The Market Dilemma
At the beginning of 2018, it was assumed that independent content would be able to continue on, and even grow, with the continuing growth of online streaming services (read: Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Stan). However, this year has proven to be the most difficult year for independent producers for one key reason – cast.
Ordinarily a combination of cast and key creative will be used to justify market estimates, which in turn inform the budget of the film. Alternatively, developing a reasonable budget and targeting cast to support that budget in the market is also a way to solve the problem of film finance. Realistically, it’s a balancing act between the two approaches.
However, as the eyeballs of audiences are drawn in by comfort and convenience of the SVODs, the theatrical sales for indies are dropping off. Not only that, but with the big studios ramping up production on bigger and more frequent blockbusters each year, competing for cinema space becomes an issue. To compete, you need a big star.
So that leaves Indies with two big questions:
- How do you make your offer to book a named actor competitive against the long form content on the SVODs and the mega dollars of the blockbusters, with both forms increasing in production frequency?
- How do you make enough marketing noise to compete for the audience eyeballs when the film is released, even if you have named talent?
To be clear, I would be daft to blame either studios or agents for this problem. I love my blockbuster movies and would love to make one! In an agent or managers’ shoes, one is bound to ensure the best and biggest deal for my client, that opens up the most career opportunities. If I were in that position, of course I would push for a high budget, fantastically packaged film over an Australian independent feature film with a new company! No question.
It’s no one’s fault, really, that this is the way the cookie is crumbling. The question is, what the hell can we do about it?
Firstly, I think it’s time we face the idea that cinema is going to become more disparate as time continues. Blockbusters will get bigger, and indies will fade away, as audiences continue to see massive spectacle films at the cinema, and stay at home for other screen content, as evidenced by the phenomenal growth of SVODs (anyone remember when Netflix’s primary business was the snail mail DVD’s to your house?).
To me, the answer is in policy. You may have noticed (if you live in Australia) that Netflix’s international offerings have increased quite dramatically this last year. It is also worth noting that the EU have struck a deal to force SVODs the create more European content through a content quota. It’s not a coincidence that Netflix would go ahead and offer this same content, that it has produced, to any country it offers its service.
Australia already has a content quota on network television, and a children’s content quota as well (a separate issue for a different article). If the government had the spine to implement a content quota on Netflix for Australian content, I think we would see a dramatic spike in Netflix investment in Australia. For economic reasons, this is important as it redirects some of those profits from the SVODs back into the country, rather than overseas (facilitating the removal of money from an economy is not generally considered responsible governing). Culturally, it means that we get to continue to tell our stories, in our rough-as-guts accent, for the world. It also aids in the promotion of Australia internationally, as we could expect similar dissemination of our content into international SVOD services. Finally, it drives content competition in a positive manner, as only the best would be made at all (it’s already competitive) and only the best of the best would be propagated internationally.
It also reduces risk for actors’ representatives and increases the competitiveness of offers through both certainty of finance, and guaranteed distribution with a reputable platform. Obviously, this article doesn’t address audiences’ growing appetite for long form over feature length content, but that is just something storytellers like us must adapt to.