Information, technology, and economy as it relates to filmmakers

Recently my post celebrating the 10 Year Anniversary of KWOON sparked some discussion on the forum about the state we’re in today compared to 10 years ago. Not in general, but as filmmakers.

For those who have been hiding from the news (for good reason), we’re in a recession that’s probably the worst since 1929. Unemployment is hovering around the 10% mark, consumer confidence is low, and the stock market is worth about half of what it was during the housing bubble-era. Economic indicators aside, what does it mean to a filmmaker? Perhaps there are some metrics that the talking heads on FOX and CNN are missing.

Here are some comparisons between our situation now versus 1999:

  1999 2009
Low-Budget Camera $700 (Sony Hi-8 TRV95) $700 (Sony 3-chip TRV900)
High-Budget Camera $100,000+ (35mm camera + stock + developing costs) $3,750 (Scarlet)
Web Hosting ( $10/Month (50MB / 1500MB transfer) $5/Month (10,000MB / 300,000MB transfer)
8GB Harddrive $200 (HDD) $5 (thumbdrive)
1,000GB Harddrive $18,000 (50 x 20GB HDD) $100
Dell Inspiron 1150 Laptop
(for editing DV footage)
$1,000 (2004) $74.00
HD Limited to industry Everywhere
Youtube, Wikipedia, Facebook No Yes

All these technological advances were driven by profit-seeking. Obtain profits by creating products that consumers want and competing with other companies for market share. Without the legal means to make a profit, companies would not pioneer the technology that allow us to produce films so much more efficiently today vs. 1999.

As filmmakers, we are much better off now than we were 10 years ago. While the supply of films continues to grow, the barriers to entry into the film market shrink, making it easier and cheaper to make a moderate return on a small feature film investment. I was listening to a podcast on EconTalk recently (I recommend) where they talked about startup companies and how now it’s so much cheaper and easier to build a startup company than it was 10 years ago. Programming languages are more abstract and have bigger building blocks, cheap computers can handle all the software a startup requires, and information is free.

Today we’re able to grow more efficiently than we could in 1999. $100 today is worth so much more than $100 in 1999, even adjusted for inflation. The amount of productivity we can enjoy thanks to online social networking and the low cost of producing feature films means our $100 takes us today to where only $5,000 could take us in 1999. Wealth is not created by simply moving money from point A to point B. The pie stays the same size in that case. Wealth is created by the increased efficiency and productivity that improves our standard of living, thereby making the pie bigger, meaning bigger slices for everyone.