Toward 2014, Step Two

At the end of last year, we dealt with the train wreak known as Hollywood. But that was 2013, a year that is so over and done.

It is now 2014, a year full of bright new promise and exciting possibilities. OK, I can’t tell the difference either, but let’s pretend. What does the new year offer for the indie filmmaker?  I suspect it will be both the best of times and the worse of times. Predicting the future can result in a dickens of a fit.

The two key issues at the core of predicting indie future are: 1. financial and 2. digital. The financial question is the simplest and the hardest to resolve. Indie filmmakers need money. You see, it’s extremely straight forward. They know that money is out there, somewhere. As I said, it is incredibly straight forward. They can’t find it. Damn!  I knew there was a tricky part.Investors for indie movies do exist. According to various rumors, some of them even have money. But basically, the well funded private investor for indie movies is virtually a folk lore, much like elves and unicorns (though elves at least have legal rights in Iceland).

That is why some of us have been trying to develop a system for developing and sustaining an ongoing portfolio approach to investment in indie film-making. In his blog piece “Towards A Sustainable Investor Class For Film Culture And Business,” Ted Hope does a swell job of outlining many of the key points that some of us have been working on for more than five years.

Of course, Mr. Hope is a recent convert and his enthusiasm may have caused him to skip over a few minor details (such as credit attribution). You see, not only have some of us already been working with this concept, we have already been beating our heads into a brick wall in our attempt to complete the first stage of such a project. In fact, we have been beating our heads into this brick wall for over five years; and gee, I’m running out of iodine for the bruises.

There are lots of financial companies and institutions out there who are sort of interested in investing in indie movies. I do mean “sort of.”  They haven’t a clue what that means or what is involved. They actually think that indie means you are going to get George Clooney (maybe at half-price). They have no frame of reference beyond Hollywood. Besides, when push comes to shove, they inevitably turn the whole thing over to the same idiots who run the mortgage department for their firm. That is why over the past five years I have heard more ways to say no than I ever knew existed.

In the meantime, an increasing number of indie filmmakers have turned to crowdfunding in lieu of the otherwise elusive investor. Crowdfunding became the rage of 2013. Though new regulations regarding crowdfunding are slowly going into effect (and will eventually change various aspects of this approach), it is still the hot way to fund many low budget indies.

Which is pretty cool. So cool that many Hollywood companies are hoping to outsource their own productions this way. Currently, major Hollywood companies want to focus their financial resources on movies with lots of people in tights with big explosions and even bigger budgets. Anything under a $100 million is beneath contempt. So if the film is budgeted for somewhere between $20 to $60 million, why not off load the cost to the public?  After all, Hollywood needs the real money for a tent-pole rebooting of Tillie’s Punctured Romance.

Sure, the move in this direction is not currently as obvious as I make it sound. So part of what I just said is more of a prediction. Unfortunately, my track record with predictions is reasonably good. I say unfortunately because I rarely make upbeat predictions. Heck, sometimes I practically beg to be proven wrong.

Will these predictions pose a problem for indie filmmakers?  Maybe. Maybe not. Depends upon how they feel about being caught in a stampede. Some people, like indie marketing expert Sheri Candler, feel this is a good thing. It will bring more attention to the crowdfunding sites, and more attention means more business all around. She and I have some divergence in our opinions. Since nature demands diversity, this is a good thing. We shall see how it plays out. To be honest, I hope Sheri is right.

Likewise, we will see how the rest of the digital revolution plays out. Crowdfunding is but one aspect of this revolution. The rise of the digital cinema is changing everything from production to distribution and beyond. And the revolution has just begun. Yes, everything we once loved about film is gone. Everything we will fall in love with is now waiting to be born.

For reasons I have extensively discussed throughout 2013 (and will continue to pound on in 2014), the digital revolution will be the salvation of indie cinema. However, control over digital distribution, both online and in theaters, will be the key game point. Again, the major companies are hungry for control over the digital future. They don’t exactly know what that means, but they want it real bad.

Which goes back to something we always need to keep in mind. Hollywood doesn’t care about the indie filmmaker until they make money. Then, they care about the money.

And the best I can do at the moment is to wish us all a truly fantastic New Year.

Dennis Toth (c) 2014 All Rights Reserved