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Ted Hope on the Change-Challenged Independent Film Industry and Where It's Going

11.13.12 @ 3:25PM Tags : , , , ,

Three years ago I shared a quote about the independent film world that I found telling: “Europeans know how to fill out forms. Americans know how to sell.” As indie superproducer (and now head of the San Francisco Film Society) Ted Hope shares below, this is because “[America] is one of two countries in the industrialized world that doesn’t see fit to fund film art as part of its job stimulus, as part of its cultural exchange.” While indie filmmakers can always apply for grants, the fact is to have an actual life-sustaining career in today’s industry, each and every one of us must know as much as possible about producing, marketing, distribution and in general The Business. Let’s check in on the state of independent film producing, circa 2012.

Today there are roughly 50,000 feature films made every year (globally) and, if you listen to the following podcast of Ted’s, our market can only support about 500 titles a year. So as a rule of thumb, that’s a 1% chance of your film finding a sustainable audience, assuming you’ve already completed the herculean task of funding and finishing a feature film. Each of us needs to arm ourselves with as much knowledge as we can get our hands on, and Ted’s blog and these podcasts are a great resource.

The following talks are embedded here from Screen Australia, where Ted gave a talk recently wherein he “critiques the current state of the film industry and addresses the paradigm shift created by the overnight dominance of social media, suggesting we need to dramatically shift our approach to marketing and finding audiences.” They can also be downloaded on iTunes.

Ted Hope: Grasping the new paradigm

Ted Hope: A new business model

As I repeatedly bang my head against the established business models — given I am expressly trying to do something different — this quote of Ted’s jumped out at me:

Why is change so hard? It’s because people don’t want to lose their job. For change to occur, the pain of the present has to be greater than the fear of the future. Unless we start to accept that we’re really in a shitty situation, no one’s going to start to adopt new practices. That’s the uphill battle that we have in order to get things done.

If ever an industry was broken, it’s ours. Yet instead of responding by trying new things, most of the established entities seem to want to fail more slowly instead of trying something new. It’s up to us to be the innovation we need, from the outside, from the ground up.

Our producing archives on this site are shamefully light. I take responsibility for that, and that’s something we will look to remedy going forward with new writers and more guest posts going forward. That’s one of the exciting things about running and redesigning a website: while the online world has its own share of challenges and collapsing business models, it is far, far easier to get things done in the internet world than it is in the film world. As these two worlds collide, I’m hoping to change the latter by applying some of the things learned in the former.

For further related reading, Andrew Einspruch took excellent notes on Ted’s full two-day producing workshop at Screen Australia; links are below.

Listening to Ted’s talk, what quotes jumped out at you? Any recent experiences to share with the business/market side of the industry?



We’re all here for the same reason: to better ourselves as writers, directors, cinematographers, producers, photographers... whatever our creative pursuit. Criticism is valuable as long as it is constructive, but personal attacks are grounds for deletion; you don't have to agree with us to learn something. We’re all here to help each other, so thank you for adding to the conversation!

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  • The world of distribution has forever changed. And this paradigm shift effects how we produce movies. From now on, YOU are responsible for sourcing your own audience and building a fan base. Before you go into any production, you must first ask:

    1. Who is your primary target audience?
    Ex: Mid-west, male college kids who love zombie movies.

    2. What makes your movie different from competing movies?
    Ex: Our movie is about zombies that attack ninjas.

    3. Why should your audience spend two hours watching your movie?
    Ex: Fangoria says: Funniest zombie movie since Shaun of the Dead!

    The other thing you need to do is gauge the size of your target audience to make sure it is large enough to help you recoup your budget… More on this later.

    Jason Brubaker
    Filmmaking Stuff

  • Probably one of the most important posts on this site. Thanks so much Koo.

  • shaun wilson on 11.13.12 @ 4:54PM

    The other issue not mentioned is that there is now an over supply of film makers and content world wide spawned from technologies freely available to shoot, edit, distribute and output feature films on relatively inexpensive equipment. Before the reign of digital this was not as widespread or possible. The current market cant sustain this growth so would suggest there is nothing wrong or broken with the current distribution market and models, its the fact that too many people are outputting features, film and digital media schools/programs are populating like never before (I should know), there needs to be an understanding of this. I feel that the finger is continually pointed at distribution, producers and studios as the problem but simple economics would suggest that we need to make less content and produce less film makers world wide to equalise current markets or accept the simple fact that not all features will find a place in current distribution methods. This is an interesting time however because online distributors can capitalise on this hole in the market and innovation is always a good mix to explore.

    • “Not mentioned” — really? Did you listen? When we talk about 50,000 features being made a year, what do you think we’re talking about?

    • Shaun –

      Well put! What we are experiencing is sort of like what happens in other industries when sweat shop labor begins filling the market with cheaply produced goods. As a result, manufacturing companies can no longer sell products based solely on “having” products – they must make a decision to sell on value or get out of business.

      • But different to sweat shops producing goods for everyday use where every shirt/kitchen machine or whatever finds it`s buyer, even at a bargain, lots and lots of awful and even good movies end up being produced for no audience, especially leaving the small producers with debt or wasted money from upwards of 25K euro or dollar. These guys never research sincerely if there is a possible market or how they can reach it but get so blinded by their pet project they just do it. The only hope is that this hype drys off itself, like those poor schmucks who thought they can be the next j.k.rowling and make a quick buck with their print on demand stuff.

        • Don’t you think it’s a little short-sighted to refer to everybody not making films for the market as ‘blinded’? There are plenty of great films, even classic films which people referred to at the time as unsellable, but these “pet projects” reached plenty of people and made a real impact.

          I love that the entire world is starting to make films. I look forward to the day when you have as many kids making films as form bands. Sure, a lot of them will be crap, but some won’t. That’s the way things always work. To hark back to a day where only the priviledged or the very lucky had access to filmmaking is regressive. I can’t wait for what comes next.

    • Laura Daniell on 11.29.12 @ 7:52PM

      Agreed. There is so much talent out there and why should it just reside in the hands of few who decide what we like or want? Niche markets also abound. Let the viewers decide and let’s make it easy for them to see the new and not the stale and usual. Let’s embrace the variety and the great increase in works, many valuable, many not so much. But the sifting will sort all that out as is usual now in the connected world.

  • “[America] is one of two countries in the industrialized world that doesn’t see fit to fund film art as part of its job stimulus, as part of its cultural exchange.”

    Is this guy serious?

  • Change = The pain of the present > The fear of the future
    Brilliant and applicable to everything in life.

  • we spent $20 grand of our own money over 3 years and got $125 grand back over 5 years.

    we are still selling, world wide. we are signing up with a concern that will supply advertising dollars to fund our promo clips.

    we are plowing the money into our new project.

    anybody can get money. not everyone can produce a salable product.

    just saying.

    invest in yourself with your own money. see what comes next. life’s great adventure,

    • I`ve seen some stuff from indies, all kinds of things, but your`s is the most bizarre, so far. At first (when I saw the thumbnails) I thought you`re doing bondage-fetish porn – after watching some clips I`m even more puzzled. Whatever, when you`ve really been making 125K on this, I really better hurry up…;)

  • America should be happy it doesn’t allow “funding” of film art. Portugal has it and the results have been a catastrophe – there’s an entire moocher class that depends on state funding to make their films, that are barely released or seen.. I’ve working inside this “portuguese film industry” and the technicians are all admirable – great people who know their jobs, and have steadily progressed in a very challenging environment. I’ve met very few of them I didn’t like personally.

    The directors screenwriters and producers however, are all entirely clueless about their jobs, thanks to state funding they don’t have to learn it either – the state treats the money they throw into cinema as “lost” so there’s no interest by anyone to do anything after the film is made and the money is assured for another year. They win their respective awards, at the usual festivals and they get to quote it in their bid for money next year – the same people who make the films, run the festivals… also with state funding. The most intelligent of our producers, Paulo Branco, bought cinemas in France so he could tell the State his films would have their “premiere in Paris”. He did, and he got millions thanks to it. No one ever saw the films. We have several “artists” whose job is making alienating, odd, stupid films, often with little or no planning simply because the state funded them that year. There are one or two treasures, but mostly, thank God America doesn’t fund cinema. If there’s any Art in cinema, state funding kills it.

    • Johnny Nemo on 11.29.12 @ 12:43AM

      Rafael, your use of the term “moochers” reveals you as a libertarian, and therefore with nothing valuable to say about economics. It certainly wasn’t state funding of movie-making that put Portugal in its current situation. And “state funding kills art” is a premise that (shall we say) is not universal.

      But state funding of the BBC in the UK has produced some of the best programming in the world, and state funding in France has given us generations of cinema artists, and state funding of the NFB in Canada has won more Oscars than any other organization.

  • I do think arts should be funded, to what extent is difficult to say, but as an emerging filmmaker I’m happy that there are some filmmaking grants I can access in Canada. In fact I just got a small $1000 grant to shoot a short film. It’s not like countries like Canada are going to give out 30 million in grants to shoot a big budget film.