All I hear is how terrible the challenges facing independent filmmakers. Coming back from the Cannes Film Festival this spring I ran into two veteran British film producers who between them had produced nigh onto 60 features, been nominated for or won several Oscars and who by any standard are considered to be highly successful. They both were very negative about the future of the film industry and the prospects of making films like they had been over the past thirty years. ‘Independent Cinema’ is dead they argued.
I beg to differ.
No segment of the media industry has had as many changes since the Millennium as the film sector. Technology and film production has changed. Film distribution has changed. On top of that, rapid currency fluctuations have played havoc with film producers cash flow forecasts.
Here are the seven basic challenges facing fimmakers since the Millennium, and what I believe to be a effective strategic position to take for success.
1. The digital revolution has flooded the marketplace
Fact: Cheaper digital production methods have helped create more product than buyers.
Strategy: Make certain your movie is genre specific. Genre is the only way that a film buyer and the marketing manager of a distribution company can quickly visualise the movie poster, trailer and marketing campaign. Never forget that distributors buy genre, not drama.
2. Online distribution is becoming commonplace
Fact: On Valentine’s Day 2005 the co-founders of Youtube.com registered the name at www.whois.com. Youtube revolutionised film distribution and has changed the way consumers watch movies and television. The impact of illegal online distribution has also had the same impact on the film industry as it has the music industry.
Strategy: Develop a hybrid distribution strategy that encompasses traditional cinema/DVD/television releases with online distribution.
3. Hollywood is bankrupt of ideas
Fact: The gaming industry has influenced story telling techniques and filmmaking techniques. These new storytelling techniques dominate.
Strategy: Successful filmmakers are most likely artists who consider themselves visual storytellers using moving images to tell their stories. Incorporation of gaming techiques both in terms of storytelling and visualisation will make movies stronger.
And what of apps? Where a new video game can now cost $20m to develop and market, an app can be built for next to nothing.
4. Cinema distribution is still healthy but it is different somehow.
Fact: Not only has image and sound capture been dramatised by advances in digital technology like DSLR, but cinema distribution has been affected too. Britain now has the world’s first fully digitised cinema chain – The Apollo Cinema. A digital screen does not need expensive 35mm film prints, films can be emailed to a cinema screen’s hard drive and films can be scheduled easily with a click of a mouse. Cinema exhibition has also benefited from 3D technology. Like it or not, screens will be demanding 3D product. In America it is estimated that there will be an astonishing 25 million homes equipped with 3D TV screens by 2013.
Television networks are struggling to find enough HD content for their HD channels, let alone their new 3D channels like Britain’s Sky 3D.
Strategy: Successful filmmakers will learn how to communicate with television and cinema owners to deliver saleable content in the format which will deliver maximum revenue.
5. You can’t fund them like you used to
Fact: The Euro economic malaise has translated into public sector budget cuts, dampening the political appetite for using public money to fund films.
Strategy: Filmmaking should be commercially viable without the need for public funding, and film budgets need to stand the scrutiny of investors seeking cost-effective production, as well as a reasonable rate of return.
6. Producers struggle to get development funding
Fact: Development funding is hard to get. Yet without proper development, movies will continue to suffer from weak storylines.
Strategy: Until the script is fully developed, a movie should not be made.
7. Film producers don’t necessarily need to be involved with social media.
Fact: Social media is here to stay and a strong social media strategy is something that is becoming an essential part of a film’s package.
Paranormal Activity may have cost a mere $15,000 to make. What Paramount bought was not the film, but the social media strategy that the filmmaker Orin Pelli developed around his film.
Strategy: The film industry will embrace any filmmaker, writer, director or producer who has a strong and clearly defined social media strategy.