Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Impacts of the Economic Downturn on Independent Film

As the overall economy continues to stumble along, times remain tough generally, and with independent film.  But how tough exactly, and how are filmmakers managing?  We all know our own individual situations and those of friends and co-workers, and people we hear about through the media—but what’s the bigger picture?  How have things changed, or not, in the production, marketing, and distribution of independent film?  Has anything gotten better for filmmakers in recent years?  Where are things going?  Someone should study this stuff and get back to us.

Well, someone is, and he wanted to share his research with us.  Craig Puller is an MBA student at London South Bank University researching the impacts of the economic downturn on independent film, with a view to where it’s all going.  He’s researching what’s been written so far on the subject and doing his own interviews and surveys with industry experts and people in the trenches.  We asked him to share some of his ideas and findings here.  He, in turn, would appreciate hearing your thoughts and experiences anytime via craig.puller@gmail.com.

One of Craig’s hypotheses is that independent films with smaller budgets could be safer bets for investors in times of prolonged economic recession than big-budget Hollywood projects.  If movies with big and small budgets are all very unpredictable commercially, then smaller investments mean less is at stake per project, and it doesn’t take huge box-office returns to recoup the investment and even profit.  And, if investors generally have less money to put up in the first place, wouldn’t this point them toward projects that require smaller investments?  What do you think?

However independent films are financed, in good and bad times what attracts their audiences?  How best to build audiences and maximize the return on investment?  Securing a distribution deal prior to the commencement of production is a huge factor, but, as we know, many independent films are not so fortunate, being completed without distribution and struggling to reach audiences.  Whether or not you have a distribution deal, marketing is essential.  This can include traditional methods or more innovative e-marketing techniques, or perhaps ideally a combination of both.  Also, having a known actor in a film can make a big difference in securing distribution and reaching audiences.  These are some of the key factors Craig is investigating.  What do you think of them, and are there other things he should be looking at?  How has the economic downturn shaped these factors?  How has it affected marketing and audience turnout, for better or worse?

Related to this, Craig is looking at the current and future role of film festivals.  His sense is that, even in hard economic times, there has been an increasing number of films made and submitted to festivals, thereby making the festivals more selective and making it more difficult for filmmakers to gain attention for their work.  Festivals are imperfect for filmmakers in other ways, such as their wide geographic dispersion and their tendency to pack many films into a compressed timeframe, making it more difficult for distribution agents to see and properly assess the films.  And yet festivals remain among the most successful ways for independent filmmakers to grab the attention of distribution companies, obtain audience feedback, and generate buzz for their films.  So, are film festivals more or less effective today than they were previously, and what could they do to better serve filmmakers and audiences in tough economic times?  How can a film increase its chances of being featured at a festival, and then leverage that success to achieve bigger things?

Have you heard of prediction modeling software?  Craig is looking into what this technology does and how it works.  For example, what factors it uses to form the basis for its models.  What are its pros and cons for filmmakers?  Is it cost-effective?  Does it work at all?  If you have any direct experience in this area, Craig would appreciate hearing about it.

Craig is also investigating the growing use of other new technologies, especially online media, for promoting and distributing films.  Some films, such as Paranormal Activity, have benefitted greatly from the ability of new technologies to reach audiences with efficiency and effectiveness.  Digital distribution companies are emerging, as well as streaming video on demand.  But how well are they all actually working?  How do you see these technologies being used effectively (or not) today, and how will they likely be used in the future by the independent film community?

To sum up, Craig is investigating how independent film has managed during this extended economic crisis, and what its future looks like.  Is it bright, or will more films be made with weaker prospects for commercial success?  What do you think?  Let Craig and all of us know with your comments below, or send him an email (craig.puller@gmail.com).

Edited by James Latham


The VFF is accepting submissions for this year’s edition until mid-July.  From May 16th to June 30th, the submissions fee is $75 per film (short or feature).  For more on submissions and the VFF generally, visit our website or Facebook page. 

Also, if you’re involved with independent film and interested in possibly being interviewed, or otherwise contributing to our blog (like Craig did), contact us anytime at info@valleyfilmfest.com

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