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December 5 at 8:15am

The Really Good Things In FilmBiz 2014

By Ted Hope

Let's look at the bright side!

Let’s look at the bright side!

Some rituals help keep us focused throughout the year. This marks the 4th time I have looked back at all the good things that occurred in the film biz and listed them out for all of us. Tracking them through year, keeps me from abandoning hope. Sometimes they may just be the silver lining in the storm cloud, but nonetheless they keep me going, keep me convinced that in fact we truly are: building it better together. I hope they do something close to that for you. It’s been a good year, and I have thirty two morsels to tempt you with. And of course the year’s not through yet, so perhaps you have some to add to this too. 

If you’ve encountered elements of this list earlier on my postings in Film Comment and on Keyframe, pay careful attention as I have weaved some new points into all for your reading pleasure. And if you like a little of the bitter to wash down the sweet, don’t forget the list of 30 Bad Things In 2014′s Film Biz here.

  1. We Finally Have The Capacity To Consider A Total Systems Rebuild For A Better Film Ecosystem.  Producing has always been about managing complexity.  Until recently the issue of how to build a better world for film was just too immense to even study.  There are so many stakeholders, so many interconnected processes. It is not getting smaller or less challenging, but we are growing more connected and have pretty much now documented many aspects of what a better future might look like. We can now consider the whole fully and work to build it better. Now the only question is “will we?”, but we do know that if we do, it will be a joint activity, a community endeavor.  We may never really get it right.  But we can get it down; the facts are there.  I have written over 125 steps myself — all of which I think are doable acts. It is a process that needs an organization to manage  it though. Maybe one will step up.  I am ready to get this party started.
  2. Audiences Are Rebelling Against The Repetitive Menu Hollywood Has Been Serving. At the end of the summer, the NY Times proclaimed: “American moviegoers sent a clear message to Hollywood over the summer: We are tired of more of the same.” Hopefully the telex was read full stop and going forward we will return to an era of diverse offerings, including many more films for adults.  Okay, this is the optimistic spin on a declining box office, but one can dream can’t they? After all, the two top films (The Lego Movie and Guardians Of The Galaxy) both poke fun at our comic book movie culture (even if they also revel in it) indicating the audiences see it ripe for ridicule. And of course if this IS the case, audience will have no short supply of what to rebel against as Disney has eleven installments coming of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe), Warners has nine of it’s superhero world, Fox and Sony have plenty in Spidey and X-Men coming, and Universal is unlocking its Monster Universe.  Woo hoo. I just can’t wait.
  3. It Is A Fantastic Time To Be A Storyteller.  The barriers to entry have dropped. The tools keep getting better and better. Funding is coming from more places than ever before. Opportunities abound. Freedom to experiment expands. We can take control of more parts of the process than ever before. To me it feels like we are on the hockey stick part of the curve. We are skyrocketing towards a new future. Now if we can only find a better business model… but wait what’s that?
  4. A Better Business Model For Content Generation & Distribution Has Been Proven & Is Now Being Replicated Widely. “Would Netflix become HBO or would HBO become Netflix?” was the question of last year; now we see the answer is that they each take on the other’s best attributes.  In one week or so we saw Netflix jump heavily into the feature film production biz and HBO cut the cord. Meanwhile a slew of others climbed on the SVOD bandwagon (HBOCBS, Tribeca/Lionsgate, Univision, RLJ, even YouTube), even as some recognize it just ain’t so easy to build a subscriber base (Redbox Streaming By Verizon). Vimeo, Starz, Sony, Showtime, and DirectTV are sure to soon follow. SVOD & OTT are now recognized as great business models. As I have said before, an aggregated audience, united by taste, engaged by context, demonstrating their preferences and desire, and incentivizing discovery offers both predictable returns and forecastable results. And as HBO recognizes, nothing beats a digitally native relationship when it comes to data.  Time to cut the cord and build a direct relationship with the fans. Not only is subscription a reoccurring predictable revenue stream, but a digital native experience creates better data about what people want, when, and where. And the public wins big as they are no longer forced into absurdly priced cabled bundles. Some may argue this is not in fact a new model, but how content creators and their benefactors have always had to evolve, for after all it is still those that fund the creators that benefit most…
  5. 2014 Started Off By Showing That Things Haven’t Really Gotten Any Worse Than the Year Before.  Grab your victories where you can, right? Level is better than downward.  When it was announced that Home Entertainment sales did not go down in 2013, it felt like a reason to pop the bubbly.  In fact, digital & electronic sell thru improved significantly in 2013. Electronic sales jumped nearly 39% to $1.3B in 2013 and for the 1st time eclipsed the $1 billion mark. Total digital spending, including rental, SVOD such as Fandor + VOD, climbed 24.8% to $6.5 billion. http://shar.es/9QZjF Woo hoo!
  6. Hollywood Has Fully Abandoned Movies For Adults. If it wasn’t for Megan Ellison and Fox Searchlight, there would be next to no intelligent films coming out of tinsel town (see point #2 above).  The reason we can rejoice at this, is that it fertile ground to build an alternative enterprise on.  The competition has gone away.  They have abandoned the space.  What better time to launch a new brand known for producing ambitious and diverse work.  Good Machine Two anyone? You know someone is going to do it.
  7. Studies Have Shown That Watching Movies & Talking About The Issues Raised Within Them Can Prevent Divorce & Separation.  I have long felt that movies can change the world; it’s nice to see they can at least save relationships.  This past February the NY Times reported on the study that proved it.  If you want to try yourself, the therapy/class is here.
  8. More And More Companies Are Funding “Content”. Everyday it seems another player announces funding for serialized programming; too bad it just ain’t the same for movies. That said, this means work for those that produce stories for a living so it is a big reason too cheer.  This year we saw Microsoft and Yahoo join their fellow tech partners over at Amazon and Netflix (and then of course Microsoft pulled back out of it just as fast). And Crackle’s in the game too.  AOL is playing with long form, just not scripted yet. Only Google seems able to resist the call. The former print media powerhouses like Conde Nast and The New York Times are all running a ton of “shows” too. Who will be next? Will any of it be any good?  Will these companies all later regret this choice? At least there’s some work available…
  9. Once Again, There Is A Surplus Of Good Movies To Watch. A year when I have only seen one film on John Waters’ Top 10 list of the year, demonstrates again the incredible creative output across the globe.  We will never run out of interesting films to be seen. As I like to point out, my To Watch List carries my a decade beyond my life expectancy if I can maintain a rate of consumption of 250 titles a year. It makes you wonder why we need any mediocre work to get made (other than we’ve learned how to make money from them). And again, as much as I would like to see such films funded, it doesn’t make that concerned that Hollywood has conceded the space of movies for grownups to those abroad or truly independent.
  10. The Effort To Build A Sustainable Investor Class For Independent Film Has Begun.  Make no mistake, this is the best sort of disruptive initiative there could be.  Hollywood has only been in the business of dumb money previously, and did all they could to spend it as fast as possible on their preferred clients, eating it up, and spitting it out.  Sundance is now building the fourth leg of the indie film table — and with that firm base, many new enterprises may take root.  Sundance is in it’s second year of Catalyst (and last year here I herald it and some other startups) — essentially an investor training camp, committed to determining best practices for investors committed to ambitious and diverse film. This year though I got to witness Catalyst first hand. I can not think of a better initiative for a film support organization to be involved in, and there’s plenty of room on the field for others still to play. If our industry banished “dumb money” and instead looked to keep capital at play longer and in more ways we may actually be able to build a film ecosystem predicated on today’s realities, needs, and nuances.
  11. A New Storytelling Medium Is Here And It Could Alter Everything. As Carina Chocano in California Sunday Magazine pointed out so well, Virtual Reality and Oculus Rift collapse both time and space, inserting us into the narrative; instead of suspending our disbelief, in entering the immersive virtual reality world, we have to remind ourselves not to believe. Of course, not everyone is so bullish that VR can ever be cinematic… And it has been a very long time since we were initially promised this particular jetpack, but it may have finally arrived (granted I have not been offered the opportunity to try it yet — hint, hint).
  12. We May Already Be Experiencing The Best Movie There Ever Could Be, At Least In This World.  Okay, we’ve seen the future with the aforementioned Oculus Rift but it goes even beyond that. The possibility of living in a red pill/blue pill MATRIXesque simulation becomes clearer and clearer.  It’s been said (proven?) that statistically speaking the chances that we are living in a very advanced computer simulation are more likely than not. And it seems that becomes more likely with every year. And if life is not a computer game, maybe it is all a chemically induced hallucination.  Regardless we know that movies will become swallowable and fully immersive, so maybe, just maybe, the future is here now and we are playing roles in the movie that is customized just for us. And maybe this really should be on my other list…
  13. New Film Financing Schemes Are Being Deployed. The film biz is a creative industry, and no where do you see this better than the methods by which films are financed. The industry’s history is riddled with past mechanisms ranging from insurance-backed funds, sale and lease back mechanisms, Funds based on oddly sounding schemes like the Monte Carlo Scenario, to tax shelters, credits, and rebates. The latest in this flow are EB-5 structures that Hollywood evidently is already employing.  Under this mechanism, foreign residents invest/loan the entity $500K or more and get green cards for the entire family.  And of course we have the JOBS Act and the entry of crowd investment (not just funding). New schemes are popping us all over. And again, I am not sure if all of these shouldn’t be on the other list…
  14. There Is An Abundance Of Film Training Available For Free. NoFilmSchool.com is an awesome site. I have a slew of videos and articles posted on my Pintrest.
  15. Set Safety Is Finally Being Taken Seriously — We Hope.  It took the loss of another crew member, Sarah Jones, to get productions to wake the hell up.  And that is a truly sad thing. Is it evidence that we have lost a bit of our humanity? Can we rise back up, and make it clear we always will be looking out for our crew first, our family? We owe it to her to make something good grow of this loss.
  16. Gender Disparity Is Being Taken Seriously - Lots of statistics surface demonstrating the problem. Articles are written from many different perspectives. Over at Fandor, we’ve deployed The Bechdel Test as one of the many ways we have to sort films. Perhaps the biggest breakthrough is what the NY Times pointed out: “Hollywood Has Realized That Movies Starring Women Can Make Money” (Hunger Games, Maleficent, The Fault In Our Stars, Gravity, Frozen, Bridesmaids, etc.). Women make up 52% of the movie going audience; it’s time they had equal power on and off screen in the film biz. There are clear solutions out there, like Stacy Smith’s recommendation that we all #AddFive female characters to our scripts; in five years we’d have gender proportional representation. It’s heartening that people are now paying real attention to this, and giving thought as to how we can both recognize inherent sexism and do something about it.
  17. Diversity Is Being Taken Seriously…  At Least By Some- Over in the UK, the BFI has required the productions they fund to be able to fulfill “a “three ticks” system designed to assess individual projects’ commitment to widening diversity in both the content of the film and the behind-the-camera team. These include “demonstrable opportunities” for trainees and interns to “progress with their careers”, “diverse” key creatives with “at least two heads of department from diverse backgrounds”, and “characters positively reflecting diversity, at least 30% of supporting and background characters positively reflecting diversity“. You can read the criteria here. And audiences and critics are starting to demand diversity on the screen too.  Heck, we may be reaching the point where diversity actually gets celebrated and appreciated. Hopefully in tomorrow soon to come we recognize that watching people different from ourselves actually helps us empathize with others.
  18. The Orphan Works problem is being addressed by IDA & FIND.  Thank you.  ”This problem effectively prevents filmmakers from licensing third party materials whenever the rights holder cannot be identified or found; for many filmmakers, the threat of a lawsuit, crippling damages, and an injunction makes the risk of using an orphan work just too high. In fact, because of this risk, distribution, broadcast, and film festival admission is often impossible for films that include orphan works.” It is also an issue when it comes to preservation, where the World Cinema Project has been making some headway too.  And the annual Orphan Film Symposium advances the cause also.
  19. Fair Use Has Continued To Expand. Movies that once weren’t available are once again available.  Clearance culture may now be a thing of the pass. Culture is always built on culture, and it is great to see that recognized both by the law and the insurance companies.
  20. There Is A Reversal In The Trend Of Rising Teen Hypersexualization On Screen.  USC’s Annenberg study showed that “in 2013, the percentages of teen females in sexy attire or with some exposed skin fell by around 17% after a high of over 50% in 2012.  Although the sample size is small, these results indicate that not everything in Hollywood is immune to change.”
  21. Drive-in Movies Are Coming Back! Maybe our future is in the past…
  22. It Is Growing Easier To Stream Your Work Directly To Someone Else’s TV. Mozilla, Roku, Amazon, Google — they all came out with sticks, boxes, or dongles to help you do just that.  Granted you need an app to live in their ecosystem, but it is still a step forward. And of course people have to set them up.  I have all those devices and still watch predominately via DVD or streaming on my iPad.  Eventually, I might find the need to improve my experiences…
  23. We Are Recognizing That The Film Biz’s Relationship With The Internet Goes Beyond Net Neutrality.  All of us, from distributors to filmmakers to fans to platform operators, have an interest in the regulations that effect delivery of information of the internet — and we are starting to wake up to that.  The future of democracy is truly at stake.  It is not a simple issue, but it is not as complex as some would make it.  Tim B. Lee spelled it out clearly in his article “Beyond Net Neutrality“: “When Zuckerberg created his kingdom, he didn’t have to pay companies extra fees to ensure that Facebook would work as well as the websites of established companies. When Steve Chen, Chad Hurley, and Jawed Karim invented YouTube in 2005, they didn’t have to negotiate special fast-lane contracts with ISPs around the world. If the only way to get excellent service on America’s largest broadband networks is to negotiate a private connection directly to those networks, smaller companies with less cash and fewer lawyers are going to be at a competitive disadvantage.” The recognition of this is a good thing.  The fact that it exists is unfortunate.
  24. The Discussion Around Unauthorized File Copying Smartens Up. There will always be piracy, but just because someone can get something for free does not mean they should, or will. Audiences are responsible for our culture’s health or future collapse. Filmmakers are speaking up about it. A lot of people –other than the artists who create the work — make money from piracy through advertising and other techniques — and this will destroy the hopes of having a diverse group of ambitious films..  Filmmakers can take steps to prevent or at least track where their work is copied illegally. It’s really important that solutions, like recommended best practices, are offered, and hysteria is kept to a minimum. I am also heartened that after years of everyone knowing where to get movies illegally, the simple solution of letting folks know where they can get them legally, has finally arrived (WhereToWatch.com).
  25. Windows Between US Release And International Availability Are Collapsing. It always seemed foolish that US Studios would complain about piracy but promote a policy that encouraged it (publicize the US release widely but do not make it accessible to those that hear about it worldwide).  Sure, some countries antiquated policies of banning Day & Date releases (France, anyone?) made collapsing them hard, but TWC & Netflix have teamed up to make Bill Murray’s ST. VINCENT turn available in France when it opened in the US. They are going to do it again on ELEANOR RIGBY. One can only expect more to follow.  When we have 50,000 films generated  globally per year, and no country able to handle more that 1.5% theatrically, this is a model many should ape.
  26. The Grand Bundling Of Indie Has Begun. Why do filmmakers continue to license their work for years upon years when they don’t receive a fair upfront minimum guarantee? I don’t know, but I do know what they lose.  They lose the opportunity to utilize their work to build their audience.  They lose the opportunity to experiment with new revenue models. Have you checked out what Bond360′s been doing with cinepacks? You should. It is a good idea that I hope takes hold.
  27. People Are Standing Up To China’s Censorship.  Okay, it ain’t Hollywood that is doing it, and they really are one of the forces that could truly enact some change, but it is being done.  Okay, it is not being done by filmmakers, and that alone shows how much the promise of money corrupts people and allows them to shove aside their values in the hope of accessing markets.  All that said, I found The New Yorker’s Evan Osnos’ willingness to allow his latest book to go unpublished in China truly inspiring and hope that it helps filmmakers and corporations take more of a stand. It is after all the sign of a healthy country when it allows dissenting voices.
  28. More People Can Enjoy Films Than Ever Before Thanks To The Closed Captioning Mandate. This year the US Gov’t required that any video content that previously aired on television with closed captions, for those hard of hearing or in loud bars, now have closed captions online too.  This means the hard of hearing community can now enjoy virtually all the films and television shows their non-hearing challenged compatriots could.  Of course this also means that films without closed captions are not as easily accessible as they were before, particularly as many digital storefronts just dropped anything that did not have captions. Win some, lose some. There are an estimated 48 million deaf or hearing impaired people in the United States, so the expansion of closed captioning could really deliver cinema to a whole lot of people.  It also now looks like it will be expanded to theaters in the US — so filmmakers better start budgeting for this.
  29. We Can Now Seriously State That “The Future Of Cinema Has No Limits”. When leading studio tech thinkers dream of “collaboration at the speed of light” and “storytelling bound only by the imagination” we are in store for some epic levels of awesomeness. At the Technology Summit in Las Vegas this sprint, this is essentially what was said.
  30. The Studios Might Just Learn To Innovate.  Warners & Turner have had their incubators for some time now, helping to give rise to platforms like Reelhouse.  Now Disney is also in the soup. Incubators and accelerators might teach a few folks some new tricks, although it has also been said that such ploys are just attempts at employee retention as some of the big BizDev guns would flee the ship if they didn’t have sparkly new toys to play with.
  31.  The Indie Side Of The Music Industry Recognizes Artists Need To Be Paid Their Fair Share Of Digital Revenues If Their Industry Is To Remain Vibrant And Diverse. The Music Industry is generally  ahead of the Film Biz, so hopefully this means the Film Biz is soon to follow suit in recognizing a healthy industry is one where artists can support themselves from the work they generate. One of the reasons I signed on to run Fandor is that I feel a 50/50 split on subscription revenue with the rights’ holders is a good deal and can help drive a more sustainable industry — and that’s what Fandor has offered from the start. The Indie Music Labels created a “fair trade digital bill of rights for artists“.  It would be good for the Film Biz to do something similar.  Music streaming sites seem to be not very good for niche genres, including jazz and classical.  Similarly, the current “winner takes all” inherent bias for top titles in digital distribution is something that a healthy film culture must fight against.  The lessons and progress the Music Industry makes helps pave a path for a more progressive Film Biz.
  32. I Published A Book On My Lessons Learned Making 70+ Movies, Hosted A Webseries On How To Reinvent Hollywood, And Conspired With A Crackerjack Team Of Brainiacs To Turn Fandor Into The Home Of Film Lovers Everywhere — Dedicated To Advancing + Preserving Film Art and Culture.  I also regularly wrote this blog for you. And lectured throughout the world. And produced two films in my free time.  Check out my book please (and if you have a moment please do give it a review online as it does help sales). You can see the web series here. And if you love movies, subscribe to Fandor. You deserve it.

If you still need more, might I encourage you to look back on the past and see all the good that was there in 2013 (36 things!),  2012 (only 16 things), or 2011 (15),  And if you want to share this one, might I encourage you to use this link: http://bit.ly/GoodFilm

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