From the marriage of tech and film to VOD's first superstar
Last year I wrote out 15 really good things about the indie film biz (2011). My first instincts at looking at the list are that the 15 from last year are still in process this year. Maybe I was a bit ahead of the curve. Maybe I should hold this post until 2013. But I don’t think so — we have much to celebrate this year, too.
So what are the new developments that are now taking hold? I have struggled to hit the same number as last year — and with some work, I did it … and even exceeded it. Hopefully you’ll continue to fill in the list with what I forgot.
1. Direct distribution is really working. We did it on "Dark Horse." They are also doing it on "I Am Not a Hipster" (opening Jan. 15 nationwide). The list on the doc side is pretty huge: Stacy Perata and team did it on "Bones Brigade." Jeff Orlowski is doing it on "Chasing Ice." As "Indie Game: The Movie: The Case Study" shows, they did it there too. Add Eugene Jarecki and "The House I Live In" team to the list, too.
2. Hollywood is taking more creative risks. As Ben Affleck noted about this year in film, “Movies that involve taking risks by the filmmakers and the financiers have been successful.“
3. The film industry is moving towards proportional gender representation in front of and behind the camera. The New York Times did a good job of pointing to the work women are doing done in front of the camera, and that Hollywood is doing producing tales of female heroines. Additionally, Indieland — the traditional leader of the cultural space — has for the first time, shown some balance behind the camera too. Sundance has an equal number of female directors as men in the narrative competition. That shouldn’t be a surprise, but it has taken us a long time to get here, and we do need to address why there are not more women in power in the entertainment business.
4. There is an appetite for acquisition from the distributors. Seventy-three titles were acquired at Sundance in 2012. The question of whether they were acquired for a fair price may not unfortunately be part of the general discussion, but at least there was the option of licensing your work again this year.
5. Worldwide, the industry is asking questions if there is a better way. Just recently I was invited to Paris and Austin to discuss different perspectives on how we can serve audiences better and improve the business. This is not the same as launching initiatives, but it is a start. Last year, I mentioned that the conversation on the Future of Film took off, but this year it seems to be on a global basis.
6. Technology is confronting the problem of our transition from an entertainment economy based on scarcity and control of content, to one recognizing the abundance of, total access to, and full distraction from that content. We have launched an app that does this well. And we have a good number of competitors in the space. And we have media innovation incubator/accelerators starting to blossom.
7. There has never been a better time to both preserve and advance the film culture I dearly love. That’s why I chose to focus not on project producing but on producing infrastructure and change. I am not going to be able to do it alone, but working with the support of the organization that launched the oldest running film festival should hopefully prove far more fruitful than from proclaiming on high from my private soap box.
8. New financing options are both here and on the horizon for independent and documentary film. We’ve witnessed the launch of Slated and seen films get funded as a result. Britdoc’s impressive GoodPitch funding forum has funneled and support to doc projects and inspired many in the process. How awesome is that? Further, we now are seeing other evidence of a second generation of funding mechanisms, as entities like Seed & Spark are combining crowdfunding elements with distribution, marketing, and audience aggregation aspects. If that was not enough for you, additionally the Jobs Act was passed in the USA, allowing for equity-based crowdfunding for films of under $$1 million. We now can give people backend on the films they fund. There remains a lot to work out on the legal side, but here’s hoping that it is used both well and for good.
9. Transactional VOD Players hit the flashpoint. VHX.tv, Vimeo PPV, Dynamo player, and many more. Whether you want an aggregator or prefer to sell on your own, it is easy and painless to do now. Just ask Louis C.K.
10. We have our first VOD superstar. You want big numbers on VOD? Just cast Kirsten Dunst. "Bachelorette." "Melancholia." "All Good Things." She’s beautiful. She’s a good actor. She’s fascinating to watch. She’s funny. She’s scary. And she doesn’t have too many letters in her name, but just enough to stand out. Hell, if "Elizabethtown" premiered on Ultra VOD today, it would set records. VOD is becoming more marketable, and people are not treating as a lesser product. Once all media outlets start covering VOD premieres, that will be an Awesome thing.
11. Tech and film are talking to each other. Soon they may even speak the same language. Film Independent held a hackathon. Marc Schiller did on the same day on the opposite coast. BAVC Producer University put filmmakers together with tech folks, and in less than a week new apps were born. And not only are they talking, they are getting in bed together — OK, maybe not film yet but media and tech are sleeping together.
12. The dominance of the feature film form is starting to wain. Whether it is great webisodes, a tremendous number of wonderful shorts, transmedia experiments or just cross-platform experiments, cinema is evolving beyond it’s historic constraints. OK, I did say this one last year, but I still feel it starting to happen. I can put things on this list two years in a row can’t I? And then I will put it on the negative on the third year, if it hasn’t happened yet.
13. The two films that I helped produce this year, "Dark Horse" and "Starlet," got great reviews in the New York Times. They also got great reviews many other places, too. I can only state this here as a personal positive, though.
14. Here’s another that will repeat on tomorrow's list of the big and the bad. To quote A.O. Scott of the N.Y. Times: “By the end of this year, the New York Times will have reviewed more than 800 movies, establishing 2012, at least by one measure, as a new benchmark in the annals of cinematic abundance.” From the point of view of the audience, right now this is a beautiful thing. Conceptually speaking, we should be able to match audiences with the film that is most right for them. Audiences don’t have to compromise. There are more better movies than ever before. Unfortunately, we have to build an infrastructure to support this, but that is a rant for another day (like tomorrow).
15. There is a lot of real and meaningful support for indie writers, directors and producers working in the genres & realms traditionally supported by indie film support organizations. When I look at the various labs that are run by Sundance, IFP, Film Independent, and Tribeca, or the the financial and other support provided by the San Francisco Film Society (ahem…), Cinereach, Austin Film Society and other entities, I am very impressed. Granted there is a specific type of movie that seems to most appeal to this sort of thing, but I am impressed at how many programs they are and the good work that they do. It ain’t easy and our culture — at least a very specific part of it — really depends on it. I hope all of you support the organizations that support the culture you love. Vote with your dollars for the culture you want.
16. The online community that supports the effort to advance a sustainable culture where the artist and their supporters benefit by the work they create, works to both preserve and advance the vibrant and diverse work that ambitiously reaches further, is committed to transparency, openness, opportunity and our communal well-being, and knows that it is a team that builds the future and thus gives back in so many ways including posting, commenting, pointing, liking, and financial contributions. I know this as I am experiencing it daily. Thank you.