“The Independent Filmmaker’s Guide to the New Hollywood: Success in the Era of Netflix and Streaming Video” is author and filmmaker Gabriel Campisi’s third book about the business of filmmaking, this time focusing on the streaming storm that’s evolving the way we consume entertainment.
PopAxiom spoke with Gabriel about falling in love with movies, how things have changed, and his latest book, “The Independent Filmmaker’s Guide to the New Hollywood: Success in the Era of Netflix and Streaming Video.”
“My father was a private investigator,” Gabriel says when I ask about where filmmaking came into his life. “He had a Super-8mm camera. When I was 8 years old, I watched Star Wars, and I wanted to make movies from that day forward. But I had no idea what I was doing at that age.”
Gabriel not only received the gift of a Super-8mm camera from his father, but he also learned a few tricks. “My father taught me how to do still-frame animation,” he says. And soon he started putting all these new skills to the test. “By the time I was 13, I was shooting a lot more elaborate short films. By the time I was 15, I did one and sent it out to a huge film festival, and I won first place.”
The success of The Lost Creature was only the beginning for Gabriel. “I just kept going after that. I love it. Filmmaking is in my blood. Right after high school, I started working ground-level as a production assistant, and eventually got into camera work, production supervising, and editing.”
About The Independent Filmmaker’s Guide
“The Independent Filmmaker’s Guide to the New Hollywood: Success in the Era of Netflix and Streaming Video” is Gabriel’s latest book on the film industry. “By the time I was 25, I was doing a lot of big stuff. I was working in Hollywood, and on my way up.”
But then life happened. “At 25, I took a big detour,” he reveals. “I was forced to step away from the business due to personal family issues. I still stayed in the game by advising other filmmakers and helping with their movies.”
Consulting work is what paved the way for writing about making movies in his first book, “The Independent Filmmaker’s Guide to Writing a Business Plan for Investors.”
“The first book I wrote because I helped a friend get financing for his film in Los Angeles. He wanted to make a movie and knew all about production, but not about the business and the money. So, I started coaching him.”
Later, Gabriel says, word got around, and he “helped a few others do the same thing.” Friends kept telling him to write a book to help independent filmmakers figure out financing, but Gabriel “wasn’t convinced.”
However, after a year of prodding from and arguing with filmmaker friends, Gabriel “finally put together a business plan with a cover letter and sent it out to five book publishers. All five publishers responded within a month or two and said yes, they were interested. I was blown away. I didn’t think that would happen.”
Gabriel’s second book, “The Independent Filmmaker’s Guide to Writing a Business Plan for Investors — Second Edition,” was the 2012 follow-up. Gabriel wrote it, he says, because “the business had started to change.”
Now, “The Independent Filmmaker’s Guide to the New Hollywood: Success in the Era of Netflix and Streaming Video” comes on the heels of more seismic changes in the industry. “I’ve seen how much has shifted in just the last five years. It’s completely upended the business.”
Gabriel says what has happened is unprecedented. “The market changed, the strategies changed, the technology changed, and the business changed,” he says about Hollywood over the past decade. “Before you could sell units, you could count DVD sales or movie tickets. Now, we are dealing with online metrics and analytics, and it’s a whole different thing. So, I told my publisher it might be time for a new book.”
“The Independent Filmmaker’s Guide to the New Hollywood: Success in the Era of Netflix and Streaming Video” is not about how to make a movie. “In the introduction, I say, today the technology is so cheap that just about anyone can go out and make a movie. The book’s not about that. It’s about making a movie for commercial success in today’s industry.”
Streaming Versus Cinema
“I interviewed a bunch of my friends from Hollywood — filmmakers, producers, and executives,” Gabriel says about the book. “I spoke to studio level, the middle of the road, and independent filmmakers alike. In the pre-COVID world, they were already trying to figure out how to get people out of their homes and into theaters.”
The pandemic has hurt the exhibition business even more. “However, I don’t think movie theaters are going to go away,” Gabriel says.
We discuss the possibility of “vertical integration.” Back in the 40s, judges considered it counter-productive to allow studios to also own theaters. “They considered it unfair to third-party players,” Gabriel says. “Now, with streaming, the competition shifted, and they took it down.”
The Paramount Decrees of 1948 was struck down in August of 2020, paving the way for studios to own theaters again, and, perhaps, to save the theater experience in the process.
The streaming showdown is in full effect. In 2020, NBC/Universal and Warner Brothers, two major studios, launched their streaming services to compete with Netflix, Amazon Prime, AppleTV, and Disney+. Gabriel says, “A lot of people don’t know this, but Netflix and all these companies are losing money hand over fist. The competition is so fierce, and you have to get new customers and retain old customers. The only way to do that is with more products. Content, content, content. So, they’re spending billions every year to make new content so that they can stay on top.”
“The other platforms, Disney, Amazon, etc.,” he continues, “are spending billions to fight Netflix and get a piece of the streaming pie. They’re betting on the future by spending billions today. Who knows who will be standing ten years from now?”
Can streaming services continue to justify spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a project? “There’s going to come a time when they can’t justify the expenses any longer, but the reason they do it is to offer the audience something they can’t see elsewhere.”
Gabriel says no one knows for certain where this is all going to lead, and then jokes, “There’s a lot of creative accounting, too, but that’s a whole other book!”
The age of streaming presents new opportunities for both creators and viewers. But it creates new problems, too. “The biggest thing is that it’s a whole new game. I have friends that are still stuck on the old system. They’ll shoot an indie movie for a few hundred-thousand dollars, and then they can’t get the sales they need to cover the budget. They take it all around the world, and nothing happens to their expectations. It’s a buyer’s market. There’s so much product.”
“The pie is getting bigger,” he says about the modern age of seemingly endless amounts of content. “But the slices are getting smaller. That’s the number one thing I tell everyone. As long as you keep that in mind, you can proceed accordingly.”
As Gabriel’s book discusses, the proper things include taking advantage of new paradigms. “You can work with an aggregator or distributor, know where the movie is going to end up. I tell everyone now, you need to talk with your distributor first. Get an idea, realistically, about what kind of money you can make. Ten years ago, you could shoot a movie for half-a-million dollars and sell it all over the world. You’d easily quadruple the money. You can’t do that anymore. You have to try and do a deal ahead of time.”
Gabriel shares a story of how things happen today in the business. “People will now go to a channel with several projects to pitch. And the channel will say, ‘No, on this one, we’re doing something like it; this one is too dark, but we like this one.’ The channel will say, ‘If you shoot this movie and get this actor, we’ll give you a million dollars. So, the filmmakers go off and shoot the movie for half-a-million, let’s say, because they know they’re not getting more than a million. They deliver the movie, receive the money, and profit that way.”
Gabriel’s book goes into great detail about the four elements you have to keep in mind these days, which he calls the four pillars of Hollywood. “First, it’s proper communication, second is entertainment, third is technology, and fourth is the business. You have to well-versed in all of these things. If just one of these is off, you run the risk of not doing well. A lot of filmmakers tend to only worry about one or two of the four.”
Gabriel talks about a guy he knew who went out and got the best equipment available, but made a terrible movie with it. “He had the technology,” Gabriel says. “But technology alone is nothing more than a tool. A paintbrush is only as good as the artist.”
Decades after learning a little animation and how to use a Super-8mm camera, there is no lack of enthusiasm for making movies when talking to Gabriel. “Movies are our imagination come to life, and it’s part of who we are. What’s the difference between a hundred years ago and today? Nothing. We’re still expressing our imaginations.”
“The Independent Filmmaker’s Guide to the New Hollywood: Success in the Era of Netflix and Streaming Video” is out and available at book retailers both online and off.
So, what’s next for Gabriel? “Well, I had two movies that came to a grinding halt because of the pandemic. The big thing now is, and I asked for permission to reveal this, I’m working with Scott Mitchell Rosenberg, one of the coolest filmmakers you’ll ever meet. He’s the guy behind all the Men in Black movies and Cowboys and Aliens at Platinum Studios. I’m on the production and creative team that also includes filmmaker John Lechago, another amazing person. I can’t say more at this time, but hopefully soon audiences will get to see what we’ve been working so diligently at.”
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Thanks to Gabriel Campisi and October Coast
for making this interview possible.
Read more interviews from Ruben R. Diaz!