Couldn't have put it better myself

I have a lot to say about modern filmmaking, Hollywood, and culture in general. Fortunately whoever this is said exactly what I think already, so I don't have to. I was hooked from the very opening, where he describes the two types of filmmakers. This is exactly how I see it. Couldn't have put it better myself.
Politics is only the final nail in the movie industry's coffin. There are a few others holding that lid down. Can you guess what they are?
Lol, it might be easier to name the problems the industry doesn't have right now.

1. As people get acclimatized to day 1 releases on streaming, it's going to be like the binge season phenomenon, where they wont want to return to the more inconvenient old way. Companies will try and force them for a while, but eventually it's a loosing battle.

2. The democratization of film and television is just really getting started, via platforms like UE5, and mid grade, low cost stuff like BMCC. There will come a day, similar to the situation with music production right now, that there will be 100x the number of serious competitors. It's already 100x what it was 40 years ago, and the curve is accelerating.

3. Theaters are getting shelled from all sides. Hollywood has long had theaters severely boxed in on margins, which is why your paper cup of pepsi costs 9 dollars. That's basically their entire margin, in the drinks and snacks. Streaming was starting to win people over and then covid hit and it really cemented the stay at home mentality. During the pandemic, chains had to eat major losses, but the change of habit and culture were the bigger deal.

4. Theaters attract people for a lot of reasons, but one of those reasons used to be getting to see a film bigger, brighter, higher resolution, and with better sound than at home. It used to be day and night between the home and theater viewing experience. In some ways it still is, but technology has caught up to a large degree. You can buy a 77 inch 4k tv for 550 now, and a good one for 3500. Theater quality sound in your home can be achieved permanently for the cost of 100 buckets of theater popcorn. Maybe 20 if you just buy studio monitor headphones. Most people aren't aware that theatrical resolution was 4k going back to the 80s. So you really are getting pretty close to the theater experience in a lot of ways.

5. As the art of production grows and evolves, the line between high end tv and movies is beginning to blur. A significant number of TV shows now have production values beyond many products we've seen from film studios. Ultimately it's just more competition.
I agree with you're analysis, Nate. There is undeniable true in every point you made.

If I had to list only one reason the movie biz is failing, I would say that EVERYBODY has forgotten how to tell a story. From the lowest Indie to the biggest budget production on the block. Nobody seems to remember what it is that makes a story a story. The confusion started with the birth of CGI. Producers became so impressed with the visuals they could show an audience that they forgot that all of that is secondary to a good story. Jurassic Park was first to truly showcase what CGI could do, but it was done under the guiding hand of Spielberg who kept it in it's place, but it wasn't long before producers began giving us only desert and no main course. The Mummy series, Scorpion King, The Hulk, Spiderman, Twister. 2012, The Day After, etc... Any excuse to show off the latest plug-in or custom script for Maya or Lightwave software. That was the beginning, then every producer began including digital effects in movies that clearly had no use for them; a tacked on dream sequence just to show off cloud and lightning effects.... I guess that is to be expected to some extent. I mean, producers are giving the audience what they believe the audience wants, but it 's like giving a kid ice cream for breakfast, lunch, and dinner just because that's what the kid wants.

Since the birth of film there has always been room for special characters (monsters) and all kinds of optical and practical effects, but back then, those "enhancements" never really got in the way of the story. Planet of the apes (from Pierre Boulle's novel) starring Charlton Heston and a slew of other great actors is so much more than a bunch of people dressed up like apes and chasing the humans around. The Exorcist (from William Blatty's novel) is not just a shock fest about a girl doing unspeakable things to her body while priests sprinkle holy water on her. No. The effects helped tell the story, not compensate for it. To be fare, I am generalizing to help make my point. There are still some good films being made. Not many but some.. Very Very few exceptional ones, and none that are ground breaking.

I could go on and one, and I did, but I chose to delete what would have been the next 5 paragraphs. Instead I'll close by saying that Hollywood has always had a somewhat narrow view of that which constitutes entertainment, but in the past, independent film makers, Indies with film cameras, could be counted on to dance to their own tune. To introduce new ideas. They were the ones who redefined the bedrock of horror. They gave us mocumentaries, interesting takes on comedy, satires.. From my experience over the past 20 years being involved with Indie films, I have yet to meet one producer/director who isn't more concerned with the special effects for their movie than crafting a good and compelling story to tell. Not one. If they are out there, I don't see them.
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Well, I would imagine that post work has some value, lol. (I'm guessing you haven't seen a lot of my work)

Story is the core of everything, obviously. Everything else in a film should be designed to serve the story. Simultaniously, film, and especially film business/ROI, is a very complex ordeal, that relies on multifaceted strategies to work.

I remember starting out in indie film, and thinking that I could make compelling dramas without the need for much post work. And I could, but not without huge money I didn't have. So many people are fighting for a share of the audience, and viewing decisions are typically based on a single image, maybe a paragraph or trailer if you're lucky.

So let's say you write a drama script of identical quality to "A Few Good Men". Cost is close to zero, and you're already on the way to an Oscar right? Everything is going great so far. So you decide to forgo post altogether, and just tell a good story. Now instead of luring your audience to the product with flashy post, you are doing it the right way, giving them a solid drama worth watching. If you build it, they will come, right?

So you make the film, and with no studio backing you up, you have to make some concessions on actors and sets. Jack Nickolson would be great for the role of the main antagonist, but it costs 22 indie film budgets for him to show up for 2 months of filming, so you go with Twill Jackerson instead, a local postman who once saw a youtube video about acting. Cuba Gooding Jr is also available, at the entire budget of your film just for him. So you hire Dave Phillips, an elementary school teacher who has great line retention, and an infectious sense of humor. After hanging out with Dave a few times, you really like the guy, and you're convinced audiences will like him too.

With your cast in place, it's time to set up some locations. The story you wrote was set on a military base, but that's way out of your price range, but you and a few friends stay up drinking one night and in a flash of genius level inspiration, you realize that on screen, a military base is just some buildings with beds and a few tents here and there. You find surplus military tents and cots online, and you're off to the races. However, half the movie is set in a courtroom, and no one will let you film in a courtroom. Initially confused, you do some research, and find that MGM didn't rent a courtroom either, they built one from scratch, and it cost about as much as the citizens of your town made collectively in the last decade. You do the best you can, but at the end, your characters spend the entire film standing next to some generic surplus tents, and it's really not that exciting or convincing in the film. It turns out that without an airfield full of helicopters, your military base just looks like a salvation army tent set up in a park.

Your crew is made up of some pretty smart people, and they do a good job. Cinematography, color, sound, are all on point, and you talk in the evenings about what a good chance you have, because you're really nailing a lot of stuff you've seen more successful films screw up.

You watch the finished movie, and within 20 minutes, you're sucked in, the story really works, and even though you already know, you watch intently to see what happens next. At the end, everyone is high fiving each other. You did it, you made a film on pure story, and it worked. Now you can simply go and collect your 10 million dollars, next stop Hollywood.

Everyone on your limited crew is really into film and art, and no one cares much about business, so with a limited budget to start, no one bothered to research how much money should be put into marketing (it's 50% of your total budget, ballpark) and you don't do any. The film is so great by the 30 minute mark, that you are pretty sure word of mouth will do the job for you anyway.

Now it's time for the film to be released into the wild and come into contact with the audience. Amazon and other streaming services are telling you that you can just skip the step of having a studio release your film, and now you can go live immediately, without having to split the profits up with a distributor. Considering all your money is gone at this point, it sounds great.

So it's day one, and Shelia Jackson of Talahassee Florida is the first person to see your thumbnail on Amazon. it's 3.99 for the rental, and the movie looks interesting to her based on the blurb, which is all they can fit in the list of 87 new films released that week. But she's in the minority, most people just scan past. She goes to the imdb page, trying to become interested. There's a picture of 2 guys she's never seen before, standing next to a tent. Both of them have a serious look on their faces, like something dramatic is happening. Sadly, it looks cheap and cut rate to her. Still trying to take an interest, she reads the actor links, to see if anyone in the film has ever been in anything else. They haven't. What studio made this, maybe it's from some studio that made something else she liked. No, she's never heard of it. She's lost interest now, and goes back to the list of new films for the week, and there's 22 other movies, starring people she has heard of, made with large budgets, perhaps even a reboot of a movie she liked decades ago. And that's it. 10 million people repeat this same process, and those are the 10 million that didn't just immediately scan past your entry when they didn't recognize the main stars names. None of those people ever got far enough to find out that your actors did an amazing job delivering that courtroom scene starting on minute 29. With no one watching, no one is talking about it. You didn't advertise, so there are no inroads there either. You made a website, but SEO is a nightmare, and no one on your team is that great at it. Even if they were, your underdog story isn't really turning out like it does in the movies. People with 10,000 times your advantage sets are monopolizing the market to a degree that no indie filmmaker could realistically compete with.

Everyone related to you and all the actors rents it to help out, and you're kind of hoping that it gets the ball rolling, but it's like throwing a cup of water into the ocean to see if the tide will rise.

So next movie, you use a lot of sfx, and it looks amazing on a purely superficial level, and that single publicity image that people base their decision on has a lot more impact. The plot isn't as good, but this time a few hundred thousand people click on the thumbnail, and they do get to the 30 minute mark, though only because they're out 4 bucks already, and the sfx is decent. There's a genuinely funny moment or two in there, and since the effects hooked them in long enough to get them past the huge negative that is a cover shot of two unknown actors arguing, they do talk a bit about it on the net. There are a few legitimate reviews, and maybe you break even.

So this is really about marketing. A great script without famous actors just fails, at least stateside. SFX is a way for filmmakers to increase production values in a market where they are desperately needed for success. Sadly, the viz work is second rate just like the actors, and every week there are many first rate choices competing. So either way, people with talent and no money are all doomed.

You just had 3 seconds to capture that viewer, and there were almost 90 films on that list they were scrolling through. You thought they would be impressed with your creativity, or skill, or work, but every single time, they opted for something with a higher budget.

You lost all your money. Your friends that used SFX lost all their money. The ones who were kind of rich to begin with go on the "emperor's new clothes" tour. Getting sauced in hotel rooms and attending "important meetings" with other indie directors in the "Jeff Holloway Memorial Ballroom". No one knows who Jeff Holloway was, but you're all just excited to be in Miami, at a real film convention. Everyone in the room lost all their money. There are some pretty good parties thrown by people in severe denial, and you have a good time. The people who really needed a break the worst, nose to the grindstone for 3 years with no funding to start with, they just go home and sit alone, their finances exhausted by trying to play roulette at the high stakes table for one night of their lives.

A few months later, Amazon sends you a check. it's 4,381 dollars, for your cut of the streaming rentals. That's to split between the team. You're out 71 grand from the film.

Why do people use sfx? To try and even the odds a bit in a market where they can be beaten in seconds with a wave of a wallet from some guy with a 30 billion dollar bankroll, and he's not even spending his own money. Does it work? Sometimes, sort of, not really, not often. It just works marginally better than making your POS a photo of two strangers on a blank background.

Try to imagine a poker table, but instead of poker, the game is that whoever has the most money wins automatically. The same people win over and over, and it's an extreme exception to the rules when a person that doesn't come from wealth wins.

My advice to indie filmmakers, is to niche down into an area of lesser competition, establish and income stream there, and then leverage that success into something bigger in stages. Think of creativity and intelligence as a force multiplier for resources (or vice versa) and then take a tactic based on that math, rather than trying to demonstrate skill until money arrives.

You know why Jackass is the most successful indie film of all time? Because they had a hook that didn't require any quality to start, then made money on that basic thing, and were able to stage up over time. Personally, I hate Jackass, and consider it extremely stupid, but they were humble enough to make a buck or two before trying to take on the international market singlehandedly.

Get the engine running, and then try to race. As far as SFX ruining movies that would have otherwise been good, I don't think that happens much. Usually, and I think this is what you're saying, people don't have much of a plot, and try to substitute sfx for a plot. That does not work. If you have a good product to start with, good sfx can enhance it a lot.

As a post/viz mercenary myself, I could talk all day about the role of post in film, but I'll keep it down to one paragraph here. The biggest mistake I see filmmakers make regarding post is that they think it should be up front and obvious, or it's not needed. Smart directors and viz people know that the very apex of the skill is only achieved invisibly, when the audience never realizes that there were any sfx at all. Many high end directors know this, but indie filmmakers typically don't. Sky replacement on a boring day, adding trees to balance a shot, making traffic look busy when you couldn't afford to hire 75 drivers and shut down 3 city blocks. These are more refined approaches to adding PV via viz. Vis should enhance and compliment a story, it's not a replacement as many seem to think.

Personally, I'm just making a cartoon for young people to enjoy. They aren't as jaded as adult viewers, and unlike mature drama, which I would also like to make, I can come up with 500 case studies where people made serious profits. Once you have money coming in, the game changes a lot, and a smart director can snowball small wins into a fighting chance.

I write a lot on here, it's a break from demanding post work, and It keeps the rust off when it comes to just knocking out a few pages of text on demand. Just explaining why I wrote 2 pages here instead of the customary internet response "Yeah, special effects sucks"

Here's an example of what I'm talking about, I found it in 3 minutes. This is a small film, but it's published by a known studio. This is the lead trailer, the official channel one. It has 200k views, less than most videos about how to make a waffle. every other copy of the trailer is sitting at about 100 hits. Even with some studio support, and a few million in budget, these guys are going to loose their shirts on this movie. It has both drama and SFX, but still failed horribly. It's an interesting case study in terms of wrapping one's head around exactly how much resistance indie filmmakers face in the current market.

Here's a music video from the movie, it actually has 3x the views that the actual movie got, despite being terrible

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"Well, I would imagine that post work has some value, lol. (I'm guessing you haven't seen a lot of my work)"

I too am a "post" guy. Also special character creator. I've worked pro and semi-pro. Mostly Indie. I've had my 15 minutes but mostly I'm a 9 to 5 working stiff with some special skills.

My point was simply that everyone, including indies are relying on FX to be their ace in the hole. The problem with that idea is that awesome CGI, compositing, and other digital trickery is such common place now that there is almost nothing that wows us any longer. The big digital houses need a budget larger than a small country's GDP to pull off anything that will impress us at all. Talk about odds being stacked against the Indie film maker who doesn't have those resources. The best most Indies can hope for is a green screen shot without too much fringing or a CGI element that can be on screen longer than 3 seconds before it starts to look fake. Yes, It's the story. The story is the most important element of the movie and, sorry to say, I feel it is the most neglected.

Oh, there is so much to say about why movies are failing. Specifically, why there is little to no hope for Indie film makers. I usually get myself in trouble when I venture too deep into this conversation so I'll leave on a positive note and suggest that Indies could still have a chance but they have to find their own voice and stop trying to be Rich Little.
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I used to believe the hype that story was the most important, but it's not.
All the short films I've made I would say 90% of the feedback, an overwhelming amount, consists of people telling me what shots they liked.

That's really the most important.. it has to be visually stimulating for modern viewers or they aren't interested.
Story comes second. That's not to say that story isn't important... you NEED story to keep people watching more than 2 minutes.

But those first 2 minutes? Story won't cut it unless it's instantly brilliant beyond my capacity.
They will look at your aesthetic, lighting, costumes, acting and pass judgement before even giving the story a chance.

To recoin an old phrase.... I think the reality is closer to "Come for the visuals, stay for the story."

The best most Indies can hope for is a green screen shot without too much fringing or a CGI element that can be on screen longer than 3 seconds before it starts to look fake. Yes, It's the story. The story is the most important element of the movie and, sorry to say, I feel it is the most neglected.

I have a short screenplay with some shark attacks. a couple of 3 second shots would be fine.
Don't even need for it to hold up longer
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lol, I didn't realize your were also a post guy. Typically it's writers that launch into the "story is the most important and visuals aren't" speech. They aren't completely wrong.

As far as what Sean is saying, I think it's semantics, but it's basically what I was saying. Story may be core, but it doesn't matter if you don't have enough production values up front to at least get them to watch the story. That's why my current trailer is going to be just vulcan cannon style back to back viz shots with 60/30/10 balance.

Do you have any experience with UE?
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The mystery of movies is that nobody can tell what will succeed. I mean, who would have guessed that a movie starring Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman would tank? Yet Ishtar was made and it did tank.. ,, and who would have guessed that 3 improv actors with a camcorder and no script and almost no money could yield a movie that ended up earning over 100 million dollars? Yet The Blair Witch Project did.

Wasn't it great knowing that there was a chance you could make a successful film, even if only by chance or fate or luck? That's what use to keep the fire burning in me; the chance at success. Strangely, I don't feel it anymore.
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The mystery of movies is that nobody can tell what will succeed. I mean, who would have guessed that a movie starring Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman would tank? Yet Ishtar was made and it did tank.. ,, and who would have guessed that 3 improve actors with a camcorder and no script and almost no money could yield a movie that ended up earning over 100 million dollars? Yet The Blair Witch Project did.

Wasn't it great knowing that there was a chance you could make a successful film, even it only by chance or fate or luck? That's what use to keep the fire burning in me; the chance at success. Strangely, I don't feel it anymore.
I don't think it's that strange. Terrible, depressing, but ultimately, logical. I keep trying to find a way forward, and there's some evidence that there is one, but it's certainly not down the middle of the interstate, by which I mean just make a good film and hope it succeeds. One thing that's very clear at this point is that the world has changed a great deal, and new approaches and tactics will be required. I think for disenfranchised people like myself, it's more about guerilla warfare than any kind of pistols at dawn situation.

Also, lol, I don't want to make things worse, but you should probably read my writeup about the blair witch project, the greatest folktale in all of indie film history.