A Public Discussion On THE FUTURE OF FILM With You, Me (Ted Hope), & Brian Newman

by Ted Hope
July 1, 2011 12:00 PM
5 Comments
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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?

The Future of Film - Joint Article by Brian Newman & Ted Hope

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.

1. Super-abundance:
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 industry@kviff.com 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.

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5 Comments

  • Brendan Fletcher | July 7, 2011 5:46 AMReply

    Ted and Brian - thanks for the thought starter, and great chat this week at Karlovy Vary.

    I agree wholeheartedly with the points you make. It’s a little overwhelming at first to think about, but it’s opened up my mind to a new way of thinking.

    Clearly, the massive changes in the industry have hugely fragmented the landscape we work in. Our industry has become lots and lots of small, individual projects and companies, instead of a few major processes lead by a few major gatekeepers/institutions. A lot of us feel lost because of it.

    One of the parts of your discourse that hit me hardest was the idea that we cannot experiment in ONE film. We need a series or a slate of projects to encourage risk as film makers, to spread the risk to investors and to apply our learnings to in a meaningful way. Making one film every ten years like I did (Mad Bastards) - what kind of hope is there for evolution at that rate?

    So how can we better use the knowledge we have as little groups and pool our resources to work more effectively?

    It would mean a dedicated change in our view as filmmakers (at every available turn) away from one specific project, to working with collectives and with slates.

    Even just this week at Karlovy Vary Film Fest I have met many great people from all different parts of the industry and I have this unshakeable feeling that, even just with the people we all know and the skills we posses we ARE A NETWORK ALREADY that HAS A SLATE OF DIVERSE PROJECTS … we are just not leveraging the relationships that are already right there.

    But practically - its hard. It’s not our natural instinct. We are project-focused and we barely can raise enough money to lurch from one project to next by ourselves, let alone raise money to work on “slates”, let alone “collective slates”.

    Could we just start with less formal groupings, based on events where half the work is already done. What about structuring something very focused around pre-existing events like this – international film festivals.

    One of the greatest joys of this massive ten-year journey to make Mad Bastards has undoubtedly been weeks like this here in KVIFF and Sundance. Meeting other film-makers and professionals and exchanging stories

    But there is no time for relationships to really develop, for ideas and connections to mature at these festivals. There are so many people to meet, so many screenings and events to attend, and frankly we are all so focused on what we need to do for “our film” that there’s not much time for more.

    Why not give it a little structure. Half or full day sessions where film makers and professionals are able to share “their story” in detail, and talk about their slate and their approach to distributing that slate in some detail in small groups (of 6 to 10 participants) so you can really get a feel for each other and therefore chance of a developing a meaningful relationship.

    These workshop events could even have an “audience” to some or all of the session, and then perhaps the chosen group comes back to the same place 6 months later to revisit our projects and discuss successes, failures and learnings?

    There are already “labs” that exist around the world, but they are very much focused on developing a single project. What about taking the “lab process” and bending it into a more macro picture that focuses not just one project, but on the health of a film-makers slate, their partnerships and sharing the knowledge.

    180 filmmakers have all flown around the world to get to this events this week (it took me 32 hours in travel to get here for a 4 day visit) – so can't we better leverage our own investment of time in ways that service this goal??

    The greatest challenge is to work on the HEALTH of our industry our business rather than just our next film. This takes valuable time away from writing our next script, raising finance and whatever we do in our lives. It’s a big shift to make and I’m not sure how possible it is. But whatever the horizon will look like, I’m grateful for events and discussions like this to help us carve it out …

  • Ted Hope | July 3, 2011 8:28 AMReply

    Thank you Bob & Aaron. Good points. Where do you think everyone else in the film business is? Why don't you think they are commenting? Why do you think others don't try to figure this out? Aren't we all in this together?

  • Aaron Cohen | July 1, 2011 4:56 AMReply

    2 more things.

    1. I should have also addressed my comments to Brian. Good piece.

    2. I'm not sure what happened with my numbering. I can't be sure, but it may have been the indiewire comments functionality. Are they familiar with Disqus? Then I could have edited my comment.

  • Aaron Cohen | July 1, 2011 4:10 AMReply

    Ted:

    I look forward to joining these discussions with you. For me, there is a gigantic opportunity in using technology to massively increase the inefficiencies of the film marketplace. That's why we are building Orson. Let's take a look at your paradigm.

    SuperAbundance: At Orson, we believe every film is relevant to some audience even if that's just friends and family. What's shocking is how hard it is for an individual filmmaker to get a film online behind a paywall or rent a movie theater. Filmmakers need to physically connect with their audiences. Of course to do that they need an efficient way to plan and execute screenings.

    New Audience Demands: Our audiences actively tell us who they are all day long through internet activities. They tweet, listen to music, buy movie tickets, books, comment on blogposts etc. A company needs to mine and parse this data so that we can identify who wants to see the next urban political documentary vs. romantic comedy set in South Asia. Internet Ad Networks do this on the Internet all the time. But they haven't connected it to a film model that makes sense.

    3. Audience Aggregation -- Everybody who reads this blog gets emails from companies they've done business with all week. Yet, if Darren Aronofsky wants me to see his next movie, he relies on the studio to market each project as if he has no previous relationship with the audience. The result: Ridiculously high marketing costs compared to every other industry. Costs that the studios incur that contribute to the accounting challenges in the industry. Investments in digital marketing and fan management will lower the costs of marketing dramatically in the next 5 years.

    4. Investor Realities: Have you heard of AngelList in the tech community? They aggregated all the tech angels and startups and have real traction as a marketplace? Some entrepreneur will end run Kickstarter by creating better, more film specific functionality. That's a big idea.

    5. The risk challenge is a big one. Typically venture capital would chase this risk because there is so much opportunity for reinvention. But there are some challenges.

    1. Hollwyood and professional tech investors do not like each other very much. It creates friction that hurts the ecosystem that could fix these problems.

    2. Filmmakers and Producers don't support the innovations that they need with their own capital. Rather, filmmakers often manage there exceptionally entrepreneurial careers as if they are fee-for-hire players. Successful industry participants should help fund changes that will benefit them.

    As usual, you lay out the arguments very well.

  • bob gosse | July 1, 2011 1:30 AMReply

    This is a deep and necessary conversation for all of us attempting to clumbsily weave our way in this career of attention absorbtion/narrative cinema. We can have that conversation now- openly and in earnest- or we can play "let's pretend" and wither and die as technology marches forward. We can seek to understand the world we currently live in and then model that understanding in storyform to engage each other. All that is required is your attention and, more importantly, your imagination. Awe and wonder will be the payoff... Ain't life grand?

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