A year ago I wrote a blog post " 38 American Independent Film Problems/Concerns." Unfortunately, all of those problems I listed a year ago still stand today; four or so from that list have made some real headway, perhaps, but they certainly remain issues. Of more concern is that the list keeps growing and growing. I can contribute another 38 even more pressing issues today.
In fact, there is no one to blame for this list but ourselves. It is our inability to be proactive that his brought on us this terrible state. What once were problems or concerns have grown more pressing. You do the math: we now have over 70 things wrong with our industry that we are not taking action to fix.
Ask yourself what you currently are concerned and frustrated about in terms of where both film culture and the film business are today. Where is our industry capable of being and how does it compare to where we actually are? Do we really have the capacity to sit and wait to get there? Isn't our silence delaying the trip?
I must admit that I am a bit disappointed that I had no difficulty adding another thirty-eight items to this list of where we are currently failing. The exciting thing about this (and why #38 of last year 's list was "lists like this make the foolish despair") is both these lists demonstrate a tremendous opportunity for those willing to break from the status quo and do things a bit differently. Things may be wrong, but they could always be worse. From here, we just have to work together to make it better. It is that simple. Every deficit is an opportunity for the creative entrepreneur, right?
So how has the film biz continued to reveal itself to be terribly troubled this year? What do I suggest we start to focus on, discuss, and find solutions for? This list is a start, and I wager we will expand it substantially in the days ahead.
- We can not logically justify any ticket price whatsoever for a non-event film. There are too many better options at too low a price. Simply getting out of the house or watching something somewhere because that is the only place it is currently available does not justify a ticket price. We still think of movies as things people will buy. We have to change our thinking about movies to something that enhances other experiences, and it is that which has monetary value. Films power as a community organizing tool extends far beyond it's power to sell popcorn (and the whole exhibition industry is based on that idea).
- The Industry has never made any attempt to build a sustainable investor class. Every other industry has such a go-to funding sector, developed around a focus on the investors' concerns and standardized structures. In the film biz, each deal is different and generally stands alone, as opposed to leading to something more. The history of Hollywood is partially defined by the belief that another sucker is born every minute. Who really benefits by the limited options for funding currently available other than those funders and those who fee those deals? We could build something that works far more efficiently and offers far more opportunity
- The film business remains the virtually exclusive domain of the privileged. Although great strides have been made to diversify the industry, the numbers don't lie. The film industry is ruled by the white male from middle class or better socioeconomic backgrounds. It is an expensive art form and a competitive field -- but it doesn't need to a closed door one. Let's face it, people hire folks who remind them of themselves. These days everyone needs to intern and the proposition of working for free is too expensive for most to be able to engage. Living in NYC or LA is not affordable to most people starting out. We get more of the same and little progress without greater diversity. And although I essentially mentioned this last year (#36), the continued poor economy limits diversity even more now.
- There is no structure or mechanism to increase liquidity of film investments, either through clear exit strategies, or secondary capital markets. The dirty secret of film investment is that it is a long recoupment cycle with little planning for an exit strategy. Without a way to get out, fewer people chose to get in. Who really wants to lock up an investment for four years? Not investors, only patrons...
- Independent Filmmakers (and their Industry advisors) build business plans based on models and notions selected from before September 15, 2008 when Lehman Brothers collapsed and everything changed. It is not the same business as it was then and we shouldn't treat it as the same. Expectations have changed considerably, probably completely. Buyers and audiences behaviors are different, those that still remain that is. Products are valued at different levels. We live in a new world. Our strategies must change with it.
- The film business remains a single product industry. The product may be available on many different platforms, but it is still the same thing. For such a capital intensive enterprise to sell only one thing is a squandering of time and money. Films can be a platform to launch many different products and enterprises, some of which can also enhance the experience and build the community.
- We have done very little thinking or discussing about how to make events out of our movies. The list seems to have stopped at 3D. There's only been one "Rocky Horror Picture Show" and the first one is very very old. Music flourishes because the live component is generally quite different from the recorded one, and the film biz could benefit from a greater difference of what utilizes different platforms.
- We ignore film's most unique attribute. As demonstrated by how little of people's online time is spent watching content (30%), people want connectivity & community, more than anything else. There used to be film societies, just like reviewers once placed films in cultural context -- we need to recreate a community aspect to filmgoing. If you wonder why people don't go to the movies more, it is not as much about the content, as it is about the lack of community. Without that, why not just stay home to watch? Film's strongest attribute is its ability to work as a community organizing tool. Film forces us to feel, to think, to engage -- let's not ignore that.
- Independent film financing is still based around an antiquated foreign sales model despite the fact that all acquisition markets are collapsing and fee levels shrink market to market. This old model is centered around stars' perceived value -- an attribute that has been less reliable than ever before. There has got to be a better way than the foreign sales estimate model, but no one talks about it, or even admits to needing one. The participants that get most hurt by this are the investors who take the advice of the "experts" that this is the way it's done. It used to be done this way, but we have to move on before we burn to the ground.
- Filmmakers don't own their audiences yet (and few even attempt to). What will happen when agents start to cut deals for their clients who have 1 million engaged fans, people who will pre-order their content, promote it passionately, and deliver more of their friends? There is a shift in the balance of power about to happen, and those that have prepared for it, amassed their followings, will be able to change the conversation significantly.
- We've failed to develop fetish objects to demonstrate one's love of cinema. The only merchandise we sell is "fanboy" toys. We need to come up with items that demonstrate their possessor's sense of style and taste. Beyond the books of Taishen what is there? We can do better. Such products manufacture desire and enhance identification with the art form. We need to streamline the process of the transformation of leisure time into both intellectual and social capital (i.e movie going and its byproducts).
- Creators, Distributors, and Marketeers have accepted a dividing line between art and commerce, between content and marketing. By not engaging the filmmakers in how to use marketing tools within their narrative and how to bring narrative techniques to the marketing, we diminish the discovery and promotional potential of each film. We limit the scope of our art by restricting it to the plane of the 90 minute product. Movies should find us early, lead us to new worlds, bridge us to subsequent experiences, connect us to new passions and loves, help us embrace a more expansive definition of cinema,life, and self.
- We don't recognize that one of film's greatest assets is it's ability to generate data. Filmmakers and financiers should be insisting on owning the data their film's generate for it is an incredibly valuable commodity. The VOD platform allows for tracking of where and when and who in terms of the business, yet this data is restricted to aggregator and not the creator. When you license something for a small fraction of it's costs, shouldn't you share in everything that is generated?
- We fail to utilize the two years from greenlight to release to market our film and build our audience. Despite have the key economic indicators (i.e. stars & concept) in place at the time of greenlight , we underutilize that two year period to source fans, aggregate them and provide them with both the ramps and the bridges necessary to lead them to our work and then carry them to other new work.
- How come our Industry can't develop more stars? The talented actors exist, but they don't have "value". Why is it that we don't we have more serious actors who are worth something financially? Isn't it just about giving them the roles that help them build audiences? Why don't we encourage more actors to take more risks in terms of the characters they portray? Audiences, filmmakers, financiers would all be better served by industy-wide initiatives to launch more talent. Say what you will about the studio system of old, but they were damn good about developing new talent.
- We need a greater embrace of innovation and experimentation in terms of both business models and building communities. We keep doing things based on the status quo, long after the practice has stopped being fruitful. People are so fearful of failing publicly that new approaches are shunned. This is a perception and PR problem as much as it is a structural one. Will to fail, and encourage risk taking (but be practical about it).
- We allow consumers to think content should be free but it is okay that the hardware to play it on is very very expensive. All the entertainment industries allow the hardware manufacturers to have policies that encourage such thinking. They get rich and it grows harder to be a creator by the day. People only want the devices because there is so much great stuff to play on it. Why is the balance of wealth so misguided here?
- We - neither the creators, audiences, or their representatives - don't make a stink when aggregators get rich, and the content creators live on mere pittances. It's not just the product but also the services that have flourished on the labors of the creators. Instead of growing angry we have been embracing those that gather and not those that grow. Again, we need to look at the inequity here and re-evaluate how the equity is dispersed.
- We don't insist that our artists are also entrepreneurs. We don't encourage direct sales to the fans. We don't focus on building mailing lists. This needs to be as much accepted "best practices" as it needs to be part of every art school curriculum. We can't keep producing artists and not prepare them to survive in the world. Passion without a plan to support it can only lead to exploitation.
- We have failed to engage constructively with other industries that we should be aligned with, most appreciatively, the tech world. How come only SXSW is where film, music, and tech meet? Can't we do better? The music industry has The Future Of Music summit, but there is nothing similar in the film world. The facilitators at the agencies rarely know who's who in terms of web and tech designers.
- Where is the simple site where you can get whatever you want whenever you want however you want (other than what the bootleggers offer)? How come we let the thieves beat us at our own game? Soon it will be too late to win the people back. The fact that the one place that comes close is ultimately in the business of selling hardware -- and the industry seems okay with that -- shows how we can't see the forest for the trees.
- Who are the new curators? The ones with a national or international audience? How come we have not had a more concentrated industry/community wide effort to give a home to all the fired film critics? Is it that we are afraid of the bad, just like the studios are afraid of social media and film future exchanges because they are worried about negative buzz. We just need to make better movies and treat people well and then there is no negative to spread, right? Anyway, with such a plethora of great work being made we need to offer audiences better filters to sift through it. What's up with our collective failure to deliver more Oprahs, individuals whose support will lead to action?
- The majority in the film industry are essentially luddites and technophobes, barely aware of the tools we have available to us to enhance, economize, and spread our work. How can we teach our industry how to use what has already been invented (and then we can focus on the things we need but don't yet have).
- We don't encourage (or demand) audience "builds" prior to production. Why shouldn't every filmmaker or filmmaking team be required to have 5000 Fans prior to greenlight?
- We know incredibly little about our audience or their behavior. We spend so much money making our films without really knowing who are audiences are, why they want our product, how to reach them, or how they behave, or how they are changing. Does any other industry think so late about their audience? Does any other industry do so little research into their audience? Shouldn't we all be sharing what info we have?
- There is no "non-partisan" free-thought industry think tank and/or incubator to consider new models, new approaches, and enhance audience appeal. Such an institution could also inspire both government and private investment, not to mention develop "best practices" to maximize revenue. It might even expand aesthetic methods, who knows?
- Where's that list on best practices for preventing your film from being pirated? Shouldn't all producers know this? I know I don't and I can't name another producer that does.
- The Industry has no respect for producers. Granted, this might sound a tad self-serving, but producers overhead, fees, credits, and support are under attack from all fronts. Yet it is the producers who identify and develop the material and talent, package it, structure the finance, identify the audience, and unite all the industry's disparate elements. All the producers I speak to wonder how they are to survive and remain in the business.
- Let's face it, we are not good at providing filmmakers with long term career planning. Whether it's financial planning, secondary professions, or just on going learning -- we don't really get it, and that sets artist up as future prey. As an industry, and as a class, creative people get stuck in a rut quite easily, and are the hardest dogs to teach new tricks.
- With our world and industry changing daily, shouldn't we have come up with a place where we learn the new technology or at least hear of it. One that is welcoming even for the luddites. The tech sites speak their own vernacular which is a tad intimidating for the unenniciated.
- Where's the embrace of the short term release? With digital delivery here can't we get in and get out, only to return again and offer it all over again? The week long booking of one film per theater limits content to that which appeals to the mass market. Niche audiences are being underserved, and money is thus being left on the table and some highly appealing menus not even being considered.
- Film Festivals need to evolve a hell of a lot faster. Festivals need to ask what their value-add is to both the filmmaker and the audience. One or two could ask that of the industry overall too. Now that we recognize that festivals are not a market, and that filmmakers have to do a tremendous amount of work ahead of time in order for them to be a media launch, the question remains what are festivals and who do they serve? The everything-to-everybody style of curating no longer works. The run-of-the-mill panels have become dull and boring. The costs associated for filmmakers attending are rarely worth the benefits they receive. Film Festivals need to be rebuilt. There are a lot of good ideas out there on how to do it, but not enough has been put into practice.
- The past ten years of digital film are going to vanish. We do little to preserve not just the works, but also the process and documents behind it. Digital is not a stable medium. We have a migration and storage issue in terms of keeping access up to date. All those films that currently exist in digital format only won't stand the test of time. Film remains a better format for archival purposes. We need to take action soon if we are not going to see our recent culture be out of reach.
- We don't encourage advocacy around the issues that effect us. How many film industry professionals could rattle off the top ten government policies that effect their trade? How come our various support organizations, unions, guilds, and leaders don't list issues and actions at the top of their website? Are we all so afraid of biting the hand that feeds us?
- Okay, it's a bit like cutting off your nose to spite your face, but it seems to me that film industry folk spend less time going to the movies (and I mean seeing films in the theaters) than the average bear. Going to the movies should be viewed as a political act. Support the culture you want with your dollars.
- Most of the bootlegging that I encounter comes from within the industry itself. I recently heard of a manager who asked the studio execs and his Facebook friends to send in the bootlegs of his Sundance prize winning client's film -- and he got over 70 back; they all unfortunately were an early cut of the film too. I admit I get a lot of free DVDs from agents & managers, and I admit I make dubs for my directors so they can see actors -- but I have started to donate to crowdfunding campaigns to try to balance it out. We have to come up with a uniform practice and commitment to avoid the Industry supported bootlegging.
- So few of us have determined what we love, not just in film, but in the world in general. The more we have defined these things, the more we strive to bring them into existence. The more we now what we want, the greater our defenses are against that which we do not want to participate. Where are the filmmakers who can list the things they think can lead us to make better films? If more filmmakers, distributors, and executives conversed more publicly in both the art and the business, the bar for all of us would be lifted higher.
- We love to read, talk, and engage more about the business than we do about the art. Some of this comes perhaps because we have more forums for the business than the aesthetics, but it is much harder to get a conversation going about creative issues than it is about financial. I'm just saying...
Follow Ted Hope on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TedHope