The Really Good Things In The Indie Film Biz 2012

Last year I wrote out 15 really good things about the indie film biz (2011). My first instincts at looking at the list, are that the 15 from last year are still in process this year. Maybe I was a bit ahead of the curve.  Maybe I should hold this post until 2013.  But I don't think so -- we have much to celebrate this year too.

So what are the new developments that are now taking hold?  Unfortunately, my mind hasn't found the answers as quickly as others have (and here too) even if I do consider myself quite the optimist.  Okay, make that a pessmistic optimist, but an optimist nonetheless.  I have struggled to hit the same number as last year, but I did it, and even exceeded it -- and hopefully you'll continue to fill in the list with what I forgot.

  1. Direct distribution is really working.  We did it on DARK HORSE.  They are also doing it on I AM NOT A HIPSTER (opening January 15 nationwide). The list on the doc side is pretty huge: Stacy Perata and team did it on BONES BRIGADE.  Jeff Orlowski is doing it on CHASING ICE. As INDIE GAME: THE MOVIE: THE CASE STUDY ( http://bit.ly/105pigj) shows, they did it there too.  Add Eugene Jarecki and THE HOUSE I LIVE IN team to the list too.
  2. Hollywood is taking more creative risks.  http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/25/movies/films-dispense-with-storytelling-conventions.html  As Ben Affleck noted about this year in film, ", “movies that involve taking risks by the filmmakers and the financiers have been successful."
  3. The film industry is moving towards proportional gender representation in front of and behind the camera.  The NY Times did a good job of pointing the work women are doing done in front of the camera, and that Hollywood is doing producing tales of female heroines.  Additionally, Indieland -- the traditional leader of the cultural space -- has for the first time, shown some balance behind the camera too.  Sundance has an equal number of female directors as men in the narrative competition.  That shouldn't be a surprise, but it has taken us a long time to get here, and we do need to address why there are not more women in power in the entertainment business.
  4. There is an appetite for acquisition from the distributors.  73 titles were acquired at Sundance in 2012. The question of whether they were acquired for a fair price may not unfortunately be part of the general discussion, but at least there was the option of licensing your work again this year.  And I will bring up the lack of a fair price in my upcoming "The Things That Really Sucked In The Indie Film Biz 2012".  Stay tuned...
  5. Worldwide, the industry is asking questions if there is a better way.  Just recently I was invited to Paris and Austin to discuss different perspectives on how we can serve audiences better and improve the business.  This is not the same as launching initiatives, but it is a start.  Last year, I mentioned that the conversation on the Future Of Film took off, but this year it seems to be on a global basis.
  6. Technology is confronting the problem of our transition from an entertainment economy based on scarcity and control of content, to one recognizing the abundance of, total access to, and full distraction from that content.  We have launched an app that does this well.  And we have a good number of competitors in the space.  Readers of this blog have been following the weekly peek into the start-up KinoNation that Roger Jackson has been chronicling -- another example of technology coming to the rescue (hopefully).  And we have media innovation incubator/accelerators starting to blossom.
  7. There has never been a better time to both preserve and advance the film culture I dearly love.  That's why I chose to change my life and focus not on project producing but on producing infrastructure and change.  I am not going to be able to do it alone, but working with the support of the organization that launched the oldest running film festival, should hopefully prove far more fruitful than from proclaiming on high from my private soap box.
  8. New financing options are both here and on the horizon for independent & documentary film.  We've witnessed the launch of Slated and seen films get funded as a result.  Britdoc's impressive GoodPitch funding forum has funneled and support to doc projects and inspired many in the process.  How awesome is that?  Further, we now are seeing other evidence of a second generation of funding mechanisms, as entities like Seed & Spark are combining crowdfunding elements with distribution, marketing, and audience aggregation aspects.  If that was not enough for you, additionally the JOBS Act was passed in the USA, allowing for equity-based crowdfunding for films of under $1M.  We now can give people backend on the films they fund.  There remains a lot to work out on the legal side, but here's hoping that it is used both well and for good.
  9. Transactional VOD Players hit the flashpoint.  VHX.tv, Vimeo PPV, Dynamo player, and many more.  Whether you want an aggregator or prefer to sell on your own, it is easy and painless to do now.  Just ask Louis C.K.
  10. We have our first VOD Superstar. You want big numbers on VOD?  Just cast Kirsten Dunst.  Bachelorette.  Melancholia.  All Good Things.  She's beautiful.  She's a good actor.  She's fascinating to watch.  She's funny.  She's scary.  And she doesn't have too many letters in her name, but just enough to stand out.  Hell, if Elizabethtown premiered on Ultra VOD today, it would set records.  Okay, this isn't really the GOOD thing but just an aspect of a Good Thing.  The Good Thing is that VOD is becoming more marketable and people are not treating as a lesser product.  Once all media outlets start covering VOD premieres that will be an Awesome thing.
  11. Tech and film are talking to each other.  Soon they may even speak the same language.  Film Independent held a hackathon.  Marc Schiller did on the same day on the opposite coast. BAVC Producer University put filmmakers together with tech folks, and in less than a week new apps were born. And not only are they talking, they are getting in bed together -- okay maybe not film yet but media & tech are sleeping together.
  12. The dominance of the feature film form is starting to wain.  Whether it is great webisodes, a tremendous number of wonderful shorts, transmedia experiments, or just cross-platform experiments,  cinema is evolving beyond it's historic constraints.Okay, I did say this one last year, but I still feel it starting to happen.  I can put things on this list two years in a row can't I?  And then I will put it on the negative on the 3rd year, if it hasn't happened yet.
  13. The two films that I helped produce this year, DARK HORSE and STARLET got great reviews in the New York Times.  They also got great reviews many other places too. I can only state this here as a personal positive though.  Stay tuned, as this exact same fact will also be on my "What sucked in 2012" list too.
  14. While I am on that double list tip, here's another that will repeat on tomorrows list of the big and the bad.  To quote A.O. Scott of the NY Times: "By the end of this year, The New York Times will have reviewed more than 800 movies, establishing 2012, at least by one measure, as a new benchmark in the annals of cinematic abundance."  From the point of view of the audience, right now this is a beautiful thing.  Conceptually speaking, we should be able to match audiences with the film that is most right for them.  Audiences don't have to compromise.  There are more better movies than ever before.  Unfortunately, we have to build an infrastructure to support this, but that is a rant for another day (like tomorrow).
  15. There is a lot of real & meaningful support for indie writers, directors, and producers working in the genres & realms traditionally supported by indie film support organizations.  When I look at the various labs that are run by Sundance, IFP, Film Independent, & Tribeca, or the the financial & other support provided by the San Francisco Film Society (ahem...), Cinereach, Austin Film Society and other entities I am very impressed.  Granted there is a specific type of movie that seems to most appeal to this sort of thing, but I am impressed at how many programs they are and the good work that they do.  It ain't easy and our culture -- at least a very specific part of it -- really depends on it.  I hope all of you support the organizations that support the culture you love.  Vote with your dollars for the culture you want.
  16. The online community that supports the effort to advance a sustainable culture where the artist & their supportors benefit by the work they create, works to both preserve and advance the vibrant & diverse work that ambitiously reaches further, is committed to transparency, openness, opportunity, & our communal well-being, and knows that it is a team that builds the future and thus gives back in so many ways including posting, commenting, pointing, liking, and financial contributions.  I know this as I am experiencing it daily.  Thank you.

Stay tuned for next week: The Really Bad Things In Indie Film 2012

Addition: I added to this list with a subsequent post.  If you want more reasons to celebrate, check this out.

Five Reasons I Have NEW Hope For Film

The last seven days have done a good job convincing me we can build this world a whole lot better and that we have the passion and know-how to keep an ambitious and diverse film culture from falling into ruin.  I have been doing some meetings, going to events, meeting folks -- the days are long, but the inspiration has been great.  It does so much good to observe things done well and I gathered quite of few as of late. The documentary world has knit together a series of alliances, models, forums, and structures that the fiction film world should really take note of.  When the sun was setting today, and I was recognizing that it was such a inspiration-filled last few days, a dark shadow past over when I realized much of that uplift was from another form.  That's not a bad thing really.  It's nice to have role models.  Indie filmmakers the world over should thank their documentary siblings for all they have given us.

What inspired me (and in no particular order)?

Good Pitch.  Make that Jess Search and Good Pitch.  If you haven't been, you must.  Whether you are a funder or a filmmaker, an activist or an artist, you have to attend.  The whole forum is a virtually a perfectly produced event with the best of goals and the craft to achieve them.  Well curated both in terms of films and filmmakers and the potential organizational and funding partners they pair them with, it's the bomb.  Sitting in the room, witnessing new alliances being formed, you feel the world is made a better place before your eyes.  Films are lifted up and given more hope at making a significant impact.  Anyone I was next to, I felt they were my friend.  Ecstacy might have been in the water, because it certainly was in the air.  And as great as all the films and people that were there, there's Jess in the center, looking sharp in a white suit, advancing the proceedings. Total rock star.  I don't know an event that has a better suited  master of ceremonies.  Too many marvels for one day.  They both raise the bar high and make us want to reach higher.  Hearing the pitches, seeing the action, I feel that we are just seeing the tip of the change that films can accomplish.

Sundance.  I attended my first Sundance fundraising outreach event ever this past week.  It was in Silicon Valley and geared towards innovators and technology, but 100% artist focused.  After Keri Putnam, Kim Peirce, and Lynn Shelton spoke, I knew why I wanted to run a not for profit and truly support artists at this most crucial of times.  It is truly remarkable what Sundance has accomplished. The love and appreciation that these women communicated to the organization and the process that they have developed was so so so moving.  Cary Fukanaga and Jon Shenk were good to, but they spoke after Keri, Kim, & Lynn, and for me  those women had already overdosed me in inspiration, understanding, and commitment.  The blood was rushing in my head at such a volume all I could hear was the sea of possibility. It is so vast -- even if there is such a gulf to where we are now.  Sundance shows us so clearly from where Indie Film culture has come.  Imagine a world that had been deprived of that support, of those stories, of Sundance?  I don't want that world.  No way! And will give my life and labor to make sure we have all of that  and much much more to keep artists and their supporters truly thriving,  free to pursue their full calling.

Impact Partners.  What a good idea they were and shall ever hopefully remain.  But if only good ideas could be executed so well as they.  And my appreciation doesn't stop there.  Geralyn Dreyfous and Dan Cogan called upon their friends to put on a "Welcome To San Francisco" party for me.  It was at Pier 24, a truly beautiful gallery of fantastic photos to make your jaw drop, but then they filled the room with incredible and impressive people. I was completely and utterly impressed.

The world is not just.  The world is not fair.  People are not generous and very few are kind.  So what?  When you are in a room with a 100 plus people who are just the opposite of that shitty reality I just laid out, people that are generous and kind and have used their resources to make the world more just and fair, how can you not appreciate the power of both strong individuals and committed community deliver.  Impact Partners filled the room with them and have done amazing work with them.  Good people with strong ideas and access to their passion... man!  How can we all stay centered so that we use our labor in service of our ideals, despite the negative influences that swarm around us?  Maybe it just takes good friends.  Seeing what they do, convinces me how important they really are.

BAVC Producers Seminar.  I came to San Francisco because I wanted to see what would happen when you took committed individuals, ambitious artists, introduced them to cutting edge technologists and engagement specialists, and supported them with top institution, personnel, and resources.  I thought it needed to be built, but then I got to witness what BAVC has been doing well and the community they have built, and I felt great that others were leagues ahead of those goals of mine.  I can now compliment them as I stray from the path they have forged.  We are not alone.  Our ideas are not so odd.  People get things done.  We are part of a continuum, always building upon, refining and advancing.  We will get there, but not  on our own.

Vanessa particularly, but also all the other filmmakers I met this week.  I meet so many people.  I generally have, but that process has been accelerated by new responsibilities as the San Francisco Film Society's Executive Director.  Hearing filmmakers speak of their projects, recognizing both their hope and their fear, I know why I became a producer initially and why I am here now at SFFS.  Artists truly inspire me.  Their process can lift me.  My favorite time is when the ideas are jelling and the film is finding it's way and the filmmakers are coming up with new ideas and reaching higher and higher and the impossible is being spotted and it's changing before our eyes into the  very goal we dared not dream of and yet there it is, getting closer and closer, so close you know you will touch it, maybe even surpass it.  My wife, my love, Vanessa came to San Francisco this past weekend.  She's been editing her film with an awesome team and as much as it is a struggle and the resources all too slim, they won't say die and keep pushing pushing pushing and they have taken it further than they ever dreamed.  It is so exciting to be near someone as they create, and every little bit one gets to help, it is a reason to be here.  How fortunate I am!

I have Hope For Film.  What's inspired you lately?