We are all familiar with the old saying “Content is King.” Well, although it’s technically still true, it’s taken on a different meaning in recent years.
Two things happened simultaneously that brought about a massive and insanely rapid evolution to filmmaking.
The first major catalyst was the Internet. The Internet wiped out physical and traditional movie distribution as we all knew it.
Sure, you can still find a narrow selection of DVDs in Wal Mart or in gas stations and supermarkets, but the days of mom and pop video stores and Blockbuster Video are long gone.
Now everything is in the cloud, which means an endless amount of “shelf space” accommodates an endless amount of movies, making it increasingly more difficult for a film to stand out.
The second major thing that happened was the Hi Definition boom.
As HD technology burst onto the scene and became increasingly smaller and cheaper, it leveled the playing field so that anyone who wanted to make a movie could.
Back in the day you needed to raise significant money to rent film cameras, purchase film stock, develop that stock and cut it together. You actually could just make a good film and have it do well in the market as a result of it just being good.
Today not only can anyone shoot a film but they can do it without a real budget, and as a result, making a good film just isn’t enough anymore.
These two technological evolutions have created the perfect storm of Distribution Hell.
Now we have a massive over-saturation of content and an endless amount of “shelf space”.
On one hand, most of the films being produced today, especially the low or no budget films, are unwatchable garbage, and a lot of it never really sees the light of day or garners an audience.
On the other hand, so much content in the marketplace tends to swallow up the good stuff, making it practically seem like white noise.
The reason I argue that content is not necessarily king anymore, at least not in the traditional way we meant it, is because the power has shifted almost entirely to the buyers and distributors worldwide.
For them it has become harder to turn a profit, because they must operate on volume. However, such a surplus of content means they can cherry pick the titles that make sense for them and pay very little or nothing for those titles.
I attend market after market where my foreign clients and buyers complain how the movies are getting consistently worse and there’s nothing worth buying.
Most of them want to acquire movies on straight distribution deals now anyway. That means they pay no up front guarantee or advance, and simply operate on a back end revenue split, which for the sales agents and producers, is typically a bad deal with little upside.
I tell my clients and buyers that all of the bad movies are really their fault. They typically look shocked when I say this. But here is why…
There is a very short list of actors at any given point that really carry weight with foreign distributors.
These days it’s guys like Nicolas Cage, Ethan Hawke, Bruce Willis, Jason Statham, etc.
They also want very specific types of films that they know they can easily flip to their TV clients in their home territories. Action films, for example, are one of the most globally in demand types of films that exist.
The buyers want bigger movies with bigger stars but they want to pay less money to acquire
those movies. That simply is not sustainable.
So what happens as a result is the producers need to decrease their budget, even though what they need to pay their stars is not decreasing.
If anything the stars increase their rates when they catch some heat and become in demand.
As a result, much of the budget is spent above- the-line (on talent) and there isn’t enough left over to gracefully produce a quality film.
What you end up with is the same formulaic action movies with the same stars over and over, and as the licensing fees decrease, the budgets decrease, and production value decreases right along side them.
Ultimately, you end up with a lot of bad movies.
The buyers simply have too much influence at this point and they are controlling what and how producers are making their films.
Now there are still many independent filmmakers who make what they want to make, and many of those films are good.
The problem is that without a certain level of business savvy and knowledge about the way distribution works, many of those good films get left out in the cold because they made what they wanted to make and disregarded (or were ignorant to) what they had to make.
The films have merit, but they often lack the formulaic conventions that will trigger sales.
The new generation of successful filmmakers and producers understand that delicate balance between what they want to do and what they have to do. They follow distributor formulas with regard to script development, casting, etc. but they still know how to make an original and compelling film.
It’s an insanely tough juggling act, but understanding this power struggle and how to navigate the middle ground is the first step toward success in today’s market.
The movie industry is like any economy. It is organic, and it will adjust and evolve to correct itself.
Already there are small glimmers of positive change surfacing in the digital market, and the hope is that at some point in the very near future content will once again become king in the truest sense, and the distributors will go back to simply being the middle men.
If you’d like to know more about how to groom your film for successful distribution from the beginning, join me on my free webinar The Ultimate Film Financing Plan, where I share keys to development & my proven strategy for building a compelling pitch deck that gets films financed.