Ted Hope was the first speaker at the LA Film Festival’s Seize the Power: A Marketing and (DIY)stribution Symposium, and he set the tone early. Ted has made many great films that have had to find their niche in the marketplace, and he was unambiguous in saying that life is only getting tougher for independent filmmakers. Ted rightfully pointed out that anyone referencing a business model prior to the collapse of Lehman Brothers on September 15, 2008, is not living in the real world. What little money was around has dried up, and filmmakers cannot rely on investor-backed film funds or foreign presales to get their films off the ground.
Anecdotally, I was working on a fund-backed TV show in September of 2008, and we did indeed shut down in October. However, I have in the last year worked on features that have been funded through foreign presales and investor-backed funds, so there is always an exception. It did help that both of these projects were able to attract name talent.
Ted gave us all a reality check when he said that most films will not be able to go theatrical. It just doesn’t make financial sense. However, most films will be able to attract an audience to screenings with some groundwork. Hybrid distribution is no longer the exception: it’s something that every indie filmmaker should plan for. Independent filmmaking has transformed from a B2B model to a direct sales system, from a business of one-offs to an ongoing conversation with an audience. We no longer have the luxury of focusing only on development and production, we have to add discovery, promotion, presentation, participation. We have to think of ourselves as the creators of worlds, not just DVDs. We have to build ramps to give our audiences access to our film, and then we have to build bridges to bring them along to the next one. We have to harness the power of community, not only to promote our films, but in order to get all of this extra work done.
I’m always interested in how speakers at these events practice what they preach, and Ted is doing a great job with his Hope for Film series of blogs. In addition to sharing his expert knowledge, Ted writes guest posts for other people’s blogs and features guest posts from other filmmakers. It’s a great resource for independent filmmakers and a great way to build and nurture a community of filmmakers. I know that I am much more likely to watch Adventureland and Super than I was prior to poking around Ted’s sites. Mission accomplished. Ted suggests having five thousand total followers across social networks. He has just over six thousand on his Twitter. Personally, I think this is a low goal for new filmmakers, as followers of non-celebrities will be less engaged by tweets about our films than followers of Ted Hope will be about his next project.