I attended Dov Simens' 2-Day Film School back in early 2006 in New York after graduating from Penn State. I enjoyed the class a lot, and Mr. Simens played a big part in inspiring me to write, produce, and direct my own low-budget feature, Bad Batch.
A lot has changed in the world of independent film in the past 5 years, so when I caught word that Dov Simens has upcoming classes in LA and NYC, I figured it would be a good time to find out which changes he feels are most noteworthy.
I had the opportunity to speak one-on-one with Dov, and one of the first things he pointed out was that the fundamentals of filmmaking are still very much in place: The script is still the script, directors still direct, actors still act, and it's essential to work with investors, guilds and unions. All that being true, here are 8 noteworthy changes from the past 5 years and Dov's thoughts on each:
1. NEW CAMERAS
DSLRs and cameras like the RED are making it much more affordable for anyone to shoot high quality images. Film has always been more of a mystery. You'd call up Kodak, rent a film camera, send to the lab, then two days later you'd see dailies. Now, the mystery is gone, and the move from film to electronic formats is ushering in an explosion of first timers.
2. BUDGETS AND #'S OF FILMS BEING MADE
Dov pointed out that there are essentially four budgets of feature films that have long been considered profitable: mega budget, medium budget, low budget, and micro budget.
Mega budget is the studio feature film priced at around $50-100+ million. Films in this price range have grown and become more profitable, though now it's even more important for any mega budget film to have broad global appeal (ie., Rio The Movie). Studios are now making less movies, but they're mega budget "tentpole" films engineered to appeal to the masses.
What are no longer automatically profitable are the $2-20 million character-driven stories. There will always will be the hedge fund billionaires and sultans who want to get into the movie biz, and they'll be there to finance films in this budget range. Typically, they'll then discover that the profits aren't what they'd hoped, Billionaire X moves on to new ventures...then a new crop of pop up and the cycle continues. The movies that seem to fare the best in this budget range in 2011 often involve vampires and big laughs, not just just stars like Ray Liotta or Anthony Hopkins, a la 2006.
Low budget films, or films in the $300K-1 million range, are having a much tougher time being consistently profitable as compared to 2006. DVD has peaked but it's still very good for films in this price range for making money back. Low budget films are disappearing and are being replaced by many, many micro budget indies in the $5-100K price range.
3. 3D IS NOT A GIMMICK ANYMORE
It's less expensive now to shoot in 3D. 3D television sets are here, and a new generation is learning to make movies in both 2D and 3D. It's safe to say 3D is here to stay.
4. NEW ANCILLARY REVENUE STREAMS
Premium On-Demand, VOD, Hulu Plus, Netflix, Apple TV, Google TV, etc, etc. These revenue streams were not in place 5 years ago. It's essential for micro budget filmmakers to figure out how to create a mystique surrounding their product and tap into these new revenue streams.
5. GOVERNMENT TAX INCENTIVE MONEY FROM STATES AND NATIONS
5 years ago, it was mainly Canada, Australia, and England offering rebates and refunds to film productions. Today, there are about 30 nations that either offer incentives, rebates, grants, interest-free loans, etc.
Since 2006, app. 40 of the 50 states have created their own programs to compete with Canada, etc., and each state offers something different. Louisiana, Mass., Conn., and Michigan seem to currently be the best, offering 25-42% rebates, refunds, tax incentives, credits, and more.
6. GROWTH OF THE PRODUCT PLACEMENT INDUSTRY
Tivo and DVR allow us to zap commercials with reckless abandon, making it even more vital for corporations to get their products in the movies.
7. CROWDFUNDING PLATFORMS
While Dov is in support of crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and IndieGogo, he believes there's a gray area that no one's discussing in regard to the SEC. People are making donations to film projects, but technically they're making investments. What happens when Kickstarter funds the next Paranormal Activity or The Blair Witch Project and people who've chipped in want their fair share of the gross?
8. FILM FESTIVALS ARE MORE IMPORTANT TO A FILM'S SUCCESS
Festivals offer the first platform for the micro budget film to show to acquisitions executives that people in the demographic are buying tix, that the film works in front of an audience, and that there's a buzz post-screening. Thing is, while there are 2000+ festivals, acquisitions executives only show up to about 15 of them. (Think: Sundance, Toronto, Telluride, Berlin, etc.) While small festivals have merit as cultural events, they're counter-productive for someone looking to sell their film. The festivals that acquisitions executives attend are looking to host world premieres. So, if you already premiered at the Omaha Film Festival (or wherever) and maybe even won an award, you should certainly feel validated. However, you just gave away your world premiere to a festival where no acquisitions execs attend, and now Sundance, Toronto, etc., won't touch you.
Dov Simens is teaching his world-renowned 2-Day Film School in Los Angeles on May 7-8, in New York City on May 14-15, and in London on June 18-19. For more info, check out Dov's homepage.
Follow Abe Schwartz on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AbeSchwartz