Teaching Change | Print |
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Written by Jason Tomaric   

As the old cliché´goes, the only constant is change.  This couldn’t be more the case with the film industry than in the past five years. 

With the explosive availability of DSLR cameras empowering low budget filmmakers, the collapse of the DVD market forcing independent filmmakers to work on lower budgets and consider alternative distribution methods and the decentralization of the film industry from Los Angeles,  these changes not only affect the working professional, but also you, the educator, as you strive to prepare your students for an increasingly unknown future.

The silver lining is that these changes are providing an equal number of benefits.

Availability of technology - Since the advent of digital video formats in the late 1990s, filmmakers outside the studio system have been able to produce broadcast-quality content for a fraction of the price as their professional counterparts.  Since then, the technological race to create a digital format that rivals the look and feel of 35mm film has yielded some of the most impressive and cost-affordable cameras by way of DLSR.  If you think DLSR camera are only for amateurs, consider that I ran into Ken Glassing, the Director of Photography on CSI: Miami last week, and we chatted at length about his increasing use of the Canon 7D for second unit and effect sequences.  The footage is so good, it edits seamlessly with Panavision Genesis footage.

Hollywood isn’t the only place that can benefit  from DSLR. With a price point of $1500 for the camera body and several lens and accessory options available, you can easily integrate these cameras into your classroom. DLSR technology is an outstanding way to teach framing and composition with a true depth of field, teach post-production workflows that will carry your students into the industry and for the first time, use technology that used to cost half a million dollars not more than a decade ago. Current camera ethnology has truly become affordable in both the classroom and the professional set.

Distribution - For decades, the direct-to-video market provided a stable, predictable distribution path for independent filmmakers. Many times, a solid low budget (>$200,000) genre pic could move 8-10 DVDs per Blockbuster or Hollywood Video store, generating a comfortable profit.  Customers and sellers both acknowledged what I call the 1:1 ratio.  This ratio means that a value, or price, is set for each individual product.  A producer who sells 100 DVDs makes money on 100 DVDs.  Unfortunately, this business model has fallen apart as the DVD rental market collapses.  With national rental chains steamrolled by online streaming sites like Netflix and iTunes, producers must now engage in a 1:infinity ratio in which some licensing agreements are based on a period of time, not necessarily the number of downloads.  Additionally, customers inherently view multimedia content purchased online as being less valuable than were it punched on a tangible medium.  Whereas a producer might gross $20/DVD a decade ago, now customers expect to pay no more than $3-$4 per digital download minus commission from the distributor, be it Apple or Amazon. For blanket licensing deals like Netflix, content producers fare worse as customers pay as little as $9/month to stream an unlimited number of titles.  While this distribution method is hugely profitable for content aggregators, it’s severely hampering producers’ abilities to produce profitable content.   This can, however be of benefit, because these outlets provide an opportunity for independent producers to avail their work to the world. Teaching how to sell a movie on iTunes or Amazon, stream through Netflix, market through YouTube or sell physical DVDs through your own website is as easy as bringing an internet-equipped computer into the classroom. Bring the distributors to your students to prepare them for the reality of today’s distribution model.

Decentralization of the Industry - Step onto any film set in Hollywood and you will invariably hear the crew acquiesce over the good times when work in the city was plentiful, but how production work has been, and continues, to leave Los Angeles. A decade ago the work was going north to Vancouver, where the American dollar went farther in the Canadian economy.  Then, with the recession and introduction of state filming incentives, the work quickly moved back state-side.  However, with states constantly trying to one-up each other by providing increasingly aggressive tax incentives or rebates, Hollywood has been moving its film shoots to the state with the biggest rebate.  First it was New Mexico, then Michigan, now it’s Louisiana and just recently, Georgia has announced a 40% tax rebate.  The bad news is for LA crews in Los Angeles for whom work is waning.  The good news is that high-end production work is making its way across the country.  As a result, local film commissions are working hard to train local crews so when Hollywood arrives, competent below-the-line crews are available.  These resources are an outstanding way of augmenting your classroom training to best prepare your students for a career in the industry, through internships, guest lectures and even getting students on set as a production assistant. Contact your local film commission to learn about your state’s filming incentives.

Whether you view these changes with excitement or trepidation, change is inevitably upon us.  With the affordability and availability of equipment and resources, never before has it been easier to introduce students to the ever changing world of film production.

Jason J. Tomaric is an Emmy-winning director and cinematographer in Los Angeles, and produces the online filmmaking resource, FilmSkills.com.  FilmSkills uses dozens of instructional videos from hundreds of working film industry experts to enhance students’ learning experience.


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