By Ted Hope | Hope for Film July 1, 2011 at 12:00PM
Brian Newman and I are headed towards the Czech Republic this holiday weekend in order to have a very public discussion on The Future Of Film with the filmmakers and audiences at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival. Yet, you too can join in even if you can't make your way to this wonderful festival. Neither Brian nor I are great fans of panel discussions these days; they fail to mine the great knowledge or passions of the community. So in contemplating how to get something done in the time we have allotted, Brian and I decided it would be good to get the conversation started a bit early. Below, Brian and I put together a focus on what we think are the key factors shaping the greatest and necessary change to the way films are made and consumed. What's your opinion?
Prognostications about the future of film have been pretty easy to come by lately – it will be digital, it will be everywhere, it will be 3D, it will be expensive – but while everyone talks about the changes to come, very few people are actively addressing these changes head on. We believe “the future” is already upon us, and there are five key trends to address.
As we put our thoughts out there for you to consider, ask yourself: “are these the trends that will most effect content, production, and consumption?”. Did we leave something out? Is one not important? Is something else more important? Join the conversation and let us know below.
Similarly, these five suggestions may be the preeminent factors in shaping the next few years, but the real question is always “how?” As creators, facilitators, and consumers, what must we do to confront these issues? Are there models and best practices already emerging? Have there already been noble failures and/or arrogant efforts attempting to address these factors? What would a vision look like that might address these key elements? We all must share our thoughts, our hopes, our failures, along with what we learned from our successes if we are going to build something new, something that truly works for everyone.
Historically, the film business has been built on the model of scarcity. It was expensive to make, distribute and exhibit (or broadcast) films, and it was equally expensive to learn the craft. Our entire business model and assumptions about what works and what doesn’t were built on this idea of scarcity, but digital has changed all of that.
We now live in a world of super-abundance. Thousands of film school students graduate annually, joining tens of thousands of self-taught others, many of whom are far better than amateurs. According to our talks with festival submission services, somewhere near 40,000 unique films are submitted to film festivals globally each year. As an audience member, we now have access not just to the films playing on television and at the theater, but to the entire history of cinema through services such as Netflix, Mubi and LoveFilm. We can experience the global cinema of 1968 better than an audience member who lived in 1968 could, and these films are now competitors for our viewing attention versus the newest films from today. 1968 was a pretty good year for film, it’s tough to decide to watch something new instead.
In a world of superabundance, you have to do a lot more to stand out from the crowd. Luckily, technology is also giving us tools to do this, engage with audiences more directly and develop new creative business practices to raise the attention level on our projects.
2. New Audience Demands:
The audience didn’t use to have a lot of choice in what it saw, but now that choice is plentiful and we’ve entered an attention economy. Audiences now have access to mobile devices that connect them not just to one another, but to the content they choose, immediately and engagingly. Weened on social networks, instant messaging, gaming and touch screens, the audience now not only expects, but demands an interactive, participatory experience.
While many an audience member is content to sit back and relax in front of the television or movie screen, a significant portion of the audience expects and wants more. For some this means engagement through transmedia – using the full range of platform possibilities to interact with a story not just in film, but through games, ARG, graphic novels, webisodes or other experiences. At minimum it means being in touch with your audience, giving them the means to engage socially around a film, even if that’s just more easily sharing a link or a trailer, or engaging in a dialogue on Twitter or Facebook.
Some argue that artists shouldn’t be marketers, but this is a false dichotomy that actually only serves middle-men, distancing the artist from their most valuable asset (aside from their story-telling abilities), their fan base. Engaging one’s audience doesn’t mean just marketing. In fact, marketing doesn’t work, whereas real conversation, or meaningful exchanges does.
In addition, the audience is now global, diverse, young and niche. It demands its content to reflect these realities. Younger creators are addressing these changes, through the content they make, but the industry must do more to address these new realities and incorporate these new voices.
3. Audience Aggregation:
In the past, we had to spend ridiculous amounts of money to find, build and engage an audience. And we did it, from scratch, again and again each time we had a new movie. Thousands of dollars were spent telling Lars Von Trier fans about his new film, but then we let that audience member disappear again, and spent more thousands finding them for the next film. We now have the ability to engage directly with our fan base, be it for an artist, a genre or the output of an entire country. We can aggregate this audience, keep them engaged and more easily communicate with them about what’s new or what’s next. Unfortunately, however, much of the value in this audience connection/data is accruing only to social networks and platforms and not to the industry, or more importantly, the artists.
4. Investor Realities:
While public subsidy remains a vital strength of the industry outside of the US, the current economic and political climate is putting strains on such support and more producers are having to look fresh, or more strongly, to private investors. Up until now, however, it has been the rare investor who sees much of a return, and with the global market for art, foreign and indie films declining (in terms of acquisition dollars), this situation is worsening. To maintain a healthy industry we must build and support a sustainable investor class. The old model of financing one-off productions, limited rights ownership and closely guarding (or even hiding) the numbers needs to change to a system of slate financing, more horizontal ownership of the means of production and distribution and more open sharing of financial data. This is technologically easy to do now, but it will require a sea-change in our thinking about openness to ensure implementation.
5. A New model for Paradigmatic Change:
All of this points to building a model for real, systemic change in the near future. Bold visions for a new model are needed, before someone from outside the film industry, in the tech community for example, launches this disruption for us. Entrepreneurial business leaders need to put forth new projects. Government agencies need to increase and shift funding to support these endeavors and traditional gatekeepers need to embrace these changes.
Experimentation requires limiting risk. Risk is usually defined in the film business by the size of budget. A devotion thus to micro-budget films should also stimulate experimentation on how they are released. Experimentation also requires an analysis of the results. Presently, the film business only likes to discuss its successes, but we need to get over the stigma of "failure" and recognize the brave and selfless qualities inherent in it so we all can learn and stop the repetition of processes that don't work. Experimentation is also a process; it is not a series of one-offs like the film business is today. We need to demystify the process from top to bottom and encourage sharing of data as well as technique. A commitment to a series of films is an experiment – one film is not. Experimentation requires opening one self up beyond a safe environment. The film business has remained a fairly hermetically sealed world. We need to collaborate with other industries, and form alliances that benefit them as well as us. New technological tools can help audiences discover work, allow artists to create work in new ways, and enable entrepreneurs to better distribute this work.
We’d like to open the discussion to others. Let us know in the comments here whether you agree with any or all of this, whether you have other ideas for addressing the future of the field, and even your strong disagreements.
If you’ll be attending the Karlovy Vary Film Festival, we invite you to also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to be considered for a slot during the panel. Slots will be delegated by a festival representative at their discretion. Selected responders will have three minutes to put forth their ideas, questions and/or statements during the festival panel. We’ll try to respond our best, and open it up to the audience for more input. We look forward to hearing from you.