Producer Ted Hope is at least three installments into his solid post-Sundance, post-Toronto explication of what he's calling "The New Model of Indie Film Finance." It's a pretty clear-eyed look at the challenges even a celebrated, experienced filmmaker faces in realizing a project--and a profit.
Clearly we are at a point in US film culture where the infrastructure is not serving either the investors, the creators, or the audiences. Good films are getting made but not being delivered to their audience. Last year I went to a film investor conference. Several other producers were invited and we all asked to pitch projects. None of us left with funding, but the investors said to me that I was the only one that addressed how we would deal with the reality of not just getting our film to market, but bringing it to the ultimate end-users -- the audience. As artists build communities around their projects in advance of actual production, they are developing a plan to give domestic value to their films. It is hard to imagine that any artist will be able to do enough pre-orders to predict 20% of negative costs from the USA -- unless they are working on microbudgets -- but taking a step forward is still a better plan than surrender to the unknown.
With uncertain economic conditions, shifting revenue streams, and a continued reliance on admittedly outmoded valuation metrics, Hope describes indie finance as being in "an era of risk mitigation."
Twas ever thus, though, no? Frankly, if 7500 features were actually made in 2010, the vast majority of which will never make back their production cost, much less turn a profit, it sounds like the film financing business could use more risk mitigation, not less. But I'd guess that exponential increase in production volume over the last decade correlates to the drop in digital/HD production costs. It's just that those losses are distributed across many more microbudget filmmakers' uncles than ever before.
Hope hasn't gotten to the profit part yet, but I expect it has something to do with microbudgets, non-theatrical distribution, and filmmaker audience/community-building. And that the answer has something to do with scrappy, groupie-friendly directors like Ed Burns and Kevin Smith. Stay tuned.
Part 3: The New Model Of Indie Film Finance, v2011.1 Domestic Value & Funding [hopeforfilm.com]