Director of narrative, commercial, and virtual reality

Film Portfolio

Project Greenlight finalist | Short about sex, death, existence, time

Lily in the Grinder

Shabbat Dinner

Comedy short about coming out | Featured in 55+ festivals

Search is Back

Featured on TechCrunch | 7k users per day

Global event handing out nametags on first Sat in June

Nametag Day

Uber Forecast

Tracking Uber's surge pricing to guess what the weather might be

Archive for June, 2009

The Turmoil in the Industry: Part One

Nostalgia

Nostalgia .. yeah, we do it.

After over 100 conversations and meetings with industry leaders here in New York, I have not come up with a paying job, but have come to some pretty interesting preliminary conclusions. The independent film industry in New York City is on life support, and it has been since even before our current economic crisis–and the problem is distribution.

In this three-part posting, I will cover the difficulties the film industry faces and what I see as the future of our distribution model. Read on to discover the big-deal problem with indie filmmaking, and the big-deal solution I have.

To start, here’s a quick primer on how things work in Los Angeles: the studio system (Universal, FOX, Paramount…) is a vertically integrated movie production machine. They buy films, usually in the form of scripts, pay for the production and marketing costs, and reap the lion’s share of whatever profits come in. They often employ entire production houses, like Marc Platt Productions [IMDB] where I interned, to develop and pitch ideas – a good idea is worth so much to them that they expend massive resources to get it.

Contrast this reality with the predominant model for indie film creation. An independent filmmaker’s greatest obstacle is raising money, and for good reason. Such a tiny fraction of films make their money back that financiers are often required to sign a statement saying they probably won’t get anything. Financing an independent film is patronage of the arts, with practically zero returns.

In this context, the studio model seems remarkable. They’ve found a magical formula to turn a costly, low-return industry into a sustainable money-maker. They do this by a fanatical obsession with marketability and audience appeal. (In fact, very few studio films make money – budgets are paid by the few big hits they get. They can’t tell quite which films will be the hits, which is why they put out such a high volume.)

In contrast, there is not what you would call a model in the world of indie film. In an endeavor so difficult, whichever way works is the right way to do it. Some filmmakers get lucky and meet an “angel investor” who pays for the movie out of a love for the arts and a desire to be a part of something. Successful pseudo-indie producers like Lakeshore Entertainment (Million Dollar Baby, Runaway Bride, Underworld) often sell distribution rights to foreign markets like Italy and China and get a bank loan on those I.O.U.s. Then, they can pay a studio upfront for the use of its resources.

Both these models are floundering as well – today’s investors would probably jump on another Ponzi scheme before financing an independent feature, and foreign sales aren’t what they used to be.

But the greatest loss is that of the distribution deal. In the early 2000’s, distribution companies like Miramax and Focus Features would scoop up the winners of Sundance and other festivals for millions, put a massive marketing campaign behind the films, and turn a quick profit without taking as much of a risk – after all, it’s much easier to pick a good film than to bet that a film will be good before it’s made. This would only happen to a few films, but it was an opportunity that did not previously exist, and was the reason for the recent rebirth in independent film.

A few things happened to kill this model. The distribution companies realized they were overpaying for these films — there is simply so much independent cinema out there of decent quality that many millions is a bit much to pay. A lot of these companies died or, like Miramax, turned into production companies and stopped distributing. Finally, studios realized that they could make their own movies on super low budgets, call them indies, enter them into film festivals, and get all the street cred with more of the control.

So the major problem is financing a film, and as we can see financing is intimately tied to the question of distribution. So where does the Internet come into play here? What are the chances for a return of independent cinema? Read my analysis and then predictions for the future in parts two and three!

Read on! The Turmoil in the Industry Part Two –>

Two months, and what a ride!

I write this from my parents’ house in Los Angeles. I am visiting home for the first time in two months, and the brief pause from my day-to-day has given me time to reflect.

It’s been a roller coaster of two months, and it feels more like a year. My weeks have been so packed with various internships, informational meetings, job interviews, and more coffee, lunch, and drinks than you could ever imagine. In the blog entries to come, I will be sharing some of the amazing people and projects I have encountered, and trying to give the readers a clearer picture of the New York film industry as I have experienced it. It is a complex tapestry of connections and entrepreneurs, taking on the most diverse array of projects and making ends meet in the most creative of ways. I have spoken to this industry’s kings and paupers and everyone in between, and gained a respect for what it means to be an independent filmmaker. These people truly are artists, ever struggling for a profit model and a way to reconcile the work they love with the work they must do to survive; there are no middlemen in New York film.

Real quick:

  • I’ve had about 104 informational interviews, job interviews, or telelphone calls. My plan to call everyone I knew who might have a connection, introduce myself, and follow those connections has paid off in spades, and I have met so many fantastic people and had so many fantastic experiences as a result. These lasted between 10 minutes and 2 hours, so:
  • It’s been about 50 hours in meetings.
  • I have been offered three paying jobs that turned out to be real. I transcribed documentary footage for Moxie Firecracker Films, and assistant edited for Isaac Solotaroff’s Wham! Bam! Islam! I was offered a job at Starbucks but ultimately declined.
  • I have been offered about twelve unpaid internships or volunteer positions. I have accepted four: interning for Stefan Forbes, Stonestreet Studios, the Tribeca Film Festival, and Newfest.
  • I have sent and received about 750 job-related emails since January, and about 200 resumes.
  • I have applied to 26 film festivals, been accepted by one so far, and rejected by three. Accepted by Rhode Island Int’l Film Festival, rejected by Hotdocs, Silverdocs, and Los Angeles Int’l Film Festival.

Orientation is over – I have a lay of the land and can begin to put something useful into the New York film industry–I hope! I’m waiting for an internship that gives me real access to observe a director at work, and I will take it in a heartbeat!

Thank you to everyone for your support and encouragement along the way – the road ahead is long, and your best wishes are much appreciated.