17 Things About The Film Biz That Should Significantly Influence Your Behavior

The film industry has changed dramatically over the past decade, and trying to make a living from movies is getting more difficult as independent films (and films in general) fight for a smaller piece of the viewership pie. That's where people like Ted Hope come in. He has been working tirelessly to make sustainable filmmaking careers a reality, and he's written a tremendous post that should be an eye-opener for anyone trying to survive as a filmmaker.

This is a guest post by Producer Ted Hope.

Yesterday, we launched our A2E (Artist To Entrepreneur) program at the San Francisco Film Society with OnRamp (The Direct Distribution Lab). This is a pilot lab of a pilot program designed to give filmmakers the necessary entrepreneurial skills to achieve a sustainable creative life amidst this changing paradigm. We will be working out some bugs but hope to launch the second iteration as soon as possible.

As part of the lab, we have a first day of big ideas and case studies that hopefully will give the participants the foundation for a design for living and thriving on their art. As part of that, I have prepared three brief lectures focused on what every filmmaker needs to recognize about the business, the culture, and their practice if they want to have a sustainable creative life. Split between the three categories, I came up with fifty things you should know. I will provide them to you over the next week or two, but I wish you all could have been there. It’s always different when you are in the room.

Today, I will unleash what I think is necessary to recognize about our industry if you are a filmmaker looking to survive from the work you generate.

WARNING: taking any of these points out of context could create unnecessary fear or depression. If you want to tackle reality, you need to know what ground you walk on. Some truths are hard to accept, but once you do, you can move forward and to a different place. Adding Film Biz realities to Culture truths, and building Best Filmmaker Practices on those understandings could provide a Design For Sustainable Collective Creation. Or at least that’s this Hope’s hope.

1. Filmmaking is not currently a sustainable occupation for any but the very rare. It is not enough to be very good at what you do if you want to survive by doing what you love.

2. Presently speaking, artists & their supporters are rarely the primary financial beneficiaries of their work – if at all. Filmmakers are not sufficiently rewarded for their quality creative output under current practices.

3. The film industry’s economic models are not based on today’s reality. They are predicated on and remain structured upon antiquated principles of scarcity of content, centralized control of that content, and the ability to focus the majority of consumers towards that content.

4. Film audience’s current consumption habits do not come close to matching the film industry’s production output. America remains the top film consumption market in the world, and is thought to be able to handle only around 1% of the world annual supply – consuming somewhere between 500-600 titles of the annual output of approximately 50,000 feature films. We make far more films than we currently know how to use or consume. We drown our audiences in choices.

5. The film industry has not found a way to match audiences with the content they will most likely respond to. It doesn’t even look like this is a priority for the business. Everything is spaghetti against the wall, marketed in the same way & only to the most general demographics of race, gender, & income.

6. In order to reach the people who might respond to a film, the film industry remains dependent on telling everyone (including those who could not care less) about each new film. It is a poorly allocated dedication of resources. We spend more money telling those who will never be interested, than focusing on those who have already demonstrated support. There is no audience aggregation platform exclusively for those who love movies, no place where all people who love movies engage deeply about films – if there was, marketing costs could shrink.

7. Digital distribution is an emerging market and will continue to evolve over the next decade. The value for titles for the long-term has not been specified for digital distribution; currently only short-term value is derived – and as a result films are licensed without full understanding of future worth. We are doing a business of ignorance.

8. Predictive value of films is primarily currently determined by an incredibly imprecise method:“star value”, a concept that grows less predictive by the day. Ask anyone and they will tell you that people do not go to movies anymore to see specific stars but interesting subjects. Granted, that is not a scientific method, but we know it to be true.

9. The “fair market value” of a feature film’s distribution rights in the US that multiple buyers want has dropped astronomically: from 50% of negative costs 25 years ago, to 30% 15 years ago, to 25% 10 years ago, to 10% today.

10. International territorial licensing of American independent feature films has dropped by approximately 60% over the last decade. Major territories no longer buy product. Most have given up on “American Indies".

11. Everything that has ever been made, has also been copied. The logic of a business based on exclusive ownership or limited access to something can not sustain. In the digital era, the duplication of data is inevitable. The unauthorized copy will never go away. People can choose to try to avoid unauthorized versions, but they will be made or shared. This does not have to always be a bad thing, either.

12. Competing options for film viewing have diminished the comparative value of theatrical exhibition. A consumer can not justify the cost of a movie ticket when that ticket costs more than the cost of a month of unlimited streaming. Home theaters’ quality surpasses many theaters, and the seats are always better. Soon, 4K Televisions will be the norm, while movie theaters are stuck in 2K.

13. The film business lacks a long-range economic model for exhibition. What is the business of movie going? Exhibition gathers people together to sell them a 15 cent bag of popcorn for six dollars. We can profit from a large group’s interest in more and more meaningful ways, but the infrastructure is not yet designed to exploit this.

14. The film industry foolishly rewards quantity over quality. Producers are incentivized to forever take on more and the films’ quality suffers as a result. The best work is not rewarded. Once upon a time, filmmakers got overhead deals and that made some difference, but those days are long gone.

15. Movies have a unique capacity to create empathy for people and actions we don’t know or have not experienced. Science has shown that the imagined releases a similar chemical response to the actual experience. If this empathic experience is virtually unique to film, can it be utilized more? I think so, tremendously so, in fact.

16. Movies create a shared emotional response amongst all those that view it simultaneously. What other product can claim that? As a unique attribute, how can you emphasize that more? Shouldn’t that be the takeaway that your audience remembers and shares?

17. There has never been a better time for most creative individuals to be both a truly independent filmmaker and/or a collaborative creative person. The barriers to entry are lower, the cost & labor time of creation & distribution are lower than ever, and there are more opportunities and methods than ever. We just need to abandon the old ways and unearth the new ways.

What’s your response to these? I personally think it would be great if the answer could always be: “I am going to do something about that. And I am going to get a little help from my friends.” Every single one of these can change; it may require a complete move from doing things the way we do them now, but they can get better. If you want to make movies, and make your profession filmmaking, I think you will have a tremendous advantage if you recognize the world we are living in and the power you have to improve it. I think these points are the obvious truths that we can use to drive us forward. And there are more.

Next week I will share “19 Things About Our Current Culture That Should Influence Your Creative & Entrepreneurial Practice." Until then, keep producing. We can build it better together.

This post originally appeared on Ted's blog.

TedHope_Portrait_MediumTed Hope is an independent film Producer. His films have received some of the industry’s most prestigious honors: THE SAVAGES (2007) earned two Academy Award nominations; 21 GRAMS (2003), two Academy Award nominations and five BAFTA nominations; and IN THE BEDROOM (2001), five Academy Award nominations. Ted holds a record at Sundance: three of his twenty-three Sundance entries (AMERICAN SPLENDOR (2003), THE BROTHERS MCMULLEN (1995), and WHAT HAPPENED WAS . . . (1994)) have won the Grand Jury Prize; no producer has won more. Two of his films, AMERICAN SPLENDOR (2003), and HAPPINESS(1998), have won the Critics Prize at the Cannes International Film Festival. Ted is currently the Executive Director of the San Francisco Film Society.

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Your Comment


Thank you for taking the time and sharing your expertise with us. I've always focused more on the craft of filmmaking and know little to nothing about the distribution/business side. I'm looking forward to the rest of the information you have to share.

May 7, 2013 at 6:29AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


I like this article and I like how NFS is maturing into an industry website.

May 7, 2013 at 6:32AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

David F

Your last bullet point seems odd given your first two points - can you explain?

May 7, 2013 at 8:50AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Sit tight man, Ted Hope is personally drawing you a diagram to make sure everything was crystal clear for you

May 7, 2013 at 9:23AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


I bet he's a good drawer. ;)

May 7, 2013 at 10:04AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


I think he's differentiating between the filmakers creative access on one hand vs the financial sustainability of doing it for a living on the other. He makes the point that the creative barriers to entry have come down hence never a better time to be a filmmaker creatively...as the current distribution/theatrical landscape changes.

May 7, 2013 at 9:50AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Yeah, it is as Bruno says, but even beyond that. A better financial model will be built. Beyond the creative tools, the tools for distributing and even marketing are better than ever -- provided you are not going mass-market. The tools for collaborating are better. Content no longer needs to be mass-market driven. The feature film form is not the only way to monetize things. We have a far broader number of options on how we work, what we create, who we work with, and how to earn a living than anyone who has come before us. We have greater access to the work of all those that have come before us. We just don't have an infrastructure that will discover us and reward us.

June 10, 2013 at 5:27AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Thank you Mr. Hope and NFS!

Sobering but greatly appreciated information for those of us who want to make a living from Independent film making.
I've always believed in the balance between right and left brain for a sustainable career in Indie film, music etc... I know too many local artist who keep focusing solely on the creative aspect of things but refuse to deal with the business side of it, and yet at the same time claim they want to make a living out of their art.

"1. Filmmaking is not currently a sustainable occupation for any but the very rare. It is not enough to be very good at what you do if you want to survive by doing what you love."

I so agree with this statement Mr. Hope and the others just as much. Balance is everything!

I look forward to more info from you. to help me find the best approach for a sustainable career in Indie film making.

Thanks NFS for this post!

May 7, 2013 at 9:12AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


We need to rally around the idea that the movie theatre is dead - we need to make and consume films for the web, tablets, and netflix. Purely digital distribuation - no overhead. Louis CK style like his latest comedy show. That's the future. Lower budgets, lower costs, and still a window for profit or at least sustainability making films. Or just make commercials to make money and do your passion projects at the same time, - tried and true method for a lot of filmmakers.

May 7, 2013 at 9:23AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


"Or just make commercials to make money and do your passion projects at the same time, – tried and true method for a lot of filmmakers."


May 7, 2013 at 11:00AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

guto novo

I have a dedicated screening room here with a 12' HD projected image, crushed velvet curtains, and a popcorn machine... I love it to death, but it'll never replace a movie theater (during an afternoon matinee of a film released three weeks prior so there is no one there crunching on nachos, kicking my seat, and texting)... the movie theater experience is why most of us fell in love with films and wanted to become a part of making them come to life... The grandiose feel in front of that silver screen can never be replaced by a streaming video on an iPad or even 100" 4k TV...

Don't ever recall daydreaming as a child to make a movie that everyone will watch on HBO...

May 7, 2013 at 12:11PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


There's nothing better than movie theatre to watch a movie, I agree. You deep dive in the story, nothing to distract.

May 7, 2013 at 9:51PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


I would tend to agree if the seats were more comfortable and the theatre not stocked with rude patrons (cell phones, talking, etc).

A large screen and surround sound are only icing on the cake. The movie's message still remains unchanged.

May 8, 2013 at 8:52AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

Bill Clar

i agree, lets find a way to force the hand of digital web movie content to be pushed to online paying audiance. we dont need hollwood we need to stick together and re educate society in movie consumption. There are alot of Pros out there who would love to break free we need make that a viable option. WE NEED TO MAKE A DIGITAL OR VIRTUAL HOLLYWOOD ONLINE ALL THE WAY DOWN TO SCREENING PAY PER VIEW / MEMBERSHIP FOR USER, WE NEED TO MAKE THAT HAPPEN AND HAVE A SOCIAL OWNER SHIP BASED ON WHAT YOU REAP IS WHAT YOU SEW. WE HAVE OUR OWN CREDIBLE MOVIE CRITICS THE USER, JUST LIKE STREAMED SITES DO. DIGITIZE AND SYTHESIS OF REAL WORLD MODELS TO VIRTUAL ONES. IM ON IT.

May 10, 2013 at 12:18AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


While I love the traditional filmmaking model, obviously it's just not going to work any more. We'll just have to change our ideas (constantly) with regards to what film is, and how to make them.

May 7, 2013 at 10:05AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Well done NFS! I hope we get to see more articles like this one!

May 7, 2013 at 10:27AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Truly an odd article.

1 and 17 are opposite poles of the same argument. If this was a logic course, Ted, I would give you an F!

Thankfully it is not, and so what can we glean from the above "insight." Well, how about no one really knows what the F is going to take place in the future. Hence 17. Not even the guru (everyone bow respectfully) Ted Hope. But IF it is anything like the past, then 1.

Oh mY!!!!

Learn to think for yourselves people. Listen, but, do not follow like mindless sheep.

May 7, 2013 at 11:59AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


1 + 17 = You can make your film now (whereas before only a privileged few had access to the tools and the industry). But don't count on making a living from it.

May 7, 2013 at 12:14PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


"1 and 17 are opposite poles of the same argument. If this was a logic course, Ted, I would give you an F! "
You know, Parmenides, the "father" of logic developed it after an trance encounter with a goddess, and he also realized there that, the same way daoists in china, that the real real truth is always hidden into paradoxes. :)

going a little further, you gonna see that even math is full of illogical possibilities creating paradoxes and uncertain principles (ok, the only known one is the one that got famous in physics about position and momentum, etc, but there is lots of them in math, so paradoxes are a BIG part of life, reality and stuff in it! :)

So maybe it's in the shock of 1 and 17 that the 'secret' to get a living while telling stories tha come untouched from the artist soul -shit the way flop movies directors like Tarkovski, Bergman, Breson, Casavetes, Welles, etc, etc, used to create - into cinematic medium may be hidden, at least for those that care to express their visions, you know, as art.

For those wanting a job, and that is more than ok and welcome! :) there is corporations, networks, advertising jobs involving filmmaking to make everyone happy. :)

May 7, 2013 at 11:31PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

guto novo

Very important informations and perspective. Im going to do something about it! :)

May 7, 2013 at 3:39PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Well, Ted, great post. Let me tell you a little secret to 1+2, though: weddings.

You can make a good chunk of change, even as a single shooter and editor, providing video packages and highlights of the day's events.

I dropped out of the glamorous life of wedding videography, though, because I was ready to off myself from:

-the repetition (it's the same day and motions for the most part)
-lack of creativity (again, same day and motions, just different flowers and faces)
-overwhelming amount of stress involved to get coverage of everything

May 7, 2013 at 3:56PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Many times I feel like shaking my fist at the Cinema Gods and screaming, "Seriously!? You pick NOW to completely decimate my chosen industry!?" It's kind of a hard truth to accept that things have changed and the castles are crumbling...

And then I think of Orson Welles... Yes, prepare yourself...

Here's a cat who made the best film EVER (not inviting a debate on the matter, lets just roll with it for now) at 25 years old. He dominated stage, radio AND cinema before he was even close to 30 years old. That was back in a time where the system was a private country club and NOBODY just waltzed in and did what they wanted to... except Welles. I'm sure we all know his story, but for those that don't I'll sum it up: the man's career declined as fast as it skyrocketed. Welles would go on to peddle his good name to any Tom, Dick and Harry willing to hire him. From frozen peas to alcohol, the great wunderkind Orson Welles will hock your shit for a dime... all so he could make another film...

Now imagine if he was here today and you told him the situation:
A. The studios are crumbling. Their budgets are climbing, audience dwindling, stories suffering and no one knows head from tails.
B. You can shoot your film on next to NOTHING.
C. You can cost effectively distribute your film on a platform that multiplies your potential audience by millions.
D. KFC invented a sandwich of bacon, cheese and two chicken 'buns.'
E. The artist is gaining more control, responsibility and power over their work.

So before renouncing your faith to the Titans above, grab a double down and see the situation through Orson's eyes.

May 7, 2013 at 4:00PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM



May 7, 2013 at 4:41PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

guto novo

I'd give anything to see Orson's reaction to the aforementioned KFC "sandwich." Hilarious (and excellent points).

May 7, 2013 at 8:01PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

Ryan Koo

Haha, he'd lose mind over it. And thanks!

May 8, 2013 at 7:04AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


great points^^^

May 9, 2013 at 8:22AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


you tell em,
Dont compete, Just create.

May 10, 2013 at 12:26AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


I loved to read every word of this article. Awesome.

May 7, 2013 at 5:33PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


The internet has wiped the board, placed completely new pieces, and changed the rules, now anyone is a player.

May 7, 2013 at 9:01PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


So don't hate the game, brah

May 7, 2013 at 10:29PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


This is great to hear from someone else. These are things I've been thinking for a while now. The film world needs to change drastically to support the vast influx of creative talent. The cultural value of films influenced by the reality of our economic situation and the psychological (or biological) reality of film's affect on our understanding of the world around us is quite large, I should think as well... An cyber theater linked to DVD players (and 4K and HDTV's) by USB WIFI --with various DIY distributors available with clusters of selectable titles that can be seen and rented as a monthly service...

True Independent Filmmakers of the past had to go out with their films and feed them to the public by dealing with theater owners to buck the system at all. They had to make it happen through the same DIY process they were a part of during production--often with very little knowledge or schooling of how to make a film at all besides what they could gather on their own through acting in Hollywood films or getting whatever help they could afford...

Now it's not very different except film schools pump out new filmmakers monthly and bi-monthly year after year without a market to support them... We have possibilities to make films cheaply that they didn't have, we also have possibilities to crowd-source films in a world connected electronically in a way that makes even the 70's look like the stone ages...

Plus 1 for your article, Mr. Hope (strangely relevant name for this subject)...

I got into film because it has an archival and spatio-temporal absoluteness that no other medium has.... I think it's the art form that Richard Wagner always dreamed about when he was making his operas... It is that ultimate art form that combines all others into one... It is, in a sense, experience put into a package... There is a good reason why people believe the television--because it feels real... Sometimes when a film isat an end or even in the middle of its run I will hear someone say,"Is this real?" Or ,"Did this really happen?"

The point is: Yes, the film industry's "star power" is indeed crumbling just as the distinction between independent vs. studio film is no longer relevant. Right now the industry is in chaos, just as most things are (the economy, the art world, the entertainment world, the job market, the food industry, etc. etc...). Filmmakers and producers and actors and dp's...we're all going to have to make the next phase happen ourselves. That's the one thing at least that remains the same as it was then (in the beginnings of Indie film).

May 8, 2013 at 5:31PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


bang on. we must make it happen if we want this.

May 10, 2013 at 12:30AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Thanks so much for the insightful and startling truths about the filmmaking world. As a writer and producer my goal is to create content that educates, entertains, and enlightens the human condition. Knowing the difficulty of bringing projects to the big screen I will continue to focus on what I do best, writing books and screenplay conveying a range of stories, from the epic Cecil B. DeMille biopic about the man who invented Hollywood to smaller independent, micro-budget features like the adaptation of my latest novel, The Light. I hope to continue building a team of intelligent, passionate industry professionals with whom to collaborate and target key audiences.

May 9, 2013 at 1:09PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Very equipping.

May 9, 2013 at 1:10PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


This part is inaccurate: "Soon, 4K Televisions will be the norm, while movie theaters are stuck in 2K."

May 10, 2013 at 9:00AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


I work at a movie theatre and trust me; it's not.

May 10, 2013 at 10:30PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


I live in a house. Trust me, it's innacurate.

May 11, 2013 at 12:48AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


On #12 - Movies are stuck in 2k - So What ? Movies are fun. TV is TV and Movies are Movies. Sometimes people just wanna go out & have some fun. That's what Movies are for. You can 4k your TV all you want. Not the same. In fact ,I Dont enjoy watching 4k "Video Quality Soaps". It Looks lousy.

May 10, 2013 at 11:54AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


On #12 - Movies are stuck in 2k - So What ? Movies are fun. TV is TV and Movies are Movies. Sometimes people just wanna go out & have some fun. That's what Movies are for. You can 4k your TV all you want. Not the same. In fact ,I Dont enjoy watching 4k "Video Quality Soaps". It Looks lousy.

PS - The Hobbit looked Lousy

May 10, 2013 at 11:54AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


In terms of film biz and future perspectives, I'd like to add to the sustainability topic: the film industry does indeed has a lot to learn or catch up on.

Environmentally, most big productions are disastrious not caring a bit about their impact on nature, carbon footprint etc. and the horrible thing is that is most certainly true for all smaller production stages as well.
(I know I know, i m trying to make a film here on a shorestring budget give me a break - but every industry needs to face this reality).
I have worked in quite a few smaller production companies as runnner, AC, AD and in post. Energy-saving is rarely on the agenda. Equipment is left on standby or charge for hours at a time. From a cost perspective this is interesting as well as I always think overheads are ironically chronically under scrutinized.

The print industry is a interesting comparison which has overhauled its practices drastically in the last years - from environmentally friendly inks and dies to recycled paper. Even the fashion industry has now groundbreaking ethical and sustainable fabrics and printing processes. Film should be next to undergo such a change, there are a few examples of documentaries that are obviously invested in the theme and have exhibition concepts to go with it (Age of stupid had a carbon neutral screening/premiere).

Beasts of the Southern WIld had an interesting collective approach to the filmmaking process, shot all in one location etc - but sadly had to face claims of unpaid work after the production wrapped.

May 11, 2013 at 3:57PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM