September 29, 2008
"Who needs Dubai when we have Florida!"

Last week I went to the Independent Feature Project Conference in New York. To have this event happen early on in my thesis research was a treat. (Thanks to Dan Pereira for convincing me to go!). The event did a great job at getting different parts of the independent circuit together and talking about the issues that concern them right now. Over the next few days, I'll try to post a few more pieces on different aspects of the conference.

The first panel I attended was called "US Independents Going Global", part of their Global Marketplace-themed day. Yael Taqqu, from Mckinsey and Co., moderated the panel; Charlotte Mickie (Maximum Films), Peter Saraf (Big Beach Films) and filmmakers Brad Rust Grey and So Yong Kim participated in it. Mickie and Saraf along with Taqqu set the tone for the conversation.

The panel was not exactly upbeat. There are a lot of reasons for this, mainly that the market was falling apart and it was early enough in the morning that many of us hadn't had our coffee yet. Add to this the film and music industry's taste for a doomsday discourse, and this was not what you'd call a celebratory conversation.

Ten minutes into the discussion, the general consensus was that there are no real opportunities abroad. The only territory on the table was the US. At this point, just for the sake of honesty, I wanted to rename the panel "We are the World".

Here are some of the "takeaway points":

  • Foreign equity is not going to be around for long
  • Foreign pre-sales are impossible.
  • Middle Eastern and Indian financing is very complex, you have to be knowledgeable about the territory. There's a lot of money, but that's because they're not giving it away.
  • Studios are going to control the Internet and cable VOD channels.
  • It's a buyers market.
  • Theatrical doesn't make any revenue, soon there won't be any venues to show your movies.
  • And, on alternative distribution methods: you can't generate enough revenue from those sales to make the movie, so how do we bridge the gap between these new distribution channels and the need to finance the movie?
Well, yes, this is the question on all of our minds these days...

Was it constructive? Are these the data points that will really help filmmakers co-produce or distribute their film abroad?

Probably not, but, as Saraf himself said, "It's never been easy and it will never be easy". It's a pity that a conversation that pointed out some very valid dangers for the independent film industry, was more focused on validating those dangers and on maintaining the status quo than on finding innovative solutions.

Luckily this wasn't the tone for the whole conference; many filmmakers were satisfied, if not always with the content of the panels, at least with the networking opportunities that the event afforded them. Still, I thought it was important to write about this particular discussion because, in times of globalization, filmmakers can't afford the kind of isolation brought on by ignoring opportunities and developments in the rest of the world.

Towards the end of the panel, a representative from the Florida Film Commission came up to mic to remind filmmakers of the funding and logistical advantages that Florida provides. With that, Taqqu decided to close the discussion by saying, "Well, I guess that what we learned today is, who needs Dubai when we have Florida!"

P.S. For awareness on the realities of "the global marketplace" check out David Redmond and Ashley Sabin's documentary, Mardi Gras, Made In China. Definitely worth seeing.