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Ted Hope's List of 30 Really Bad Things About the Indie Film Business in 2013

Indiewire By Ted Hope | Indiewire December 4, 2013 at 9:39AM

2013 has been a good year for indie film, but producer Ted Hope has come up with a list of 30 "really bad things" about the indie film business this year.
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Fandor CEO Ted Hope.

Film producer Ted Hope, who is stepping down as executive director of San Francisco Film Society at the end of this year, recently listed over 30 "really good things" that happened in the indie film business in 2013. But the year in indie film wasn't all roses and sunshine. Hope emphasized the good in his prior post and now he takes a look at the bad. He's given us permission to republish 15 of his "bad things" below, but you can read all 30 "really bad things" here.

I have given my thanks so now it's that time of the year when I get to complain about what's wrong -- and what hasn't yet been fixed.  I have done this before (several times), but this is that post on where we are right now. Like always, I suggest you don't forget that lists like these only make the foolish despair.  After all, we can build it better together.  Let’s take this post as an action list. All are opportunities to truly ToDo. It does not need to be this way.

1. The film business lives in Bizarro World, thinking we do something for the love of it, but in fact creating something far far far away from what we actually love -- and thus making it so much harder to do what we love in the process. We have turned our strengths into our weaknesses. The worst of course is we now take it for granted that this is how it is and this is what the film biz needs be (if you are not fully following me here, I suggest you click on the link above).  It's not and it doesn't but I don't hear a whole lot of folks saying we need a complete systems reboot of the whole film ecosystem (see #2).

2. It's not enough to just think outside the box.  The box is a trap and a false representation of a reality.  We have to break the box, probably smash it to bits and then build a better box together. The red pill or the blue? We have chosen the wrong one and we fail to recognize the cultural factors weighing on film culture and build for that.  Recognize the false construct and see through the matrix.  This is the reality. And we are now poised to forever be slaves to it, versus living in a far preferable world where we would use these truths to deliver a better world (as we should).

3. The corporate suits see NO business in art.  They have removed the bowtie from the building. It should be Schamus. They have determined that blockbusters are the safest bet, even if yields a Lone Ranger regularly.  Studios will make films for the world, and what travels is not beautiful.  Expect more loud, fast, dumb.

4. Film is no longer the penultimate pop culture art form.  Be it video games or television, it seems pretty clear that cinema has lost the battle, both critically and commercially. Sure there is plenty of good stuff to watch and play, but when they kicked out the throne, it meant the next generation of possible saviors also just opted for another field.

5. Successful artists can not support themselves through their work.  We've known for a long time that most of us can't but it did seem like once someone had made it, they were safe.  Those days are over too.  We have our poster boy in David Byrne speaking up and out that "the internet will suck all creative content out of the world". What we have now does not work for anyone but the global corporate powerhouses.  Our culture is threatened.  We can no longer permit the wholesale exploitation of our creative classes.  There needs to be a global action.

6. The interests of the artists & the "stores" that sell our work are no longer aligned. The largest distributors and stores have no real incentive to actually sell good work, yet the best way for artists to survive and create a regular supply of great work is to be fairly compensated for it.  Okay, this may be far more true in the music business, but they experience everything the film biz does, only a few years ahead. And there the business is either to sell computer products or gain audience base so you can flip it and make a mint.  Read this.

7. Superabundance not only applies to content but also to platforms.  There are now more than 500 video on demand services available in the EU dedicated mainly or wholly to feature film. Options and choice are generally a good thing, but it can also lead people to shut down and not take action. Ultimately we need to know where to go to connect us with what we want.  We need to create the promise of a good experience and not further confusion of the what, where, and when.

"Technological advances increasingly reduce the value of basic filmmaking skills."

8. The long tail no longer exists, if it ever had. Or if it did, it is crushed by both the tsunami of the new and the last battalions of the corporately-funded superstars.  Good luck getting noticed when 1% buy a louder scream than what the rest can yell combined. Artists struggle to survive in the era of the blockbusters' total domination.

9. The Digital Recession - We know it is hard to get work, any work.  And we know that it is hard to make filmmaking a sustainable profession.  But it also goes beyond that.  Technological advances increasingly reduce the value of basic filmmaking skills. Jim Cummings nailed it in this HopeForFilm post earlier this year.

10 Indie Film is not about community or the culture -- it is more about business and success than ever before. This is where I let my gray hair (what's left of it) show.  The folks in this business generally forget that we are first and foremost a community. We could be lifting it all up together, but no. When they know you, and there is no business in you for them, they don't bother generally with a personal touch.  If they pass on your film, or your script, they rarely call, or write a personal letter.  I have seen the biggest of film festivals do this to some of the most successful of filmmakers.  I have seen agents ignore former clients.  I rarely see people in the business do that extra something unless there is something in it for them. Everyone asks and few offer. I have witnessed this firsthand, and seen and heard of it with my collaborators. It is a shame, a downright dirty shame.

11. We don't budget -- let alone train people  to budget -- for the full life cycle of the film, and thus lose most of the value for our work without receiving proper compensation.  Film schools train people only half way -- just getting the film to the festivals and market.  We have to learn to schedule, project revenues, and budget for the longest of hauls.  Without that, we will never truly recognize the value of our work.  And without that, we won’t be prepared to extract or maximize revenue from our work -- and generally if we don't change that, the creator class won't survive.  Fixing this, was the motive behind A2E (and something I would do if I found the proper host).

12. It's as if the industry wants all independent films to fail. There are numerous educational initiatives that our leaders and institutions could (and should) undertake  that could help indie films succeed that no one has yet undertaken. We have no marketing check list for bringing your film to release.  We need a map to run this race.  It's a simple fix not yet executed. Although I am no expert in this arena I have been working on one, and now that I have quit my job, hopefully I can complete it. I could use a wise marketing hand to run through it with me (hint, hint).

13. The exhibition calendar remains overcrowded with too much of the same -- particularly when it comes to summer (for blockbusters) and winter (for Oscar bait). Why can't we have a balanced or logical release schedule? Films cannibalize each other. New York City has over 25 films opening on any given weekend.

14. Print media continues to die -- and with it the film biz's key way to market to the masses, and allow quality work to be discovered. Newsweek is no more. In 2010, it sold for one dollar, signaling the state of the business.  Last year's "magazine of the year", New York, will go bi-weekly now.  So much for accolades. Newspapers were wonderful things: people bought them generally to read the horoscope, but discovered wonderful things turning the pages, like revolutions in far off lands, and auteur films playing around the corner.

15. There is no uniform reporting, clarity, transparency of data from digital viewing that would allow the business and culture to advance.  This has been true for awhile and I have mentioned it in my annual round ups before.  However, the fact the establishment is calling out for it, gives it new prominence, both in the UK and in the States. The EU even has a film body dedicated to it: The European Audiovisual Observatory. "Transparency is .. actually its raison d'etre."  Wow. Imagine if the US had a film entity that could say the same? Maybe it will start to get better here too...

Read the full list of 30 here.


This article is related to: Filmmaker Toolkit, Ted Hope, Digital Film Distribution, Digital Future