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The stock market has plummeted. (It’s up today, but it will probably be down again tomorrow.) S&P lowered the U.S.’s credit rating, and the ripple effect is suddenly roiling other countries around the world. (France?!?) There are riots in England, and I’ve heard the possibility of class inequality and unemployment causing similar events in the U.S. discussed at least three times this week in the mainstream media.
Whether such dire expressions of economic malaise occur, the political and market action of the last week dictates that there will be turbulence ahead. A CNBC talking head asked, is this 2008 all over again?
Do you remember 2008? For independent filmmakers, 2008 didn’t begin with the fall of Lehman in September but the implosion of Axium payroll in January, the closings of Paramount Vantage, Picturehouse and Warner Independent just a few months later, and the fraud charges leveled at David Bergstein, the owner of the beleaguered THINKfilm, who several independent filmmakers were suing, in early September. That same year also featured mainstream media coverage -- including an influential Wall St. Journal article -- about the money-losing ways of independent film. In June, former Warner Independent head Mark Gill captured the moment at the Los Angeles Film Festival in a keynote address. He declared, “Yes, the Sky is Falling,” citing an end to bloated old-school models of indie financing and calling for more well produced mid-budget indies. (The big irony, of course, is that the ensuing credit crunch and market collapse created conditions leading to the demise of Gill’s own company, Film Desk, which was based on financial models no longer viable in a post-Lehman economy.)
Do you remember 2008? With 24/7 media, Twitter streams, and Facebook updates all creating for us a perpetual present, it can be hard to place ourselves in the past. I saw Laurie Anderson perform last night. The years are hard to tell apart, she said in one song. 1997 looks a lot like 1998.
As independent filmmakers we are necessarily post-2008 people because we are operating under the economies produced by that crisis. Companies and filmmakers able to map the post-2008 world, to work within its shrunken system, have done well while others, weighed down by debt and waiting for a return to the normal, have limped along -- if they haven’t already gone under.
Today’s historical moment is not exactly the same as that of three years ago. If the fall 2008 economic collapse was due to toxic subprime assets, crumbling bank balance sheets, and a liquidity crisis, this one (depending on who you talk to) is about sovereign debt, the Eurozone, low (and no) growth, continued deleveraging and the political and social perils of austerity. We don’t yet know how bad things will get. Regardless, though, we may be watching our independent economy reset itself once again.
Do you remember 2008? Mark Suster does, and he has written about it at TechCrunch. Suster is a venture capitalist at GRP Partners, and his article is a fascinating look at the business decisions he and his partners at the time made during and after the crisis. Are we in a similar moment? “I’ll tell you what worries me: Jobs, growth and political malaise,” he writes. “And don’t think tech will remain immune.” But still he sees opportunities. He says he’s bullish on companies who can figure out how to get through these tough times and understand change. What’s the first change Suster identifies? “Television will be consumed dramatically differently in 10 years from now than it is today. Creative destruction will continue to create opportunities for people who understand the deflationary economics of the Internet. I’m long.”
So, for content creators, even more deflationary economics ahead. Hang on to your hats. And figure out your next move.
See you next week.
P.S. -- For more thoughts on what might be needed to build a future independent film infrastructure, read this good post by Ted Hope.
GOTHAM AWARD WINNER LITTLEROCK OPENS THEATRICALLY Mike Ott’s Littlerock, the 2010 Gotham Independent Film Award winner for Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You opens in New York this week. Juried by the Filmmaker magazine editorial staff and Josh Siegel of The Museum of Modern Art, the award annually acknowledges films discovered on the festival circuit which deserve wider exposure through distribution. Littlerock ‘s distribution support package that came with the Gotham Award included a week’s run at Cinema Village, New York Times advertising, PR support, and a $15,000 cash award from RBC Capital Markets. Beginning in September the film also opens in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, and Denver through Variance Films. Following the Gotham Award, Mike Ott went on to also win the “Someone to Watch Award” at the 2011 Independent Spirit Awards for Littlerock. Nominations for the 2011 Gotham Independent Film Awards, including Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You, will be announced on October 20th.
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BAD POSTURE By Brandon Harris
You stay on this beat for long enough and things start to bleed together. One low-budget, poorly lit, competently acted, overhyped, overpriced festival hit after another seem to flood your brain with little sense of lived experience or aesthetic invention. No wonder the underpaid and overstimulated fall so hard for movies that have all of the symptoms of this toxic stew, as long as one seemingly clever gimmick is thrown in. (Oh look, a blonde who also writes! And jeeze Louise, he’s got a real flamethrower!) read more SENNA A fascinating look into the life, career, and tragic death of one of Formula 1's most beloved racers, Brazilian-born Aryton Senna, Senna, a new documentary from Asif Kapadia (Far North, The Warriors) captures an interesting dichotomy apparent in professional racing; the unquantifiable exhilaration of high-speed victory, contrasted against the sobering dangers built into the ride. But Senna is more than just a film made for already-converted NASCAR and F1 fans, it's an empathetic, fully formed portrait of a one-of-a-kind athlete. DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK This Gothic horror from first-time director Troy Nixey not only comes equipped with the "Guillermo del Toro Presents" seal of approval, it was co-written by the Pan's Labrynth director as well. Don't Be Afraid of the Dark follows preteen Sally (Bailee Madison), who, shortly after moving into a new house with her father (Guy Pearce) and his new girlfriend (Katie Holmes), inadvertently opens a portal to a hellish dimension, unleashing a horrific presence in the process. Atmospheric and disquieting, Nixey's feature is a slow-build towards a disturbing conclusion; a thriller that sits well beside del Toro's most unhinged films. Come back to our site tomorrow for an interview with del Toro. LITTLEROCK Winner of the Gotham Award for "Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You," this sophomore effort from director Mike Ott (Analog Days) is a quiet and evocative portrait of Americana life as seen through the eyes of two Japanese tourists. Littlerock's chief theme is perspective, as the non-English speaking tourists attempt to interpret the vaguely threatening ennui of the sleepy Los Angeles town that they've inhabited. Read our interview with Ott. This week on the blog, Jason Guerrasio reports on the destruction of a Sony distribution center during the London riots, from Funny Or Die Paul Rudd pitches Harvey Weinstein marketing ideas for Our Idiot Brother, and Howard Feinstein presents an overview of this year's Latin Beat festival lineup (pictured left).
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THE BLUE VELVET PROJECT By Nicholas Rombes
And so we begin our year-long journey through Blue Velvet, stopping every 47 seconds. read more AUGUST
Regular Deadline: August 12
Festival Dates: November 3 - 10
Hollywood Black Film Festival
Late Deadline: August 14
Festival Dates: October 27 - 30
Big Apple Film Festival
Late Deadline: August 15
WAB Deadline: September 1
Festival Dates: November 1 - 6