Is It the Best or Worst Time to Be a Filmmaker? Sundance Insiders Weigh In
There are more people making films than ever before, but there are also more platforms for films than ever before. Does the future look bright for independent filmmakers?
On day two of the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, a handful of big names in independent film sat down to talk about the state of the indie industry -- and they were far from being in agreement on it! Read their takes on the future of distribution, financing, and careers in filmmaking that No Film School compiled for you from the Sundance “A New Deal?” Filmmaker Lodge panel, moderated by Jason Hirschhorn (The REDEF Group) and featuring Jan Van Hoy, Christine Vachon, Lynette Howell Taylor, Linda Lichter, Ted Hope, and Chris Moore.
Jay Van Hoy (Parts & Labor)
Advances in marketing and promotion tools allow films to reach more audiences. It’s an icredible time to be a director, especially if you’ve shown your ability. Narrative can take cues from documentary right now. Docs have excelled by financing in stages. And that stage financing can allow artists to embrace different storytelling devices that we are seeing in documentary.
Lynette Howell Taylor (Electric City Entertainment)
I’m super optimistic. I think it’s a great time. I have been in the business of discovering filmmakers all my career, and I see films now having more opportunities for more diverse audiences to find them without big stars attached. I think more platforms is a great thing.
It’s a tough world for the independent producer. Corporations have figured out how to take advantage of our passions, and to squeeze the most out of the filmmaker and give as little as much back.
Linda Lichter (Lichter, Grossman, Nichols, Adler & Feldman)
It’s a tough world for the independent producer. Corporations have figured out how to take advantage of our passions, and to squeeze the most out of the filmmaker and give as little as much back. I think we can look to TV as an exciting realm. Young people are telling interesting stories on TV.
I’m unsure about the future of theatrical releases. The number of companies that are in the business of distribution who will do a theatrical run, like Searchlight and Focus Features, is shrinking. Some companies are struggling to get attention in a crowded marketplace. The theatrical distribution ecology is definitely in doubt.
I think we’re entering a gold or platinum age for filmmaking.
Ted Hope (Head of Production, Amazon.com)
I think we’re entering a gold or platinum age for filmmaking. The business model I’m now working on [at Amazon] is based on filmmakers reaching further than before. I wanna give you more money than you ever had before. Films used to be budgeted within an inch of their life. And some great films came out of that, but there is always a sacrifice. We want to reach for something fresh and give filmmakers the tools and the time to make it right.
It used to be that you could only see many independent films if you lived in New York or LA. We want shorter windows for more people in more places to be part of the community and cultural dialogue. Theatrical is crucial. My division is predicated on theatrical release because customers want movies that are actually movies.
We are just now unlocking true utility of cinema. It took 125 years of film business before we realized film business didn’t work. Not on its own. It’s only works with the more important component – the shared emotional response with strangers.
Now the question is not, "is this a good movie?" It’s "is this a good model?"
Chris Moore (Producer, Good Will Hunting)
I don't know if you could make "Good Will Hunting" today. I’m going to be the grouchy old guy, but I miss when you could sit in a room with Harvey or Ted and hear, "I love this. Lets make this." Now the question is not, "Is this a good movie?" It’s, "Is this a good model? Is this a marketing thing?" And people, audiences, don’t know what to buy. People are nervous. As an industry, we follow the music industry in many ways. This was the first year that old albums sold more than new albums. So similarly, now new films are competing against old movies.
...traditional ways of doing things no longer apply.
Christine Vachon (Killer Films)
We’re making more movies than we have ever made before. It’s turned into a volume business. There are so many different kinds of content we can make right now. The ways films are being financed is changing so quickly, the system can’t keep up.
Indie features are still largely driven by foreign presales and cast, which is a tough model. Independent films are hard because they are only worth anything if they are good. I often read a script and know it’s a road full of pain. I know it’s not gonna attract a big cast or financieres. Sometimes that can be good. Transparent is a great example. I know what it would have looked like as an indie film, and it is better, richer as episodic. It’s refreshing to see diverse forms of content. One thing we know is that traditional ways of doing things no longer apply.
What do you think about the state of independent film? What do you think of the new direction of many subscription-based platforms and the future of film financing? Have these platforms, along with advances in social media, helped you make a film and find a way to get it seen? Share your own thoughts and prognostications.
For more, see our complete coverage of the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.
No Film School's video and editorial coverage of the 2016 Sundance Film Festival is sponsored by Blackmagic Design.