DECADE: John Sloss -- Indie v. IndieWood & the Coming Dotcom-ization of Filmed Entertainment, Part 2

by Eugene Hernandez and Mark Rabinowitz/indieWIRE

indieWIRE's conversation with John Sloss continues...

iW: What does it require for the broader collective community of business
people to accommodate, make room for, and foster some of these filmmakers?

Sloss: I think we're in a scene right now where those people have been
absorbed into the system and other distributors haven't stepped up to
replace them. And I can't tell you why that has happened. There's so much
money these days. The thing that amazes me most about the world we live now
is how much disposable income there is out there out there at this point in
time. But I'll say to people, go into distribution, go into exhibition, go
into finishing funds even, but the riskiest thing you can do is produce
movies, to take a script and gamble money on it. And 99% of these people
want to be producers and none of them want to go into distribution. And
there's just such a huge generational void of distribution that is
unbelievable. You've got young people who are acquisitions people, but you
look at the generation of people from Bingham to Tom [Bernard] and Michael
[Barker] to even Harvey [Weinstein], who are all from the same generation,
and no one has stepped up to replace them, or very few people have. And
it's obviously not as sexy. Everyone wants to be a filmmaker or a producer
and for some reason, no one has gotten the call to go into distribution.
Ira Deutchman, all those people from that generation, that was a whole group
of people who all got in
and I think they were drawn in by the classics divisions of the 80s, and I
don't know where these people are now. Why are people just not interested?

iW: My understanding of it -- at least in the last 5-10 years -- has
been a dwindling marketplace with fewer and fewer opportunities. That has
been the message.

Sloss: Why do you think it's constantly dwindling? Because the audience is
just not interested anymore?

iW: I think while a lot of people aren't putting all of their energies into
"traditional" distribution -- it's true, there aren't a lot of people coming
out of film school or business school and saying, I want to do that.
I'm looking at the "Welcome to Silicon Alley" sign behind you, that's what
some of them
looking at.

Sloss: That's true now, but that wouldn't explain five years ago. Now there
is a huge talent suck that is going into the web, from everybody. And
that's a pretty good explanation why nobody wants to go into distribution
now. Why has no one gone in since the early 80's? I don't know the answer
to that. That's one thing that concerns me about these films we're talking
about. And the other thing is that, is the audience getting dumber, are
they losing patience? I went through school and awakened to auteur cinema.
I didn't know anything about it until I went to college. And I spent all of
college watching every Fassbinder film and just catching up. Do people do
that now? I don't know the answer to that. I'm sort of out of touch with

iW: There's more distractions now. There's a lot more television and
there's the in the world.

Sloss: And there's also what the studios do, which is if you spend $30
million on marketing and you just saturate people with it -- then how can
you get people's attention for a review-driven film or films that don't
have that claim, or has the audience been desensitized through that blitz
marketing away from specialized marketing?

iW: I think people do still embrace truly alternative films, even films
that are 20 years old, but there is sometimes less of an urgency to
necessarily having to see
something in a movie theater. I might just as easily want to get 5 people
together and watch it on a big screen TV, at my house, with drinks and
hanging out with friends?

Sloss: That's the eternal question, and that's what people have been
debating since I was 18-years-old. Are people always going to want to have
a community experience where they just get up and go out to a movie
theater? Because obviously with HDTV and larger screens, you'll be able to
basically replicate it at home.

It's a tough thing, and I don't know if that's cyclical or if the audience
is just moving away from these kinds of films or if they're moving away
from this kind of viewing experience. It may just be that the only thing
people are going to go out for is a sort of cinematic equivalent of a theme
park ride or where it is bigger than life or the only thing people go the
theater for is an Imax equivalent, and then films like ours are things that
people just watch in the house, and they just watch ancillary movies. I
don't know the answer to that. It would really grieve me if that were the
case, but the last thing I want to do in my life is start establishing
myself as a guy who says, "I remember the day..." and "Those were the good
old days..." because that's ridiculous. And if that's what people want, and
that's the way they're going, then maybe that's the way, since technology
is getting so much better, that that's the way these films should be seen.

"I'll say to people, go into distribution, go into exhibition, go
into finishing funds even, but the riskiest thing you can do is produce
movies, to take a script and gamble money on it.everyone wants to be a
filmmaker or a producer and for some reason, no one has gotten the call to
go into distribution."

iW: This is a conversation that scares a lot of people. At RESFEST, someone
was saying that this is the fear of Internet distribution -- even as it gets
better -- independent film will be marginalized to other ancillary places,
and we won't be able to experience the next "American Movie" or whatever
down the road in a movie theater.

Sloss: I think it's entirely possible. Again, you could talk to some sort of
social critic or trend person who may give you some statistical answer
about whether people still need to go out to movies and then the smart
people will need to go out to movies and they'll go to see these movies but
they won't go see these numbing movies that other people go see, and that
will change as the ability to get them and the technology in your home gets
better. And I don't mean to be negative about it. "Filmed entertainment,"
I call it, has its place, and I run out to see them too.

iW: Other people say that the revolution will happen when every Starbucks
has a digital projector in is, and it's inevitable, and these will be the
new mass-produced salons?

Sloss: Did you read about this place that I just read about last week --
because they were going to show "A Slipping Down Life" which is a film that
we're in the middle of dealing with -- these people are starting this
company, I forgot the name of it, but they're going to be in bookstores,
and they're going to have these rooms for digital screenings?

iW: We talked about this the last time I was here, the impact the dot
com-ization of entertainment will have, whether it be the
independent/specialty film marketplace or types of filmmakers you represent
on a whole, assuming that that's going to be something that's going to be
stable. To what extent do you think it will have an impact in the short
term, like the next 3-5 years, as it were. Everyone is trying to figure it
all out but no one has an answer yet.

Sloss: Obviously, I'm assuming that technology, in pretty short order, will
evolve to the point where films will be able to broadcast over the web like
are on TV. So assuming the technology thing gets taken care of in two years
or whatever, a stream that you can compress to the point where you get at
least television quality
over the web. What's going to happen? It's a fight for branding, and there
will probably be sites that will spend zillions of dollars to become a
network, a niche network even more than cable; they'll just be the ultimate
extension of cable. You've got Court TV, you've got these networks, and
there will be even more refined networks, like if you just want to see
snuff films.

And the question becomes, everything can't get infinitesimally fragmented,
because you've got to have the hits and you've got to have whatever you're
making your revenue on, whether people are downloading or banners or
to support your costs. So what I think there will be is a million people
trying to do it, and then they'll be a huge shakeout and there will be the
ones who establish themselves, either because their product is better or
their brand is stronger, and it'll be like a version of cable, only maybe
the 500 or maybe the 5,000 cable universe, but there will have to be enough
consolidation, with enough people looking at it to support those websites.
And at the end of it there will be maybe 10 specialized film websites for
watching specialized films, and maybe the viewers can support that and
maybe that's what people are going to be spending their time doing. And the
other alternative is to say everyone in the world is going to have their
own website and show their film over and over and over again, but I don't
think that's going to happen.

"Is there going to be something at Sundance this year where there's going to
be a more
active market in the shorts programs among the webcasters than there's
going to be in the features among the distributors? There's not going to be
more money."

iW: Maybe its a lot cheaper to run a website showing films than to run a
television network.

Sloss: Not necessarily. It is now, but when there is a market for your film
out of Sundance, and they are competing with domestic distributors, then
they are going to have to start spending for product. But is it really
going to be a lot more expensive, are they really going to be that
distinguishable? How are they going to be distinguishable -- a cable network
from a web network -- really, in ten years? The programming will be the
the mechanism of sending it, is cable going to be that much more expensive?
To me, in my mind, and I'm not the last word on this, but I assume there
be a convergence and it will be about branding, and we'll see just how
niche-ified it can be and still support itself. And there will be a
generalization but it will be more specific than it is now.

Is there going to be something at Sundance this year where there's going to
be a more
active market in the shorts programs among the webcasters than there's
going to be in the features among the distributors? There's not going to be
more money.

iW: I think there will be a more palpable energy surrounding the shorts. I
think it's going to be an interesting opportunity for the smart and talented
short filmmaker who goes there with a film that people want. Because there
are so many short filmmakers who have talked about this all the time, that
at a festival like
Sundance there are a handful that might get a little bit of attention from
someone like you -- John Sloss -- and the other people whose attention they
want, but they feel that everyone is looking beyond them because there's so
much activity
surrounding the feature films. I would imagine it's going to force people
like you or us who are keeping on top of what's happening in this world to
maybe not overlook them as easily as we might have.

Sloss: I think in a way, they're going to end up being the stars, I don't know
if this year, but maybe. As the big feature acquisitions are few and far
between, these people are really accessible, there's going to be all this
energy around people competing for them, they're going to make news.

iW: The hot short film from Sundance will be courted by the five top
film distributors on the web and that will automatically create energy.

Sloss: There's been the shift for the first weekend at Sundance, so now
there's going to be this shift to people focusing on short films and all
the distributors will cover them in a way they haven't before. It's like an
evolution of shift to get in earlier and earlier and earlier in the whole