The Evolving Film Industry

Started by wilder, April 28, 2020, 09:57:53 AM

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Quote from: WorldForgot on October 08, 2022, 11:24:31 PM

which in turn references:

"I worked at R+H 11 years ago. John Hughes is exactly the man depicted in this film. He's among the most humble, compassionate, intelligent and mild mannered people I've ever encountered. He openly discussed all sorts of topics with me at the lunch table. He told me the reason R+H exists was for the employees and their benefits package proved it. Each Friday he'd present the company's bids, profits and losses with anyone interested and the ultimate bankruptcy was clear then as the losses often outweighed the profits. Heartbreaking on many levels."


IATSE Escalates VFX Workers' Push to Unionize with New Survey

QuoteThe International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) is escalating its push to get visual effects workers to organize as a union, launching a survey on Monday that is designed to study working conditions and pay rates for VFX talent in Hollywood compared to other industry standards.

Though other inquiries into this area have been made before, the survey is the first time IATSE has sponsored an official VFX study. The survey, which is open to all those in the VFX space, including non-IATSE members, is available here. It polls industry workers on salary, workplace safety, overtime pay, available resources, and more.

"VFX is integral to almost every film and television production made today. Yet the workers who make VFX possible are among the only film and TV workers not represented by a union today," IATSE organizer and VFX worker Mark Patch said in an official statement. "Knowing our worth is an essential step towards building a more sustainable VFX industry."

IATSE communications director Jonas Loeb explained that the union's involvement in this push is intended to drive higher participation than ever before, such that "the more in the VFX community that participate, the more representative the study will be."

VFX workers in recent months have been vocal about intense workloads, low pay, and long hours that have plagued the industry as more and more movies and TV shows have demanded elaborate CGI work, with some arguing that conditions have only worsened in recent years as the demand for content has exploded.


Movie studios can be sued under false advertising laws if they release deceptive movie trailers

QuoteMovie studios can be sued under false advertising laws if they release deceptive movie trailers, a federal judge ruled on Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson issued a ruling in a case involving "Yesterday," the 2019 film about a world without the Beatles.

Two Ana de Armas fans filed a lawsuit in January, alleging that they had rented the movie after seeing de Armas in the trailer, only to discover that she was cut out of the final film.

Universal sought to throw out the lawsuit, arguing that movie trailers are entitled to broad protection under the First Amendment. The studio's lawyers argued that a trailer is an "artistic, expressive work" that tells a three-minute story conveying the theme of the movie, and should thus be considered "non-commercial" speech


From Brian Newman's mailing list

QuoteFebruary 16, 2023

I've begun to believe that the biggest problem in arthouse/indie film is not the un-produced or un-distributed films, but the films with distribution, or rather, with how they get distributed. To be even more specific, I think the problem is this whole independent thing – meaning, we have too many independent distributors all fighting for our attention, when we probably need just one. Or, as I tend to think about it - we have too many small distributors and streamers (often the same thing) who think they are all somehow doing a better job than the next guy and who refuse to work together, when we could probably just use one.
Now, before you think I'm crazy and argue for the value of small independent voices in the distribution ecosystem, and against consolidation, just hear me out. Because what I'm really arguing for here, is more consolidation and/or collaboration in how things get to the audience, especially when it comes to digital offerings, and less about which company owns who, although I am not opposed to some mergers, either.
How many streaming services do you subscribe too? Most folks have about five, apparently, and I'm betting those consist of the big ones – Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Apple TV+, Disney, or maybe Discovery+, Paramount+, Peacock... you could name many more and you haven't even gotten to the ones that specifically try to serve the indie/arthouse audience. You have offerings from IFC, Mubi, KinoLorber, Criterion, Ovid... I could list many, many more – but I gave up when I looked at the services tracked on JustWatch and realized they had over 150 streamers to choose from. WTF?! No one can keep track of all of these services, much less all of the films they might want to see across their offerings, even with a service like JustWatch. And they don't. Most consumers stop with the top five streamers, and even the most dedicated cinephiles probably stop somewhere South of ten, I'd bet, and even they haven't heard of most of these services, or the films on them. And forget about trying to see your favorite film from distributor X if you don't subscribe to their output deal streamer of choice - which is why I've missed too many A24 films that went to Hulu.
Whatever happened to the Universal Jukebox we were promised, and which we pretty much have when it comes to music? Who are all these megalomaniacal narcissists who think they really need to "own their audience" and that they must build these tiny subscriber bases? Why not just join forces and have one good alternative place to find all the great films – hopefully, curated a bit by good curators and people who I want to follow, and sure I could search by distributor (or filmmaker), etc. – but why not work on something like that instead of atomizing the audience across hundreds, if not thousands (when you look more globally) of services?
I think the arthouse film audience is probably much bigger than anyone thinks it is, but it has been split across way too many distributors and streamers for any one of them to capture the total possible audience. This has been true even before streaming – too many distributors chasing the same few quality projects and competing for the same slots at the cinema, all because they think they can do a better job releasing the film than someone else. And now, it's too many channels chasing the same eyeballs across the screens, all hoping we'll either pay a subscription or – worse for all of us – sit through ads programmed by robots ruining our viewing experience for a VRBO commercial – in search of an aggregate of pennies that might keep the doors open.
If you look at the problem from the consumer perspective, which is what you should always do when trying to solve an industry's problems, then it's pretty obvious that we need a one stop shop for these niche films, aggregating them from across multiple sources, and making them available for either one low monthly price and – what no one does – allowing anyone to rent an individual title from the system without becoming a subscriber (Amazon does this, and they rule the world). And while I'd hate it, sure, you could also give them the option to watch for free with ads (Amazon again). I'd go a step further and say that this membership should also get you discounts at every arthouse theater in the country, like an arthouse MoviePass, and that the systems of curation and money exchange should be intertwined. And you could build the whole thing on the back of JustWatch... JustSayin'.
In fact, I'd bet most of us would pay for such a system over Netflix almost any day of the week. And would have done so from the start. But building that kind of system would have taken a lot of work, and a lot of real, direct audience engagement, and an investment of time and money that went completely against the dominant business model – which is, licensing out that work to someone else. So, when Netflix came along and said "we'll do this for you," everyone jumped onboard, not waiting to hear the end of the sentence, which was, "until we don't need you anymore." Which is what's now happened with Hulu and all of the other options, so we're stuck in a bad system when we could have built the right one from the beginning.
But dreaming up any such system, which I've done a bit in the past, requires one contemplating a lot more collaboration across the industry. And that won't happen anytime soon. Perhaps not until ¾ of these folks have disappeared as their business model collapses around them, and the last few standing might finally realize they should have been collaborating to aggregate the audience instead of atomizing them in pursuit of a maintenance of their status quo, squeezed into a frankenstenian copy of the Netflix model (which is what we have now). The solution isn't trying to become a niche single player Netflix, but instead building (together) the new Netflix of great films, all in one place.
One can dream...


Producer Data: The Numbers Don't Lie (The Truth about Independent Film Revenue)

Fascinating glimpse into the funding money moves of indepedent film, independent productions by budget and resulting revenue

QuoteLast fall, desiring information to aid our own filmmaking careers, we launched an experiment to see whether we could obtain hard data on independent film revenue. Having experienced firsthand how difficult it is to get this information, we created a Google form and asked filmmakers to self-submit not just their feature film top-line revenue data, but thorough, detailed and specific numbers on everything from their budgets to best- and worst-performing revenue streams to cast to how much their films made in gross and net terms. From the details of the 104 submitted films, we have drawn critically important—and many surprising—conclusions.

For our own part, the information we gleaned will, in large and subtle ways, alter the way we put together our future films. But there was another reason we launched this experiment. In addition to wanting this information as filmmakers ourselves, we spend a lot of time talking to other filmmakers. Liz managed the Creative Distribution Initiative at Sundance Institute and now works as a sales and distribution consultant. Naomi teaches classes and consults with filmmakers on indie film development and financing and, in her work as one of the founders of The 51 Fund, interacts with many filmmakers who are trying to get their films financed. Between the two of us, we encounter filmmakers at the beginning and end of the herculean process of making a film.

Informed by a combined 20-plus years of experience in the industry, we are increasingly concerned about the disconnect between what many filmmakers think can happen and what we know the reality to be. Week after week, we listen as filmmakers earnestly explain to us how they believe making a film for "as little as $250,000" makes it a near certainty that they'll recoup their investors' money. "CODA sold to Apple for $25 million," they say with straight faces, "and my film is also a coming-of-age." We ache for these filmmakers: We, too, have been suckered into these illusions. But seeing the actual financial state of independent film as clearly as we now both do, it feels increasingly critical that we confront how dire a situation the field faces. We say this not because we wish to discourage anyone, but rather because we care so passionately about a brighter future for independent film.

At this moment, there are only two possible paths for an independent film. The first is what Naomi refers to as the "golden elevator." A project that manages to get on the golden elevator is very likely to bear out a filmmaker's wildest dreams: premiere at a top film festival, big dollar sale to a streamer, maybe an Independent Spirit Award, distribution by NEON or A24. These high-profile stories keep the rest of us dreaming as the filmmakers breezily explain in interviews a charmed path up into the stars. But there are only a tiny number of highly elite and tightly gate-kept tickets onto that golden elevator. A place in a highly prestigious lab might get you on board (though certainly isn't guaranteed to do so). So may the attachment of a hugely famous actor (not a sort-of-famous one) or the full-throated backing of WME or CAA (but only if they're really pushing the project, not just casually attached). For a good example of the trajectory of a golden elevator film, see this year's Sundance success stories, such as Fair Play, produced by the high-profile team of Ram Bergman and Rian Johnson through their new production company, or the trio of debut features financed by A24 and written about elsewhere in this issue.

Critically, in almost every case we've witnessed, a project gets their ticket onto the elevator before—often well before—the film is actually even made. One of the most pernicious and lingering myths, we think, is that it is possible to get on that elevator at a higher floor—that if you can just scrape it together and make a truly brilliant film you can get into that festival or sell to a streamer for serious money later. In our experience, this is simply not true today. Certainly, there will always be unicorns, but for the rest of us, the reality is that, if you are not on that elevator at the basement, the chances that you will gain access to any of these outcomes are vanishingly small.

We call the non-golden elevator films—the actually independent films—"free-range films" (a term coined by director Maria Nieto) because they are made fully outside the institutional industry apparatus. In the current landscape, these films find themselves scrambling down a well-worn set of uninspiring distribution paths. Out here, in the land of mid-level film festivals or no-one's-ever-heard-of-them film festivals, filmmakers encounter unrealistic projections from predatory distributors or the candid and depressing truth from honest ones that recoupment is near impossible after platforms, agents and distributors take their pieces of the pie. This is because content has been and continues to be devalued on a daily basis as audiences are sold more and more SVOD and AVOD platforms that allow them unlimited viewing for small monthly fees—fees effectively subsidized by low license fees to creators—that pale in comparison to the true cultural value of all the films in those libraries.

All of the above we had previously gleaned from our own experiences. But it was difficult to figure out where to go from here since, without actual revenue information from free-range films, it has been impossible for us to model our future films' revenues or instruct other filmmakers on their own realistic revenue potentials. This difficulty has been partly because revenues of free-range films aren't openly reported anywhere and partly  because filmmaking teams are almost always reticent about sharing their actual earnings numbers. The latter difficulty in getting accurate information is both because the industry actively discourages us from sharing this information and, we believe, because few people want to admit how dismal their numbers actually are.

Make your film for as little money as possible.


Strike Chaos Consumes Hollywood: What Made Studios Balk and Writers Walk
By Cynthia Littleton, Gene Maddaus
Variety, May 2, 2023

The Met Gala may have been the last glitzy event to avoid picket signs.

As of 12:01 a.m. on May 2, members of the creative community on both coasts (and production hubs in between) have traded the finery of that event for fire and brimstone on picket lines. The breakdown of the Writers Guild of America's contract negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers has unleashed a torrent of emotion not seen among Hollywood union members since the last time the WGA went on strike, in 2007. The strike promises to bring even more upheaval to a marketplace that is already grappling with the fallout from technological disruption and still rebuilding from the pandemic. Six weeks of tense negotiations made it clear that the industry faces a reckoning after a decade of the Peak TV content boom that has strained Hollywood's creative infrastructure to its breaking point.

"People strike for a reason," actor Brian Tyree Henry said as he made his way inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Fifth Avenue for the gala. "I hope they get what they deserve, and I hope that people listen to them."

A prolonged walkout by TV and film writers will have ripple effects across the entertainment community. Now that the strike has been called, industry insiders are scrambling to shut down shows — late-night comedy programs, including "Saturday Night Live," and daytime talk shows are the first to feel the hit. Studios are initiating emergency contingency plans to keep film production rolling on projects with completed scripts. The major networks are worried about pickets crashing upfront advertising presentations scheduled to be held in New York this month. Marketers and publicity mavens are trying to figure out how to salvage junkets and Emmy FYC season as a bumper crop of eligible programs have all manner of screenings and events lined up in the pursuit of viewers.

Now, the workaday stuff of Hollywood will take a back seat to the spectacle of WGA versus Disney, Netflix, Warner Bros. Discovery, NBCUniversal, Paramount Global, Amazon, Apple, Sony Pictures Entertainment and more.

"Hollywood is an industry that runs on stories, period. There's nothing without the storytellers," says "Jane the Virgin" writer Rafael Agustin. "I'm angry because the WGA is inevitably going to win, but the AMPTP insisted on stopping an entire industry as opposed to properly compensating the labor force that helps them make billions."

In its messaging to about 11,500 members, the guild has gone so far as to accuse the major studios and streamers of handicapping their own industry through unrestrained spending on content to build up streaming platforms. The WGA has cast the issues on the table for writers as essential to ensuring the survival of screenwriting as a viable job.

"Here is what all writers know: the companies have broken this business," the WGA stated in its message announcing the strike to members. "They have taken so much from the very people, the writers, who have made them wealthy. But what they cannot take from us is each other, our solidarity, our mutual commitment to save ourselves and this profession that we love. We had hoped to do this through reasonable conversation. Now we will do it through struggle. For the sake of our present and our future, we have been given no other choice."

Guild member Abdi Nazemian sees the WGA strike as part of a larger battle over growing income inequality and efforts to "devalue" labor.

"This is about more than writers," says Nazemian, whose credits include 2017's "Call Me by Your Name" and the NBC sitcom "Ordinary Joe." "It's about how we value human labor. It's about the truly alarming rise in wealth disparity. It's about keeping unions strong so we can revitalize our middle class. And it's about standing up to corporate greed, which impacts everyone everywhere these days."

The issues on the table for the WGA and the AMPTP are complex. But the single biggest factor that pushed the scribes to strike is the glaring lack of trust between labor and management at a time of massive transformation for the entertainment industry. Streaming has changed the way movies and TV shows are produced and distributed. Those changes have benefited the WGA's most elite members, with massive $200 million and $300 million production deals handed to proven hitmakers such as Shonda Rhimes, Ryan Murphy, Greg Berlanti, Dick Wolf and J.J. Abrams. But the gap between the top echelon of earners and their closest competitors has widened, just as it has for the Directors Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA, both of which have new contracts to negotiate by a June 30 expiration deadline.

Nobody in the C-suites or the production trenches can say exactly where the streaming revolution will lead. But just about everyone with skin in the game is frightened that the new era will come with far lower pay scales for creatives and profit margins for corporations.

The guild's 700-plus-page master contract governing film and TV work was written for a different era. Updating that contract means not only wrangling over new deal terms, it also likely means revisiting the hard-won gains the WGA has made over decades. All of that is a very tough assignment to complete against a hard deadline, hence the cratering of the talks.

"With the advent of streaming and the pandemic changing people's viewing habits, it's another world," says Paul Hardart, a professor at NYU's Stern School of Business and director of its Entertainment, Media & Technology program. "And therefore it requires a different deal."

On May 1, after a final day of negotiations, the AMPTP made a tactical decision to take the first step in ending the negotiations, about four hours before the midnight PT deadline. Sources close to the situation say that as it became clear the sides were too far apart to bridge the gap, they engaged in a game of bargaining chicken. The AMPTP told WGA negotiators that a better offer would come only if the guild budged on some of its key asks. The WGA did not comply — and then both camps waited to see who would be the first to break it off. Some WGA negotiating committee members hung around AMPTP headquarters in Sherman Oaks until about 8:45 p.m. PT, after their counterparts had left the building.

WGA leadership had no faith that a few more days at the bargaining table would make enough of a difference to reach a deal. Meanwhile, AMPTP member companies are adamant that they came in with a generous offer that has only been sweetened since the formal negotiations began on March 20. But the level of change across the industry over the past decade has been so significant that fear of future unknowns overwhelmed the two parties' ability to find compromises.

The sides struggled to reach agreement even on a basic set of facts. Depending on whose data you believe, either total writer compensation has never been higher or overall writer pay rates have never been lower. In this environment, with everyone feeling so much trepidation about what the future holds for film and TV, both sides reverted to defensive postures. After the penultimate WGA-AMPTP meeting ended on the evening of April 30, word began to spread throughout the creative community that the chances of avoiding a strike were slim to none.

"I'm feeling the historical gravity of this moment. I'm worried about how this will affect not just writers but our entire industry," says Charise Castro Smith, a writer whose credits include 2021's "Encanto." "The guild's proposals are fair, and they reflect the reality that writers shape culture and deserve to be able to provide for their families. So many young writers of color coming into the industry get boxed out or stuck at staff writer or forced to do free work. The future of writing as a profession is at stake."

There's no doubt that the WGA has the upper hand in the court of public opinion. It's harder to muster sympathy for corporations. But the truth is, not only are corporations coming through the shock of the pandemic, but they've absorbed big losses on streaming investments. So the prospect of seeing their costs of doing business with writers increase significantly is sobering, particularly as they also have to forge new deals with the DGA and SAG-AFTRA this summer.

Working actors are closely watching the WGA drama unfold as they deal with some of the same pressures as writers in the transition to streaming. "Everything changed with streaming, and everybody needs to be compensated for their work," says Amanda Seyfried, the Emmy-winning star of "The Dropout." "That's fucking easy."

The seismic shifts in TV production in recent years mean that the norm for employment for writers has changed from getting hired on a show that produces 22 to 24 episodes per season over an eight- or nine-month time frame to being hired on a series that may produce only six or eight or 10 episodes (that is, a "short-order show"). In the six years since the WGA last had a robust contract negotiation with the AMPTP — bargaining in 2020 was muted because of the pandemic — those short-order shows are now the norm.

The ramifications of this are significant for writers, who are typically paid by the episode. In the new world order, short-order series hire writers to pen all the scripts over a 10- or 13-week period before physical production begins. All of this adds up to lower paychecks overall. Plus, a huge problem that has come to the fore as part of the negotiation is the growing experience gap between more established scribes and greener writers. Writers who are cut loose before production begins don't have the same opportunities to gain on-the-set training on how to oversee production and post-production functions, which are vital steps for those who aim to become showrunners. Those apprenticeship opportunities were plentiful under the old 22-episode system, in which lensing on Episodes 1 and 2 would begin while the writers' room chipped away at Epiodes 5 and 6, and so on.

For writer David H. Steinberg, what's at stake is a whole model of TV production that has served the industry since the days of "I Love Lucy," "Gunsmoke" and "Father Knows Best." Steinberg created and ran "No Good Nick," a traditional multi-camera sitcom on Netflix. The show was ordered straight to series, with 20 episodes and 11 writers who worked for 40 weeks. "That was a great system," he says. "Everyone loved it. It trained the writers and made what worked out to be a better show than if it were just six episodes."

The fear is that the streaming companies have figured out that they don't need to hire so many writers, or make so many episodes, to attract subscribers. "The people who run these companies are just tech people and Wall Street people who are trying to churn out product to have subscriber growth," Steinberg says.

There's a level of quality control that also comes from the traditional model. "The writers' room is a tested formula for making good television," he says. "The auteur model doesn't work as well for television. It's hard for one person to keep the story in their head for that many episodes. It's better as a collaborative process. Collaborating with other writers gets you a better product."

On top of the change in viewing habits and business models, writers are also confronting the threat of artificial intelligence; they fear the studios will use AI to replace them. The guild offered a proposal that would protect writers from encroachment by AI on their credits and compensation, but the AMPTP rejected that proposal, and suggested meeting annually to discuss advances in technology.

Dave Schilling, an up-and-coming writer who is not yet in the guild, says he is particularly troubled by that response. "We know where this road leads: automation," he says. "The idea that writers would or should just allow this steamroller to run us over is not realistic."

But some also think it could prove to be a useful tool. Austin Bunn, a screenwriter and associate professor at Cornell University, says that while AI could never produce the kinds of screenplays he's interested in writing, he could see it being helpful in creating "para-literary material," like pitch decks and look books. "I'm kind of boosterish on AI and its role in the creative process," Bunn says. "I don't feel threatened by it at all. Storytelling ultimately does come down to some part of me that wants to express itself. A machine can craft a sentence, but there's no passion behind it."

So what comes next? TV production will gradually come to a halt — not overnight, but as soon as programs run out of existing scripts. Movies with completed scripts may go before the cameras, but directors and producers could find themselves stuck if rewrites are needed.

Late-night comedy series and daytime talk shows will be the first to feel the impact. "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert," "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon," "Jimmy Kimmel Live" and "Last Week Tonight With John Oliver" are expected to immediately go into reruns. Daytime talk shows including "The Drew Barrymore Show," "Tamron Hall" and "The Kelly Clarkson Show" may be able to produce a few more episodes this week but will soon revert to reruns.

Linear broadcast and cable networks may load up with more unscripted shows, newscasts and live-event coverage. But Netflix, Amazon, Apple and other streaming-only platforms will have more options to recirculate older original series or promote vintage series. The streaming model gives them more flexibility than linear networks, where fans of "Chicago Med" and "Grey's Anatomy" expect to tune in Wednesdays at 8 p.m. or Thursdays at 9 p.m. for new episodes. (The early-May timing of this work stoppage provides a little relief, as the broadcast networks are already shifting into summer programming mode, which is typically heavy on unscripted content.)

It's anybody's guess how long the strike will last. The 2007 strike went on for 100 days, into 2008. The longest WGA strike, in 1988, lasted 153 days. "In general, the most successful strikes are the shorter ones," says Ileen A. DeVault, professor of labor history at Cornell. She notes that TV writing operates on a longer timeline than most industries, "so it could be different." She adds, "But the longer a strike, the less likely it is to turn into a victory."

The unrest that exploded this week has been building for years. Writers walked up to the edge of a strike over many of the same issues in 2017 before reaching a last-minute deal. In 2020, they lost the chance to negotiate due to the pandemic.

Now, the strike comes amid a rising climate of labor activism, both in Hollywood and in the broader economy. In 2021, many members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees rallied for a strike authorization and then rebelled when their leaders chose not to exercise it. And there have been high-profile organizing campaigns at Starbucks locations and Amazon warehouses.

"There is a broader feeling right now, across industries and across the private sector, that workers who can fight are doing so," says Alex N. Press, labor reporter at Jacobin Magazine. "There's a wind-at-their-backs feeling for a lot of workers in this country."

Clayton Davis, Marc Malkin, Jazz Tangcay and Brent Lang contributed to this report.