CASE STUDY: Top 13 Stories, Trends and Legal Decisions in Film/TV for 2013

on loan from Short of the Week - see their 2013 list of shorts
2013 winds its way to a close and we are wiser, wealthier or both. 
Wealth is never a guarantee for the veteran filmmaker let alone the first-timer. And, as a result, the wisdom gained can be bittersweet.  Nevertheless, as a weird mix of artist and entrepreneur, the wealth and wisdom we attain can be measured and classified in a variety of blessed ways.  Wealth and wisdom in practical knowledge, local connections and production experience are valuable indeed.

We live and work in interesting times and the tech we use and watch, the society we live and practice in and the tactics and strategies we employ are ever changing taking our beloved art form to strange places. And until the end of time or until film as an art form is supplanted, each year brings something new that mattered in film and TV; whether its a modification of something old for new times or something simply brand new and unexpected. In the end, for those of us in it for the long haul, it's our job to spot and absorb the trends and stories we can somehow benefit from. To get wealthier and wiser now and in the future. For 2013 I highlight 13 stories and trends that impacted the entertainment industry and will ripple or resonate throughout 2014 and beyond.

What stories and trends do you find most impactful? Answer in the comments below.

  1. Newsflash: China and Hollywood keep checking each other out at the party, now drinking together.  Pretty soon they will be carrying on an affair.  At the moment, Hollywood is supporting Chinese-made blockbusters but it comes with compromises as Hollywood has to decide how to make films with characters China likes and that bureaucrats like. And how worth it is it for Hollywood when hackers want your secrets and China might just be angling to make its own "Hollywood" that surpasses the original Hollywood?
  2. The SEC and crowdfunding.  As James Franco, Zach Braff and Spike Lee make ever bigger splashes by crowdfunding their movies, the SEC made some splashes of its own by wading into the equity crowdfunding waters.  Actually they started in 2012, receiving comments from the public and writing their drafts until they weighed in with 585 pages of crowdfunding rules.  In the end all everyone wants to know is how the JOBS Act and crowdfunding will impact indie film.
  3. Films starring or directed by minorities appealing to larger and larger white US audiences as more than just a "minority" film.  And although Andre Seewood might argue that white audiences still don't embrace so-called "black" films enough, he notes that studios should not treat all black films as one singular genre that appeals to one singular audience.
  4. Indie films stand to be the blockbusters of the future and indies are already financing more middle budget movies as the major studios focus on tentpoles. Maybe the studios will even learn their lesson and try to make movies like indies.
  5. The Marvel methodThe Marvel Method used to be the process Marvel comics used to make comicbooks but now it represents their process of filmmaking.  They created and implemented a risky strategy and developed a system for choosing directors and watched it pay off in a big way with huge profits and critical acclaim.  They are also redefining the superhero genre. And studios are trying to decode their strategy of success.  Warner Bros. studios which owns another big powerhouse in comic books, DC Comics, is taking notes and hoping they can catch up.  Ah, imitation, the highest form of flattery.
  6. Vine videos.  Are they a new acceptable format length for storytelling or a new form of marketing and advertising?
  7. The success of original Netflix series like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black is a seminal moment in TV history.  That can't be denied but the question everyone is asking, is this kind of success sustainable?
  8. Another thing Netflix has done is create (or enable) a culture of bingewatching. Huffington Post posts asks the pertinent question: Has binge watching changed the way we live our lives? Netflix and cultural anthropologist Grant McCracken recently found that 61 percent of streaming television users binge on their shows and 73 percent feel positive about this kind of viewing.  Since 2012 people have wondered how bingewatching is changing the landscape and the questions still remain.  How will this impact the production of television series moving forward? How will a writer/producer shoot episodes when she doesn't need a cliffhanger every commercial break since presumably most people will be bingewatching instead of watching it when it airs? How will advertising on TV adapt?  Will this mean less money for TV productions?  And with audiences accustomed to watching hours of TV in one sitting will this mean movies that go way beyond the 90 minute to 2 hour mark be popular outside of arthouses?  Or does this only work in an environment where you can easily get out of your chair, go to the bathroom or eat something and return where you left off later? 
  9. In California, according to a recent case, Entertainment Lawyers can be held subject to the Talent Agencies ActIn September 2013, the Labor Commissioner ruled in Solis v. Blancarte that Los Angeles attorney James Blancarte had violated the Talent Agencies Act by “procuring employment” for his client without a talent agent license.  However, the story is not over.  "Mr. Blancarte has timely filed his appeal with the Superior Court and we will hear more on the plight of the California entertainment lawyer as unlicensed talent agent." 
  10. Youtube has once again prevailed against Viacom and other broadcasters who accuse Youtube of hosting tens of thousands of copyrighted videos.
  11. Interns beat FOX in a huge labor class action lawsuit making many corporations revisit their internship programs and intern work policies.
  12. Aereo (a technology company based in New York City that allows subscribers to view live as well as time-shifted streams of over-the-air television on Internet-connected devices) defeats TV broadcasters attempts to shut it down for the moment while many in Hollywood feel that Aereo puts their financial health at stake.
  13. Record High Income Inequality Threatens US Growth. Because it also affects the indie filmmakers struggling to make films or find investors as much as the movie watchers who can't afford to go or choose to spend what little they have on other leisures.  These are things that many in the 1% are not stressing because for them times are good. As Paul Krugman points out, the American elite has almost never been in such a dominant position. Who needs a stronger job market when profits are high and workers cowed?  But more specifically for filmmakers, high income inequality means only certain types of people will be able to afford to make films thus limiting the kinds of stories that get told and watched and starving the culture even more.
Ok, those are my choices for the top 13 major stories, trends and decisions in 2013 that are or will be impacting our filmmaking strategies for the foreseeable future.  
Let's see what 2014 brings.

Keep thinking, reflecting, writing, making and creating films and Have a Happy New Year!



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