Screenwriters are the most fortunate people in the film industry. Fortunate, because they have so many other people out there just aching to tell them what to do. I was recently reminded of that point while reading Danny Rubin's blog piece How to Write Groundhog Day: 10 Rules for Screenwriters. Since Rubin actually wrote Groundhog Day, he has the advantage of having an honest to goodness major movie under his belt. That is more than some folks handing out advice (keep this in mind when signing up for a screenwriting class). Rubin's article has become a must read; and, to be honest, his advice is actually pretty good. The same is true of Colson Whitehead's article How to Write, printed several years ago in The New York Times. Heck, there are nuggets of wisdom to be found in most of the thousands of articles that turn up in a Google search on the topic. Writers are blessed or what?

The idea that big budget movies never lose money (no matter how they bomb at the box office) because of merchandising is one of the great myths of filmmaking. The merchandising concept was best summed up by Mel Brooks in one of the few funny scenes in Spaceballs. The formula for success is simple. Make a big expensive movie full of marketable characters and gimmicks. Cut licensing deals with toy manufacturers and cereal companies and fast-food restaurants across the globe. Then kick back and watch the money pour in. Once upon a time, it actually worked that way. Years ago, I saw the living embodiment of this approach. It was just a few weeks before the opening of the 1989 Batman and, while driving across town, I noticed a gentleman waiting at a bus stop in his Batman sneakers, Batman t-shirt and Batman ball cap while sipping a large Batman Slurpee. I suspect he had also eaten a bowl of Batman cereal for breakfast. So the old school theory sometimes works.

Marvel Studios has just announced phase three of their master plan. Good, because we can now announce that the commercial Hollywood film industry is dead. All we need is for Stan Lee to play the fat lady waiting in the wing for her song. The problem isn't necessarily the Marvel Studios plan. So far, it has been a marvelous plan. Beginning with the Phase One production of Iron Man in 2008, they successfully weaved together and nurtured multiple characters and titles in a gradual development steered toward the 2012 blockbuster Marvel's The Avengers. Phase Two has repeated, and even expanded the approach (and box office) as it heads toward next summer's release of Avengers: Age of Ultron. To be honest, Marvel Studios has done an amazing feat based upon a fearless commitment and a masterful sense of long term strategy. These are exceeding rare traits in modern commercial Hollywood. For that I congratulate them. I also have to add a soft but firm “Damn you!” Why? Because Marvel Studios has taken the entire commercial American film industry hostage.

One of the more "fun" aspects of evolution is its sheer unpredictability. Sure, mathematics and chaos theory provide some analytical parameters, but evolution is mostly wild and woolly. Which is something to keep in mind when reading recent news reports on the rapid changes taking place in film. A diverse ensemble of voices and messages can be heard on the current and impending future of the art and industry. Some may prove to be profound. Others will be less so. Taken together, the chorus they form is more significant than any individual part. First up is the recent pronouncement by James Spader that the era of classic films is over. Not just doomed (which is what the headline at says) but finished. Over! As gone as the sled at the end of Citizen Kane.

A few months back, I mentioned a theory that was floating on the fringes of the film business. It's the idea that 2015 will be the year Hollywood implodes. To be honest, I only gave the notion half a thought. After all, we have gone through more doomsday predictions than a season's worth of Doctor Who episodes. I hear there are still a few people living off of their stockpile of canned goods left over from Y2K. So I have not been inclined to give much thought to the 2015 theory. However, it has a point. In fact, it is starting to feel like a grim inevitability. Now that the summer box office is being viewed as a financial disaster and the major companies are slowly rolling their way through a restructuring of executive staff as well as massive lay offs, the 2015 effect is starting to sound pretty reasonable. The 2015 theory is quite straightforward....

Over and over again, the question keeps recurring. What's wrong with indie filmmaking? Depending upon which commentary you read, the answer is: Everything. OK, maybe not everything. Mostly just issues related to finance, production, and distribution. Also some questions about indie filmmakers themselves in regard to their perceived immaturity, narcissistic behavior, and general inability to listen to their elders. I have noticed a generational issue in some of these blog pieces. Some recent articles are actually well thought out and are must reads. For example, David K. Greenwald's piece on "Why Filmmakers Fail" is an essential bit of straight talk for the indie trade, especially item 2 on Greenwald's list (“FAILURE TO COLLABORATE”). Occasionally, some of these articles are instructive. Elliot Grove's list of the 16 Reasons Screenwriters and Film-makers Fail offers a good basic checklist of common mistakes. I especially like items 14 and 15 on his list. Yes, they are the same: “They don't consider other opinions.” This is good solid advice that any number of us have trouble following. I know I do. I am a bit weak on that collaborative thing as well.

The surveys that we recently conducted were designed to present a quick snapshot of current views and directions in the realm of indie filmmaking. The responses obviously are specific to the present time frame; a year from now it would be extremely interesting to conduct another round and compare the two. I strongly suspect that the changes will be fascinating. I must also confess that I start talking like a Vulcan when presenting this type of material. Please bear with me. It's an old habit I have never been able to break. Overview The surveys were first posted on June 27, 2014; replies were collected through July 31. There were approximately 100 respondents all told, with returns widely scattered among the four surveys. All who responded, with one exception, identified themselves as working indie filmmakers.

Proclaiming the death of cinema has become a popular pastime. Jean-Luc Godard has been announcing the death of cinema for over 40 years. So he was bound to be right eventually. Perhaps the time has arrived. Several years ago, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg warned of the end of Hollywood. OK, they were mostly focused on the current Hollywood business model and its possible implosion. Last Spring, Quentin Tarantino produced a stir at Cannes with his death of cinema pronouncement. However, he was mostly complaining about digital projection while having a nostalgic fit on behalf of old-fashioned celluloid. To be honest, Tarantino sounded as if he still used a rotary phone and an old Philco TV set. Now, with his recent lecture at Pietrasanta in northern Italy, British filmmaker Peter Greenaway gives a much more detailed and provocative argument for the end of cinema. In some ways, Greenaway's remarks are closer to the Lucas/Spielberg perspective. But he goes much further. It isn't just the business model that is broken. It's everything. Specifically, Greenaway is focused on the greater aesthetic changes taking place due to the digital revolution. The traditional movie theater is fading from its importance. The concept of the screen is changing as the standard movie model is replaced by multiple types of “screens,” from laptops to smart phones. The entire model of production and distribution is evolving