The Economics of Film


Times are tough in the film industry. That’s according to two entertainment professionals who spoke at the Darden School of Business this afternoon. While the economy is taking its toll on Hollywood and independent film makers, it has not dampened the enthusiasm of Mike Million and Marc Lieberman.

Million, a writer, director and founder of Third Story Films, and Lieberman, co-founder of Cavalier Films and a producer for the Onion News Network, spoke to a standing room only crowd in Classroom 180 this afternoon. They came to the School as the featured speakers in the Darden Producers Forum, held in conjunction with the Virginia Film Festival taking place in Charlottesville.  

“The economy has significantly affected the independent film industry,” said Million. “It’s already a tough business, but now fewer films are being made and everyone is doing their best to avoid being weeded out.”

Lieberman agreed with Million’s assessment of the economy’s influence on the film industry.

“It’s always been a cyclical business,” he said. “But I’m not sure it will come back like it has in the past. Because of web video and other free media, people don’t want to pay for content so we’re all trying to figure out what the future holds.”

Million explained how a $5 million independent film could cost and additional $20 million in marketing.

“So, people are carefully thinking about whether it’s worth producing that $5 million film now,” Million said. “Sometimes they’re deciding not to pursue the project or to, at least, pay everyone involved much less.”

Digital video is competing with the film industry according to Million. He said it will continue to do so although nobody knows the extent to which film will be affected.

“The audience’s attention span is getting shorter thanks, in part, to online video,” he said. “Plus, people are doing other things while viewing. So if people like watching videos that are a few minutes long, how will they react to a movie that is 90 minutes long?”

While it’s a challenging time to be in the movie business, both speakers said it is not all doom and gloom.

“TV is not dead by any means. There are some great shows on TV now,” said Million. “Television could be the future for content that adults enjoy.”

In addition, Million and Lieberman said the tight economy is causing “the good stuff” to rise to the top. They said that while production is slow now, that could lead to a need to quality programming in the near future.

After a question and answer session, both men showed clips of their recent work. Million shared a few minutes from his new movie Tenure starring Luke Wilson.

Lieberman shared the trailer from Familiar Strangers, which was in theatres last year and will be available on DVD November 10.

Founded in 1955, the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business improves society by developing leaders in the world of practical affairs.

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