continue to rely on a rating system in the US that does the opposite of what it intends. Another proof that the Film Biz is “Bizarro World”. Sure, the MPAA ratings system generally has kept local censors at bay, but as Pete Travers pointed out recently “not only are kids not being protected, but films are still not reaching their intended audiences“. The ratings system should help match people with the appropriate content, not drive them away or make it more difficult to book.
  21. We do not have institutionalized “staged” financing in the narrative film business.  We are forced to seek all or our financing upfront.  Not only does this limit an artist’s ability to change their work when confronted with social, economic, political change — or even just a better idea — it reduces investors ability to predict future success.  Most importantly though, it has given rise to a tendency that awards those that can most confidently boast of their future intents rather allowing a meritocracy to rise.
  22. Money rules everythingand first and foremost it rules politics — and as a result, certain politic topics are impossible to make movies about. Once maybe we’d put media in place of politics, but clearly in the US now, money controls our politics and that in turn controls our media. The fact we live in an era where big money politics can kill projects on politicians, regardless of their point of view, is a great disgrace for democracy — and a stab in the side of free film culture.  It was a sad day when both CNN & NBC abandoned their Hilary Clinton projects this year.  Charles Ferguson summed it up well when he stepped away from his.
  23. There is no longer a penalty for selling out. There is no longer a public censure that accompanies it. There is no longer an outcry within an artistic subculture when one of its members is fully subsumed by corporate America. The idea that an artist should preserve the sanctity of their work—that they should not allow it to be manipulated by commerce—is no longer considered a mainstream opinion.” (via Gawker “What Sellouts Were”).
  24. Polarization. The gap between the corporate Studio’s blockbusters and everything else grows by the day.  For every MUD or FRUITVALE  STATION most indies rarely travel far or wide.  We start to resemble the music industry, depending on a few name brands, while all the unwashed hordes never get to peak above the festival blanket or to be discovered beyond NY or LA.
  25. least affordable cities to live inArtists can not afford to live in our cultural centers.  It’s a real Catch-22.  Artists make cultural centers, but they are too pricey for them to live in.  If you are in the middle class, you can only afford 14% of the currently available homes in San Francisco.  It’s only 2.5% in New York City.  I love both cities but can’t see my future in either of them as a result.  And I don’t really want to move to Akron, Ohio either.
  26. Producers are not valued — be it via compensation or credit — for some of their most valuable work: script development.  I understand a producer sharing credit with a financier based on the work they will do going forward, but how do we show proper respect for the work that got them all to agree to sit down together in the first place?  America needs a credit for those that get the script to the first key stage that brings on the talent attachments and the shrewd financiers.  How can we say the story is king when we aren’t willing to acknowledge all that goes into getting it right. A credit would be the first step but budgeting a development fee outside of the regular producer fee makes equal sense too.
  27. There are virtually no studio overhead deals for producers of ambitious content.  Without an overhead deal you have to be prepared to earn your next paycheck on your next film.  You can not afford to just keep making work better.  You have to focus on what can get made now.  It truly influences your choices of material and how long you can spend to get it rright. Without an overhead deal, there is no way you can pursue quality.  You get drawn into the crap, um… make-able now projects.  You can’t hold out.  You have to compromise.  Now granted most overhead deals probably were not great for business, but they sure allowed producers to chase after great projects.  And better movies got made as a result.  It’s all connected isn’t it?
  28. The American Video Store is pretty much dead and gone.  Sure there are holdouts, and some that will never go away, but they are virtually a fetish object.  Maybe in the future, they will be what makes a neighborhood great, but somehow I wouldn’t bet on it. Granted Blockbuster was my least favorite of the bunch — and now they are gone – but they pretty much symbolized the collective embrace of the pleasure of deciding what you’d watch. You could wander in and change your mind.  A leisurely path to discovery. The best stores always boasted someone who knew more about cinema than you could ever dream of.  In The Dissolve’s eulogy for the AVS, Matt Singer states “We live in a world where immediacy and instantaneous access is the fundamental driver of commerce. Convenience certainly has its place, but expertise should still have one too.”  Right on.
  29. Access to much of our greatest film history is becoming more limited. Netflix’s innovative model, along with the ease of kiosk DVD dispensers, crushed the local video stores.  Streaming cemented them forever in the grave. The physical DVD business died, taking not just the mid-range title with it, but much of our cinema history. Of the top 15 titles on the American Film Institute’s 2007 list of the best American movies, exactly none are currently streaming on Netflix. We have enjoyed the rise of the video-store-educated-auteur, but the next gen will be shaped by the Now-Available-For-Streaming canon. Face it, it’s just not true that you can watch whatever you want, whenever you want, where ever you want. Maybe you want to pay for 25 different services so you can feel like you have that privilege, but most people are going to watch what’s on, and it won’t be the greatest films of all times. And besides, don’t you miss that stoned pimply-faced clerk who really did know everything there was to know about a certain type of movie?
  30. We confuse censorship with business when it comes to foreign lands (China in particularly).  Caving to government pressure is not the same as caving to a studio’s notes. Frequently we see the comparison made when cuts are made to get a film released in China, but one choses where their financing comes from, but for all the independent filmmakers working in China, they don’t have a choice.  Even local film festivals get shut down in China.  Our filmmakers in the West do not help their Eastern brethren when they make it seem like no big deal to alter their work. Those independent filmmakers in the East are never given the opportunity to even show their work as a result.
  31. We try to bring people TO our work, instead of taking our work to where the people ARE.  ”We spend all our money and effort to get people together AROUND existing content.  We try to make them WANT to go to the movies, to make them WANT to watch that specific thing.  It would be far easier if people were already gathered, had declared their interest, and then we could simply provide them with the sort of thing they are interested in. Surely, that would work a heck of a lot better than the system we have now.”
  32. We recognize the unfair advantages that wealth and society create, but we don’t do anything about it.  This is most prevalent and obvious, by the film industry’s continual reliance on the unpaid internship structure for career advancement.  Most film jobs are in NYC and LA, two truly expensive cities to live in.  We ask those that are accumulating vast amounts of debt through our education system, to not only live in these cities, but also to work for free, so that they too can have the privilege of working in the entertainment industry.  We need to have a way to pay for our interns or the only folks who will ever work in the film business will be those born with a silver spoon inserted in their mouths.

Let me know what I left off.  You should double check the Bad Things 2012 and More Ways The Film Biz Is Failing 2010, as not much has approved from then.  You can even start with the 2009 list. I think we are now at 125 things that suck.  It sometimes makes me furious.  How come people don’t want to solve these things?

But, my friend, we are all in this together. Don’t get bummed out by this list, or mistake it as our fate instead of a whole bucket of awesome opportunities.  Or if you do and just can’t help it, I did previously list out all that I found really good in the indie film biz in 2013.  Check it out here.  And let’s solve this, shall we?

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  1. Morgan J. Freeman / Dec 3 at 8:15am

    How about the seductive & devastating effects of success & celebrity? Feel that plays a part here, too. Chasing fame & money. I know many bright stars who burned too quickly in this business. How does one know how to proceed after early success? Who do you trust? Where do good agents & managers come in? How do you preserve your creative integrity? What is next best step after catching lightning in a bottle? How do you avoid the pitfalls & traps — what are the red flags? How does one know? I thought I’d “arrived” at 26, only to learn the hard way that one never “arrives.” I thought I knew, but I was actually awash in ignorance. I wish they’d taught some of that at NYU. How do we protect our young talent from the demons of success so they can carve healthy paths towards happy futures? In some aspects, this business is a soul-crushing juggernaut ready to devour our brightest minds in myriad ways. Don’t even get me started on student loans. Or paper-thin film degrees. I’d love to see some sort of community mentor program where those who have survived the road can help lead our young talent towards the safest possible paths to purposeful, happy lives. But is that even possible? How does one stay sane in such an unstable career?

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

    Excellent point. I was saying to my friend yesterday, that after THE UNBELIEVABLE TRUTH I thought it would all be easy. Now I am hoping Hal Hartley makes his kickstarter goal today…

  3. Jason Brubaker / Dec 3 at 8:15am

    As much as I agree with many of these points, I still think there is something to be said for the emerging paradigm. On a small scale, I have witnessed the benefits of casting popular YouTubers, leveraging crowdfunding to prove a concept and selling merchandise to rabid fans before the movie is complete.

    To me, the new movie paradigm is similar to selling any product online. Who is your target audience? What is your conversion rate? Do the numbers make sense?

  4. meritagepic / Dec 3 at 8:15am

    Major problem: some filmmakers aren’t willing to put the time into marketing and cultivating an audience. I have produced a number of films and have a really hard time motivating certain team members to be active marketers, esp as the years go by. If we aren’t willing to push our own work, then how can we expect others to do it? Too often, filmmakers finish one project and move on to the next, ignoring their past achievements – even though they are still available to an audience. Going forward, I am making a conscious effort to work with other filmmakers who have a strong social presence and a proven commitment to pushing their work day in/day out.

  5. Ekim Namwen / Dec 3 at 8:15am

    You forgot one major point and this list exemplifies it- the film industry is extremely myopic and self-indulgent. It’s totally out of touch with most of America and the world for that matter.

  6. Dan Baker / Dec 3 at 8:15am

    I’ll second that.

  7. Heidi Reinberg / Dec 3 at 8:15am

    Can we also talk about Kickstarter? I’m troubled by the fact that the powers-that-be decided that not only should we subsidize them by funding our own films — but also, apparently, by funding our peers’.

  8. SGHFAS / Dec 3 at 8:15am

    I’ll third it.

  9. Jason Brubaker / Dec 3 at 8:15am

    Sounds like a good policy.

  10. Amy / Dec 3 at 8:15am

    I think it gets back to your previous theme of Caring for one another – and being genuinely grateful for the care we receive. The need for this is not limited to the world of film – it seems that at this time in our history, Caring for one another is not so cool. We see it lacking in all sectors of the work world, in education, in personal relationships, not to mention in the non-existent ‘customer service’ in stores with one clerk, or no clerk at all at the counter. Amazon uses robots to fulfill our orders. Who needs ‘costumer service’? Things and profit, things and profit – no soul.

    We’re out of whack on such a mega scale that the film world is just a reflection of the imbalance. How do we fix the bigger cultural maladies?

    And yet I see hope in little things: artisan cheese sold at farmers market; yoga studios popping up everywhere; the growth of the health food and holistic healing industry; Charity Water and other genuine non-profits that inspire young people to give and to learn what charity is all about. Kids. Kids give me hope.

    As filmmakers, I think we have to dare to add a little more Humanity in our filmmaking – and not cave to the pressures of adding more violence, more meaningless sex, more fast action that dizzies the mind and leaves the heart numb.

    We have to dare to make films that make people feel some of the deeper essentials that are missing in the rest of their lives.

    And yes, we also need to support each other in making those films and getting them out to a broader audience.

    And – we have to just refuse to partake in crap. On television, in the movie theater, online and everywhere else in our lives. Just turn that shit off. Be still. Listen. Feel. Remember what it is to be a Human living on a Planet.

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

    I am with you on this. Did you ever read this post of mine:

    Check it out. It’s right in line with your thinking.

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

    With you on this meritagepic. It’s pretty much covered in my prior 99 Problems and I say it almost every day so I felt I would be redundant if I brought it up yet again, but right on.

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

    Slowly we WILL build it better together.

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

    I personally love crowdfunding and funding my peers. It just didn’t used to matter if I gave $25. Now because 1000 others may, it does. And sometimes I can give more!

  15. Jason Brubaker / Dec 3 at 8:15am

    Yeah. I’m looking forward to the future. There are lots of good movies to make and business to be done.

  16. wil / Dec 3 at 8:15am

    You refer to the mainstream audience as the ‘unwashed hordes’ and yet you lament that indie film has little way into that market. So you want to berate and belittle the same market you want to engage?

    Do you think that’s kind of … odd?

  17. scamfest / Dec 3 at 8:15am

    Here is the REAL CULPRIT http://www.http://sundancefilmfestival2013.com/
    THIS IS A @*&^^%^%#$@#%CRIME!!!

  18. Roger Jackson / Dec 3 at 8:15am

    I think the imminent addition of “crowd investing” to the crowdfunding genre of websites will be truly game-changing. Right now we’re inclined to donate $25 because we like that Kickstarter movie project, the girl in the pitch video was cute, and the filmmakers are vague acquaintances. But when filmmakers are asking not for a donation, but pitching a real financial return if the movie soars, then people will be inclined to invest not donate, and provide $1000 instead of $25. And be very much inclined to promote the hell out of the film when it’s released.

  19. Michael Walker / Dec 3 at 8:15am

    This is a great list. My favorites are number 8 – which I believe is more responsible for killing film than the internet; number 10 – Toronto doesn’t even send a form letter of rejection, but it’s always been the case for me that you never hear a “no”, only unreturned phone calls; and number 23 – the idea of selling out seems so quaint now that all our heroes in this regard sold out long ago. Think about the lessons we learned from Won’t Get Fooled Again next time they play it over a car commercial.

  20. Amy / Dec 3 at 8:15am

    Thanks for the link Ted – yes, you are spot on. Great list. Thanks.

  21. Mike P / Dec 3 at 8:15am

    “penultimate” means “next to last,” not whatever you think it means.

  22. grazimj / Dec 3 at 8:15am

    he didn’t refer to the mainstream audience as “unwashed hordes” he IRONICALLY referred to the the great majority of content producers (in music, film, whatever) who don’t enjoy celebrity status as “unwashed hordes”

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

    you are right. I stand corrected. I need an editor, alas. I can’t even find where I used it!

  24. Gordon McAlpin / Dec 3 at 8:15am

    #4. (Really solid list, by the way.)

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


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

    Thanks Granzimj for pointing out to Wil what I said! I appreciate it.

  27. p nelson / Dec 3 at 8:15am

    Good list, but did you put #19 in to test if we were reading the list? While censorship of any kind is lamentable, it’s not obvious why cunnilingus has any special relevance to independent film, at least not on a scale with the other issues you mention.

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