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June 10 at 8:15am

Trapped In The Paradox

By Ted Hope

Today the second episode will go live at 11A PT on http://reinventors.net/series/reinvent-hollywood .  We are going to look at the present plight of “The Artist”.  We will be joined by ….

In preparation for it I wrote the following blog post:

For Artists Working in Film, It’s The Best and Worst of Times 

If you are a filmmaker, you are trapped in a paradox. It is a time of tremendous opportunity, yet also a time of great hardship. Innovations abound, while severe restrictions apply. Celebrate or fight? Give up or prosper?

To complicate matters, you face many choices about what to create, how to do it, who is your audience, and where to release your work. Examples of best practices, in all of these categories, are limited. Sometimes the choices may feel more limiting than liberating.

Where do we go from here?

Opportunity or roadblock?

Talented filmmakers the world over typically cannot financially sustain themselves, no matter how good their work. Why? Because our film culture has bifurcated. On one hand, we have $100-million dollar tent-pole pictures about superheroes of mass destruction. On the other, we see micro-budgeted Indies searching for niche audiences. And the gap between the two sides has never been greater. Whereas the creators of last year’s Oscar contenders all originally sprung from indie ranks, they all made their transition to big-budget films over the last two decades. Today, the bridge between the two worlds has been detonated, leaving emerging filmmakers rarely able to cross over to the big time – particularly if you’re not a white male.

The irony is that there never has been a better time to be a storyteller. We are on the verge of a new film culture. The barrier to entry has vanished. The tools and the costs of creation, production and distribution are all more affordable, accessible, and easy to use than ever. Filmmakers have the tools to step away from mass-market corporate dictates in their storytelling and address a full array of subjects, styles, forms, and lengths. And for the first time in our entertainment history, filmmakers can connect with audiences so deeply, they no longer behave as passive consumers but have become an active community of support.

The promise of being an artist/entrepreneur may entice some, but others recoil in fear not knowing how to move forward without a roadmap. It is hard enough to raise funds for production, let alone distribution too. When faced with over 500 outlets for video-on-demand distribution in continental Europe alone, the overwhelming options freeze many into inaction. Filmmakers are trained to budget their work only to festival release, leaving them unprepared to face the other half of the process. Where’s the checklist to help artists plan for marketing and distribution? Is it really an option to “do it yourself”? Having never been encouraged to prepare for the complete eco-system, many feature filmmakers turn to creating commercials or reality shows to survive. One wonders if the system is designed to turn artists into corporate hucksters.

For those working in Hollywood, we have created a corporate culture primarily committed to risk mitigation, which has only succeeded in obliterating ambitious, original, humanist work. Many filmmakers feel they are left with a sad choice: only repeat stories that have been told before, or turn their career into an unpaid hobby.

Outside, looking in

An artistic divide has been established, wherein only those who have been invited into the big-dollar sanctums ever get to learn what the full range of colors are on the creative palette – from high end cameras, and visual effects, to fully trained crews. With the middle-budget pictures dropping off Hollywood’s menu, the choice of storytelling subjects gets restricted still further.

Equal opportunity has never delivered equal representation. Let’s examine who really gets to tell stories in America. Only 6% of the directors in Hollywood are women, and that has not been changing. Impact Partner’s Dan Cogan recently stated “You can’t name a situation where a major franchise has been given to a filmmaker who did a film for under $5 million who is a woman – and yet you can name half a dozen who are men. The bottom line is very simple: people don’t trust women to make money. It’s shameful.” Women accounted for a mere 16% of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors working on the top 250 domestic grossing films. This represents a decrease of two percentage points since 2012 and a decrease of one percentage point from 1998. In addition, although the film industry is acknowledged as a global enterprise, people of color are not proportionally represented in front of or behind the camera.

Shifting relationships

Crowdfunding has shifted the balance of power as filmmakers no longer have to bow before the gatekeepers, hat in hand. Their fans and supporters can get behind the artists they believe in, giving birth to new talents and subjects. However, most filmmaking requires an upfront all-in funding model, forcing the artist to confidently “pitch” projects that they can never truly control or predict the outcome of, leaving the boastful and arrogant to collect the funding. We have a long way to go before we can claim a meritocracy.

In the business world, the average entrepreneur fails almost four times before succeeding. In Hollywood, the average filmmaker stops after his or her first feature; 80% of filmmakers don’t make a second film. Although the feature film remains the dominant model of filmed entertainment and distribution, the Internet potentially offers a golden  age of short films, where the limits of leisure time are not as restricted. As audience behaviors shift to accommodate the surplus of entertainment options, do filmmakers have new hopes for cross-discipline creation and presentation, moving into the realms of gaming, theater, and galleries?

Government funding – why not?

Although America may enjoy the world’s most diverse and open film culture, the US government is one of only two industrial nations that do not significantly support the cinematic arts. Instead, American filmmakers must focus on market realities for both their creative development and financial support. Although filmmakers across the globe often enjoy cinema subsidies, they also battle against status quo and bureaucratic authorities resistant to new models and subjects of storytelling. International filmmakers also must battle against the Hollywood juggernaut in terms of marketing impact where the noise of the well funded often silences local cinema.

How can we expect artists to get started, let alone sustain themselves and put food on the table? The costs of education have skyrocketed as the resources for scholarships and loans have diminished. Can anyone other than the wealthy consider art school when such a commitment incurs six figures of debt? The search for community and access is equally hard to navigate as the cost of living in major cities with artistic centers like New York or Los Angeles are beyond the reach of most. Although new avenues of distribution abound, the financial returns from digital pale in comparison to the digital age. Standard license fees are often one-fifth what they were only 20 years ago.

For years filmmakers have bought, sold, and traded in the concept of the auteur, a single voice rising against the din to create impact and inspiration. Trained and encouraged to control their stories from start to finish, many struggle with the new models of collaboration and creation. They find it hard to respond to a strategy that requires being prolific, ubiquitous, and radically collaborative. A completed film may be the ultimate collaborative act, but it’s still going to be a challenge to teach this old dog some new tricks.

- See more at: http://reinventors.net/series/reinvent-hollywood/blog#sthash.fvJ6F4bn.dpuf

(If you’d like to read a similar post on the Feature Film Form, check out:  ”What Do You Want From A Cinematic Art Form?“)

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