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15 Reasons We Should Be Thankful for Indie Film in 2013

15 Reasons We Should Be Thankful for Indie Film in 2013

In honor of Thanksgiving, film producer Ted Hope, who is stepping down as executive director of San Francisco Film Society at the end of this year, looks back at 2013 and takes stock of the independent film business. In a post on his blog Hope for Film, Hope lists over 30 “really good things” that happened in the indie film business in 2013. He’s given us permission to republish 15 of them below but you can read all 30 reasons here.

We have plenty to be thankful for.  Things are getting better — at least in the Indie Film Biz they are…  Or should I say Specialized Film Biz? Artist First Film Biz? Whatever this is, let’s celebrate.  We have plenty to be thankful for.

I have over 30 points to prove it to you.  Granted I have something close to an equal number on the negative side too, but I will shield you from those for the time being. Besides, those negative things still to come  are all just opportunities, right?  So what is this cornucopia of things we have to be thankful for? Well…

1. The initial steps towards building a sustainable investor class have been taken.  Impact Partners probably should get the credit for doing the necessary initial work: creating a community of socially minded investors, linking them through shared values and quality engagement, and educating them for the long hall.  Now Sundance has launched their Catalyst group gathering, and Slated.com is doing awesome work aiding in the connecting serious investors with serious filmmakers (more on them later).  Let’s hope this is just the start of many such groups and the industry overall recognizing that smart money is far better than the dumb kind. I am making it a bit of a mission for me, and have some big plans ahead, all things willing…

2. The film biz is excited about entrepreneurial training for filmmakers.  Under my guidance, SFFS launched A2E (Artist To Entrepreneur) at the SFIFF in April and I immediately had invites to travel to talk about the program and even to franchise it by many film support organizations. There’s interest to carry this forward elsewhere. I hope to pilot this sort of concept one more time somewhere and then finally be able to evaluate spreading it.  In the meantime, I am confident that there will be other similar iniatives springing up all over. Whether it is training filmmakers to budget their films through the entire process and not just to festival release, market their movies alongside producing them, or focus on long term community building and audience aggregation, we will help filmmakers become owner operators of their own creations as they navigate this paradigm shift from false scarcity and mass market to grand abundance and targeted niches.

3. The film community wants to pull its head out of the sand and confront reality.  I got a great response to my post on 17 Things About The Film Biz That Should Significantly Alter Your Creative Practice. We have ignored the paradigm shift (see #2 above) and perhaps now we are willing to accept the truth and stop betting that a white knight will rescue us.

4. 2013 is the year that crowdfunding went mainstream.  Say what you will about the celebrity factor but Veronica Mars, Zack Braff, Spike Lee, and others brought thousands more on to the platforms.  It is not a zero sum game. Crowdfunding is an incredible asset to all artists’ arsenal, and not just for financing, but for marketing, outreach, and true engagement.

5. 2013 is the year that crowd funding became crowd equity. Even with crowdfunding going mainstream, there are limits to the type of movies that can utilize it.  Granting goods and services for donations limits the size of investments creators will receive.  Granting people shares, utilizing investments over donations is another gamechanger. The JOBS Act has turned that game on, and here’s hoping that investors turn on too.

6. Crowdfunding is evolving from a project focus to one centered around the artist. The move for fans to become funders and then to become PATRONS, is truly significant.  Platforms like Patreon help advance this.  Sure it is an old way — didn’t DaVinci use the patron platform? — but I don’t know about you, but I want to make sure that the artists I admire are free to experiment and don’t have to pitch each new project to advance one step.  It’s exciting to see folks call for the emergence of a sustainable patron class.  I am in!

7. Direct Distribution is on course to become next year’s indie fim phenomenon.  It took crowd funding several years to go mainstream, but for the Direct Distro community that gathered around #A2E in 2013, it kinda felt you were there watching the Pistols or the V.U. play their initial gig, and you too were going to now gonna go home a start a band.  We are learning how and how to work together to get our films to the people that want them. (This is an evolution from where Direct Distribution was when included on 2012′s list).

8. Sundance’s #SAS aka Artist Services has helped 80 films or so to connect with audiences and generate some significant revenue.  Granted no one’s gotten rich, but that never was a goal anyway.  Their support has allowed folks to consider direct distribution not just as a back up but as Plan A.  They not only have an amazing group of participating films, they have a top shelf selection of platforms to work with.  The truly impressive thing is how they have also opened up the platform to several other supplying organizations.  This is group learning and film support at it’s best.  Here’s hoping it lasts forever and beyond!

9. Release windows are compressing and everyone is benefiting — and some of the exhibitors are no longer complaining.  One of the key to reducing piracy is making sure people can get what they want when they want.  Desire is highest when the marketing is at it’s most intense, usually in the theatrical window — so it only makes sense to have it available soon after.  And now they are. And Netflix is threatening to amp this up. And our arthouse community theaters are not afraid.

10. Platforms are for the many. Distribution was for the few. Once you had to be chosen; now the choice is yours. Giving people everywhere access to your work is a crucial first step to developing a sustainable creative practice — well maybe, after you’ve developed a sizable community base (yeah, it’s a Catch 22, I know, but…). The point is now we can reach people with our work…  and you don’t have to be chosen.  The power is yours. Take it (but please be prepared).

11. Exhibitors are setting their own rules.  Perhaps the IFC Center’s refusal to enforce the NC-17 rating is just the tip of the iceberg.  Perhaps from there the arthouses can move well beyond the week long booking policy of many distributors and start to multiplex individual screens, offering specific content for specific audiences at specific times.

12. Exhibitors are getting serious about gender bias.  Maybe filmmakers and the studios will be next.  It may only be happening in Sweden now, but how great would it be if we rated films everywhere on gender bias? We can expect to see the Bechdel Test rating in other regions to appear. Of course, even as simple as it is, there are many films you’d be surprised to find can’t past the Bechdel Test.

13. Movie Theaters keep getting better and better.  Whether it is the sound (have you heard Atmos?!), the seats, food, or alcoholic offerings, it just keeps getting better and better. Soon you won’t want to ever stay home.

14. Crowdsourced Theatrical Exhibition is gaining traction.  There are a whole handful of platforms to chose from. Folks are doing it.  And audiences are going. My hope is that independent theaters across the world start using these tools directly and putting the power of curation in the hands of their community.  From there, there will start to emerge small groups of local voices who become major forces in their community for curation.

15. Exhibitors are doing some excellent things to woe younger people to the theater.  Digital natives like to watch whatever whenever and however they damn well please, and that’s fine, but theaters are our community centers and that is where movies truly become cinema.  Putting the social back into the experience elevates it for everyone.  The European Independent Arthouses got together this past week in Athens for the annual Europa Cinemas conference and discussed many great techniques to keep younger audiences involved.

Read Hope’s full post (with all 30+ reasons) here.

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