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Celebrating 17 Years of Film.Biz.Fans.
by Ted Hope
December 4, 2013 9:39 AM
10 Comments
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Ted Hope's List of 30 Really Bad Things About the Indie Film Business in 2013

"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.


10 Comments

  • Greg Shaw | December 13, 2013 5:26 PMReply

    Ted, I agree. In fact, this is the only article on IndieWire that actually makes sense. It doesn't help that anti-indie film journalists like Jason Guerassio (whom indiewire publishes from time to time) has consistently attempted to destroy all outlets left for indie filmmakers to go to, in an effort to beef up the power of organizations like TFI and Sundance Institute whom have no interest in truly independent cinema.

  • gabriel | December 5, 2013 12:17 PMReply

    Story remains KING. Look at all the movies with great story and character but no explosions that made money this year. The Heat and Don Juan come to mind.

    Make a good movie, and even if it doesn't make money, people will notice. Funding for a second film, be it from crowds or private investors, will come more easily from that foundation.

    I disagree about Hope's assertion that the long tail is gone. If your movie has great plot, dialogue and characters, it may take awhile, but it will make money eventually, one way or another. Especially if you attach a monetary value to publicity. Think of it like an advertisement.

    Many problems abound, many obstacles for low budget indie movies. I see theater ticket prices as a major problem. Why can't theaters charge 3 dollars for matinees, and make up for the lower ticket price with higher ticket sales? Absurd! No, they simply MUST charge 8 dollars for a matinee?

    But the biggest problem? People make bad movies. Lack of good writing. If you are a good writer, write something audiences will respond to that takes place at one location, a la Reservoir Dogs, and shoot it for almost nothing. There. Problem solved. If it is good, a festival will pick it up, and EVEN IF you don't land distribution from the festival screenings, you can utilize the opportunity to network with others in the industry.

    It just takes an investment. For 5-30k you can launch your career. IF you have a well crafted story.

    Which brings me to another point. Cultural exchange. I'm personally working on a few concepts for low budget movies with multicultural casts. Global audiences want to see more Asians and Latin Americans in movies. Aim to appease these audiences. Include multiple languages in a script. Cultural clashes. Robert Rodriguez has accomplished this. Another example is End Of Watch, a movie in which (Angelinos especially) audiences of multiple ethnic backgrounds found characters and situations they could relate to.

    Sure, understated mumblecore dramedies filmed in Vancouver with all white Canadian casts will struggle because there are only so many freshly minted urban hipsters in the world. Diversity has emerged as the name of the game, so think about what audience you cater to.

    Hope seems stuck in the past. Saying technology is a net bad for film, and lauding a bygone era and dated distribution models. He mentions everything BUT story in his list. I think before blaming an excess of newbie DSLR cinematographers and a saturated VOD market, we should take responsibility for our own demise, step back to square one, grab a coffee and start typing. If you build a good story, they will come.

  • gabriel | December 8, 2013 7:38 PM

    Speak for yourself. I have numerous ideas for films that could get made for 30k and have elements like action that boost production value and audience appeal, while also having strong characters and drama. I am confident in my writing ability. If you need a million or more dollars to tell a good story with audience appeal, maybe you should consider a different line of work.

    There are tons of good actors and directors and cinematographers in hollywood. Much fewer are good concepts and screenplays.

  • Stuck_in_the_past | December 6, 2013 12:50 PM

    Hope is not the only one stuck in the past. The absurdity you promote here is as old as the ambition to make a movie in the backyard.

    1) most "great stories" can't be realized on personal filmmaking budgets. It's no coincidence most low budget films feature 20-30 year old associates of the filmmaker talking on couches in Brooklyn and Vancouver.

    2) "great story" is something of a blind in the movie world, when it's not an outright lie in the mouths of producers and the usual seminar whores. What works in the novel or on stage frequently won't work on the screen. Material which would be a joke in a novel, or which is ridiculous even in a film script, sometimes works very well on screen, if there are sufficient resources to realize it credibly. It shouldn't be news that the story has to be suited to the defects of the medium, satisfy mass-market tastes and be within reach of the budget. Getting everything right here is something which rarely happens, in part because nobody can predict how the ingredients will cohere; and when successful films are often anything but "great".

    3) looking at production over many years, there don't appear to be any actual writers in indie film, for structural reasons. Talk of "great stories" is cheap for non-writers. It's a more complicated than that, as the lack of "great stories" clearly demonstrates.

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  • HumbertH | December 4, 2013 2:44 PMReply

    Perhaps it's much simpler than Mr. Hope supposes. Movie-making is far more accessible to the would-be "artist" than traditional art-forms which demand representational skills. Many people can do what successful directors do. Even more people can do what successful producers can do.

    We know the medium will only support a tiny number of practitioners, which has always been true of the movie business; cheap production technology won't change that fact. We also know that those few are not necessarily the best, since (once again) making movies is something many people can do. Just look, for example, at the number of successful movie careers preceded by a parent's successful career. Or the value of a pretty face, or of prior fame. Mr. Hope's own period of success was an anomaly, based on selling his product to deluded distributors. That market hysteria, with little basis in actual audience returns, couldn't last, and didn't.

    Unkind though it is to say, the raft of indie filmmakers who have, or did, make good over the last 20 or 30 years have not proven to be indispensable talents. Many people today are making films every bit as good as those which launched brief or enduring careers in the 1990s and often with far less money, and could no doubt equal or exceed the better funded movies those early films once made possible. But of course, there's no longer any novelty in it.

    This is in part of a crisis of mediocrity, and of Amerindie's exhausted naturalism, to which Mr. Hope still appears committed, but also of budget. Mr. Hope addresses neither in any meaningful way.

  • jrose | December 4, 2013 12:25 PMReply

    "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."

    YES. If I spend $60 entering my film into a festival, the least they can do when they reject it is send me a letter explaining why it didn't make the cut. If you can watch 3,000 films, you can slightly personalize 3,000 letters. Of course, this will never happen. But these days they don't even mail or email their form letters, they just send out a message on Withoutabox. The only thing worse would be if they never let you know at all.

    If festivals, agencies, etc. had any balls, they'd force the 20-year-old intern who actually looked at -- and passed on -- your project write the rejection letter: "Hi, I'm a sophomore at Cal State Northridge, and I think your movie stunk."

  • Christen Kimbell | December 4, 2013 10:56 AMReply

    "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."

    I agree, completely and wholly and totally. This is one of the main things I work on changing, at least with the people I surround myself with and work with, as much as I am able. We cannot make films in a vacuum, we cannot accomplish anything big alone. We need to be surrounded by a community of skilled craftspeople who care about each other. And, slowly but surely, this is becoming true. At least in my case.

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