What is the Future of Film ?

A look back at the LA 'Future of Film Summit' in December 2010

A couple of hundred folks gathered for the day at the Sheraton Delfina Hotel in Santa Monica, California, for an intensive assessment of the health, the shifting sands trends both good and bad and, ultimately, the future of the film business.

Where have we come from, where are we today, where will we likely be in one year and beyond ?

The event producers Variety and DigitalMediaWire brought together a who s who of the film industry as speakers and panelists. The dais boasted a steady stream of thought leaders and success stories in Hollywood.   Rick Nicita, Bill Block, Michael London, Paula Wagner, Ashok Amritraj and Oren Peli (writer/director of Paranormal Activity were among the many luminaries..

The sessions ran the gamut, from the technological revolution now convulsing the entertainment industry (who will be the winners and who will be the losers), game changers (how new Hollywood players are changing the business as we know it), new finance models, the next wave of mobile film and video entertainment, how international markets are shifting the business, as well as a dealmakers roundtable.

A few notes from the day:

Producers, writers, studios all of us are the agents of our audience.

Write movies, not scripts (a quote from Paula Wagner).

Our business model needs to increasingly shift - working together on spec; we can no longer be process-oriented, but must create consensus from the outset and adopt a success or result-oriented philosophy; writers, directors, talent and producers must collaborate from the inception, and be willing to reduce fees and contain budgets, and participate in successful outcomes. It's better for the industry if we are all talking to each other early and more often David White (Nat'l Exec Director, SAG). Paula Wagner admonishes
this is not the time to come into the film business to get rich.

Conversations are not always easy or speedy, but agencies and talent are slowly embracing the future reality and culture where full-fee cash offers are not the order of the day; they too are in the mix and, albeit reluctantly, are selectively beginning to partner up on projects.

Budgets are an organic part of a film. Candidly assess a film s value in the marketplace, rather than simply budget the line-item or cost-based need of a
project. That determines what number of dollars can be spent on production and marketing if the film can reasonably be projected to do X revenues, then you
can responsibly factor half X for your negative and marketing budget. The conversation or rationale should no longer be we've a small budget and can't afford X talent, but rather a given film has a projectable value and all must participate fairly and proportionately in a smaller pie. On the subject of paying
talent, QED's Bill Block says, "We need to reward today's performance, not yesterday's, and have a transparent backend." If creatives are to get paid from successful results, accounting needs to detoxify. Real costs have been artificial for some time.

Marquee talent is no longer the sine qua non for a film to get produced, or to enjoy a successful experience at the box office; films without big stars (or at least
the traditional high-ticket male star) suggest overwhelming and discerning audience appetite for quality, whatever the genre or budget. Witness: District 9, Paranormal Activity, The Blind Side, and Precious.

It's no longer viable to allow the major studios to finance and own films. A culture seems to be emerging that increasingly encourages all to see themselves and behave as partners in our projects.

In recent time, the biggest problem in film finance has not been the credit crunch, but the utter lack of domestic distribution for non-blockbusters, all of which looks to be shifting with new indie models and companies coming on line.

Brands will continue to marry, blend and interact in new ways with filmed entertainment projects. Imagine print and ad funds (last monies in, first monies out) sourced from an established brand to underwrite your film's marketing budget. There are more robust, innovative approaches to brands beyond traditional product placement.

Paula Wagner observed: Those who figure out the monetization of new media will be our next stars   Another interesting comment: We have led technology and we have been led by technology.

Search, recommendation and social media are the new opportunities for the future of film.

In 2010, independent filmmakers will find viable new audience and new modes of distribution online, per Sibyl Goldman (VP Entertainment, Yahoo! Entertainment).

We are an on demand generation, and we ll soon see day and date worldwide releases become the norm, with video-on-demand and other distribution
channels opening the same day as a film's theatrical release. Jay Cohen (Head of Film Finaning & Packaging Division at The Gersh Agency) agrees day-and-date will be more prominent on the independent side. A primary benefit and motivator is maximizing marketing spend (Mark Horak, President, Warner Home Video). Sandra Aistars (Asst Gen'l Counsel for Intellectual Property, Time Warner Inc.) agrees VOD will only continue to grow in the coming year. Fox's VOD revenues are up over 100%.

Ed Leonard (CTO, Dreamworks Animation) says 3D and holograms are not sci-fi, they re reality now, and will change entertainment experiences forever. He talked in terms of removing the middle between technology and art. Sandra Aistar also believes we'll see a real market for 3D in 2010. Most agree 3D is a game changer and will reinvent the film experience.

Those with compelling and universal concepts and stories, and a true wild west indie filmmaker attitude, will fare better.

Content will find its own level of distribution. It's not about your budget, it's
about the quality of your story. Oren Peli (writer-director of Paranormal Activity) admitted going over budget his film cost $15,000 (the initial budget was $10,000)!

A host of new independent distribution companies with forward-thinking models are beginning to come online and will increasingly dot the landscape within the coming year, a harbinger of a new and healthier day for what has been, in recent years, an independent cinema in decline.

Foreign film investment will increase in the coming year, according to Lindsay Conner (Partner, Entertainment & Media, at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips).

As the studios produce fewer films annually, the middle has dropped out of the market (films in the $20-50M range), yet new technologies, financing models, and distribution companies and models are re-defining what is possible in the independent arena.

The consensus: one year from today, the independent (not necessarily low-budget, but non-studio) film landscape will look far more robust, with more funding sources, distribution companies and methods enabling quality productions.

film industry network members