Some rituals help keep us focused throughout the year. This marks the fourth time I have looked back at all the good things that occurred in the film biz and listed them out for all of us. Tracking them through year keeps me from abandoning hope. Sometimes they may just be the silver lining in the storm cloud, but nonetheless they keep me going, keep me convinced that in fact we truly are building it better together. I hope they do something close to that for you. It’s been a good year, and I have twenty five morsels to tempt you with. And of course the year’s not through yet, so perhaps you have some to add to this too.
1. We May Already Be Experiencing the Best Movie there ever Could Be, at Least in this World. Okay, we’ve seen the future with the aforementioned Oculus Rift but it goes even beyond that. The possibility of living in a red pill/blue pill MATRIXesque simulation becomes clearer and clearer. It’s been said (proven?) that statistically speaking the chances that we are living in a very advanced computer simulation are more likely than not. And it seems that becomes more likely with every year. And if life is not a computer game, maybe it is all a chemically induced hallucination. Regardless we know that movies will become swallowable and fully immersive, so maybe, just maybe, the future is here now and we are playing roles in the movie that is customized just for us. And maybe this really should be on my other list…
2. New Film Financing Schemes Are Being Deployed. The film biz is a creative industry, and nowhere do you see this better than the methods by which films are financed. The industry’s history is riddled with past mechanisms ranging from insurance-backed funds, sale and lease-back mechanisms, Funds based on oddly sounding schemes like the Monte Carlo Scenario, to tax shelters, credits and rebates. The latest in this flow are EB-5 structures that Hollywood evidently is already employing. Under this mechanism, foreign residents invest/loan the entity $500K or more and get green cards for the entire family. And of course we have the JOBS Act and the entry of crowd investment (not just funding). New schemes are popping us all over. And again, I am not sure if all of these shouldn’t be on the other list. . . .
3. Gender Disparity Is Being Taken Seriously Lots of statistics are surfacing demonstrating the problem. Articles are being written from many different perspectives. Over at Fandor, we’ve deployed The Bechdel Test as one of the many ways we have to sort films. Perhaps the biggest breakthrough is what the New York Times pointed out: “Hollywood Has Realized That Movies Starring Women Can Make Money” (Hunger Games, Maleficent, The Fault in Our Stars, Gravity, Frozen, Bridesmaids, etc.). Women make up fifty-two percent of the movie-going audience; it’s time they had equal power on and off screen in the film biz. There are clear solutions out there, like Stacy Smith’s recommendation that we all #AddFive female characters to our scripts; in five years we’d have gender proportional representation. It’s heartening that people are now paying real attention to this, and giving thought as to how we can both recognize inherent sexism and do something about it.
4. Diversity Is Being Taken Seriously . . . at Least by Some Over in the UK, the BFI has required the productions they fund to be able to fulfill “a ‘three ticks’ system designed to assess individual projects’ commitment to widening diversity in both the content of the film and the behind-the-camera team,” according to the Guardian UK. “These include ‘demonstrable opportunities’ for trainees and interns to ‘progress with their careers,’ ‘diverse’ key creatives with ‘at least two heads of department from diverse backgrounds,’ and ‘characters positively reflecting diversity, at least 30% of supporting and background characters positively reflecting diversity.'” You can read the criteria here. And audiences and critics are starting to demand diversity on the screen too. Heck, we may be reaching the point where diversity actually gets celebrated and appreciated. Hopefully in tomorrow soon to come we recognize that watching people different from ourselves actually helps us empathize with others.
5. There Is a Reversal in the Trend of Rising Teen Hypersexualization on Screen. USC’s Annenberg study showed that “in 2013, the percentages of teen females in sexy attire or with some exposed skin fell by around 17% after a high of over 50% in 2012. Although the sample size is small, these results indicate that not everything in Hollywood is immune to change.”
6. It Is Growing Easier to Stream Your Work Directly to Someone Else’s TV. Mozilla, Roku, Amazon, Google — they all came out with sticks, boxes, or dongles to help you do just that. Granted you need an app to live in their ecosystem, but it is still a step forward. And of course people have to set them up. I have all those devices and still watch predominately via DVD or streaming on my iPad. Eventually, I might find the need to improve my experiences…
7. We Are Recognizing that the Film Biz’s Relationship with the Internet Goes Beyond Net Neutrality. All of us, from distributors to filmmakers to fans to platform operators, have an interest in the regulations that affect delivery of information of the Internet—and we are starting to wake up to that. The future of democracy is truly at stake. It is not a simple issue, but it is not as complex as some would make it. Tim B. Lee spelled it out clearly in his article “Beyond Net Neutrality:” “When Zuckerberg created his kingdom, he didn’t have to pay companies extra fees to ensure that Facebook would work as well as the websites of established companies. When Steve Chen, Chad Hurley, and Jawed Karim invented YouTube in 2005, they didn’t have to negotiate special fast-lane contracts with ISPs around the world. If the only way to get excellent service on America’s largest broadband networks is to negotiate a private connection directly to those networks, smaller companies with less cash and fewer lawyers are going to be at a competitive disadvantage.” The recognition of this is a good thing. The fact that it exists is unfortunate.
8. The Discussion Around Unauthorized File Copying Smartens Up. There will always be piracy, but just because someone can get something for free does not mean they should, or will. Audiences are responsible for our culture’s health or future collapse. Filmmakers are speaking up about it. A lot of people–other than the artists who create the work—make money from piracy through advertising and other techniques, and this will destroy the hopes of having a diverse group of ambitious films. . . . Filmmakers can take steps to prevent or at least track where their work is copied illegally. It’s really important that solutions, like recommended best practices, are offered, and hysteria is kept to a minimum. I am also heartened that after years of everyone knowing where to get movies illegally, the simple solution of letting folks know where they can get them legally, has finally arrived (wheretowatch.com).
9. Windows Between U.S. Release and International Availability Are Collapsing. It always seemed foolish that U.S. Studios would complain about piracy but promote a policy that encouraged it (publicize the U.S. release widely but do not make it accessible to those that hear about it worldwide). Sure, some countries’ antiquated policies of banning Day and Date releases (France, anyone?) made collapsing them hard, but TWC and Netflix have teamed up to make Bill Murray’s St. Vincent turn available in France when it opened in the U.S. They are going to do it again on Eleanor Rigby. One can only expect more to follow. When we have 50,000 films generated globally per year, and no country able to handle more that one point five percent theatrically, this is a model many should ape.
10. The Studios Might Just Learn to Innovate. Warners and Turner have had their incubators for some time now, helping to give rise to platforms like Reelhouse. Now Disney is also in the soup. Incubators and accelerators might teach a few folks some new tricks, although it has also been said that such ploys are just attempts at employee retention as some of the big BizDev guns would flee the ship if they didn’t have sparkly new toys to play with.
For the whole list, good and bad, see HopeForFilm.