Producer Kevin Loader’s In The Loop is being released in the US in theatres and on video-on-demand. This is the shape of the future, says the Screenwriters’ Festival chairman.

Apparently 3D is going to be the future of the theatrical movie. This was first said around 1953. Yet once again, audiences for 3D films - be they animations or live action - are growing at a time when the current distribution system, especially for independent movies, is increasingly looking unfit for purpose.

“Founding an entire global distribution system on the profitability of a couple of dozen tentpole movies per year is insanity”

Despite what’s happened to the music industry over the past 15 years, the leaders of the global entertainment business seem unwilling to create a new model for distribution; like their predecessors in the 1950s, they are relying on 3D and Imax to save their short-term balance sheets.

Most of us at the film-making coal-face know this isn’t going to work for long. Founding an entire global distribution system on the profitability of a couple of dozen tentpole movies per year is insanity. It’s also bad for the health of cinema. The canary in the independent film cage has all but stopped singing already.

My latest film,In The Loop, opened in the US on July 24. Its distributor there, IFC Films, released it theatrically and via video-on-demand in the same week. Given how costly it is to release a film in cinemas nationwide, and how impossible it is to give a small film such as In The Loop geographical reach, this seems a glimpse of how the future might work.

If only one of the major studio-distribution machines would start using similar models for its speciality films, these newer forms of distribution might generate enough money to make the movies.

In the meantime, screenwriters will have to learn about the market conditions - which will be one of the topics they’ll encounter at October’s Screenwriters’ Festival in Cheltenham.

Independent producers are struggling to finance budgets of more than $3m-$5m. Unlike some of our European colleagues, UK film producers find it well-nigh impossible to raise this from our own market; the UK value of a film generally requires the soft guarantees provided by broadcaster backing and/or the UK Film Council. Without either or both of them, you’ll probably be making a film for $1.6m (£1m) or less.

Meanwhile US pre-sales are rarer than hens’ teeth, and US sales of finished films are typically for less than 10% of the budget, if you sell at all.

European markets are in flux. Co-productions work better for the non-English language films than for UK ones. A Japanese release remains an impossible dream.

So how does this situation affect the sort of scripts we producers can finance?

Here are some pointers for screenwriters: don’t tailor your story for the US market - maybe the days of the transatlantic mash-up are thankfully over; don’t write big period pieces unless you have stars or an A-list director already attached; write stories than engage your audience and can be succinctly marketed; know who your audience might be before you start, and assume it’s bigger than you and your friends; and above all, ask whether you would want to leave the house on a Friday night to see your film - or if not, whether you’ll be happy to stay in and pay £7 -or $12 - to watch it in your home cinema the week it opens, when the distribution system permits!

Screenwriters’ festival: key facts

  • Purpose Meeting place for screen storytellers in film and television
  • and digital/online/gaming
  • Who attends? 500-600 delegates from 15 countries connect with writers,
  • producers, directors, agents, development executives, financiers and commissioners
  • What happens? 80 sessions in four days including Script Market,
  • networking, Son of a Pitch, keynote speakers, case studies, speed dating
  • Production companies at SWF 2009 include: BBC Films, Warner Bros,
  • Aardman, Optimum Releasing, Kudos, Company Pictures, Slingshot, Warp X, Origin Pictures, Artists Studio, Film Agency Wales, Film4 and F&ME
  • Time and place? SWF 2009 is held at the famous Cheltenham Ladies
  • College, UK from October 26-29
  • What are the benefits? Meeting talent, optioning scripts, learning
  • about script best-practice, market awareness
  • Announced line-up Armando Iannucci, Tessa Ross, Film4, Ashley Pharoah (Life On Mars), Doug Chamberlin (Toy Story 2), Ben Stephenson, BBC Fiction, Catherine Johnson (MamaMia! The Movie).More to follow