A striking feature of the international film industry that deserves more attention is the willingness of those at the top to share their experiences with those on the way up. Workshops, courses and mentoring schemes are everywhere and, while they vary in quality, they can nearly always draw on serious names.
Watching how the industry explains the business to would-be film-makers and producers of tomorrow is telling. At the moment, the messages tend to be warts-and-all assessments of a credit-crunched struggle and harsh economic realities (though in keeping with the industry's legendary fear that the odour of failure sticks, it's rare to find anyone who admits their own company is in any kind of difficulty even when they're painting an apocalyptic picture of others).
For those entering the business, hearing about the problems from the horse's mouth is important. A sense of the market's realities is a necessary counterpoint to the wider public perception of glamour.
For the uninitiated, the industry looks to be in glowing health. Despite a mixed start to the year, the astonishing success of The Dark Knight has changed the outlook completely around the globe, making a joke of past box-office records. Then there are other critic-proof franchises on the way, including Harry Potter and James Bond instalments that work in an astonishing range of territories. And local film businesses are generally putting out a reliable number of commercially strong movies that are making a serious impact near home.
Queues around the block are a great piece of marketing but they do not really give an indication of the health of the business. Wannabe studio execs are frequently reminded by mentors that there's no neat linear connection between bums on seats and the financial health of the business - those bums cost bucks. A number of financial analysts have commented on the Q2 figures from the studio conglomerates, taking into account the huge cost of international distribution and marketing.
While The Dark Knight has been a resounding hit, the number of properties that look as if they have the potential to become surefire global franchises are thin on the ground.
Away from the franchise builders, there are other major concerns for film-making. The state of the speciality market in the US is well documented. Production levels are beginning to drop in North America and there is a very real concern that tight times will lead to a period of conservatism in film-making with an over-reliance on spectacle through 3D.
In the rest of the world, the production figures are disturbing for the opposite reason. They are climbing without the business case to make such growth sustainable. Analysts at Screen Digest estimate 5,039 features were produced worldwide in 2007, up 4.6% on the year before. More than 2,500 of those came from Asia where China, India and Japan are driving growth. But there were 1,082 films produced in Europe, which is odd given the state of recent markets and the continuing challenge to get European films seen beyond national borders. Overproduction of features, at least for theatrical release, cannot be kept up indefinitely and the surplus adds a dangerous volatility to the markets.
Yet what's most striking about the sessions where such figures are presented is how little they seem to discourage the candidates. Telling them the chances of making it are becoming smaller by the day means nothing because the odds of success are already low - anyone who succeeds in the film industry has already decided their ideas and ability transcend mere mathematics. And informing them today's business certainties are being undermined means little because most are entering - perhaps helping to create - tomorrow's business. There is an infinite degree of confidence that market realities cannot destroy.
Perhaps the success of mentoring is a reminder of that old adage about being careful how you treat people on the way up in case you meet them again on the way down.
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