Friday, May 14, 2010

38 Ways film is failing

The Huffington Post May 11, 2010

Ted Hope

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.

1. 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).

2. 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

3. 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.

4. 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...

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. 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.

11. 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

12. 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.

13. 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

14. 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.

15. 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.

16. 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).

17. 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?

18. 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.

19. 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.

20. 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.

21. 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.

22. 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?

23. 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).

24. 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?

25. 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?

26. 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?

27. 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.

28. 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.

29. 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.

30. 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.

31. 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.

32. 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

33. 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

34. 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?

35. 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.

36. 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

37. 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.

38. 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...
#7 is so true, In the age of REDBOX and Bittorrent we need to make people want to go the the theatre to see a film these days. I learned form my film studies that In the golden age of film people went to film palaces like the old Michigan Theatre in Ann Arbor and were treated like A-List Stars by a clean and courteous staff. The entire place reminded you this BUILDING was about the MOVIES.

Now going to see a film is a major pain in the Glutes, you have the find the time the film is showing, then take a 20 minute drive out to a mall multiplex, once you get there you are served by a overworked and underpaid, less than enthusiastic staff that is pretty much running a glorified fast food court let alone a place that shows first run cinema.

This is why people prefer to wait until the film is at the redbox, netflix or "rent" it from Bittorrent. Then watch it on their HDTV's with a bag of microwave popcorn.

Avatar made money because it was just that an MAJOR EVENT, like Star Wars was in 1977.

Also Film when it comes to the 15-35 year old male demo has a new form of entertainment int eh form of video games.

So far the biggest hyped entertainment property to come out in recent years were games, especially HALO and the Call of Duty Franchises. These games are getting the same type of promotional hype and teaser trailers that big budget summer blockbusters would only get.

Hollywood does not realize that when it comes to entertainment they are no longer the only game in town. Some studios have, as games becomes more and more cinematic, many studios now have their own interactive arms. As many filmcraft jobs such as motion capture, CGI artists, sound recording, voice over artists can easily transition over and many craftspeople work on both to make a living. Since games use these talents companies like Infinity Ward need to make use of such facilities that Hollywood have already in abundance.

VG's have also altered the types of films they make for the male demo. Shooters like aformentioned Halo and COD have replaced the gun-toting action films I grew up watching in the 1980's such as Commando or the Missing in Action films. Why watch it when you can live that action hero fantasy interactive style?

#2 Why nourish a investor class? Because movies have for a long time been nothing more than a high profile tax evasion/write off scheme for billionaires. Studios need to start being honest with the money with the economy being the way it is, many investors are looking elsewhere as they more than ever want an investment that will give them a guaranteed return. Which is they are only putting money in films that will make a earning or putting it in something else less risky. Why do you think these incentives are so attractive, as the economy falls on hard times the private sector money is not there like it once was so in comes the govt cheese. Just like welfare, I hope the film industry does not become dependent on government money to function that will begin a slippery slope to some real bad things. Then the state government can then tell you what types of money you can make.

Movies by and large lose money, even films that rake in big like Avatar are not considered profitable

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