Indie producer Ted Hope, now the Director of the San Francisco Film Society, recently announced their Artist to Entrepreneur program to help filmmakers make the right choices when distributing their film online. Part of the assumption behind the A2E program is that the distribution model today is seriously broken, so Hope took to his blog to explain to filmmakers 17 things about the film industry that all filmmakers — of any type — need to know about the business today. Though many of the items on this list may seem disheartening, when taken as a whole they can be empowering for the enterprising filmmaker who can accumulate the means to produce outside of the system.
Yesterday, we launched our A2E (Artist To Entrepreneur) program at
the San Francisco Film Society with OnRamp (The Direct Distribution
Lab). This is a pilot lab of a pilot program designed to give
filmmakers the necessary entrepreneurial skills to achieve a sustainable
creative life amidst this changing paradigm. We will be working out
some bugs but hope to launch the second iteration as soon as possible.
As part of the lab, we have a first day of big ideas and case studies
that hopefully will give the participants the foundation for a design
for living and thriving on their art. As part of that I have prepared
three brief lectures focused on what every filmmaker needs to recognize
about the business, the culture, and their practice if they want to have
a sustainable creative life. Split between the three categories, I
came up with fifty things you should know. I will provide them to you
over the next week or two, but I wish you all could have been there.
It’s always different when you are in the room.
Today, I will unleash what I think it is necessary to recognize about
our industry if you are a filmmaker looking to survive from the work
WARNING: taking any of these points out of context, could create unnecessary fear or depression. If you want to
tackle reality, you need to know what ground you walk on. Some truths
are hard to accept but once you do, you can move forward and to a
different place. Adding Film Biz realities to Culture truths, and
building Best Filmmaker Practices on those understandings could provide a
Design For Sustainable Collective Creation. Or at least that’s this
- Filmmaking is not currently a sustainable occupation for any but the very rare. It is not enough to be very good at what you do if you want to survive by doing what you love.
- Presently speaking, artists & their supporters are rarely the primary financial beneficiaries of their work – if at all. Filmmakers are not sufficiently rewarded for their quality creative output under current practices.
- The film industry’s economic models are not based on today’s reality.
They are predicated on and remain structured upon antiquated principals
of scarcity of content, centralized control of that content, and the
ability to focus the majority of consumers towards that content.
- Film audience’s current consumption habits do not come close to matching the film industry’s production output. America remains the top film consumption market in the world, and is thought to be able to handle only around 1%
of the world annual supply – consuming somewhere between 500-600 titles
of the annual output of approximate 50,000 feature films. We make far
more films than we currently know how to use or consume. We drown our
audiences in choices.
- The film industry has not found a way to match audiences with the content they will most likely to respond to.
It doesn’t even look like this is a priority for the business.
Everything is spaghetti against the wall, marketed in the same way &
only to the most general demographics of race, gender, & income.
- In order to reach the people who might respond to a film, the film industry remains dependent on telling everyone (including those who could care less) about each new film. It
is a poorly allocated dedication of resources. We spend more money
telling those who will never be interested, than focusing on those who
have already demonstrated support. There is no audience aggregation
platform exclusively for those who love movies, no place where all
people who love movies engage deeply about films – if there was,
marketing costs could shrink.
- Digital distribution is an emerging market and will continue to evolve over the next decade.
The value for titles for the long term has not been specified for
digital distribution; currently only short term value is derived – and
as a result films are licensed without full understanding of future
worth. We are doing a business of ignorance.
- Predictive value of films is primarily currently determined by an incredibly imprecise method:“star
value”, a concept that grows less predictive by the day. Ask anyone
and they will tell you that people do not go to movies anymore to see
specific stars but interesting subjects. Granted, that is not a
scientific method, but we know it to be true.
- The “fair market value” of a feature film’s distribution rights in the US that multiple buyers want has dropped astronomically: from 50% of negative costs 25 years ago, to 30% 15 years ago, to 25% 10 years ago, to 10% today.
- International territorial licensing of American independent feature films has dropped by approximately 60% over the last decade. Major territories no longer buy product. Most have given up on “American Indies.”
- Everything that has ever been made, has also been copied.
The logic of a business based on exclusive ownership or limited access
to something can not sustain. In the digital era the duplication of
data is inevitable. The unauthorized copy will never go away. People
can choose to try to avoid unauthorized versions but they will be made
or shared. This does not have to always be a bad thing either.
- Competing options for film viewing have diminished the comparative value of theatrical exhibition.
A consumer can not justify the cost of a movie ticket when that ticket
costs more than the cost of a month of unlimited streaming. Home
theaters’ quality surpasses many theaters, and the seats are always
better. Soon 4K Televisions will be the norm while movie theaters are
stuck in 2K.
- The film business lacks a long range economic model for exhibition.
What is the business of movie going? Exhibition gathers people together
to sell them a 15 cent bag of popcorn for six dollars. We can profit
from a large group’s interest in more and more meaningful ways, but the
infrastructure is not yet designed to expolit this.
- The film industry foolishly rewards quantity over quality.
Producers are incentivized to forever take on more and the films’
quality suffers as a result. The best work is not rewarded. Once upon a
time, filmmakers got overhead deals and that made some difference, but
those days are long gone.
- Movies have a unique capacity to create empathy for people and actions we don’t know or have not experienced. Science
has shown that the imagined releases a similar chemical response to the
actual experience. If this empathic experience is virtually unique to
film, can it be utilized more? I think so, tremendously so in fact.
- Movies create a shared emotional response amongst all those that view it simultaneously. What
other product can claim that? As a unique attribute, how can you
emphasize that more? Shouldn’t that be the takeaway that your audience
remembers and shares?
- There has never been a better time
for most creative individuals to be both a truly independent filmmaker
and/or a collaborative creative person. The barriers to entry are
lower, the cost & labor time of creation & distribution are
lower than ever, and there are more opportunities and methods that
ever. We just need to abandon the old ways and unearth the new ways.
What’s your response to these? I personally think it would be great
if the answer could always be: “I am going to do something about that.
And I am going to get a little help from my friends.” Every single one
of these can change; it may require a complete move from doing things
the way we do them now, but they can get better. If you want to make
movies, and make your profession filmmaking, I think you will have a
tremendous advantage if you recognize the world we are living in and the
power you have to improve it. I think these points are the obvious
truths that we can use to drive us forward. And there are more.