Filmmaking Universe Is Hyperaccelerating

Submitted by Robert Alstead on Wed, 09/30/2009 - 00:31

For Peter Dekom, a dry-humoured, Hollywood entertainment lawyer, the single most important factor right now in human development is the speed at which our world is changing.

Dekom, who gave the Vancouver Film and Television Forum keynote talk on Tuesday morning, likes to refer to this "diabolical change" as hyperacceleration.

He sees it rippling like an earthquake through the creative industries of media and film, affecting every level of the process, from pacing and structure of movie scripts through to marketing and distribution strategies.

In his wide-ranging talk "The Subjects of Change" Dekom seemed to take a grim delight in reminding the roomful of producers, directors and other film and media people just how tough it is to be an indie filmmaker. At times, it was like having someone slapping you around the head telling you to get real and get a job somewhere other than the film industry.

Dekom, who has worked for the likes of Rob Reiner and John Travolta, suggested that the type of films that work for a generation weaned on videogaming and YouTube is "not what's cool, but what's next. They don't want what is."

That means trying to anticipate trends, difficult when you consider that a movie can take a year and a half from being green-lit to hitting the big screen.

He suggested his own favourite movie David Lean's classic Lawrence of Arabia with its gorgeous panoramas and slow, deliberate scene-building would bore younger audiences in the crucial 18-35 age demographic.

"They're bored. Bored!" he cried. "They can't share the scene. They're looking for moments."

I'm not exactly sure what he meant by "moments". But as a comparison, he suggested "The Hangover" with its three act, non-linear structure, which was a "compendium of moments" that can be puzzled over and talked and YouTubed about.

The films of the future don't need big name stars either, thinks Dekom ("They're not what's next"), unless they are character actors in new roles. The stars of the new films are the production values as well (such as Transformers). People go to see the film (the 16-35 year-olds who will queue on the first night, at least) for the special effects, however much the critics pan the films.

What else?

The old media order is on the way out. Yesterday's models for filmmaking and distribution are ineffectual. The studios are "toast" and the main U.S. television networks are weakened as their audiences (average viewer age around 50) grow old.
Young males aren't watching television unless it's sport. "Advertisers hate old people unless it's for pharmacological enhancements," quipped Dekom.

Programs themselves are now the brand, not the networks. In the case of filmmakers - "you are the brand". And consumers are making all the decisions, not studio execs.

If people in the audience wanted to hear more emollient words about the industry Dekom wasn't providing them.

Of the 100,000 film and media workers in the U.S. that lost their jobs since the recession began, 85% wont be back he said. "Look at newspapers. Oh, you can't," he snipped.

He said the flagship festival for indie filmmaking, the Sundance Film Festival offered a sobering example of the current situation. In 2009, there were 3,661 feature films submitted, 118 were selected, 17 or so got North American distribution, and only a couple or so surpassed a million dollars at the U.S. box office.

Rubbing it in, Dekom added that niche indie films have depleting library value - the so-called "long tail" - so are making less money downstream in the various secondary windows and ancillary markets.

"Make the money upfront," advised Dekom. "The entire trend is frontloading."

For movies, that means having a wide theatrical release on many screens. Films that do well theatrically are holding longer at the cinema, but there's less of them.

He scoffed at the idea - suggested by media mogul Barry Diller - that consumers will pay for content, "because they always have."

Dekom suggested that maybe people will pay an iTunes or Walmart Breadbox fee to download that movie. But how much? $1, $1.50, $1.69...? i.e not much.

Old School

While much of the talk focused on how things are furiously changing, in some respects Dekom was singing an old refrain peppered with sardonic jokes.

He suggested that too often indie filmmakers expend too much of their effort getting the movie in the can ("That's just 10% of the movie") without thinking about what comes next.

Filmmakers, looking to make a commercial film, need to screen-test, market research and understand who the audience for their film is "if there is one". Then they need to maintain and nurture their audience. Sound familiar?

What's different, is his approach to marketing. With the speed of change and fragmentation of the media world, the traditional way of slicing audiences into demographics (such as male/female/over 30/under 30) no longer works. He suggested focusing on "a commonality of attitude" or "psychographics".

A good example of psychographics at work is in the Christian film and music industries. For example, The Left Behind series of Christian books and films have done well through a closed network.

Social networking sites also offer ways of tapping and uncovering these psychographic groups.

"The future is a blank slate," he said holding up a clean sheet of paper. "You have to create the market."