The more things change, the more they (mostly) stay the same

It’s summer, and even the must-read daily film and TV daily “Film News Briefs” admitted recently that there’s just not a lot going on. It’s July. Business in the entertainment world is not unfolding with lightening speed. Not that “summing it up” is an unusual practice at any time – but the slower months do prompt, therefore, some serious reflection. indieWIRE has been publishing articles from their archives (in celebration of their 15 year anniversary), which encourages a little cud-chewing as well. Where are we? Where are we going? What’s the state of the state in screen-based storytelling? While clicking through indieWIRE, I also happened upon veteran producer Ted Hope’s recent conversation with film business guru Brian Newman on the future of film – mostly regarding missed ad and marketing opportunities via social networking. They were chatting as part of a “master class” at the Karlovy Vary Film Fest in the Czech Republic. (The reaction shots of the extraordinarily stoic audience members are perhaps the funniest aspect of this video.)

Hope and Newman are having an inspired conversation – but it really feels, more or less, like the exact same question that’s been posed now for years: How to wrangle the technology in our financial favor? At first – six or so years ago – this question was with regard to monetizing short videos on the web, then, more recently, television on the web. Now it’s shifting toward film distribution. If a marketing campaign is launched, Hope tells us, during the two years or so that an indie film is in development, millions of ad revenue dollars could potentially be raised and applied toward production (by, for example, having stars tweet about the project). But what would stars say, in absence of an experience to reference? What if your production doesn’t have stars? And development means just that, the ideas are simply not cooked in full. What scares me is that scripts that lack movie stars or are not overly genre- or niche-identified simply don’t have the elements one needs to actually gain traction via a technology campaign. In other words – how to monetize web videos? Well, you can if it’s exactly what people want to see on the web (short, schlocky, funny). TV? If it’s a hit, they’ll pay for it. A successful grassroots tech campaign via tweets or ‘likes’ or ‘demands’ that it comes to a theatre near you? If it meets the ‘perfect storm requirements’ of built-in niche audience and/or recognizable names. Otherwise it’s the same story – a film lost at sea. How to wrangle the technology in our favor? The film has to be initially conceived with these tactics in mind. Otherwise it seems to me, it’s back to the same methodologies. Theatrical, reviews, word of mouth. Call me a pessimist.

Two things I’ve come upon in this summertime period of reflection that do NOT feel same-old-same-old?

1. Hollywood is featuring a romance between middle-aged people. LARRY CROWNE. Astounding.

2. “The web series is dead.” See the Times’ assessment of Keifer Sutherland’s new flashy online project THE CONFESSIONAL here; an interesting blog on “saving the web series” (from 2009!) here.

Happy reflecting!

– AH