I was told that I needed more pictures in my blog, so here you go. This has nothing to do with the blog, but it’s pretty to look at.
So, last time I was talking about how things looked worse than they really are. I then promised to stagger you with my psychic prognostications for the film and television industry. Well, here goes nothing
Self-Distribution Takes Off For the Masses… Finally
Self distribution is nothing new. Take those cans of film or that HDCAM tape, stick it under your jacket, and go across the country to art-house theaters and small venues. Cut out the middleman! Take a bigger cut of the box office! Sounds romantic, right? Except for all the corpses lying by the side of the road, the guys who mortgaged their houses, divorced their spouses, maxed out their credit cards, and are now eating cat food… self distribution WAS EXPENSIVE.
Now you can stick your video up on the web, take a DVD (or at most a DigiBeta or HDCAM tape), and hit those same venues for a LOT less money. This is not so much about technology as about mindshift. People are waking up to the fact that traditional advertising and marketing efforts don’t make a damn bit of difference when trying to attract indie films. Thanks to MySpace, Twitter, email lists, blogs, etc. you can build a fanbase that will turn into a paying audience. Well, that’s the dream, anyway. It’s worked well for a handful of films so far – though many of them had a brand name or hook to begin with. But I predict that it may become the way indie films under $200K are distributed.
The Smaller Film Shoot is Here to Stay
Digital video decimated the average indie’s budget, with some not-so-great consequences for crew and cast looking for a living wage or hoping to just do one job on set as opposed to three or four. But we all got used to it, and then crew sizes started growing again, a little bit. But out of the last four features I’ve worked on as a UPM or line producer, three have been throwbacks to the “commando” school: take a handful of crew and gear and go make the movie in two or (luxury!) three weeks. Oh, and most of these guys will be working either for free or for 2003 prices.
The mumblecore guys have been making movies this way for a while. It’s us “old farts” who’ve been on a few sets who will have the hardest time with this. But if you look back a bit, a lot of films were made in this manner: Fassbinder, Bergman, and Hal Hartley (to name a few) often worked with small crews and short schedules, and produced great work. No one got rich, but they all worked on great stuff.
Webisodes and Television Collide
Television will look increasingly like webisodes – watch them when you want (think Hulu). Webisodes will become more like regular TV (put up with ads). Television production value will go down, webisode production value will go up. Pretty soon they will be competing for the same exact eyeballs. Who will win? The old media people will win in the short term – they have the resources and the back catalog to bully the webisodes. A lot of investors will go broke hoping that their webisodes will deliver a revenue stream. But in the long run, a company like YouTube or iTunes will prevail, offering indie webisodic producers the chance to make some money. Traditional television companies will have to reorganize the way they do their work – perhaps offering almost everything as a DVR-style service (in other words, appointment-based TV goes away).
Tax Incentives Lead to Direct Government Subsidies
European countries realized that the best way to encourage a local film industry was to fund it. The individual states realized that offering tax incentives brought more taxable dollars into their jurisdiction than they lost. I’m betting that a few forward thinking governors realize that the next step is to actually offer production funds. Now this sounds like a strange idea – since we’re in a recession and all – but it may be easier to justify than a tax incentive. IF New Jersey can offer a percentage of a film’s budget directly to a producer, but in exchange asks that the crew and gear be from New Jersey (leading to taxable income), then they can lock in a taxable revenue stream.
Genre Goes Out the Window
In his wonderful book When the Shooting Stops, the Cutting Begins, Ralph Rosenblum (who edited films by Mel Brooks, Sidney Lumet, Woody Allen, William Friedkin, and a few folks you MAY have heard of) spoke about how ’60s films by the French New Wave directors demonstrated that the audience could follow a story without seeing every single moment of action. He offered the opinion that audiences were more sophisticated than studios had previously given them credit for. Genres serve a similar purpose – to guide audiences’ expectations and shape distributors’ advertising/marketing efforts. But what the hell is Waltz With Bashir or Persepolis or Sleep Dealer or Inland Empire or District 9 or even Dark Knight? These films feel like they don’t really fit neatly into a single genre. Even a biopic such as Milk stretches things a bit. These films all share a very personal quality, something that feels organic and not “manufactured” to fit a genre. While genre is a helpful guideline, I think that distributors will catch onto what audiences have known for a long time – that films are myths and that myths, in turn, can’t be contained, but spread across human consciousness.
Art Houses Make a Comeback
It may not be the arthouse your father, older brother or grandfather used to cry about. But I’ve seen a bunch of films in parks, bars, converted theaters, and even restaurants. Some of these venues charged money directly, others asked for donations (just to keep things running). This is an opportunity. As a producer, you may have better financial success screening your film at your local bar, and selling the DVD afterwards, than signing a direct-to-DVD deal with a distributor.
One of the things that’s striking about the above list is that more and more is expected of the filmmaker. It’s not enough to know how to make the film, you also need to know how to market, distribute, and deliver it to an audience. You need to become an active participant in its life after you’ve finished it. For many (myself included), this is anathema – after all, what the hell are distributors for? I just want to make movies – but it’s really no different than any of the other trends that have been popping up in the past twenty years. In 1997 DVD authoring was something only a few companies did. Now most of us do their own authoring. Likewise, website design, EPK creation, DVD duplication, email blasting, and other formerly specialized services have now become commoditized to the point where many indie filmmakers see them as part of the filmmaking process. It’s more “shit we have to do” (to borrow a line from Fire Walk wih Me) but it frees us from relying on third parties.
Another thing that’s striking – which isn’t so obvious at first glance – is how much control ends up in our hands. In exchange for diminished or non-existent advances, filmmakers are acquiring more control over their destiny. This may mean that we don’t get to give up our day jobs, but on the other hand it means that our films get seen by their intended audience, in the intended venue. And isn’t that what we all really want – to tell our stories in front of a campfire? I can smell the marshmallows.