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Vancouver Film & TV Forum: Deflating Film Industry


By Robert Alstead - Posted on 02 October 2010

Today (Saturday 2nd) is the final day of the Vancouver Film and TV Forum, New Filmmakers Day.

I caught a few seminars at the forum, including on "Film Day", on Thursday, The Changing World of Independent Cinema, which looked at how independent filmmakers have been weathering the economic storm and navigating through the revolutionary changes in the technologial landscape.

Much of what the panel - two distributors and two producers - had to say was not totally surprising or new: in particular, warnings that there's less money out there for independents than there was a year ago.

Filesharing and the advent of streaming and digital downloads over the web is continuing to erode the film industry's bottom line, but on the plus side, the cost of making films is plummeting at an astronishing pace.

Cheaper technology for making and distributing films also means, however, that we're also awash in media which is fragmenting the marketplace and pushing down revenues and distribution deals. For example, regional content has exploded due to lower costs of filmmaking, but it means that it is becoming more difficult for production companies to sell to foreign territories than in the past.

The cherished film industry maxim that "nobody knows anything" seemed particularly apt here.

There seemed to be agreement that the internet is the future, but in the interim the DVD market, which always provided a vital revenue stream, has "collapsed". The TV market is becoming more fragmented by myriad digital television channels and audience share eroded by online entertainment (iTunes, Netflix); Hollywood studios are stepping back from producing arthouse indie fare (Disney's sale of Miramax in July being a prime example). Public funding is being slashed as part of ongoing austerity measures in developed countries.

What grounds are there for optimism?

The two distributors on the panel Tony Cianciotta, President of Acquisitions, D Films and Cam Haynes, CEO/President, Union Pictures, both started their distribution companies relatively recently so felt there were opportunities to make money even if it was tricky working out the right business model.

They admitted streaming and digital download models are offering more money than in the past but the numbers are still relatively small.

Where in the past you could forecast relatively accurately the dollars you can make, the returns now were a "moving target."

Haynes had found that online campaigns are not driving people to the theatre, although he did mention an instance where a movie was pirated, shot to the top of social media aggregator charts, and ending up getting a "great" video sales number.

Cianciotta, a veteran of Alliance Atlantis, suggested marketing people need to wise up to the much more culturally diverse make-up of audiences.

The producers were similarly uncertain about how the movie industry will change in the digital era.

Peter Saraf, (Producer, Sunshine Cleaning, Little Miss Sunshine), suggested not only have the studios not figured out where the film industry is headed, but audiences haven't figured it out either.

"I don't know how it's going to settle, when it's going to settle, if it's going to settle," he said, worrying aloud about whether movies could continue to make enough money to sustain a professional class of filmmakers.

Frida Torresblanco, Producer, Pan’s Labyrinth, suggested "crisis brings opportunities" and that, although fear of risk is everywhere with minimum guarantees for producers now a thing of the past, private equity is looking for somewhere to put its money.

Haynes suggested that the cost of that money is usually "a little high".

Torresblanco also suggested that developing countries (such as booming Brazil) are comparatively flush with cash.

Haynes summed up the tenor of the seminar neatly near the end:

"More people are watching movies than ever before. How they are consuming films is the problem."

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