How New Technology is Changing the Film Industry


In 2011, the first feature film shot entirely on a Smartphone was screened at a West Hills cinema in Los Angeles. Olive, by director Hooman Khalili, was filmed solely on a Nokia N8 and thanks to its cinema run, qualifies for Academy Award consideration. Olive is a reminder that the traditional days of filmmaking are now behind us. The film industry today is in a constant state of change, with a wealth of new opportunities available for those with their finger on the pulse. Thanks to rapidly evolving digital technology, film making and distribution is undergoing a major revolution. Avenues such as YouTube, web series and smart phone applications are all viable- and often lucrative- methods of getting work into the public eye.

In the past, short film makers were lucky to have their work seen by a few hundred festival goers. These days, however, YouTube channels make it easy for filmmakers to broadcast their work to a worldwide audience. Whilst numerous directors run their own channels, collectives such as the Young Irish Film Makers host channels showcasing a number of different artists. Festivals like Sundance also broadcast pieces via this medium. YouTube has also played host to numerous exciting social media ventures, including India’s 2011 Dirt is Good film competition. The project, sponsored by a local laundry brand, invited young filmmakers the chance to work with Bollywood professionals to produce their own short films. In addition to being aired in more than 400 cinemas across India, the winning pieces are now featured on the competition’s YouTube channel. In their first week of broadcast, the films attracted more than 120,000 views, with the number increasing to 330,000 within a month.

Of course, Youtube is just one of many options for filmmakers wishing to get their content into the public eye. A number of more discerning video sites are appearing online, including Atom (atom.com) and Current TV (current.com). Many of these sites specialise in different genres, such as comedy or documentaries and have dedicated legions of fans. Current TV also broadcasts its top submissions on their UK cable TV channel and pays filmmakers accordingly.

The burgeoning medium of web TV is also making it possible for filmmakers to broadcast entire series without relying on hard-to-come-by television deals. Web TV has been growing steadily since it first appeared back in 1995. Creators of the first web series The Spot combined their short episodes with character blogs and viewer posts, which helped shape plot lines to suit audience tastes. As broadband speed and availability increased, delivering film content via the internet became the outlet of choice for many filmmakers looking reach a potentially global audience twenty-four hours a day. The International Academy of Web Television was founded in 2009 and is devoted to the advancement of this rapidly growing medium.

2011 saw the arrival of new UK series Persona. The world’s first “Smartphone Drama” allows viewers to download daily ‘appisodes’ for viewing on Smartphones and IPads. Now in its third season, Persona boasts more than 200,000 fans around the world.

Needless to say, these new avenues mark a major turning point for independent film. So many distribution options provide directors with much greater freedom over their work, whilst social media outlets make marketing a film significantly cheaper and more effective. Internet distribution also gives independent films a much greater chance of making significant profits. Many filmmakers now sell their films via instant download from their website, resulting in a much greater profit margins than receiving royalties from a retailer. Selling direct to the public has the added bonus of direct contact with your audience base, often leading to valuable feedback and information.

New media is also providing major opportunities for funding and sponsorship. Many successful web series have scored lucrative deals, such as Neutrogena’s sponsorship of Lonelygirl15 and Visa’s regular banner ads throughout The Spot. These mediums also present plentiful opportunities for directors with no qualms about product placement. With audience numbers often heading towards the millions, many companies are flocking to have their products flaunted by young starlets on the next big web series. Persona is just one of many series able to hire professional cast and crew thanks to profitable product placement deals.

This distribution revolution is proving to be a great equaliser for virtual unknowns to get their foot inside some major doors. Gone are the days when virtually the only way to break into Hollywood was to have the right contacts. A great case in point is that of Uruguayan director Fede Alvarez. Alvarez broadcast his four-minute short Panic Attack on YouTube and, within a day, received correspondence from Spiderman director Sam Raimi. Alvarez was offered a development deal and is currently working with Raimi’s writers to expand one of his ideas into a feature film. Many web series directors have experienced similar success, with productions such as Sanctuary, Children’s Hospital and the Emmy nominated Sam Has 7 Friends all being picked up for network screening.

The past decade has seen some monumental shifts in the way the film industry works. The future is guaranteed to bring many more changes. But amidst all these developments, the job of the filmmaker remains the same. Regardless of distribution methods, audiences rely on films to entertain, inform and temporarily transport them into other worlds. So whilst enjoying the opportunities new technology brings, filmmakers must be sure to remember that a great story lies at the heart of great filmmaking, whatever the medium.


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