For many of us, these are challenging times; especially for older filmmakers. As we look around the landscape we see increasing competition, falling budgets, stretched resources and plenty of reasons to pull the blanket extra close in the morning and refuse to get up.
So, I thought I’d reach out to friends and associates in our industry and get their opinions to this question: “In today’s environment, what do you see as reasons for hope for media professionals?”
Their answers were amazing and I’m delighted to share their thoughts. Feel free to add your own in the Comments section.
NOTE: In all cases, people are speaking for themselves, not their company. I’ve listed their company just so you know their perspective.
SETTING THE SCENE
Carey Dissmore – IMUG
I’ve been in and around this business since the mid 1980’s. I have witnessed the ups and downs, twists and turns of our industry first hand. I have seen the production staffing pendulum swing between independent vs. staff and back again several times. I will acknowledge that the video production “industry” if you can call it that, generally favors the smaller, independent creative agencies and teams over large ones, but we have always had both. There will always be certain big clients that are best handled by big agencies, but that simply does not represent the majority of the market. It’s that mainstream of the industry I want to address.
Market forces are a powerful and undeniable thing. We are an industry powered by technology and people. I see change driven by generations of technology, but also by generations of people in the industry. While one can—and should—argue that the value placed on creative talent is to be decoupled from the cost of tools, there are, nevertheless, enough people within the market who (incorrectly) link the two and this is enough to impact the market at large.
The past 10 years have seen a particularly deep trough in our industry. A perfect storm of technological disruption, generational change, and the great recession. This longer-than-typical swing in the market started about the time of the DSLR revolution until today. This period has seen unprecedented jumps in imaging and post technology at breakthrough price points. This greater access to tools drove a flood of new people into the industry, initially fueled by indie film dreams and maxed out credit cards. Concurrently, video on the internet exploded, and continues to grow today. Despite this demand growth, during this period, the supply of labor in the workforce has continually exceeded the demand for production, causing downward pressure on rates. Market forces are powerful and undeniable.
During this same period we have seen a growth trend towards larger production companies hiring more staff, paying them “below traditional” market rates, creating assembly line production techniques and grinding out content. This, combined with the sheer volume of content now being produced, have had a commoditization effect on the perceived value of any given video program. Again, these types of entities have always been present, but we have witnessed a large surge in this category. I believe the surge in this type of production is unsustainable and hope it will soon recede to a smaller share of the overall market. It will, however, never cease to exist.
Coinciding with this, there has been a (perhaps unwittingly) complicit Millenial generation, coming out of school, loaded with debt, but full of creative idealism, taking these underpaid staff jobs. Perhaps that is because they don’t yet know their true value, or perhaps it’s because they think that’s what is expected of them, or they’re desperately wanting any start, anywhere. In my observation, the problem arises when these bright young individuals have high workload but little creative satisfaction at work. When there is no strong incentive to do better on the career side of life, it tends to lead these young idealists to redirect their passions towards after-work and social activities, relegating their job to “means to an end” status. This creates a negative feedback loop for creative career development. The management makes most of the money and the creatives burn out or wash out by their mid-30’s. This is a tragedy and a loss for our industry as a whole.
My straight talk advice to anyone who may find themselves in that situation is this: The fires of creative passion need to be constantly stoked in order to sustain a career in this business for the long haul. Blue collar thinking does not do that. Exercising creativity makes you a knowledge worker not a button pusher. Value yourself. You need to find your passion, and in turn, leverage it to make needed changes.
How do you do that? (Hint: no one will do it for you).
At some point each of us will have to face a choice: We can choose to spend all our energy complaining about how unfair everything is…and how we wish things would be, or we can choose to understand the realities of market forces as they apply to our situation and current skill set, and act accordingly. The supply and demand imbalance in the marketplace is slowly sorting itself out. While that is happening, anyone trying to get ahead is going to need to stand out. An enterprising individual will figure out where the market is going to find value, and focus their energies toward that end…developing their skill set, working on their people skills and positioning themselves to find that value proposition that will win them business.
My opinion regarding large vs. small production companies: Our industry needs more creative makers/doers and less managers. Historically, major studios excepted, our industry seems to find it’s level back to this smaller, independent stasis. Always bear in mind that managers, while necessary, get paid to watch over the creators who actually make stuff. Generally speaking, the larger the organization, the more management there is. It tends to really feed off itself in unhealthy ways, consuming resources in ways that do not show up on the screen. Market forces, being what they are, will only permit a certain value range to be charged for a given production. I assert that the at some companies, out-of-balance costs of institutional management (especially in large companies) are the number one factor suppressing the wages of the maker.
By contrast, smaller, focused teams of creatives who carry a mixed load of “managing” and “doing” will—to a person—own more of the process. This smaller, leaner type of structure affords the ability to pay creative doers what they are really worth, while also permitting them more direct engagement in assessing and meeting the needs of the client, who also benefits with higher value received. That is something to get passionate about, and work harder for. This tends to lead to healthier, longer, more sustainable careers. What this approach to the business ultimately boils down to is better working relationships, greater trust, and greater understanding in the client/production partner relationship.
Out of this background, what gives me reason for hope is the positive movement I am personally witnessing in our industry. While there is some necessary attrition, I see a movement amongst creatives, many now in their 30’s. It is characterized by an awakening…where they recognize they may be in an unhealthy, exploitive job. Many are deciding that they need to break free from their soul-crushing institutional chains and blue collar “job” thinking towards working in this industry. They need to get to a healthier place, a place where creativity can thrive and family-sustaining compensation levels can be achieved. It is a total shift of mindset, and there is a lot to this…but when hard work is more directly coupled with greater rewards, it is easier to stoke the fires of creative passion. Those fires are what propel one’s career forward and—by extension—make this industry better.
Norman Hollyn – USC School of Cinematic Arts
I think there are plenty of reasons for media creators to hope for the future, but it requires us to jettison some of our ideas about what our worlds of media production and distribution should look like.
There is little doubt that the old models of feature films, traditional episodic television and production house ownership are dying, but what is replacing them is more exciting than at any time that I’ve been working in post-production. Increased tools – in VFX, color correction, audio and picture editing – have given me a larger palette to use in telling my stories. There are an increasing number of outlets for our work – over and above the studio model that I got my start in. That means that I get to work with people who I never would have worked with before – across continents, across the country or across town. Our work can be viewed in a larger number of formats than ever – and in different environments. It goes beyond Virtual and Immersive worlds; nearly every fine artist, choreographer and musician is now including video in their shows.
We don’t need to be slaves to only one model of job.
Working on multiple projects at the same time, editing in the cloud to collaborate with creators of different kinds, and having larger opportunities for our creativity – these are the exciting changes that are happening today and will expand tomorrow. I’ve seen my own students at USC step into that world. Will it pay less than big feature films? Of course. Will it put pressure on facilities to create tools at lower cost? Of course, though that has been happening for a while.
But, for those of us trained in efficient techniques, good storytelling and excellent collaborative personalities – this world is going to get better and better.
I look forward to it.
Jim Tierney – CEO, Digital Anarchy
Video has become an essential part of most web marketing and search engine optimization strategies. I think this opens up a lot of opportunities for editors/producers to partner with folks they might not have in the past… web developers, SEO experts, etc…. to take advantage of the need for high quality videos that can cut through the noise on the web. Yes, these often have lower budgets, but there’s never been more tools to shoot on a budget with. For some people, that might mean getting over themselves… yes, you and an assistant can get that shot for a web video with an iPhone in an hour. You don’t need a two-day shoot with a FS7, bag of Zeiss primes and a 4 person crew.
Folks may need to adjust their skill set somewhat, for example learning about how video affects SEO so they can better advise clients on how to make the most of the videos that they’re creating. But I think the demand for online video is a great thing and should present a lot of opportunities.
Let me know if that rings true. It certainly seems like it from my viewpoint, but I’m not as connected into the industry as you are. God knows, video SEO has been a significant part of my job in the last couple years. So it seems like creating video content and optimizing it for search is a big deal.
Boris Yamnitsky – CEO, Boris FX
I’m super excited about the new VR direction our combined group of companies is taking. It’s a new medium, new metaphor, something [the] entertainment industry has not seen since color television….
In fact the impact is even more startling. It’s not storytelling but it may be more than storytelling. It’s immersive, less abstract than video, even more so than literature or music, it’s for the simple-minded robots we are all slowly becoming, generation after generation. It’s the future. There is a lot of money to be made there.
Anyway, my vision for 2017. Enjoy.
Michele Terpstra – VP Marketing, ToolFarm
Great question. Off the top of my head, here are a few:
1. A lot of software companies have dropped their prices over the past few years so this is really helpful to small businesses. It’s easier to create amazing quality on a small budget these days. Computer equipment is overall faster and cheaper per MB than it was 10 years ago.
2. If you want to learn software, there are so many free resources that have quality training. Lately, YouTube has been my go-to source for learning. This allows people to learn new things and enhance their own skills without a huge overhead.
3. Filmmakers are pumping out great indie films like never before. Smaller companies seem to be making great films and they are getting exposure, not just a few big Hollywood companies.
4. Because of the internet, someone working in Iowa could potentially have a job with a VFX company in London. We are no longer stuck working for companies that are based where we live.
5. Also because of the internet, we have the capabilities of collaborating with people all over the world.
THE MARKET IS EXPLODING
Dan May – President, Blackmagic Design/US
I understand what you mean. I think it goes beyond our industry, of course, but I think it plays out for our business and creative space as well!
This is a message I’ve been saying lately and will end up saying again at NAB.
I think for filmmakers and creatives, there is a huge amount of hope for the craft.
Things have changed in the past decade and now anyone has the ability to create with amazing quality. The days of only a small group of companies having the buying power to be able to afford to make films or shows is over. It is up to a person’s talent, and not their bank account. Combine that with the fact that the number of places where filmmakers can show and make money from their content is growing.
It seems like every week I am hearing about a new streaming service. You now have Facebook Live and YouTube Live, and there are clearly more eyes on more screens looking for content than we’ve ever seen.
So, for an artist there are places for people to see their work, and the technology to create the absolute best has been democratized. The barriers are gone, and that should give hope to everyone wanting to create.
Drew Little – Former CEO, Red Giant Software
Let me start with a bombshell, I have more hope today than I’ve had since 1999, and that’s not a Prince reference;-) (or maybe it is….)
It seems [this] depression stems from two points of view: the business climate, which includes dramatic changes and the political or state of the world’s leadership.
Let’s tackle the business one, because it’s the easiest.
Sure business is different today, the game is different, but are you telling me there is less business opportunity today than 20 years ago? If you are, you’re in complete denial and not paying attention to the opportunities that exist, that perspective and attitude is bullshit and kinda pisses me off.
Let me start with some basic statistics that exist today. There are 7 billion people in the world today, half of them are online and the other half will be in 5-10 years. 2 billon of them are on Facebook and another billion are on YouTube. The off-the-shelf platforms for ecommerce, reaching people, building websites, and streaming blow my mind, knowing where we came from 15 years ago.
Yes, those are obvious stats that everyone knows, but I’m here to tell you. Being successful is the same today as it was in Roman times, cunning, hard work, unique skills, focusing on your strengths, surrounding yourself with complementary amazing people, tenacity, kindness and doing the right thing.
If this sounds harsh, it’s meant to be. It’s time to get back to being a student, and doing what you love. Find partners that inspire you, find partners connected to today’s world of opportunity. Attend modern business seminars, your mind will be blown away.
I recommend you immediately read BOLD, by Peter Diamandis, it will open your eyes to the world and inspire your future. I read it 14 months ago and it changed the way I think about everything. I left Red Giant, starting a tech incubator, attended business seminars, and am resetting all my perspectives and skills to reach 10’s of millions, not 1000’s.
Terry Hope – Publisher, ProMovieMaker magazine
I agree, of course, that ours is becoming an increasingly testing and challenging industry to be part of, and that competition, as well as driving standards up, is also driving down the price that qualified and talented individuals can charge for their services. It’s also true that budgets are under pressure and that there are always people who will work for free or who will undercut your quote, making life difficult for everyone.
But I do, for sure, see reasons for hope, and that’s got much to do with the increased number of opportunities that are arising for filmmakers at all levels and in all positions. There has never before been a time where the demand for good quality, well crafted footage has been greater, with the number of outlets increasing exponentially as bandwidths expand and make online sharing increasingly feasible. The toolset we’ve all been provided with has likewise become immense and affordable, which has encouraged more people than ever before into this arena for sure, but those who know what they’re doing and exercise strict quality control will still stand out.
It’s also easier than ever before to network and to find people to work with: you can out together a crew for a job at the click of a mouse and share and highlight your productions through the likes of YouTube and Vimeo like never before. And, with resources such as crowd-funding to tap into, it’s now possible to get support for a well conceived film idea, so if you’re resourceful enough you can be in the driving seat and in full creative control of your project.
I’m currently working on a feature in Pro Moviemaker where I’m talking to a selection of 2016 graduates to hear how they’ve got on since entering the professional world full-time, and there are some serious success stories out there. I’m not sure anyone is making a fortune, but they’re all chasing the dream and are loving their careers, which is sometimes what it’s all about. For those already in the industry the challenge is to keep on top of technology (such as VR), to learn new skill sets, to become ever more adept at marketing and social media and to never stand still.
That to me is the key to it all: I can’t believe how relentlessly this industry moves on, and the real threat I see is complacency and a belief that what you’ve achieved in the past will ensure you get plenty of work in the future. You now need to be open to everything that’s going on, aware of the new opportunities that are out there and using your experience and contacts like never before to stay ahead of the chasing pack. You’ve got to be better and have more to offer than those people coming through, and that will be the reason why you’ll still get work at a decent rate.
Nobody said it was going to be easy, but it sure is a hell of a business to be part of!
Paul Babb – CEO, Maxon Computer Inc.
Well, there certainly is a huge demand for info motion graphics and news graphics. 😉
First off, I’d say, there’s never been a better time in history for an artist to make a living than now. There’s motion graphics, visual effects, web graphics, interactive design, the scientific and medical visualization community is using animation more and more, demand for more sophisticated engineering and architecture imagery as well.
Producing an independent film has never been more affordable or accessible. I know many young filmmakers who are writing, directing, producing and even creating their own visual effects. Some of them are even getting enough attention and/or low level online distribution to make a living.
Then there’s the developing VR and AR markets. VR really hasn’t figured out what it’s going to be, yet clients are spending tons of money trying to get a foothold. And, mark my words, AR is going to be HUGE. Once a convenient and built-in delivery method breaks, AR is going to be everywhere. That market and the content creation for it is going to explode.
Cirina Catania – Filmmaker
You asked….What is HOPE and why do we need it?
Hope is the bright light of desire that transcends darkness and leads us to happiness.
A child is born and cannot breathe until it cries out. Struggle is an integral part of the human condition, but whatever time we have here on earth, it is hope that leads us to our destiny, shows us possibility, and keeps our hearts beating in tune with the universe.
Focus on someone or something that inspires you and you will be strong and succeed.
We are creatives, but we are human beings first.
One of my inspirations is my Sicilian grandfather, who as a young boy, came to America in 1906 alone by freighter. He was unable to read or write, but hard work led him to a job as a gangway man on the pier in Brooklyn hauling 100-pound bags of sugar for Domino’s. Filadelfo Catania eventually brought his family to this country where they enjoyed a happy and prosperous life.
You can do it! Together, we can do it! And that is hopeful.
Ned Soltz – Contributing Editor, Red Shark News
I can look around me and find many reasons to despair. The idealism that many of us shared for global citizenship has been shattered by resurgent xenophobic nationalisms. We Woodstock generation survivors need to temper our ideals with contemporary realities while still retaining deeply-seated hope that those ideals may one day be realized.
When Larry asked several of us to articulate reasons for hope, I began to ponder what it is that can give us hope when our goals, ideals and indeed even expectations seem at best elusive and at worst unattainable. But before there can be reasons for hope there needs to be the capacity for hope. Half-full half-empty isn’t just a cliché. Hope requires a willingness to reach deeply into ourselves to find strengths we often never knew we had and then the honesty to reframe those hopes.
We content creators and technical gurus (and my generation knows what a guru really is) all of a sudden find ourselves in a world were our skills and knowledge aren’t esoteric any more. Everybody is a content creator. Technological innovation comes from all spheres of life from all over the globe. Whatever you do, there is someone it seems who can do it at least as well—and definitely cheaper.
It is unquestionably a cause for despair when a YouTube cat video has more views than a carefully crafted production piece. Many of us on the techie side of the industry rage at celebrity bloggers who are self-appointed self-vetted experts with large followings and dubious accuracy. Components of my own business are dropping. Yet with all of this, I consider myself a hopeful individual.
No, this is not a make life’s lemons into lemonade pop psychology message.
Rather, it is one which looks for opportunity.
Many years ago I was questioning myself when the jobs I wanted just weren’t coming my way and I was fearful of competition. A highly successful entrepreneur told me something that at the moment bolstered my spirits and I still replay those words in dark times. “The function of competition”, he said, “is to make you look better.”
My reason for hope, then, is the excitement of new technologies, new delivery paths, new ways of looking at opportunities. Uncertainty doesn’t necessarily breed despair. In fact to me it raises hopes. It makes me sharper. It leads to new skills. It leads to a willingness to retool or reoriented myself and my business. It means greater self-honesty which in turn may lead to new opportunity.
Shooting rates are down. So I plan my hardware investments accordingly. Or I retain hope that the client who looks to the cheapest solution may realize that the cheaper competition makes me look better.
I look forward to the next advance. I look forward to rewriting the rules. It is scary. And the very excited anticipation of the next advance and the next challenge fill me with a sense of hope that drives me to succeed.
Michael Horton – Head Cutter, LACPUG
Reason for hope? Of course there is reason for hope.
These are depressing and scary times. But so was ten years ago. And twenty years ago. And thirty years ago. When was it not? Yet somehow and some way we get through it. How? I don’t know. Hard work? Has to be more than that. Talent? Lots of people are talented.
I think our biggest motivator is fear. It drives us to work harder simply to survive. Ego plays a part. Most of us will never settle for less than excellent.
My Dad told me once: “Do not let ONE day go by that you do not do at least ONE thing to achieve your goals.” My dad probably didn’t say that, but it’s a line that keeps me going.
Understand that most people can’t do what we do. It’s either too scary not knowing where your next paycheck is coming from, or they just discover that it is never going to happen for them. Creative people will never have it easy. But we know that. Yet we keep on going. How? I don’t know.
We have no choice but to keep going. It’s what we do.
There are days where I plead guilty to wishing life would go back to “the way things were.” Sometimes, the challenges of a changing economy, continual technological change, and the constant need to reinvent ourselves are just overwhelming.
That’s one of the reasons I wrote this article.
In reading these comments, I realized that change and challenge are a part of life – they were yesterday and they are today. Wishing that weren’t so won’t make them go away. But that’s actually a good thing.
It’s my belief that creativity is at its best when it struggles against barriers. Barriers of time, resources, clients or “that blank white page.” Creative breakthroughs occur by pushing to expand our voice or our vision in spite of the forces arrayed against us. The struggle can be exhausting, but the rewards are amazing.
We can rail against reality, complain that things today aren’t like they were in the old days. But, back in the old days, things were pretty challenging too. Pick any decade in the last 150 years and you’d discover creative and technological turmoil bubbling just below the surface. Its easy to gloss over the fear this caused, because, unlike the challenges of today, we know how yesterday’s battles turned out.
Focus on what makes each of us unique, continue building on our strengths and working on our weaknesses, network to build stronger relationships – you can’t have too many friends – leverage new technology and don’t be afraid to learn something new every day.
There are huge opportunities in front of us – the key is to realize that they are not the same opportunities of the past. I agree with Mike Horton when he said: “We have no choice but to keep going. It’s what we do.”
Never give up.
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