From Steven Spielberg to Steven Soderbergh, it seems like every day a new industry veteran drops a prediction about the coming implosion of the movie industry. While doom and gloom is a prevailing notion in Hollywood, the future is much brighter for independent filmmakers, who have a wave of digital tools at their disposal, plus the democratizing effect of the mighty Internet.
Recently, I participated in a Whitewater Films panel discussion centered around the current state of independent films with a formidable group of producers, directors, publicists, actors and festival curators. Together, we took on the hotly-debated issues facing our industry, including shrinking budgets, the emergence of crowdfunding, the new distribution landscape, and the potential uses of gamification to better engage audiences.
Here’s my takeaway:
With a plethora of platforms for online distribution growing by the day, anyone can reach millions of people and share content, but the trick is being heard in the noisy marketplace of the internet. Panelist Joshua Leonard, an indie director who as an actor appeared on HBO’s “Hung” and in “The Blair Witch Project,” stressed that it is all about finding your audience: “You’ve got to figure out to whom you’re selling your movie,” he said. Find this small, enthusiastic group of people and build your audience from them, since they offer viral effects by spreading your message for you.
Other panelists suggested tapping big data so you market to the people most likely to like your work and confronting shortened attention spans by layering in game mechanics to further engage an audience. While many people merely skim material on the Internet, they’ll play a videogame like “Call of Duty” for hours on end. Finding a way to borrow such concepts as leveling up, interactivity, and rewards, which is anathema to many filmmakers, could offer great potential for the right stories. At the very least, you want to engage your audience well in advance of your movie coming out, and gamification can certainly help with that.
We are at the beginning of a paradigm shift. Film is but one vertical experiencing seismic change. What I learned from the discussion with my fellow filmmakers at the Whitewater Panel is that we need fewer doomsday predictions about a dying industry and more strategic planning and collaboration to adapt and thrive in our newly connected, instant world.
Let’s embrace the change, because there’s no point in fighting the internet.