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by Jay A. Fernandez
September 25, 2012 1:33 PM
3 Comments
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Reinventing Story: Bob Berney, John Sloss, Lance Weiler and More Face the Future During Independent Film Week

“My partner at Cinetic, Bart Walker, was an agent but really functioned more as a manager,” said Sloss, “and I felt that as a lawyer often I functioned more as a manager. So I think those distinctions are artificial and a product of the 20th century. They’ll be less relevant in the future.”

“There’s all this opportunity for innovation, yet the innovation is lacking primarily because most of the software that’s been built up to this point has been dictated by user need,” said Weiler, who is developing a “Lord of the Flies” kind of genre project called “Hope Is Missing” about a sleep pandemic for which he’s collaborating with scientists and engaging real people to determine the storyline. “I honestly believe that story is going to drive the next generation of mobile and social applications. So storytellers are going to be in an amazing place.”

Lance Weiler

Discussing the "eco-systems" being created by YouTube, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook and others, Margolin, who has been in the distribution business for more than 25 years, said, "Curation becomes critical in helping audiences find and sort through and make sense of the choices that are available to them. So we as aggregators and distributors play an important role in all three — being disrupters, enabling access and also curating. We’re at the dawn of a new age. It’s trying for filmmakers, rights holders and distributors, but at the same time there are so many opportunities, and we’re looking at experimenting and disrupting a lot. So much so that I’m getting daily phone calls saying, ‘What did you just do?’ from our distribution partners. And that’s part of the game. In this environment, you have to be willing to take risks."

“As stories become more impactful and more meaningful, a huge opportunity moving forward is found within those who are ‘formerly known as the audience,’” said Weiler, who has been working on a “collected learning” project involving a tiny robot called Laika that a pair of fifth-grade classes has been able to move around the country using their curriculum and other measurable stimuli (eventually, the artwork and stories that are inspired by the process will be shot into space by NASA). “Just figuring out ways to give them agency, to give them value within the process. Any time I ever bring this up, storytellers who hold on to auteur theory are terrified, ‘Oh my God, it’s all going to go to crap, how are we going to have anything of quality?’ But it’s all about collaborative filtering, and it’s about conversation.”

“Reviewers are ceding their own obsolescence, and I don’t really understand why,” said Sloss. “They’ll give front-page coverage to review-proof films, and they’ll trash them with no impact. And then there are the films like ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop’ that will get capsule reviews, and those are films they could impact. I guess by the same token, the idea that they are insisting that it appear in a theater before they review it, even though it’s a film that’s worthy of their review regardless of the cut, is a distinction I don’t understand.”

"The Wedding Banquet"

"We’re not really addressing the elephant in the room," said Hope. “As much as it’s a great time to be a storyteller, and as much as the cost of making movies goes down, as disruptive as the transformation from an entertainment economy of scarcity to one of great abundance is, the real issue right now is the artists and the people that support them are not benefiting from their work, and it just can’t be done. I’ve watched six years of my own personal earnings keep going down each year. I talk to all my fellow producers, who are saying, ‘I have to move out of New York, it’s too expensive to live here.’ I’m not making a living producing the movies. And the system as it’s set up right now does not benefit artists or those that support them. Until we can tell stories again of ‘The Wedding Banquet’ or 43 times return on ‘Brothers McMullen,’ until we have our Google billionaires again, there won’t be enough money. We need to develop a sustainable investor class that supports the artists and benefits from doing so. Right now, it doesn’t happen. And that’s what we need to do is focus on that. Because we, in America, live in a market-driven entertainment economy, and it can’t support itself. Filmmaking will be the province of the young and the rich for the next 10-20 years unless we do something drastic to change it. And that’s where we are right now for all the change and disruption we have. We don’t have a system that supports the creators or their supporters.”

"For me, the reinvention is about what you do with the stories, and how you get the stories out, and how you make them valuable," Weiler says. "Because in the end, it’s a three-tiered thing: Is it fun, is it social and participatory? Is somebody emotionally invested in it? Is it something that somebody will effectively move forward and want to share with somebody else? We can move past the commoditization and finally move it to the point where story can really take hold, as it should in the 21st century."

3 Comments

  • Gary Sales | October 12, 2012 6:34 PMReply

    I'm not sure about the ideas proposed for the "new" story telling as described in this article. When it comes to the perception of what's entertaining and worth paying to watch the audience is always ahead of the curators. If they like it, their interest transcends any expert's criticism of why it's bad. Sometimes the professional critics are the last to "get it" when it comes to the heretofore unknown tastes rumbling up from cinema culture's grass roots. There's no shortage of critically panned movies that have risen to the top of the box office. There are also a number that take a while for even the public to catch on to. (Rocky Horror suffered from both I think.) What I am sure of, is that the landscape for selling & distributing my latest indie feature has changed yet again.

    Here I am coming through final post for THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN, starring Stephen Lang, Henry Ian Cusick, Nicki Aycox and David Margulies in a superbly written, well shot, neo-noir murder mystery that I produced for writer/director Larry Brand last spring here in NY. We're d only weeks away from attending the AFM in LA and from the stories I'm hearing I have major concerns about navigating those labyrinthian Loews hallways to make a deal that will offer me and my associates & investors enough up front to buy a bottle of Champagne to celebrate a deal.

    I've been making movies since the early 80's and have been part of, and witness to, the great rise and blossoming of the indie film sector. A number of under financed indie efforts broke though to great viewership and financial success. Sadly, most failed and many movies never got seen beyond their initial festival push and many producers went into the real estate business. Nowadays there may be a digital shelf somewhere where those movies might be accessible. Still, the money's long gone and getting them in front of eyeballs for even the satisfaction that at least someone's getting to see the work, is still the issue.

    In the last couple of decades, technology has opened new doors to cinemamakers, (I hesitate to say film any more), both on a production level and in distribution but now the new problem is way more supply than demand; way more movies to curate than curators; way too many digital diversions to hijack paying eyeballs; and way too little advance money to help a guy/gal and their investors get whole after maxed budgets and his credit cards used to deliver a movie. It's laughable, that having cracked the code on delivering unique, quality content to viewers by shifting from schlepping atoms (film prints) to sending bits (media files), little has changed for indie creators in terms of a knowable pathway to making and releasing our hard made wares for reasonable payments, so we can get back to the work of creating new movies.

    Yes, I can see the new model they say is forming-- becoming a part of the continuing sales and marketing of our creations. I'm just not sure that those of us who slave to produce and deliver movies are suited to sales or that eager to take it on. The old model had certain advantages if you were successful-- you got paid an advance for your movie; you left the crass, crazy world of sales & marketing your movie to your distributor; and you went back to the hard work making or thinking about making your next one. Luck and the quality of the distributor's campaign be with you-- and you might even see a check in your mail box 60 days after the end of the first quarter after the movie's release.

    BTW-- I'm willing to wear as many hats as needed to succeed so I'll just have to call you guys up at Cinetic and PDA and find out, "what's a 21st Century Indie producer to do.?"

  • Sàrah | September 26, 2012 2:23 PMReply

    "...inspired by the intermingling of two groups of real people — a geek-oriented, male, ’50s computer science community fixated on the archeology of cybernetics, and a female community based around burlesque and pin-ups..."

    Gee, what progress!

    Yeesh.

  • Doubting_commodity | September 26, 2012 12:40 PMReply

    ""Because in the end, it’s a three-tiered thing: Is it fun, is it social and participatory? Is somebody emotionally invested in it? .... We can move past the commoditization and finally move it to the point where story can really take hold, as it should in the 21st century."

    What is being described here is not "story"; it's crowd-funding sublimated or glorified into "content" creation. Without "commoditization", there are no stories in the usual sense of the word, i.e., crafted materials which take the viewer out of his own pitiful head. Still worse, the process Weiller yearns for is already well-advanced in the indie film world: these films may have auteurs attached, but they're aggregations of the interests and market assessments of the attendees of this very conference. And nobody's interested.

    What Weiller argues for may have broader democratic ambitions and reach, but it remains a product which only interests its own creators, rather like poetry today (lots of people write it, but very few read it). This solipsistic paradise may well be the future, but nobody will make a living from it, because everyone will be the creator of it. Beware what you wish for....