Ted's Reaction To Mark Gill's Speech at the L.A. Film Festival's Financing Conference
You may or may not have heard about it or read about it, but there's a lot of people talking about the speech that Mark Gill, CEO of The Film Department (and former President of Miramax Films), gave on Saturday at the L.A. Film Festival's Financing Conference. Basically, he went on and on about how "the sky is falling" for indie film. It's a long speech, but I do recommend you read it. It's a great 'State of the Union' of film. You can find the complete prepared remarks in this INDIEWIRE article. If you're lazy or just don't want to read it, he basically describes an incredibly bleak future for indie film and, at first, I thought... wow, what a nightmare. However, the more I thought about it, this really isn't pertinent to low-budget indie filmmakers. In fact, I think the future is quite bright for low-budget indie film, especially horror. Using his list of why things suck so bad as my guide, I'll retort with 10 reasons why he's wrong.
1. Picturehouse, Warner Independent, New Line and Paramount Vantage have all either folded or been sucked up into their mother companies: As I've mentioned many times before, this is not an indication that indies are in less demand, it's just an indication that Hollywood studios and their executives, who are used to 7 figure salaries and reading financial balance sheets, don't know how to make money off them anymore.
2. Wall Street money is no longer pouring into Hollywood and it isn't being replaced by anything: Well, if you were Wall Street, would you keep pouring money into the system? Indie's used to make money, now they don't and Wall Street's only interested in one thing, making money. Figure out how to make money on the films and guess what, you'll get the Wall Street money again.
3. 5000 films were made last year, 603 released theatrically. There's no room in the market: There's no room in the THEATRICAL market, find another market... how about VOD, online or just on DVD? These guys are so stuck in the classic Hollywood distribution model, they can't think outside the box. There's a sea of change happening as far as distribution is concerned, ride the wave, don't go against it.
4. Advertising costs have outpaced inflation, making movie companies spend more while being less effective marketers: The answer to this is easy, become a more effective and efficient marketer. Last time I checked, Myspace and Facebook cost nothing. Getting a web presence, while sending out screeners to all the media doesn't cost much either. Here's an idea, do it yourself... or have your assistant do it or something. You don't need to hire a massive PR, marketing or advertising agency. The way they are NOW is inefficient. I've worked with ad agencies on big budget releases, you wouldn't BELIEVE the budgets they have, seriously.
5. Movies are competing with iPods, Xboxes, Tivos, Youtube and cable television: Don't beat them, join them. All of those products and mediums screen, air or sell films. Why can't you use them instead of fighting them? These products are the future of distribution. Why are you trying to compete against them? To put it in perspective, how did the war against the digital revolution work out for the music industry, huh?
6. Studio movies are eating up the growing international marketplace: Once again, this only effects theatrical releases. Cut out the theaters and this isn't an issue... in fact, a growing international marketplace is great for DVD sales. Not to mention, a lot of European and Asian countries are way ahead of us when it comes to digital distribution. Find out what they're doing and adapt.
7. Independent film financiers are exiting the industry: So what? Some of the best movies I saw this year were financed by Visa.
8. The cost of an independent film released theatrically shot up: Okay, what don't you get? Then don't release it theatrically! Find another way to distribute it. There's very little cost in distributing things digitally, there's no packaging, shipping or shelf space used.
9. The sweet spot for independent films is ones budgeted at $15 - $50 Million: I said, I beg your pardon? What? Okay... are we still talking about 'indie' film? There were so many AWESOME indie horror films that were SUCCESSFUL (and I mean that financially), which were budgeted at less than $100K... way less.
10. We need to make fewer movies and we need to make them better: This, I agree with... kind of. I think there's plenty of room for more movies, but we definitely need to insure that what we make, moving forward, is better. The cost of making a movie now is next to nothing, however... that doesn't mean that anyone who can afford to get a camera and pirated copy of Final Cut Pro should be making a movie. We'll never really be able to fully saturate the market in my mind, but let's just make sure we don't flood it with crap.
My Conclusion: Really, what THEY consider to be indie film is not what I consider to be indie film... and I do think what they're talking about IS dying. In classic Hollywood form, they're fighting change, instead of embracing it. Go back and read through that article and tell me if any of what he has to say is pertinent if you DON'T think about a theatrical release and you cut your budget down to next to nothing. By less than nothing, I mean less than $1Million. Because, if you can keep your budget down, you don't need a theatrical release. You can go straight to DVD, VOD, Xbox, whatever... and make a killing. The death of 'indie' film, as far as Hollywood knows it, is coming... yes. However, there's going to be a big rise in world of TRUE indie film. Film that's made independent of Hollywood Studios and their whole system.