Thursday, April 26, 2012

The State of the Business – April 2012

About a year ago I wrote about the state of the feature film business. I talked about how the movie business was in a horrible slump and what that could mean for screenwriters. As the year progressed, box office improved somewhat, but 2011 ended up down 3.7% from 2010, the second down year in a row.

Well, so far this year box office is rebounding dramatically. Was I wrong to find long-term trouble in last year’s numbers? Maybe. But just like a slump can sometimes be explained away by bad movies, a bump can sometimes be explained by an unusual number of good movies. And the long-term trend of declining admissions is worth noting. 

There's concern about the dramatic drop in DVD sales, which hasn't remotely been made up for by digital rentals/downloads. DVDs have been the economic underpinnings of the business for fifteen years. Currently, international box office is growing like crazy, but this is partly because places like China and Russia have not had enough theaters to meet demand and have been on building booms. That can't last forever. And young people are still often missing from movie theaters - conventional wisdom is that it's competition from video games and the internet, but I suspect it has more to do with the lack of risk taking in big studio films.

So lots of reasons to be concerned about the feature film business... or maybe lots of reasons to expect a creative renaissance, depending how you look at it!

I also mentioned the buzz last year that the spec market was returning. I don’t have hard facts, but anecdotally I’m hearing that the number of spec sales has rebounded to earlier levels, but the money paid for them has not. So more specs are selling at a lower price. Which may not be such a bad thing if you’re not an A-list writer used to making millions on a sale.

Looking at the upcoming films this year, it appears to me that the dominance of pre-branded franchise material still prevails in the studio world. However sales of indie films at festivals were strong last year, and several new indie distributors have been active in the market. It’s possible we’re poised for a mid-90’s explosion of indie films to fill the holes left by the studios’ shrinking slates.

I'm revisiting this topic partly because I really ought to be held accountable when I make dire predictions, and partly because I’ve recently been reading a lot about the progress of “new media.” During the WGA strike of 2007-2008, there was a lot of talk about new media opening up great opportunities for writers. So far, it seems like those opportunities are great only if you don’t want to get paid for your work.

However some interesting things are happening. Netflix is investing in original programming at a budget level close to cable. YouTube is moving aggressively into original channels – though not with big budget material. I’ve been following their Geek and Sundry channel, and their niche approach to programming might have potential. And VOD is providing a safety net for many indie films.

As for me, I’m still focusing on feature films. And I’m moving toward directing. I’m planning to make a short film this summer – something technically ambitious that I think is pretty cool. I’ll talk about that a little in this blog as it progresses – but my focus here will stay primarily on the craft of screenwriting, as it always has.


Anonymous said...

Hey, i've never seen so many comments in your posts, so i want to let you know that i read you daily and i wish the best of luck to your short film.

Doug Eboch said...

Thank you!