The British director Michael Powell once told me his notion of giving advice when he was working as a consultant to Francis Ford Coppola and Zoetrope Studios. Powell described the process quite simply: “I tell them what I think they should be doing, they pay me a lot of money and then completely ignore everything I said.” Yes, Michael Powell inspired me to become a film consultant. I am still working on that lots of money part, but I love the rest of the arrangement. Just hand out advice and move on.Unfortunately, it is an extremely competitive field. Heck, every five minutes a new blog post appears somewhere online about the top five (or ten, or whatever) things filmmakers need to do when crowdfunding. All any indie filmmaker needs to do is spend about the next six months on Google and get hot tips on

Sometimes I shouldn't be allowed into a theater. Take last December when I went with my son to see The Hobbit. He's a big Peter Jackson fan. Me, I just occasionally like seeing how lots of money gets splashed on the screen. So we are stuck there for about twenty or more minutes of previews. Normally, I love previews. They are often better than the actual movies. But it occurred to me that all the previews looked like the same film, over and over again. The earth is a wasteland after some kind of disaster with our hero facing some sort of plot by nefarious plotters or whatever. You got Tom Cruise in one of these suckers, Will Smith and his son in another one and I forget who all else in about two dozen other variations of basically the same script. Then we had terrorists blowing up and taking over the White House, also over and over again. So I stand corrected. Hollywood has two scripts that they are endlessly recycling. Though wait a minute. If you destroyed the Earth, I bet you had to blow up the White House, so why not combine these two scripts?  Just be sure to book Morgan Freeman. After all, he seems to be in half of these movies. This tells me several things.

Some people are still pondering the business market for DVDs. Guess they haven't seen the memo. It's over!  Kaput  The DVD is not yet dead, but it has been admitted into hospice. Various news agencies are already working on the obituary. It will eventually join the rank of such other great devices as the VHS cassette and the Laserdisc. I don't think it will be a sudden death. More like a lingering decline (which is already well underway). But the end of the DVD format is in sight and the reasons are all pretty straightforward. Technically, the format has long been iffy. It wasn't supposed to be, but that thinking was based upon the presumed archival possibilities of DVDs.

First thing, right up front, there are no secrets. None whatsoever. Or at least, that was what I thought until I recently got a variety of spam for assorted hot offers that unlock the ancient secrets of the screenplay. Heck, some of these promotions sound as if I will be spending the next twenty years in a Tibetan monastery. Good thing I can substitute my credit card number in lieu of esoteric training. In reality, some of these folks (and their various web sites) can teach you how to write a screenplay. That doesn't mean they can teach how to write a good screenplay or even a marketable one. All they can do is give you the basics about how to format and structure something that just might resemble a plausible script in the most elemental sense of the term. Of course, you could figure that out for yourself if you were so inclined. But it is different strokes for different folks and buyer beware and all of that standard advice. People have a Constitutional right to pay as much as they want for any amount of screenwriting seminars they desire. I have heard reports from folks who claim they come out of these seminars feeling truly inspired, which I assume is why they keep going back every year. Few if any of them have yet to produce a single marketable screenplay, but they have lots of inspiration. Sometimes you just want to do something that makes you feel better about yourself. Really, nobody can teach you exactly how to write a screenplay. What you can learn, is how to structure a screenplay. That occurred to me while reading an article at The Guardian by the BBC writer/producer John Yorke. In What Makes a Great Screenplay?, Yorke unreels a quick but highly detailed breakdown of key narrative and dramatic components in the screenplay structure. I'm not sure that I would totally agree with every point Yorke makes in this piece. But it is worth careful scrutiny by anyone interested in learning narrative craft. Yes, I said craft.

There must be mornings when the typical indie filmmaker barely can crawl out of bed. On the receiving end of so much bad news, it's a miracle he or she can even get in the mood to dress before noon. Barely a week goes by without some new post of doom and gloom for the indie business. For example, a recent blog piece by Ted Hope could be mistaken for a zombie alert warning. Actually, it is an important read for everyone in the indie business. But man oh man, there are times when ol' Ted starts to sound like one of those depression ads on TV. Unfortunately, Hope does have some very good points. Especially in regards to the recent article in The Economist titled Hollywood: Split Screens. In turn, this article does a solid job of outlining many of the reasons why the current Hollywood business model is busted. Busted?  It's way past that point. Heck, the Hollywood business model is in worse shape than a guy who has just been run over by a truck and the truck driver backs up to see what that “bump” was in the road. Under the current Hollywood model, you spend around $300 million making a film and then hope to score a billion globally in its release. Once in a blue moon, a movie succeeds in pulling off this stunt. This is called dumb luck, and luck is not a business model. This tent-pole madness has had profoundly negative consequences for indie movies.

The words “boobs” and “Academy Awards” have often appeared together in a sentence. Normally we have meant the non-anatomical meaning of boobs. But not this year. In a pitch to a younger demographic audience model, the Oscar presentation went on a bumpy joy ride combining its usual institutional blandness with an occasional bitch slap at the audience. I don't mean the TV audience. I mean the fancy-dressed folks sitting for more than three and a half hours like hostages in the Dolby Theatre. I am not particularly interested in debating Seth MacFarlane's handling of the hosting duties at the Oscars. Hosting this show has to be one of the most thankless jobs around. An Oscar host is expected to be a toothless court jester. They are suppose to spoof the business but not the egos as they provide biting commentary but only so long as they lack either bark or bite. No wonder Billy Crystal doesn't want the lousy job. To be honest, MacFarlane was better than David Letterman. But then, a colonoscopy was funnier than Letterman. Of course, I also thought that Chris Rock did a swell job back in 2005, so I am not speaking from a mainstream Academy perspective. However, the fallout from this year's Oscar presentation has been a singular spectacle. Granted, every Oscar show has its controversies, things like, “How did the movie Crash ever get nominated, less alone win” etc. But this past week most press reports have been so obsessed with women's breasts and Anne Hathaway's nipples, I'm beginning to confuse the Oscars with lunch at Hooters.

According to a recent Sky News report, China will soon outstrip Hollywood in film production. In a recent piece from the Agence France Presse, China is now number two to the US market in ticket sales. Though Hollywood movies produce the stronger revenue at the Chinese box office, there are increasingly powerful exceptions. The biggest current hit in the Asian market is the Chinese movie Journey to the West. Of course, all estimates about who is number one in the international market is always open to debate. It depends upon how you frame the question. The American box office is number one in the amount of money made primarily because of the cost of tickets in the US. In reality, American movie attendance has been in steep decline for years (and will continue dropping). Heck, that attendance decline is one of the reasons why theaters keep upping the ticket cost. Likewise, American mainstream movie production has dropped. Currently, Hollywood only produces about 15 per cent of the movies made internationally. We are way behind India in the amount of movies made, and almost as far behind as Nigeria. Eventually, Nollywood will surpass Hollywood in sheer terms of output. But does this matter?  After all, we have Johnny Depp and they don't. More importantly, Hollywood has the kind of money that can buy Johnny Depp, and they don't. Money – and lots of it – has always been the secret to Hollywood. In theory, the Hollywood cinema took global dominance because of its superior quality. In reality, it had to do with a series of extremely convenient historical factors.

Previously, I outlined some major actual or impending changes taking place in the film industry. Many of these are related to distribution strategy.  But there are even more significant changes in the works. These will affect not just the production of films but also how the creative process is conceptualized. Some impending changes may even alter our conception of humanity.  But, before we lose our grip altogether, let us go back and look at film's early beginnings, since the patterns of the future usually can be found within the rubble of the past. The first film experiments were conducted in the late 1880s, with moving images.  These were very simple bits of film, like Roundhay Garden. The link I've included is to a reworked version with added title cards. The surviving version of the original is about 3 seconds long.  By the mid-1890s, Thomas A. Edison and his company were experimenting with sound movies.  Developed for Edison by William Dickson, these short films attempted to synchronize the moving image to a wax cylinder. The first step toward the development of color motion pictures took place at the end of the 19th Century.  An early form of color film stock was successfully created in 1909.  A version of Kodachrome color film was tested and available by 1922.  Experiments in color were used in various silent films such as the 1925 version of The Phantom of the Opera. Almost all of these early experiments were half ignored and, in many cases,  forgotten. The clips I have provided links to are all relatively recent discoveries. Yet, in many respects, the technical history of the entire first century of movies can be found within these early experiments.  It just took a long while before the industry caught up with the implications. The same process is happening today.  Two recent little films on the internet are major examples of the future.  

For some, the glass is half empty. For others, it is half full. But for a few of of us, the real question is: What glass?  I see only water. Which partly sums up my own attitude when assessing the possible future developments involving the film industry and the digital revolution. Three recent blog articles do an excellent job of summarizing several key issues that have formed over the last several years. In a post titled The Independent's Guide to Film Exhibition and Delivery 2013, Jeffrey Winter of The Film Collaborative does a superb job of describing the rapidly emerging digital system for commercial movie distribution. He is especially good at outlining how a new distribution system that could (in theory) be a plus for indie filmmakers is actually being designed for increased control (as in near total control) by the major media companies. The digital distribution system that will be standard by the end of this year is a top-down structure that excludes virtually everybody (including the theaters) from any real and active say into the system. The major companies do not particularly like the digital form. In many respects, they don't really understand it and they are actually half afraid of it. But by gum, they are going to own it by hook or by crook. The glass is half empty and they want the glass. Which brings us to the other must-read blog post of the month.

Low budget indie movies are hot. That is supposedly the message from the recent Sundance Festival, where distribution purchase records were being set. Titles were being grabbed at $2.5 million (Fruitvale),  $4 million (both Austenland and Don Jon's Addiction), and finally hitting the grand jackpot of $10 million for The Way, Way Back. Are they sure this was Sundance? Sounds more like a sweepstake being worked by Ed McMahon. But hey, it's a great boom for a few indie filmmakers. The question is: Does this help the indie business? It certainly suggests a resurgence of interest in medium budget movies. Take for example The Way, Way Back. It's not really low, low budget. It was directed by the two guys who previously scripted The Descendants, which means that they are not exactly newcomers. (If you count TV, they've been around for a while). It's designed to be a slightly quirky, mildly feel-good, low key crowd pleaser. In other words, it is the kind of movie that mainstream Hollywood use to make on a more regular basis several decades ago.