My Answers to Ted Hope’s ‘38 Ways the Film Industry Is Failing’

“The film business remains the virtually exclusive domain of the privileged”

Earlier this week, Hollyblogger and producer Ted Hope submitted his "38 More Ways the Film Industry Is Failing Today." Here’s what I think of his 38:

1. We cannot logically justify any ticket price whatsoever for a non-event film. There are too many better options at too low a price. Simply getting out of the house or watching something somewhere because that is the only place it is currently available does not justify a ticket price enough. We still think of movies as things people will buy. We have to change our thinking about movies to something that enhances other experiences, and it is that which has monetary value. Film’s power as a community organizing tool extends far beyond its power to sell popcorn (and the whole exhibition industry is based on that old popcorn idea).
Nonsense. You are buying into the Hollywood mentality that has served to destroy the independent film community. *You* might think of movies as things people buy because that’s your own ultra-commercial attitude toward an art form. Back when filmmakers thought about money last rather than first, the ‘thing’ was called an ‘art film’.
2.The Industry has never made any attempt to build a sustainable investor class. Every other industry has such a go-to funding sector, developed around a focus on the investors’ concerns and standardized structures. In the film biz, each deal is different and generally stands alone, as opposed to leading to something more. The history of Hollywood is partially defined by the belief that another sucker is born every minute. Who really benefits by the limited options for funding currently available other than those funders and those who fee those deals? We could build something that works far more efficiently and offers far more opportunity.
There you go again. The independent film community is not and never has been an industry. Listen to yourself Ted: “Industry” “Biz” “Deal” “Standardized Structures.” All of these things diminish and limit creativity.
3.The film business remains the virtually exclusive domain of the privileged. Although great strides have been made to diversify the industry, the numbers don’t lie. The film industry is ruled by white men from middle class or better socioeconomic backgrounds. It is an expensive art form and a competitive field — but it doesn’t need to a closed door one. Let’s face it: people hire folks who remind them of themselves. These days everyone needs to intern and the proposition of working for free is too expensive for most. Living in NYC or LA is not affordable for most people starting out. We get more of the same and little progress without greater diversity. And although I essentially mentioned this last year (#36), the continued poor economy limits diversity even more now.
Great strides *had* been made to diversify, but then producers whose focus was increasingly on the bottom line served to crush that diversity. The film “business” may be the exclusive domain of the privileged, but independent film is not and never was a business. It was the opposite. What’s missing is not a sustainable investor class but a renewed sense of film as something that transcends business. Something that requires love and nurturing more than it does financing and distribution seminars.
4.There is no structure or mechanism to increase liquidity of film investments, either through clear exit strategies, or secondary capital markets. The dirty secret of film investment is that it is a long recoupment cycle with little planning for an exit strategy. Without a way to get out, fewer people choose to get in. Who really wants to lock up an investment for four years? Not investors, only patrons…
Jesus Ted. I get that you’re a producer. You’re the money guy. But aren’t you also supposed to be the guy protecting the filmmaker and her vision from the suits. It sure seems that you’re directing these comments at artists rather than potential investors. Yet everything you’re saying here is about ROI. By directing this at the starving artist rather than investment bankers you’re not helping. You’re raising the threat level to RED when what’s needed is reflection and intelligent thought. It worked for Bush and Chaney but I don’t think it’s going to work here.
5. Independent Filmmakers (and their Industry advisors) build business plans based on models and notions selected from before September 15, 2008 when Lehman Brothers collapsed and everything changed. It is not the same business as it was then and we shouldn’t treat it that way. Expectations have changed considerably, probably completely. Buyers and audiences’ behaviors are different (those that still remain that is). Products are valued at different levels. We live in a new world. Our strategies must change with it.
Your time horizon is so limited. Before September 2008? The crisis in independent film began in the 1980s; you know, the go-go 80s. Expectations have, indeed changed. Independent films are now supposed to think, act and perform like studio films.
6. The film business remains a single product industry. The product may be available on many different platforms, but it is still the same thing. For such a capital-intensive enterprise to sell only one thing is a squandering of time and money. Films can be a platform to launch many different products and enterprises, some of which can also enhance the experience and build the community.
You started this list out complaining that “we” (I really wish you’d speak for yourself) think of films as things rather than something that enhances other experiences. Now you’re calling them products and platforms. Which is it? Are films Things to you? Products? Platforms?
7. We have done very little thinking or discussing about how to make events out of our movies. The list seems to have stopped at 3D. There’s only been one “Rocky Horror Picture Show” and the first one is very very old. Music flourishes because the live component is generally quite different from the recorded one, and the film biz could benefit from a greater differentiation of what utilizes different platforms.
“We” don’t talk about movies as events, Ted, because we’re not a Hollywood studio.
8. We ignore film’s most unique attribute. As demonstrated by how little of people’s online time is spent watching content (30%), we know that people want connectivity & community more than anything else. There used to be film societies, just like reviewers once placed films in cultural context — we need to recreate a community aspect to film going. If you wonder why people don’t go to the movies more, it is not as much about the content, as it is about the lack of community. Without that, why not just stay home to watch? Film’s strongest attribute is its ability to work as a community organizing tool. Film forces us to feel, to think, to engage — let’s not ignore that.
You almost had me Ted. Then you blew it with the whole community organizing tool. Independent films are neither Things, Products, Platforms nor Tools. The community you’re speaking of was decimated by the kind of films that get made when producers are more concerned with a sustainable investor class than the class of the films they make.
9. Independent film financing is still based around an antiquated foreign sales model despite the fact that all acquisition markets are collapsing and fee levels shrink market to market. This old model is centered around stars’ perceived value — an attribute that has been less reliable than ever before. There has got to be a better way than the foreign sales estimate model, but no one talks about it, or even admits to needing one. The participants that get most hurt by this are the investors who take the advice of the “experts” that this is the way it’s done. It used to be done this way, but we have to move on before we burn to the ground.
No doubt about it. You are the investor’s best friend and their most ardent supporter and protector. Why do you put “experts” in quotes? Is that to separate “you” from “us”? You are one of the most vocal and visible “experts” on the scene Ted. Your concern for the investor is touching and I realize that their care and feeding will allow you to make more Things, Products, Platforms and Tools. But what “we” really need is a producer who spends time taking care of business rather than browbeating the “experts” and making lists of things for independent filmmakers to do to make the producer’s job easier and less demanding.
10. Filmmakers don’t own their audiences yet (and few even attempt to). What will happen when agents start to cut deals for their clients who have 1 million engaged fans, people who will pre-order their content, promote it passionately, and deliver more of their friends? There is a shift in the balance of power about to happen, and those that have prepared for it, amassed their followings, will be able to change the conversation significantly.
The absurdity of that statement is astounding. You’re the producer Ted. If you want to “own” an audience on behalf of your director, please do. You’ll have to hire several fulltime co-producers to make it happen and it’s going to be a perpetual, time consuming task. Your director, on the other hand, will make the movie. If that’s OK with.
11. We’ve failed to develop fetish objects to demonstrate one’s love of cinema. The only merchandise we sell is “fan-boy” toys. We need to come up with items that demonstrate their owner’s sense of style and taste. Beyond the books of Tashen, what is there? We can do better. Such products manufacture desire and enhance identification with the art form. We need to streamline the process of the transformation of leisure time into both intellectual and social capital (i.e movie going and its byproducts). How do we identify, reward, and encourage those that appreciate our work?
I don’t know, Ted. What *do* you do? Tell us. You’ve produced 3 or 4 movies in the past couple of years. What items have *you* come up with? What transformations have *you* made? Why only ask the questions? Share your deeds, not just your thoughts.
12. Creators, Distributors, and Marketers have accepted a dividing line between art and commerce, between content and marketing. By not engaging the filmmakers in how to use marketing tools within their narrative and how to bring narrative techniques to marketing, we diminish the discovery and promotional potential of each film. We limit the scope of our art by restricting it to the plane of the 90 minute product. Movies should find us early, lead us to new worlds, bridge us to subsequent experiences, connect us to new passions and loves, help us embrace a more expansive definition of cinema, life, and self.
So here, finally, you openly reveal your disdain for creativity, discovery and art. “how to use marketing tools within their narrative.” I believe that’s called product placement Ted. Once again, that’s Hollywood. And it’s also the producer’s job, not the filmmaker’s job. In other words, that’s would be your job Ted. But independent films don’t use marketing tools within their narratives. They don’t rely on an ‘investor class’ and they don’t make ‘product’.
13. We don’t recognize that one of film’s greatest assets is its ability to generate data. Filmmakers and financiers should be insisting on owning the data their films generate. It is an incredibly valuable commodity. The VOD platform allows for tracking of where and when and who in terms of the business, yet this data is restricted to aggregators not creators. When you license something for a small fraction of its costs, shouldn’t you share in everything that it generates?
That’s why it’s so vital to begin to take control of one’s own distribution through streaming. With Gigantic Digital, we provided total transparency on a 24/7 basis.
14. We fail to utilize the two years from greenlight to release to market our film and build our audiences. Despite having the key economic indicators (i.e. stars & concept) in place at the time of greenlight, we underutilize that two year period when we could be sourcing fans, aggregating them and providing them with both the ramps and the bridges necessary to lead them to our work and then carry them to other new work.
15. Why can’t our Industry develop more stars? The talented actors exist, but they don’t have “value”. Why is it that we don’t have more serious actors who are worth something financially? Isn’t it just about giving them the roles that help them build audiences? Why don’t we encourage more actors to take more risks in terms of the characters they portray? Audiences, filmmakers, financiers would all be better served by industywide initiatives to launch more talent. Say what you will about the studio system of old, but they were damn good at developing new talent.
I realize you’re obsessed with the Hollywood mentality (movie stars and such) but are you saying there are no stars that began their careers in student films and independent films?
16. We need a greater embrace of innovation and experimentation in terms of both business models and building communities. We keep doing things based on the status quo long after the practice has stopped being fruitful. People are so fearful of failing publicly that new approaches are shunned. This is a perception and PR problem as much as it is a structural one. Filmmakers should have the will to fail, and take risks (but be practical about it).
Filmmakers *do* take risks. When’s the last time you took one Ted? Streamed any first-run ‘product’ lately? Do as I say, not as I do?
17. We allow consumers to think content should be free but it is okay that the hardware they play it on is very very expensive. All the entertainment industries allow the hardware manufacturers to have policies that encourage such thinking. They get rich and it grows harder to be a creator by the day. People only want the devices because there is so much great stuff to play on it. Why is the balance of wealth so misguided here?
*You* may allow consumers to think that. I never have. In fact, I’ve actively done the opposite with Gigantic Digital and with this blog. You’re showering us with pronouncements and questions but no answers. No solutions. Lists can be fun but dangerously unhelpful. What have *you* done, Ted, to change consumers’ thinking?
18. We – neither the creators, audiences, or their representatives – don’t make a stink when aggregators get rich, and the content creators live on mere pittances. It’s not just the product but also the services that have flourished on the labor of the creators. Instead of growing angry we have been embracing those that gather and not those that grow. Again, we need to look at the inequity here and re-evaluate how the equity is dispersed.
Here again, what *you* done to change the paradigm? Where’s your alternative method for distribution? Will you no longer allow your films to be licensed to the aggregators?
19. We don’t insist that our artists are also entrepreneurs. We don’t encourage direct sales to the fans. We don’t focus on building mailing lists. This needs to be as much an accepted “best practice” as it needs to be part of every art school curriculum. We can’t keep producing artists and not prepare them to survive in the world. Passion without a plan to support it can only lead to exploitation.
What a comical and pretentious thing to write. There are many –you, for instance – who have been promoting these concepts for at least a couple of years. Marc Rosenbush too. (Remember him?)
20. We have failed to engage constructively with other industries that we should be aligned with, most obviously, the tech world. Why is only SXSW where film, music, and tech meet? Can’t we do better? The music industry has The Future Of Music summit, but there is nothing similar in the film world. The facilitators at the agencies rarely know who’s who in terms of web and tech designers.
I tried desperately to engage you in this very conversation nearly two years ago and never heard from you again. Huh.
21. Where is the simple site where you can get whatever you want whenever you want however you want it (other than what the bootleggers offer)? Why do we let the thieves beat us at our own game? Soon it will be too late to win the people back. The fact that the one place that comes close is ultimately in the business of selling hardware — and the industry seems okay with that — shows how we can’t see the forest for the trees.
Good point. That’s why Gigantic Digital was launched in February 2009. It’s still out there Ted. I’m sure Brian Devine would be happy to premiere your next film online day and date with its bricks and mortar premiere. “Filmmakers should have the will to fail, and take risks (but be practical about it).” Are willing to take a risk?
22. Where are the new curators? The ones with a national or international audience? Why have we not had a more concentrated industry/community wide effort to give a home to all the fired film critics? Is it that we are afraid of the bad, just like the studios are afraid of social media and film future exchanges because they are worried about negative buzz? We just need to make better movies and treat people well and then there is no negative to spread, right? Anyway, with such a plethora of great work being made we need to offer audiences better filters to sift through it. What’s up with our collective failure to deliver more Oprahs, individuals whose support will lead to action?
I know you’ve heard of Rotten Tomatoes? Metacritic? MRQE.
23. The majority in the film industry are essentially luddites and technophobes, barely aware of the tools we have available to us to enhance, economize, and spread our work. How can we teach our industry how to use what has already been invented (and then focus on everything else we need but don’t have yet).
Questions, questions. Any answers?
24. We don’t encourage (or demand) audience “builds” prior to production. Why shouldn’t every filmmaker or filmmaking team be required to have 5000 Fans prior to greenlight?
Because that’s *your* job Ted. Their job is to make the movie.
25. We know incredibly little about our audience or their behavior. We spend so much making our films without really knowing who our audiences are, why they want our product, how to reach them, or how they behave, or how they are changing. Does any other industry think so little and so late about their audience? Does any other industry do such little research into their audience? Shouldn’t we all be sharing what info we have?
Yes. Please share whatever information you have.
26. There is no major, visible, high-level “non-partisan” free-thought film industry think tank and/or incubator to consider new models, new approaches, and enhance audience appeal while inspiring both government and private investment, developing “best practices” to maximize revenue and audiences, expanding aesthetic methods, and facilitating the creative dialogue internationally. IFP and FIND do their part, as do festival institutes but we need something that can consider the bigger problems than that of just US “Indie” filmmakers…
They are called film festivals. There are many.
27. Where’s that list on best practices for preventing your film from being pirated? Shouldn’t all producers know this? I know I don’t and I can’t name another producer who does.
Piracy is a bullshit fallacy. The percentage of pirated revenue – especially derived from independent film – is miniscule. In fact, piracy where independent film is concerned is an excellent indicator of success and means for free publicity. If someone actually wants to ‘pirate’ an independent film and make it available for download, it means the publicity machine is humming nicely. And once it’s out there for the lowest common denominator to download, anyone who does is by default an added layer of promotion and publicity for the film.
28. The Industry has no respect for producers. Granted, this might sound a tad self-serving, but producers’ overhead, fees, credits, and support are under attack from all fronts. Yet, it is the producers who identify and develop the material and talent, package it, structure the finance, identify the audience, and unite all the industry’s disparate elements. All the producers I speak with wonder how they are to survive and remain in the business.
A tad self serving? Here’s the first time you’ve placed yourself in the group you’re actually speaking to: producers and financiers. But your readership is largely filmmakers. Yet you appear to have no problem foisting every one of your producer duties onto their shoulders. WTF Ted?
29. Let’s face it: we are not good at providing filmmakers with long term career planning. Whether it’s financial planning, secondary professions, or just ongoing learning — we don’t really get it, and that sets artists up as future prey. As an industry, and as a class, creative people get stuck in a rut quite easily, and are the hardest dogs to teach new tricks.
Who is “we” exactly?
30. With our world and industry changing daily, shouldn’t we have come up with a place where we learn the new technology or at least hear of it? One that is welcoming even for the luddites. The tech sites speak their own vernacular which is a tad intimidating for the uninitiated.
Independent filmmakers do, in fact, figure that out. Why? Because the film itself is what concerns them most, not ROI.
31. Where’s the embrace of the short-term release? With digital delivery here, can’t we get in and get out, only to return again and offer it all over again? The week-long booking of one film per theater limits content to that which appeals to the mass market. Niche audiences are being underserved, and money is thus being left on the table and some highly appealing menus not even being considered.
What are the solutions you’ve been working on in that area?
32. Film Festivals need to evolve a hell of a lot faster. Festivals need to ask what their value-add is to both the filmmaker and the audience. One or two could ask that of the industry overall too. Now that we recognize that festivals are not a market, and that filmmakers have to do a tremendous amount of work ahead of time in order for them to be a media launch, the question remains what are festivals and who do they serve? The everything-to-everybody style of curating films no longer works. The run-of-the-mill panels have become dull and boring. The costs associated for filmmakers attending are rarely worth the benefits they receive. Film Festivals need to be rebuilt. There are a lot of good ideas out there on how to do it, but not enough have been put into practice.
You’re sure right about the panels. Why do you continue to do them? Are the ones your on different from the norm? If so, how? Are you answering any of these questions on those panels or just continuously asking them? How are you making your panels memorable and meaningful?
33. The past ten years of digital film are going to vanish. We do little to preserve not just the works, but also the process and documents behind them. Digital is not a stable medium. We have a migration and storage issue in terms of keeping access up to date. Those films that currently exist in digital format only, won’t stand the test of time. Film remains a better format for archival purposes. We need to take action soon if we are not going to see our recent culture get out of reach.
Actually, there’s not much ‘culture’ in the Dependent and Co-dependent world. Outside of docs, it’s all about the revenue. I wonder how that happened.
34. We don’t encourage advocacy around the issues that affect us. How many film industry professionals could rattle off the top ten government policies that affect their trade? Why don’t our various support organizations, unions, guilds, and leaders list issues and actions at the top of their website? Are we all so afraid or so unaware?
There’s only one issue right now of any real significance: Net Neutrality. I’ll be writing a lot about it very soon.
35. Okay, it’s a bit like cutting off your nose to spite your face, but it seems to me that film industry folk spend less time going to the movies (and I mean seeing films in the theaters) than the average bear. Going to the movies should be viewed as a political act. Support the culture you want with your dollars.
You’ve got them spending all their time (and money) collecting (“owning” in your words) one million twitter followers. When do they have time to see a movie?
36. Most of the bootlegging that I encounter comes from within the industry itself. I recently heard of a manager who asked the studio execs and his Facebook friends to send in the bootlegs of his Sundance prize winning client’s film — and he got over 70 back; they all unfortunately were an early cut of the film too. I admit I get a lot of free DVDs from agents & managers, and I admit I make dubs for my directors so they can see actors — but I have started to donate to crowdfunding campaigns to try to balance it out. We have to come up with a uniform practice and commitment to avoid the Industry supported bootlegging.
Waste of time to worry about the Hollywood or Dependent/Co-dependent industry. As you’ve said, most don’t go to the movies anyway so how much are you losing?
37. So few of us have determined what we love, not just in film, but also in the world in general. The more we have defined our tastes, the more we strive to bring them into existence. The more we know what we want, the greater our defenses are against that in which we do not want to participate. Where are the filmmakers who can list the things they think can lead us to make better films? If more filmmakers, distributors, and executives conversed more publicly in both the art and the business, the bar for all of us would be lifted higher.
Converse publicly? Ted, I’ve been trying for weeks to get you to have an actual dialogue rather than simply make pronouncements and ask questions. (You want more lists??!!)
38. We love to read, talk, and engage more about the business than we do about the art. Some of this comes perhaps because we have more forums for the business than the aesthetics, but it is much harder to get a conversation going about creative issues than it is about financial. I’m just saying…
It’s only hard for you Ted. (Of these 38 points, only this one focuses on creativity.)