SEC Crowdfunding Rules: Hello, Dumb Money!

“Dumb money” is a phrase you used to hear a lot in Hollywood circles. It refers to investors who don’t understand how the movie game is played, and then get played by the movie game.

However, in the past few years, there has been a lot less dumb money floating around, which is a good thing. Largely, the dumb money has been replaced by smart money, money from high-net-worth individuals who have studied the film industry, approach it like a business, back visionary directors and have caused some brilliant films to be made.

The newly announced SEC crowdfunding rules, which allow small investors to partake of the Hollywood dream, unfortunately will mark the return of dumb money. “Imagine a new film financing world, where average investors—not movie moguls and financiers—can buy a stake in a future film, and enjoy a portion of that project’s success,” reported CNBC, without a hint of irony.

“That project’s success”??? What success? Most movies at the studio level break even, a few lose money, and about one in twenty are home runs. In the independent sector, the odds are even worse. As we reported in our analysis of the films submitted to the Sundance Film Festival, most money invested in independent movies is not recouped.

When people give their money to crowdfunding campaigns, money that is non-equity, they’re giving it purely out of goodwill and a desire to see the movie made. Sometimes that’s for a social cause. Sometimes it’s to support the filmmaker. Sometimes its an act of sheer fan exuberance.

The Mars Example

In the exuberant fan category, we might take the Veronica Mars movie as a case study, and contrast what did happen with what might have happened if equity crowdfunding existed when that film was made.

After the Veronica Mars series was cancelled, its creator Rob Thompson wrote a feature script and brought it to Warner Bros., the studio that had produced the TV show. Warners executives responded positively to the script, but when they crunched the numbers, the film did not make financial sense — they felt certain that it was not a good investment, and, if made, they would not get their money back.

Enter Kicktarter. On March 13, 2013, Thompson and the Veronica Mars Team launched a Kickstarter campaign that ended thirty days later with an unprecedented war-chest of $5,702,153 donated from 91,585 supporters. Filming began two months later, and the movie was set for release on March 14, 2014 — one year from the beginning of the crowdfunding campaign. With Warner Digital on board and the studio’s distribution operation now supporting the film, all looked set for a big success.

As part of the crowdfunding campaign, many donors had been promised a digital download of the movie on the same day it was theatrically released. Big problem: movie theatre chains won’t play a major studio movie unless there is a time period between its theatrical release and its digital availability. The only way Warners could get around this problem was literally to rent the screens from AMC Theatres.

Veronica Mars went on to gross $3,322,127 in its domestic theatrical run. (It was barely released internationally, and only grabbed $163,256 overseas.) It made an additional $6 million or so in combined home entertainment revenue. In round numbers, then, let’s say it grossed $10 million. However, with a $6 million production budget, and marketing costs exceeding the production cost, the film was a certifiable financial flop.

What are the takeaways? The fans were generally happy (except for a downloading glitch on opening day, for which Warners had to issue refunds); they liked the movie they had crowdfunded. But if the fans had been equity investors, they would have been as distraught as Stu “Cobb” Cobbler, the character Veronica finishes off with a golf club at the end of the movie.

In other words, if the fans had been equity crowdfunding investors, they would have been dumb money. Where was the smart money? In the pockets of the Warners executives, who had refused to bankroll the movie in the first place.

The Rest of the Story

My concern about equity crowdfunding investment is primarily about investment in movies and other media. It’s an area I know well, and much of my time in my other life, running Entertainment Media Partners, is spent advising investors not to invest in movies. There are specific opportunities where film investment is warranted, opportunities that have been carefully analyzed and that put investors’ money in a preferential position.

However, this kind of analysis won’t be available to the crowdfunding masses. Movie projects will be sold as a glamorous spin of fortune’s wheel.

I recognize the counter argument. Crowdfunding can unleash a massive new source of capital for start-ups, and for far more businesses than movies alone. I’m not an expert in other industries,  but I do know that 3 out of 4 venture capital-backed enterprises fail, and 90% of tech start-ups bite the dust.

I would like to live in a world where there was truly an even playing field, where all investors could make wise decisions using the same, transparent information. Unfortunately, our world presents high-net-worth individuals and well-funded investment companies with better opportunities than those available to civilians. Until and unless that changes, which will not be any time soon, we’re all better off  crowdfunding in the original spirit of Kickstarter and other such sites: give because you love the work, want it to be in the world,  and you support the creative team. Just that, with goodhearted selflessness.

Otherwise, if you’re hoping to get rich with a crowdfunded equity stake in the Hollywood dream, you’re just throwing away dumb money.

The Bedford Shakespeare: The Bard in Hypertext

Originally published in Cultural Weekly on January 28, 2015. 

Most editions of Shakespeare’s plays are exactly what you’d expect: text, footnotes, some introductory remarks. They cram words into your ears, but don’t give much sense of them, or the context of the plays, or how the plays make context for our lives today.

A new edition, The Bedford Shakespeare, is different. It presents the 25 most-studied plays as part of an experiential banquet, which also includes essays, contexts, explanations, quotes from actors and lots of illustrations; one of the authors calls it “a hypertext reading experience.” I imagine students will find their appetites expanded with this encounter. I recently talked with the authors, Russ McDonald, Professor of English Literature at Goldsmiths College, University of London, and Lena Cowen Orlin, Professor of English at Georgetown University and Executive Director of the Shakespeare Association of America. (Full disclosure: Bedford/St. Martin’s is also my publisher.)

ADAM: Hi, Russ and Lena! First off, I have to congratulate you. The book is quite an undertaking, and I learned a lot from it.

RUSS: Thank you. The Bedford people did such a splendid job on the physical book that I have to say that, when I open it, it feels friendly and inviting to me.

LENA: Thanks! I have to confess that I learned a lot from it, too. You know, most scholarly research publications are narrow and focused, but the world of Shakespeare is a big one. Here, we had the chance to think in terms of poetry, history, imagination, performance, human relationships, argument, emotion—it was fun! And it was fun to know that, no matter how many ideas we tried to open up, for teachers and students these are just springboards to more.

ADAM: There are a lot of Shakespeare editions out there. Why do another one?

RUSS: This is, of course, an essential question. The kinds of books we use change over time. It used to be, in the 1950s and ‘60s, that almost everyone in American colleges used the G. B. Harrison edition. As students, Lena and I were among the first to use the Complete Pelican Shakespeare, and this was followed by the Riverside Shakespeare and David Bevington’s revision of Hardin Craig’s old edition.

All these editions, and we should also include Greenblatt’s Norton Shakespeare, are fundamentally similar: a comprehensive Introduction to the period, then introductions to each of the plays, with textual apparatus and such. But they all look fundamentally the same: indeed they look as if they might have been edited in the eighteenth century, with a large body of text on the page and then notes at the bottom of the page.

The Bedford Shakespeare is intended frankly as a pedagogical edition, a volume that contains many of the classroom strategies, topics, and illustrations that we have found helpful in our years of teaching. And these materials are integrated into the presentation of the play text. So that, for example, accompanying Macbeth’s great soliloquy in Act One, scene seven is a five-hundred word analysis of the loaded word “success” as it functions in that speech and indeed throughout the play. Readers do not have to stop and absorb that discussion, but they may do so, or they may come back to it. We have also (as you’ve noticed) dismantled the formidable General Introduction and chopped it into twenty-five “Contexts” designed to enrich the reader’s understanding of early modern European culture. Finally, the extensive emphasis on performance—production photos (and not just the RSC) and quotations from actors distinguishes this volume from most Shakespeare texts. We hope that some of the visual materials will stimulate readers’ imaginations about possibilities for staging and for interpretation.

LENA: When we first talked about the Bedford project, Russ pointed out that the way in which Shakespeare’s plays are presented on the printed page hasn’t really changed since the first “modern” edition in 1709. Until he said that, I probably took it for granted that every Shakespeare play needs a long, scholarly introduction and then two columns of small, dense type on each page. Our genius editors at Bedford had a different vision. This is more like a hypertext reading experience, with pop-up information and illustrations, all keyed to individual Shakespearean lines. Often, I bring together several short quotations to show that Shakespeare has been understood in different ways by different critics and actors and that there’s room for new ideas from students, too. Next, we split that long, scholarly introduction into two parts. Before the play there’s a very brief preview that gives some important start-up information and, we hope, identifies some of the most intriguing aspects of the play. The students don’t encounter our own interpretation until after they’ve read the play and developed some interpretations of their own. We also provide simple plot summaries for two reasons. First, students can read a scene and then check back to make sure that they’ve got the gist. Second, we want them to understand that Shakespeare is about much more than plot; plot’s just the beginning. Finally, we add some information about the afterlives of the plays to show Shakespeare’s long influence in world culture. For me, assembling the supporting material for each play was like doing a jigsaw puzzle of meanings and ideas. I hope that every student will find at least one piece of the puzzle that captures their interest and inspires them to think in more sophisticated ways about Shakespeare.

ADAM: I was thrilled to see Titus Andronicus included, because it is often omitted from works that don’t include all the plays. How did you decide which plays to include?

RUSS: Since we were basing the contents on the plays that mostly get taught, the core of the book was pretty easy to determine, but there were fuzzy cases at the margin. Actually, Titus has come into fashion in university courses in the past two decades, partly owing to Julie Taymor’s film. After twenty-five we had to give up: Lena especially wanted The Merry Wives of Windsor, I wanted Pericles, and we both wanted 3 Henry VI, but physical requirements prevailed.

LENA: I am with you on Titus Andronicus. I think if Russ and I had had to decide which plays to include we would not still be friends. But Bedford conducted extensive research to find out which plays are taught most often, and that research guided the decisions. Plays go in and out of fashion; a good film version can move a less popular play onto the syllabus, for example. I think that’s what happened with Titus Andronicus. The reason I was so happy to include Titus is because one of my most memorable theater experiences ever was a production directed by Deborah Warner for the Royal Shakespeare Company. You remember that the character Lavinia is raped, has her tongue cut out, and has her hands cut off. After the scene of her brutalization, she is briefly offstage before she comes on again to be discovered by her uncle. I happened at this production to be seated on the aisle as the actress walked to the rear of the theater to wait for her re-entry. As she went back on, though, she tripped over someone who had fainted in that aisle. Later I found out that at every single performance, someone fainted or rushed from the room, nauseated. I was very concerned in the Bedford edition that our supporting materials should honor that moment. Go back in history and you’ll find it over and over again. The first major modern production was in 1923 at the Old Vic in London. They advertised that they kept an ambulance at the ready and stocked extra supplies of alcohol for patrons who needed to steady their nerves at the intermission. This is a very powerful play, and students today are more capable than their parents were of appreciating the significance of its grotesquery and violence and despair.

ADAM: In your Previews, there’s a recurring theme of strangeness vs familiarity, which is a version of “compare and contrast.” It recurs in different forms, as in your introduction to Henry V, where you discuss that we can read the play as “both/and.” How does Shakespeare do that? Do you think the familiarity is especially relevant to the modern reader, because we know Shakespeare even before we have officially read or seen the works? And was Shakespeare “strange” even in his own time?

RUSS: I would say that “familiarity” is something of a trap: I’d like students to read Hamlet as if they’d never heard of it before, although I admit the difficulty of this. The “both/and” phenomenon is actually an important critical principle, one of the characteristics that makes Shakespeare Shakespeare. In a famous article in 1976 or so Norman Rabkin wrote about “Rabbits, Ducks, and Henry V,” arguing that the play invites you to see Henry both as a hero and as a thug, but that you can’t see both views at the same time. This multifarious way of looking is one of the qualities that make the plays endlessly readable and watchable.

LENA: Henry V is a great example of what you’re talking about. This play has a long history of being staged like a great patriotic war movie. In fact, there are two important movie versions, and while Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V is more aware of the human cost of war than Laurence Olivier’s was, still Branagh can’t help playing Henry as much of a hero as Olivier did. It’s irresistible: there’s a lot of action, and a lot of stirring inspirational rhetoric, and Henry wins the war and wins the girl. When you read the play, it’s easier to see that it’s much more complicated than that. Shakespeare’s audiences would already have known a play by another guy, a playwright whose name we don’t know, who wrote The Famous Victories of Henry V. So everyone probably expected Shakespeare to give them the familiar story of the most heroic and valiant king in English history. But Shakespeare had already written so many plays at this point that he wasn’t about to do something easy and uncomplicated, something that had already been done before. He did make this play strange, by showing the calculation, even cruelty, that goes along with a king’s kind of power and ambition. Today we’re ready to recognize the “both/and.” With the Bedford edition, we hope that students will learn that the first way they understand a play isn’t the only way and shouldn’t be the last way. Every play is always strange, in the sense that there’s always more to discover in it.

ADAM: Your contextual material pulls no punches, as in the discussion of race and anti-Semitism.

RUSS: Thank you. We tried to divide up the tricky topics so that neither of us was excessively burdened with writing about sensitive problems. In dealing with such matters as race and misogyny, it’s vital to maintain a sense of balance: we don’t want to read the plays only through the lens of our twenty-first century interests; on the other hand, Shakespeare makes these problems central to some of the greatest plays, and we deform the works if we give insufficient attention to such concerns. For us, the difficulty is to introduce such questions while taking into account both a modern and an early modern point of view. To take a single example, in a play like The Comedy of Errors, the beating of the servants by their masters can be unsettling, and yet the farcical nature of the comedy provides a kind of insulation for the audience. And still the violence can be troubling.

LENA: I often teach a course called “Shakespeare’s Problem Plays.” This is a term from the turn of the twentieth century that was primarily about genre. Can you really call Measure for Measure and Troilus and Cressida comedies? And yet they’re not quite tragedies, either; labeling them is a problem. In my class, I expand the idea to include subjects that are problematic. Is The Merchant of Venice about anti-Semitism or is it anti-Semitic? Is Othello about racism or is it racist? Is Much Ado About Nothing about sexism or is it sexist? I always take my students to at least one local theater production, so I change the syllabus every semester to include whatever’s being staged. Believe me, every play is a “problem” in the sense that it is grappling with political and emotional issues that we’re still living with. This is one reason we still read Shakespeare: he was concerned with issues that have remained problems for 400 years. But I like to approach Shakespeare this way not because he’s a writer “for all time,” but instead to show how alive and engaged his plays were in their own moment and how they’re now vehicles for us to engage with the problems of our moment. Shakespeare is good for thinking with.

ADAM: For each of you, what was your first introduction to Shakespeare?

RUSS: I had two introductions, one disastrous, one miraculous. My tenth-grade encounter with Julius Caesar and As You Like It was not a success—the latter I was required to read on my own, and, well, I did not like it. Then in my last year of high school I had a splendid advanced studies teacher who taught us Twelfth Night, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra. My eyes were opened. I should also add that when I graduated from college I went to England and saw everything at Stratford-upon-Avon, including Judi Dench in the famous John Barton production of Twelfth Night, and I thought the plays were the most beautiful things I had ever seen.

LENA: Gosh, that’s hard to remember. I’ll tell you my first formative memory. I grew up in the American Midwest, in a town that hadn’t yet developed culturally. But in high school, my English teacher took us on a field trip to see a production of The Taming of the Shrew. One of the reasons I was so excited about the Bedford project was that it gives us an opportunity to suggest how many different ways students can encounter Shakespeare. Every time I read a play, I find something I hadn’t noticed before. Every time I go to the theater, I hear at least one line in an entirely new way. Every time I teach Shakespeare, a student understands something about a character that I hadn’t picked up on.

ADAM: How might parents introduce children to Shakespeare today?

RUSS: There are countless tools for doing so: children’s theatre, simplified stories, cartoons (like the student who, in a class on Hamlet, pipes up with “This is just like The Lion King!”), etc. I always think that seeing a production is key, but you shouldn’t force things too early.

LENA: There are so many more avenues to Shakespeare these days. It used to be that all people had were the prose versions known as “Lambs’ Tales,” published by Charles and Mary Lamb in 1807. In the mid-twentieth century we had Classic Comics versions. But now there are illustrated prose versions and simplified verse versions and amazing graphic versions. You can find nearly any Shakespeare scene on YouTube, and some of these are animated. Many professional theater companies have small groups of actors who will travel to local schools to do Shakespeare workshops and performances. They’re working to develop the theater audiences of the future, and they’re great at engaging students in lively and imaginative ways. Parents who aren’t actors can still try reading Shakespeare aloud.

The Bedford ShakespeareADAM: Tell me about the cover. That’s the Ninth Doctor from Dr. Who pointing to an orthodontic problem, right?

RUSS: Yes, I have had some funny comments about the particular canine tooth to which he is pointing. Bedford did consider an Othello shot and apparently took a vote among potential users. But clearly the cover does its job by instantaneously identifying the product: the image of Hamlet and the skull of Yorick has been something like a Shakespeare brand since the eighteenth century.

LENA: Hmm. Now that you point it out, that is one mean incisor. And good eye about the actor, Christopher Eccleston! Our wonderful Bedford editor Rachel Goldberg found the cover illustrations. It seems to me like the perfect choice because it’s an image that’s understood worldwide. A man with a skull: we all know that’s Hamlet; we all know that’s Shakespeare.

Buy The Bedford Shakespeare here.

Top image: Shakespeare’s first folio; courtesy Wikimedia.

And the Academy Award Goes to… Independent Films

Independent films achieved the lion’s share of Academy Award nominations. The Oscars will be awarded on Sunday, February 22.

This year, the numbers are truly remarkable, and show the amazing strength of independent filmmaking. Seven of the eight Best Picture nominations, all of the Best Directing nominations, 18 of the 20 Best Acting nominations, 9 of the 10 Screenplay nominations and 4 of the 5 Editing and Cinematography nominations went to indies.


Why? One reason is that as the quantity of studio films has declines, the number of quality indies has increased. Of the 600 movies released each year, about 140 come from studios — a number that has decreased from 200 five years ago. New independent financiers have stepped to the plate, and are bankrolling films with budgets of $20 million and more, attracting top talent and allowing artists exceptional freedom.

Not all of the nominated indie movies had such lofty budgets, though. The Grand Budapest Hotel cost $31 million and Birdman cost $18 million, but Boyhood only cost $4 million — all the more impressive because its budget was spread over 12 years of filmmaking. The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything both cost approximately $15 million.

For your convenience, indie movie nominees are in boldface.

American Sniper
Clint Eastwood, Robert Lorenz, Andrew Lazar, Bradley Cooper and Peter Morgan, Producers
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Alejandro G. Iñárritu, John Lesher and James W. Skotchdopole, Producers
Richard Linklater and Cathleen Sutherland, Producers
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Wes Anderson, Scott Rudin, Steven Rales and Jeremy Dawson, Producers
The Imitation Game
Nora Grossman, Ido Ostrowsky and Teddy Schwarzman, Producers
Christian Colson, Oprah Winfrey, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner, Producers
The Theory of Everything
Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Lisa Bruce and Anthony McCarten, Producers
Jason Blum, Helen Estabrook and David Lancaster, Producers

Steve Carell in Foxcatcher
Bradley Cooper in American Sniper
Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game
Michael Keaton in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything

Robert Duvall in The Judge
Ethan Hawke in Boyhood
Edward Norton in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Mark Ruffalo in Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons in Whiplash

Marion Cotillard in Two Days, One Night
Felicity Jones in The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore in Still Alice
Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon in Wild

Patricia Arquette in Boyhood
Laura Dern in Wild
Keira Knightley in The Imitation Game
Emma Stone in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Meryl Streep in Into the Woods

Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher
Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game

Big Hero 6
Don Hall, Chris Williams and Roy Conli
The Boxtrolls
Anthony Stacchi, Graham Annable and Travis Knight
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Dean DeBlois and Bonnie Arnold
Song of the Sea
Tomm Moore and Paul Young
The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya
Isao Takahata and Yoshiaki Nishimura

Ida (Poland)
Leviathan (Russia)
Tangerines (Estonia)
Timbuktu (Mauritania)
Wild Tales (Argentina)

American Sniper
Written by Jason Hall
The Imitation Game
Written by Graham Moore
Inherent Vice
Written for the screen by Paul Thomas Anderson
The Theory of Everything
Screenplay by Anthony McCarten
Written by Damien Chazelle

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Written by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo
Written by Richard Linklater
Written by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Screenplay by Wes Anderson; Story by Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness
Written by Dan Gilroy

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Emmanuel Lubezki
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Robert Yeoman
Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski
Mr. Turner
Dick Pope
Roger Deakins

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Milena Canonero
Inherent Vice
Mark Bridges
Into The Woods
Colleen Atwood
Anna B. Sheppard and Jane Clive
Mr. Turner
Jacqueline Durran

Laura Poitras, Mathilde Bonnefoy and Dirk Wilutzky
Finding Vivian Maier
John Maloof and Charlie Siskel
Last Days in Vietnam
Rory Kennedy and Keven McAlester
The Salt of the Earth
Wim Wenders, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado and David Rosier
Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara

Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1
Ellen Goosenberg Kent and Dana Perry
Aneta Kopacz
Our Curse
Tomasz Sliwinski and Maciej Slesicki
The Reaper (La Parka)
Gabriel Serra Arguello
White Earth
J. Christian Jensen

American Sniper
Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach
Sandra Adair
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Barney Pilling
The Imitation Game
William Goldenberg
Tom Cross

Bill Corso and Dennis Liddiard
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Frances Hannon and Mark Coulier
Guardians of the Galaxy
Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou and David White

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Alexandre Desplat
The Imitation Game
Alexandre Desplat
Hans Zimmer
Mr. Turner
Gary Yershon
The Theory of Everything
Jóhann Jóhannsson

“Everything Is Awesome” from The Lego Movie
Music and Lyric by Shawn Patterson
“Glory” from Selma
Music and Lyric by John Stephens and Lonnie Lynn
“Grateful” from Beyond the Lights
Music and Lyric by Diane Warren
“I’m Not Gonna Miss You” from Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me
Music and Lyric by Glen Campbell and Julian Raymond
“Lost Stars” from Begin Again
Music and Lyric by Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisebois

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Production Design: Adam Stockhausen; Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock
The Imitation Game
Production Design: Maria Djurkovic; Set Decoration: Tatiana Macdonald
Production Design: Nathan Crowley; Set Decoration: Gary Fettis
Into the Woods
Production Design: Dennis Gassner; Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock
Mr. Turner
Production Design: Suzie Davies; Set Decoration: Charlotte Watts

The Bigger Picture
Daisy Jacobs and Christopher Hees
The Dam Keeper
Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi
Patrick Osborne and Kristina Reed
Me and My Moulton
Torill Kove
A Single Life
Joris Oprins

Oded Binnun and Mihal Brezis
Boogaloo and Graham
Michael Lennox and Ronan Blaney
Butter Lamp (La Lampe Au Beurre De Yak)
Hu Wei and Julien Féret
Talkhon Hamzavi and Stefan Eichenberger
The Phone Call
Mat Kirkby and James Lucas

American Sniper
Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Martín Hernández and Aaron Glascock
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Brent Burge and Jason Canovas
Richard King
Becky Sullivan and Andrew DeCristofaro

American Sniper
John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff and Walt Martin
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño and Thomas Varga
Gary A. Rizzo, Gregg Landaker and Mark Weingarten
Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño and David Lee
Craig Mann, Ben Wilkins and Thomas Curley

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Dan DeLeeuw, Russell Earl, Bryan Grill and Dan Sudick
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett and Erik Winquist
Guardians of the Galaxy
Stephane Ceretti, Nicolas Aithadi, Jonathan Fawkner and Paul Corbould
Paul Franklin, Andrew Lockley, Ian Hunter and Scott Fisher
X-Men: Days of Future Past
Richard Stammers, Lou Pecora, Tim Crosbie and Cameron Waldbauer

Top image: ‘Boyhood,’ directed by Richard Linklater and starring Ellar Coltrane, was made on a budget of $2.4 million. Photo courtesy IFC Films.

Sundance 2015 Infographic: Dollars and Distribution

$4.6 Billion Invested in Indies; Nearly All Festival Films Get Distribution

Congratulations Sundance filmmakers! You have a 4 in 5 chance of getting a distribution deal.

That’s one key finding from our data-crunching preparation for the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. As recently as 2010, getting distribution at Sundance was rare. In that year, as in years prior, only about 10 percent of the movies got deals. But then came the Great Digital Shift, with the explosion of Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, iTunes and other opportunities for video on demand. We may now predict that more than 100 of the 124 feature films at Sundance this year will get some form of distribution opportunity.

Our key economic finding is equally staggering. We estimate that the amount of financial investment in all the feature-length films submitted to Sundance is $4.65 billion. To put that in perspective, the motion picture studios and Netflix each spend about $3 billion annually producing and acquiring content. The total investment in independent filmmaking significantly tops that number; once again we may call Indies the Eighth Studio.

SEE ANIMATED AND INTERACTIVE SUNDANCE 2015 INFOGRAPHIC (please allow a moment for it to load)

'Advantageous,' directed by Jennifer Phang, screens in the US Dramatic Competition. Photo courtesy Sundance Institute.

‘Advantageous,’ directed by Jennifer Phang, screens in the US Dramatic Competition. Photo courtesy Sundance Institute.

However, unlike the movie studios, which have the MPAA as a trade association, there is no such thing for independent film. No official organization compiles data on independent filmmaking. To address this need, last year we published our first Sundance infographic, and we continue our work with better data this year. Because Sundance is the premiere independent film festival in the world, we use information from Sundance as a proxy for quantifying indie movies overall.

Follow the Money

With the help of the Sundance Institute, we are now able to break out the number of dramatic (or narrative) features submitted each year, and the number of documentary features submitted each year. For the 2015 festival, there were 2,309 dramatic features submitted, and 1,796 documentary features submitted.

Then we went a step further and canvassed our colleagues in an effort to estimate the average budgets of these indie dramatic and documentary features. I spoke with independent producers (both domestic and international), sales agents, distributors, and the heads of the independent divisions of some of the largest talent agencies. I asked each of them to estimate the average dramatic and documentary feature budget, and I averaged their responses. The collective results? Estimated average budget for indie dramatic features: $1.7 million. Estimated average budget for documentary features: $400,000.

This means that the total estimated financial investment in features submitted to Sundance tops $4.65 billion — $3.93 billion invested in dramatic features, and $718 million in documentaries. Of course, all of those movies didn’t get in. For those accepted to screen at the festival, we estimate that $134.3 million was invested in dramatic features, and $18 million was invested in documentaries.


Distribution Dynamics

'How to Dance in Ohio,' directed by Alexandra Shiva, screens in the US Documentary Competition. Photo courtesy Sundance Institute.

‘How to Dance in Ohio,’ directed by Alexandra Shiva, screens in the US Documentary Competition. Photo courtesy Sundance Institute.

The vast majority of the films Sundance selected this year will get a distribution deal. Last year, 95 films got distribution, a number that has been rising steadily since 2011, which is why I can predict more than 100 will get distribution deals in 2015.

While Sundance Festival programmers make their selections based on their own artistic criteria and judgments, theoretically blind to the movie acquisition marketplace, inclusion in the festival is an initial stamp of approval for acquisitions executives. Financially, however, what does that really mean? In most cases, indie film financiers won’t get their money back. Only a handful of movies will get deals topping $1 million; last year’s highest sales price was a relatively modest $3.5 million. Getting distribution is easier today because of the digital explosion, but along with that has come a price implosion.

'Mistress America,' directed by Noah Baumbach, screens in the Premieres section. It was purchased pre-emptively by Fox Searchlight last week. Photo courtesy Sundance Institute.

‘Mistress America,’ directed by Noah Baumbach, screens in the Premieres section. It was purchased preemptively by Fox Searchlight last week. Photo courtesy Sundance Institute.

Yes, there were 95 Sundance movies that got distribution last year, but that was spread out across more than 50 distribution companies. Some you have heard of — IFC, Magnolia, Drafthouse, A24, Netflix, Lionsgate, Music Box, Roadside Attractions, The Weinstein Company, Sony Pictures Classics, Fox Searchlight, Focus — and these companies will be active again this year. But many of the companies that distributed last year’s Sundance films barely appear on the radar, and most only distribute a few films a year in microscopically modest ways. As it was last year, most of the distribution deals in 2015 will be digital-only, and most will be for extremely low numbers: $25,000, $10,000, and in some cases zero — literally zero dollars, with the promise of financial participation based on sales.

Despite the robust number of films made, and dollars invested in them, being an indie filmmaker clearly is not a career choice. Very few people pay the rent this way, and even filmmakers whose movies are well-received often have to wait years before being able to get their next movie made. For the indie film investor, it is a precipitously risky business proposition, given the small chance of recouping an investment unless you can control marketing and distribution yourself, in effect behaving like a mini-studio.

It Takes a City

Using a figure of 100 film crew working on an average indie production — from writers, to actors, to costumers, to post-production — we calculated that more than 410,000 people worked on all of the films submitted to Sundance this year, a number that rivals the population of Atlanta. At least 45,000 people will attend the festival this year, six times the population of Park City, and, if last year is a guide, the festival will bring more than $86 million in economic impact to the state of Utah.

SEE ANIMATED AND INTERACTIVE SUNDANCE 2015 INFOGRAPHIC (please allow a moment for it to load)

Sundance 2015 Infographic Produced by Entertainment Media Partners for Cultural Weekly. Sponsored by 'Inside Track for Independent Filmmakers,' available now.

Sundance 2015 Infographic Produced by Entertainment Media Partners for Cultural Weekly.
Sponsored by ‘Inside Track for Independent Filmmakers,’ available now.

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Infographic produced by Entertainment Media Partners for Cultural Weekly. Tod Hardin, special features editor; Ahmad Zaeem, designer.

InfoGraphic: Cannes Film Festival by the Numbers

By Adam Leipzig, Entertainment Media Partners, and Jeremy Kay, Screen International

The red carpet and rosé, movies and movie stars, buying and selling, prix and paparazzi. The world is watching. How does the Cannes Film Festival showcase the worldwide business of film?

To find out, Entertainment Media Partners, Cultural Weekly’s publisher, and Screen International have collaborated to crunch the data and produce the 2014 Cannes by the Numbers infographic.

Here are our findings:

Is Art its Own Reward?

Films in Festival competition don’t tend to make a lot of money. Only two in-competition films in the past five years have grossed more than $100 million worldwide. Nor do they win many Academy Awards; in the past five years, in-competition films have only taken home eight Oscars, out of 47 nominations.

Why? The Cannes Film Festival exemplifies the dual drivers of the international film industry. On the one hand, it is the most celebrated venue for premieres, especially those by notable directors. Cannes celebrates the art of filmmaking, and its 2014 jury is comprised of international art house luminaries: jury president Jane Campion (New Zealand) is joined by Willem Dafoe (US), Nicolas Winding Refn (Denmark), Jia Zhangke (China) Sofia Coppola (US) Gael García Bernal (Mexico), Leila Hatami (Iran, star of Oscar-winner A Separation), Jeon Do-yeon (South Korea), and Carole Bouquet (France).

On the other hand, the Marché du Film, its film market, which runs parallel to the festival, is the year’s most important movie buying-and-selling bazaar. While the number of buyers, producers, sales agents, and countries represented has been rising steadily over the past three years, the number of films screening remain roughly even. This year, 560 sales agents and 5,100 companies will hold court in suites, tents and bars. 110 countries will be represented, and there will be 1,450 movies screened in the market—a number that towers over the 19 films in Festival competition.

International Talent, But Not Always Distribution

Cannes faithfully represents the international composition of the movie industry, but the films don’t always travel to screens worldwide.

Talent. For the films in competition in the past five years, international lead actors, producers and directors have outpaced US citizens in the same categories by ratios as high as 19:1. However, US representation is trending upward. In 2013, US lead actors, producers and directors comprised one-quarter of the talent pool for in-competition films. And that may be good for their commercial success: The biggest earners at the global box office (including the international box office portion) tend to be those that contain a US element, be it a production company, director or star.

Distribution. What happens to those films after the festival is another story. Of the 101 films in competition between 2009-2013, 78% were distributed in the United States, 50% were distributed in Brazil, but only 4% of them gained distribution in China.

Phantom India. India is a movie powerhouse, with immense box office grosses, admissions and screen count. Yet Bollywood movies have not achieved particular commercial success internationally. Among all the major film territories, only India has not had a film represented in competition at Cannes over the past five years.
Power and powerlessness

No majors. US studios have not acquired a single Cannes competition film in the last five years. At times, a US studio will bring a film to Cannes, as Paramount did with Nebraska.
Art house. IFC Films is the most voracious buyer of Cannes films for the US market, as it feeds its VOD (video on demand) pipeline. The Weinstein Company and Sony Classics are also major US buyers.

Captain America. In-competition films that generate the biggest revenues tend to have a US component, such as a US distributor or US stars. French films also fare well. There are a few notable exceptions: Japan’s Like Father, Like Son, Spain’s The Skin I Live In, South Korea’sThe Housemaid, Italy’s We Have a Pope and The Great Beauty, and Scandinavia’s Melancholiaand The Hunt.

Trends and predictions

One of the benefits of assembling data is that it gives us the opportunity to spot trends and, throwing caution to the winds, predict the future. Here’s what we foresee:

A strong America. Even as North America’s box office becomes a smaller percentage of the global total, US stars, directors and studios will continue to produce the most commercially successful films worldwide, and, in fact, their significance will increase.

Mixed results for sales agents. Because the movie business has become more global and transactional, additional sales agents will come into the ranks. Short term, this may spur greater opportunities and competition. Long term, it will make existing sales agents fight harder for a smaller slice of the pie. We expect to see consolidation and a correction in the number of sales agents beginning in 2016.

China will become more international. In order to demonstrate its membership in the international filmmaking community, beginning this year we’ll see an uptick in the number of in-competition films available to Chinese audiences.

Time will tell if these predictions prove correct. Until then, the Croisette awaits. Enjoy yourrosé.

Cannes Film Festival by the Numbers: Infographic, 2014

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Cannes Film festival 2014 Infographic


Creativity and Capital in the 21st Century

A funny thing happened on the way to traditional media’s complete dumbing-down of the American mind: Thomas Piketty’s gigantic, massively researched treatise Capital in the Twenty-First Century has climbed to the top ranks of Amazon’s best-seller list.

While few people will actually read every page of the French economist’s 700-page tome, the central premise of Piketty’s research has already become part of our national discourse, and it is easy to summarize.

Based on big data compiled over many years, Piketty demonstrates how the return on capital exceeds the general economy’s rate of growth. Therefore, inherited and accumulated wealth continue to increase, and become a larger and larger share of the entire economic pie. This explains the massive, and growing, rich-poor divide.

Piketty’s findings enrage the Right, who argue that “inequality of capital is simply a proxy for other kinds of inequality,” such as superior intelligence and motivation among the rich. They’re wrong, and a couple of examples from creative industries further prove Piketty’s points.

Consider the plight of the visual artist. If she sells her work through a gallery, the gallery takes fifty percent. That’s fair; the gallery’s curation and “seal of approval” add value to the work. But later, when the art collector sells the work, perhaps at a considerable profit, the original artist doesn’t get anything. Capital (the collector’s wealth) increases at a rate far greater than the general economy (that of the artist). (A bill was recently introduced in the US Congress to grant artists a meager 5% resale royalty; it won’t get out of committee.)

As further evidence, we can look at the gulf in value between filmed intellectual properties and the distribution systems that bring them to market. Subscription video services, like Hulu and Netflix, are able to pay pennies on the production-dollar for the right to distribute independent movies. This may be the only income those films can make, and therefore, it is true, many of those films don’t have much market value. But even as the general economic health of the artists that make these movies stays flat, or is in decline, the corporate value of the video distribution companies continues to grow.

A few years ago, I suggested that economists should recognize the Creativity Theory of Value. I wrote:

When you buy a pair of Nikes that have cost $5 to produce in a factory in Vietnam, why do you pay $100? For their creativity, design, and innovation, and the marketing involved in selling you all of these attributes.

The Creativity Theory of Value holds that the value of anything is the product of the Creativity involved in creating it multiplied by the Labor required to produce it. In mathematical terms, we could express it as:

C * L = V

where C is Creativity, L is Labor and V is Value. This will allow us to find the Creativity Index for anything.

When the Creativity Index is the number 1 or more, Creativity has had a significant positive effect on something’s value. But if the Creativity Index is less than 1, then we could say that the Creativity was a negative influence on the Labor; in other words, it wasn’t worth it.

In the two examples I cited above, the visual artist who sells to a collector, and the independent filmmaker who sells to a video service, even if the Creativity Index of the work proves to be significant, the creator won’t see any benefit. Piketty’s conclusion resounds: the value of collectors’ or distributors’ capital increases faster than the value of artists’ labor.

What’s the solution? Piketty proposes a global tax on wealth, and he couples its urgency with core democratic principles. “If democracy is to regain control over the globalized financial capitalism of this century, it must also invent new tools, adapted to today’s challenges,” Piketty writes. “The ideal tool would be a progressive global tax on capital, coupled with a very high level of financial transparency.” (p. 515)

This is very much in line with what Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist David Cay Johnston has been saying for years: taxation is the foundation of democracy:

There’s one more thing I truly love about Capital in the Twenty-First Century: Piketty is a lover of literature, and draws some of his inspiration from it. In one of my favorite passages, he quotes from Balzac’s 1835 novel Le Père Goriot to show us how the accumulation of capital and inherited wealth is a longstanding tradition. Vautrin, a master criminal, tries to give a life lesson to law student Eugène de Rastignac, and explains, point by point, how simply working and doing a good job will never provide wealth and security. “There is only one way,” says Vautrin. “Marry a woman who has money.”

Why Does Some Creative Culture Spread?

Why does some creative culture spread, while other creative culture arrives dead?

Why, for example, are people prowling the streets of Bristol, England, right now hoping to discover Banksy’s next work, while few notice when new street art appears in nearby Chippenham? Why is the worldwide movie-going audience buying advance tickets for Andrew Garfield in Spider-Man 2, and running away from Johnny Depp in Transcendence?

What makes culture move beyond the small embrace of its creator to become part of the bigger social fabric? Recently, I’ve been exploring these questions, seeking Laws of Culture that obtain independent of money. Because with a gigantic marketing budget, you can always buy awareness. But no matter how much advertising you buy, you cannot purchase desire.

When we look into the Laws of Culture, we’re really investigating desire: what causes us to experience it and want to share it.


Morning air brushes your face. As your legs cycle in rhythm, you wonder why no one else is on the street. Do you have the wrong day? The wrong time? Then, rounding a corner, you see another bicyclist and another. Soon there are five of you, now twenty, and you fold into the energy of the cycling pack, the group awareness, the power of your wheels on the pavement that starts to make cars move aside.

You anticipate, sensing excitement two blocks away, but nothing can prepare you for the emotional flush as you make the next turn to discover 10,000 more cyclists, of all ages and descriptions, at the starting point of today’s CicLAvia.

This is the experience many LA residents feel on occasional Sunday mornings in the city.

CicLAvia is a day when cars are banned from city streets, and bicycles and pedestrians take over. It’s an opportunity of urban idealism. Begun in Bogotá, Columbia, in 1976, where it is called Ciclovía and the central city closes to automobile traffic every Sunday, it has inspired similar events in more than ten countries and dozens of US cities.

No American city has adopted it more than LA. You would never have expected CicLAvia to grasp a firm hold here, but it has the city in its thrall. LA’s CicLAvia is so successful that one recent day saw 150,000 people bicycling from LA’s downtown to Venice Beach, and CicLAvia’s organizers have just launched a crowdfunding campaign to make it a monthly event. (Support them! I have!)

What would make Angelenos ditch their cars for a day? Let’s call it one of the Laws of Culture: The Law of Discovery. When we discover a way to do something we secretly hope to do, we’ll do it. LA’s car-love is mythologized in the sense that it is overstated. Most Angelenos feel ambivalent about their cars. We view then as utilitarian requirements in a spread-out city without sufficient public transportation.

When a work of creative culture, like CicLAvia, gives people the feeling that they are discovering something new—instead of making them feel force-fed—it creates desire. It is more likely to be shared and to gain momentum. CicLAvia creates the feeling of discovery because its organizers constantly change its route, and because participants approach it alone on bicycles, then suddenly, in turning one corner, discover they are part of a vast collective enterprise.

This is one way that creative culture moves and spreads—through the emotions of anticipation and discovery. It’s the Law of Discovery, and CicLAvia illustrates it on city streets for all to see.

Your Life Purpose, One Million Strong

What is life purpose multiplied by YouTube?

When, a little over a year ago, the organizers of TEDx Malibu asked me to give a talk, I realized that many in the 200-seat auditorium would be creative entrepreneurs, so I tried to come up with a talk they would find useful.

Recently the video of my talk surpassed one million YouTube views. In the grand scheme of billions of streaming videos, a million views is probably insignificant, but still I am humbled by it and sense the power in over a million people thinking deeply about their life purpose.

Here’s one thing YouTube does right: It can bring a million people together around an idea.

As with the people in Malibu, the YouTube audience is full of creative entrepreneurs— a term that carries special meaning because it joins together two groups of people who are not generally placed in the same category: entrepreneurs and artists. Entrepreneurs are artists because they have the artistic ability to envision something that has never been done before; artists are entrepreneurs because, in addition to being creative, they must craft the business principles for their success.

Creative entrepreneurs have a deep creative drive; they are writers, designers, developers, architects, painters, filmmakers, musicians, poets, choreographers, composers and more. Because their expression forms the chosen environment in which we live, creative entrepreneurs are the foundation of our culture; their provocations make us feel joy and empathy and reflect profoundly on our lives.

Yet, they are often frustrated at the difficulties of their journey, and how hard it can be to forge a living from their art. They fear, at times, if they truly know their life purpose and wonder if they should abandon their work.

For my talk, I decided to adapt a series of questions I’d developed in my business consulting practice, when I work with companies finding their way and developing new products and services. For these companies, the challenge is to get out of their self-enclosed bubble and reach out to their market. Would the same approach work for creative entrepreneurs? Because artists need such congruence between their life purpose and their work, they can become too inward-facing, more focused on their own process than on their audience, and audience that hungers for brilliance, passion and the sublime.

In the talk, entitled How to Know Your Life Purpose in 5 Minutes, I asked everyone to answer five questions:

  • Who are you?
  • What do you do?
  • Who do you do it for?
  • What do they want or need?
  • How do they feel as a result?

What is life purpose multiplied by YouTube?

When, a little over a year ago, the organizers of TEDx Malibu asked me to give a talk, I realized that many in the 200-seat auditorium would be creative entrepreneurs, so I tried to come up with a talk they would find useful.

Recently the video of my talk surpassed one million YouTube views. In the grand scheme of billions of streaming videos, a million views is probably insignificant, but still I am humbled by it and sense the power in over a million people thinking deeply about their life purpose.

Here’s one thing YouTube does right: It can bring a million people together around an idea.

As with the people in Malibu, the YouTube audience is full of creative entrepreneurs— a term that carries special meaning because it joins together two groups of people who are not generally placed in the same category: entrepreneurs and artists. Entrepreneurs are artists because they have the artistic ability to envision something that has never been done before; artists are entrepreneurs because, in addition to being creative, they must craft the business principles for their success.

Creative entrepreneurs have a deep creative drive; they are writers, designers, developers, architects, painters, filmmakers, musicians, poets, ch

Over the past year, I’ve received emails from creative people all over the world who have watched the video. While some ask me their own questions, most share their answers, telling me what they do, who they do it for, and how their audience feels. Many viewers resonate with a story I tell, about my 25th college reunion, and the gulf between people who planned careers versus those of us who studied for the joy of learning and to pursue our passions.

To carry further the theme of the talk, what’s the next step for creative entrepreneurs? Once they have identified their audience, and know how the audience feels as a result (which gives you a way to talk to your audience), the next step is to build that audience bigger.

Today’s game-changing dynamic is that all creative entrepreneurs can increase their audience and be in direct communication with them. While this used to be the job of publishers, gallery owners, studios, record labels and marketing companies, and doing this job is certainly a lot of work, there is an immense benefit: Now creative entrepreneurs can “own” their audience themselves. This is, in fact, what makes them entrepreneurs.

The audience you carry with you brings value wherever you go… even if the studio puts your project in turnaround, the record label drops you, or if you get fired from your design job.

Having your audience wherever you go: That spells success.

Speaking of spelling, a number of viewers have pointed out that the video and YouTube don’t agree on the spelling of my name. As it turns out, YouTube is correct. That’s another thing they do right.

Spellcheck! YouTube has it right; it’s Adam LEIPZIG

Spellcheck! YouTube has it right; it’s Adam LEIPZIG

Top image: Photography by Benjamin Edelstein © 2013, all rights reserved. Used with permission. Benjamin Edelstein is a renowned international award winning photographer. Born and raised in Miami, Florida, he is a self-taught photographer who specializes in both fine art and commercial photography.

My Review of Anne Thompson’s New BookThe $11 Billion Year

For us in the movie business, a day can seem like a year. We rise early and work late, ricocheting from crisis to calm to crisis as we scan information and keep creating back-up plans. What will we do if the star rejects the rewrite? If the numbers are bad in Japan? If next week’s opening tracks poorly? If our company’s share price is down in early trading? If we get fired tomorrow? If the shoot is three weeks over-schedule? If we just got out-bid on the spec script?

All the while we’re responding to 500 emails, texts and phone calls a day, clicking social media to stay on what’s trending, keeping one eye on disruptive technologies and the other eye on the clock because we have to be at Soho House by eight. We hit refresh onHollywood ReporterDeadline.comThe Wrap and Variety, to make sure we don’t get blindsided, and to ensure we never lose perspective, we reload Anne Thompson’s Indiewire blog, Thompson on Hollywood.

Thompson has been reporting on Hollywood for more than two decades, initially at theHollywood Reporter and now online. Her tenure in the movie business is about the same as mine and, full disclosure, we’ve known each other many of those years because Hollywood is a specific village.

11 Billion YearThompson has just written her first book, The $11 Billion Year, which takes us out of the moment-to-moment, and looks at the business through the time-slice of one year, 2012. And what a year it was, with brobdingnagian tentpole failures (John Carter, Battleship) and billion-dollar giants (The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises), full of executive churn and industry-wide recalibration, of changing consumer behavior and game-changing moments, as when Netflix committed to House of Cards.

The $11 Billion Year begins with the paradox of death within life. Its title comes from the fact that 2012 brought $11 billion in box office, so the industry must be healthy, right? Not so, as Thompson, the ablest of tour guides, explains. The business is shifting mightily, and no one knows for certain who will survive into the next decade: who will adapt and who will die? Death haunts the story, too, with the sad, too-soon passing of Bingham Ray, fierce and generous fighter for independent film, who died of a stroke at the Sundance Film Festival in January.

It is at Sundance, in January, that Anne Thompson begins her year-long chronicle. Moving through the year, she shares the movie business’s steady calendar, against which disquiet plays. Sundance, South by Southwest, Cannes, Comic-Con, fall festivals, holiday movies and Oscar races–here is the cycle by which we insiders measure our lives. Among the many virtues of this book is Thompson’s ability open a window on our industry for people who buy tickets and love film, and simultaneously share insightful analysis for those of us who toil in its fields.

In reading The $11 Billion Year I found myself reliving 2012 through its movies and events, and you may do the same. Where were you when you saw Silver Linings Playbook? Zero Dark Thirty? Lincoln? Skyfall? The Hunger Games? You’ll come away with admiration for the courageous people who make exceptional films on the shifting business landscape, and an insider’s grasp of what we go through, day by day.

Get ‘The $11 Billion Year’ in hardcover or Kindle.


7 CES Takeaways for Indie Filmmakers

Vegas is less than 500 miles away from Park City, and as I got in my car, back in January, after a week at the Consumer Electronics Show, I knew I had a few things to share with indie filmmakers.

There is, after all, a connection, and it’s longer than Interstate-15. CES 2014 was all about gadgets and gizmos — the things with which we make and watch movies, TV and webisodes. It is an overwhelmingly gigantic trade show, where 155,000 people push and shove their way through 2 million square feet of floor space.

I have panic attacks just thinking about it. Yet even bigger than the crowds and the new, curved-screen TVs were the ideas I encountered, ideas that have immediate relevance for all filmmakers – be they mainstream studio creators, or those in the world of indie film.

1. Content is still king. What did the big tech companies talk about? The content they offer and enable. Jeffrey Katzenberg of DreamWorks Animation did a cameo appearance for Brian Krzanich, the CEO of Intel. Sony hosted Vince Gilligan of Breaking Bad. Cisco CEO John Chambers gave us Sarah Silverman. Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer brought onstage the Saturday Night Live Weekend Update team, John Legend and Katie Couric. Filmmakers—you make content, even though (thankfully) you call it “movies.” Without your movies, there would be no reason to buy a wall-size TV.

2. But it must WOW! Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai, the best corporate presenter of the bunch, spoke repeatedly about the Wow-factor—that if something doesn’t make you say “Wow!” it’s just not good enough. That’s true about movies too. Filmmakers, a lot of your movies simply are not good enough: They don’t make us say “Wow! That was great! I have to tell my friends right away!” As we at Entertainment Media Partners explored in our Sundance 2014 Infographic, the indie film world still has too much quantity and not enough quality.

Kazuo Hirari at CES 2014.

Kazuo Hirari at CES 2014.

3. Get closer to your customers. The big brands talked about developing unique, one-on-one relationships with their customers. Big data is allowing them to do it, and because they can have one-on-one relationships in the public forum of social media, it’s cost-effective—social media amplifies their individual messages.

Filmmakers, you can do that too. Zach Braff and his producing team modeled exceptional customer-relations in his hugely successful Kickstarter campaign for <em>Wish I Was Here,</em> premiering at Sundance on January 18. Crowdfunding is 40% about getting money, and 60% about developing a relationship with your audience.

4. Technology will offer unprecedented tools.  The newest generation of cameras will allow you to make creative changes after principal photography—you’ll be able to adjust focus, change the depth of field, and reframe with ease. 3D image-capture is becoming a consumer item. By the time Avatar 3 comes out, many of the visual effects of Avatar 1 will be at your disposal, and will be affordable on an indie budget.

5. Audiences are in for better experiences. Better visuals. Better effects. A whole generation has missed hearing uncompressed music, and the newest sound delivery systems will give full dynamic range: you will be able to share sounds as you want them heard, even on iTunes and mobile devices. Of course, just because the technology is here, it doesn’t mean you’re James Cameron or Rachel Portman. See # 2: You’ve gotta WOW!

6. Brands and creators are new best friends. Advertising agencies are not going away, nor are they lessening their role. But big brands want to have direct collaborations with creative talent, and agencies get it. That’s good news for filmmakers, and opens the door to sponsorships, promotions and more paid gigs.

7. You are the First Screen. There was a lot of talk about the “Second Screen” experience. Twitter CEO Dick Costello calls Twitter the “Second Screen for everyone watching TV.” But there’s no Second Screen without a First Screen—and filmmakers, that is what you do.

From the invention of the first motion picture camera, technology has made filmmaking possible, and each advance allows more creativity to flourish. Yet storytelling is far more important than technology—a fact tech companies embrace. The key to success in technology and filmmaking really is quality. In a field of over-supply, where audiences have too many choices, and where new tools allow much easier and cheaper production, you have to separate yourself from the herd. Excellence is the great differentiator.

Could CES and Sundance be two sides of the same coin? I think so. We saw these CES 2014 takeaways in action in Park City back in January, and will continue to in the coming months – throughout the entire filmmaking community.