March 2019 Digest

Last July, I wrote the piece How the Academy Rules Are Stacked Against Indie Producers discussing how the eligibility rules for producers differ from every other Academy branch in that our credits are fractioned off if we share the ‘produced by’ credit with other producers whereas writer and director credits aren’t fractioned if there are multiple writers or directors credited. After posting this piece, a few noteworthy producers who are Academy members commented with, “We’re working on it” and it was brought to my attention just yesterday that this rule has finally changed. The eligibility rules now state:

To be considered for invitation to membership in the Producers Branch of the Academy, a candidate must: Play a major role in originating the projects on which they have received credit. Have earned the PGA “mark” as a credited producer on three theatrical feature films, regardless of the number of additional persons receiving the “mark.”

Read the full guidelines HERE. The current cycle deadline for 2020 candidates was on Friday, March 29 so if like me, you were unaware of this rule change, you’ve missed the window. However, it lifted my spirits to know that the Academy has taken this step forward to support producers.

Moving on to March madness…

This past month felt like a continual squeeze on independent filmmaking.

If your dream is to premiere your film at the next big film festival and have it bought by Netflix, think again. A new report shows that Netflix has reached a tipping point as Originals now outpace acquired titles on the platform, illustrating the strategy Netflix executives have long articulated — and pointing to a wider gap between the company and its rivals.

Meanwhile, Amazon has rejiggered the payment structure for its Prime Video Direct self-publishing program to reward the highest-performing content with higher rates while reducing royalty rates for less-popular titles.

Sure, Amazon dropped nearly $50 million at Sundance, and Netflix spent another $25 million in the days and weeks that followed, but these sales only affected a handful of films. In Filmmaker Magazine’s piece, Digital Haves and Have-Nots: Disappearing SVOD Deals and Independent Film, Anthony Kaufman talked to industry vets on the pros and cons of the streaming giants role in independent film. Spoiler alert, there are more cons.

The MPAA released its 2018 annual report and according to the report, which tracks global theatrical and nontheatrical entertainment, nontheatrical revenues increased by 16 percent over 2017, to reach $55.7 billion. However, global box office was essentially flat: It increased by just 1.2 percent to $41.1 billion.

And this news is no surprise to arthouse theaters around the country who are confronted with aging audiences, competition from streaming services, and theater chains boasting recliner seats and other amenities, as Indie Movie Theaters’ Battle to Survive.

And as excited as we all were to see Jordan Peele’s Us knock it out of the park at the box office, it is only the eighth original movie to top the box office in the past two years.

But is the problem that there aren’t enough original movies being made or Can There Really Be Too Many Movies? In The Streaming Era, Maybe. Boxofficemojo tracked 873 films last year, up 18 percent from 740 the year before, and the MPAA numbers have tended to run higher. The MPAA 2017 report found 777 domestic theatrical releases. If its new tally is also up 18 percent, the grand total will be something like 917. Of those, fewer than 100 will have taken in more than $25 million at the domestic box-office. The rest will live mainly on digital services, including streamers like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon. Well over half will have had less than $200,000 in ticket sales, meaning they went to digital aggregators without ever making a noticeable impression on the public.

Am I bringing you down? Of course I am. I’m doing it on purpose. Too many of us dream of making our independent film, premiering it at Sundance and being bought by a big Netflix deal, but that isn’t the way to create a sustainable ecosystem for independent film.

In Saving the Indie Film “Middle Class” Brian Newman doesn’t blame the squeeze on Netflix. He says, “While it’s easy to get cynical, I don’t blame this on Netflix (or Amazon, or Hulu, or distributors) at all. Netflix has been a boon for many shows, films and creators – especially when it comes to diversity – but it’s not a public service. This is a market problem, and while usually these represent opportunities for competitors to exploit, that won’t be the case here – long story short, the market is never going to find a solution that solves the problems of indie films getting to an audience.

It’s up to us as filmmakers to find a path for our film.

At the Seed&Spark ATL Creative Sustainability Summit, Emily Best, Seed&Spark’s founder and CEO said, “If you want to build a sustainable film business, every move you make must be in the best interest of the peak of your career, not just the one project. But it’s not just about you. More than anything, your sustainability depends on the strength of the authentic connection between you and your audience. Answering questions about your audience informs the market value of your project which sets your project budget and determines optimal distribution pathways.”

If you’re looking to me for the answers, sorry I don’t have them. I am in the same place you are, working to tell original stories, independent in spirit, that don’t fall into the blackhole of content. But I want to plant these ideas in your head, all this data, so that you can start planning a pathway to distribution before making your film. A path that is actually realistic and not a Golden Ticket.

Meanwhile, the Writers Guild just voted overwhelmingly for a Code of Conduct limiting talent agency practices. The WGA said today that 95.3% of members who participated in the vote, or 7,882 individuals, said they are in favor of the new code, with just 4.7%, or 392 people, voting against it. So maybe the squeeze just eased up a little?

Keep Going,

Rebecca Green