On May 11th, 2010 film producer Ted Hope posted on this blog 38 More Ways The Film Industry Is Failing. This should be considered, amongst other things, to be a direct response to that article. I will not deny that there are many obstacles facing the indie community. But film history has shown time and again that indie film has hurdled those obstacles every time they’ve been faced with them.
1. Government incentives at the state level are allowing more productions to get financed and opening up the job market in the filmmaking industry. This also trickles down to the independent film community. Filmmakers are able to and do use these tax credits, and other incentives like free shooting permits, etc. to fund and sustain their productions.
2. Technology has given independent filmmakers unparalleled opportunities to break into the film industry. Many movies that are starting off as shorts posted on YouTube are being optioned as Hollywood films (for example last year’s DISTRICT 9). For filmmakers who are going a different route, technology has enabled them to make their art cheaper, more efficiently, and their productions are scalable to almost any size budget. The new independent filmmaker is not a technophobe or luddite, they are embracing technology as an indispensable weapon in their arsenal of art.
3. Organized filmmaker events are everywhere. Contrary to some schools of thought, the independent filmmaking community does exist and is incredibly vibrant. From film festivals all over the world to more local fare like The Conversation and DIY Days, filmmakers are gathering everywhere to network, learn, and share their projects with the general public and their contemporaries. The filmmaker community is open and welcoming. It is expanding and growing every year. Festival submission data corroborates that. Artists seek out other artists. That is the nature of creativity. It yearns to be nurtured and is inherently social.
4. Just the act of being a filmmaker does not necessitate that the artist is, or has to be a businessperson. Some people create just to create. Even getting your film in front of an audience does not necessarily require you to have an MBA from Harvard. It can be as simple as setting up a screen or popping in a DVD at your local bar, church, or school. The art of SELLING a film is where the business part comes in. Yes films have budgets, and the big buzz word right now is sustainability. Filmmakers don’t really need money to create art. They are not sustaining their creativity, they are sustaining their lifestyle. Things cost money, art doesn’t. Yes the accouterments of filmmaking can cost a pretty penny, but I run into filmmakers ever week that have made films for under $1000. They might not be the most professional looking films ever made, but they ARE being made. The business aspect of filmmaking is the same as any day job anyone has ever had. Trading time for money to pay for the necessities in life. Food, shelter, and clothing (and in most filmmaker’s cases, coffee). Filmmakers can in fact sustain themselves, without compromise to their art, but perhaps compromise to their lifestyles. Indie filmmakers recognize this and make these sacrifices constantly to tell the story they want to tell. They re-mortgage their homes and beg, borrow, and steal to realize their visions.
5. Crowdfunding has given filmmakers a unique way to fund their projects. The best part about crowdfunding is that it solves the investor issue, and acts as a natural audience filter for projects that might not yet be ready to be made (either due to poor creative vision, lack of a compelling story, etc.). Once a project has been successfully crowdfunded, and provided that the filmmaker stays within that budget, that project has a net loss of $0.00. Anything made from day one is pure profit. This is something that the Hollywood part of the industry just cannot do. Their business model does not support this.
6. Independent filmmakers have always had to think outside the box for things like funding, production, and distribution. This has led to a myriad of new business opportunities for those that are bold enough to see this demand and supply the proper channels for indies to take advantage of. Businesses like IndieGoGo, Biracy, and Kickstarter have answered the call for crowdsourcing. OpenIndie, Distribber, and IndieFlix are options to consider when looking towards distribution. The bulk of these sites were started by other filmmakers that saw a need in their community for a particular service. No one else was taking care of their needs, so they decided to do it themselves.
7. Filmmakers are always looking to share the tips and tricks they’ve learned while battling it out in the trenches. People like Jon Reiss, Chris Jones, and Lloyd Kaufman all have books out (Chris and Lloyd have a series of books each!) that are aimed at helping filmmakers make, produce, and sell their own damn movies. Others like Lance Weiler have even found other means of monetizing their careers as public speakers, giving seminars, and addressing other filmmakers. This to me shows entrepreneurial spirit and shows that there are many filmmakers that think about the future of not only the film community, but also their own.
8. Organizations such as SAG have gone out of their way to create contracts that are specific to low budget independent film. They have recognized that either one of two things will happen. Either filmmakers will play ball and create SAG approved films, or they’re going to do it anyway whether SAG approves or not. Agencies have seen the power of the independent filmmaker over the years and have changed or added to their policies to accommodate them. This shows that filmmakers do in fact have the ability to affect change within the industry. Look what happened when it was outed that Sundance hadn’t shown a true low budget indie in a number of years. The filmmaking community made a huge deal of it and that very same year we were introduced to Sundance Next.
9. Independent film has changed the way we watch content. Way back in 1993 the film “Wax or the Discovery of Television Among the Bees” became the first feature film to be streamed on the internet. This paved the way for future generations of filmmakers to put their content on the net and get it seen by a completely different audience than the traditional theatrical. While there were a lot of technical limitations of the time that prevented this movie to be fully appreciated online, other filmmakers embraced this new medium and has made it a home for the promotion of themselves and their content.
10. Independent film has led to film curators. People like Zak Forsman and Pericles Lewnes who created CineFist and the Annapolis Pretentious Film Society respectively as both a distribution platform for their films but also as a screening venue for others’ films. Other filmmakers and people in the indie film community have done this as well. David Branin and Karen Worden are the curators of Film Courage Interactive, and marketing expert and publicist Sheri Candler created her own as well. These combined with the film festival circuit provide filmmakers the opportunity to not only make an event out of their movies, but also a chance to have a limited theatrical distribution.
11. With the internet film is no longer a single product entity. Now filmmakers can create whole brands around a single project, or themselves and sell merchandise to help them further their careers. If selling t-shirts is not your game, then you can create a web series around your brand, or do a live show online to help drive an audience to your site. Things like this can lead to sponsorships and other networking opportunities that may help a filmmaker with their next project. The internet has opened up a can of worms for earning potential from something that used to only have 3 (rental, television, and theatrical).
12. With social media, the internet in general, and other advances in technology it has never been easier for a filmmaker to connect with their audience. Whether it’s amassing 10,000 followers on Twitter or getting “Liked” or “Fanned” by 1000 people on Facebook, the point is that instead of being able to only connect with people in your local area, you can now get people interested in your projects all over the world. Independent filmmakers have used this for everything from scheduling screening dates, to crowdfunding their movies, to interacting with other directors, actors, and producers to make their next movie (for example look at the upcoming “Super” directed by James Gunn and produced by Ted Hope). Interaction, connectivity, and community are some of independent films greatest assets that are being taken advantage of today.
13. Independent filmmaking is not limited to feature films and documentaries. The web series community has sprung up as part of, and in answer to the frustration of the current filmmaking business model in Hollywood. Look what happened when the writer’s strike hit. We all got to enjoy a little something called DR. HORRIBLE’S SING-A-LONG BLOG didn’t we? There were many other web series before that, and a whole lot that came after it. All of us have one thing in common and that is the production and creation of a story on in front of a camera. Just because the distribution model for a web series is different from that of a traditional independent film doesn’t make it any less the same end product. The independent web series community has embraced things like product placement, sponsorships, and alternative distribution deals to grow their brands, and the indie film community is learning quickly from them how to integrate these things into their features.
14. Filmmakers are starting to find their audience early, and keep them engaged throughout the production and distribution process. This allows filmmakers to “own” their audiences from inception and in perpetuity on their projects, and give them the opportunity to get those same audiences interested in their next projects. Things like blogs, mailing lists, and social media allow filmmakers to keep their audiences in the loop with what’s going on with their films. Sites like Biracy even give people the ability to choose some of the aspects of what happens in a film from the script to the director, etc. Film producer John Paul Rice amassed thousands of fans on MySpace for his movie ONE HOUR FANTASY GIRL, and he was able to take advantage of those relationships when it came time to sell his DVD.
15. Independent filmmakers are a community that likes to work with friends. This can sometimes lead to actors and actresses being cast in several productions by the same and neighboring film companies. Actress Marion Kerr has been involved with several productions from SABI Pictures, and Molly Ryman has been cast by both David Spaltro and Gary King for their respective films AROUND and NEW YORK LATELY. The fact that there are a lot of “stars” in independent film has little to do with the talent, but more so with the Hollywood gatekeepers. We just choose who’s going to become the next Tom Cruise, the studios and agencies do. Yes having stars in your production can increase your chances of getting into Sundance, or getting a distribution deal with a company like Magnolia. But there are disadvantages to this as well. Stars will generally cost you more money out of your budget. They are affiliated with SAG which then will lead you to have to choose that path or not. They sometimes have the tendency to be difficult to work with on set generally because they ARE stars. Not everyone is born a star, and many of today’s stars got their starts with indie roots. Just look at Kevin Costner’s first movie SIZZLE BEACH by our good friends at Troma.
16. You have taken the generally accepted business model for making and selling a film and have completely disregarded it. When independent filmmakers realized that it was either too cost prohibitive or impossible to get into a theater, they went to video and DVD. When distribution dried up there, they went online. When content aggregates began to get greedy, content creators became more creative and found ways to use a combination of direct sales, torrents, and revenue sharing streaming sites to collect capital.
17. Indie film is where creativity and technology meet. This is what allows conferences like SXSW, NAB, and ShoWest to be so successful. Filmmakers need to do their part to be educated on the latest and greatest that is being offered to them, but that doesn’t seem to be too much of a problem. There aren’t many filmmakers out there that are disinterested enough in their chosen profession to ignore the new Canon DSLR’s, or the new cameras coming from the folks at RED, or the new software packages that are being put out as plugins for their chosen NLE’s. Indie film has always been on the cutting edge of the next big thing in technology. Indie filmmakers are the early adopters. They have to be in order to stay competitive with what is coming out of the Hollywood machine.
18. Filmmakers have forced the film festivals to evolve. Yes there are still a lot of festivals out there who just accept your submission fee and run (or worse, consider the Queens Film Festival debacle). But there are a lot of film festivals out there like the FirstGlance Film Festival that offers filmmakers on both US coasts to participate with their films. They give filmmakers a chance to take advantage of their revenue sharing online distribution program, and they curate their own screening series at the Franklin Institute in PA. Other festivals like the Sedona Film Festival and Orlando Film Festival offer perks to filmmakers who are accepted. Everything from free lodging to free taxi services and studio tours is offered to help ease the financial burden of the indie filmmaker. The Orlando Film Festival’s screenings are all free to attend as well, offering filmmakers who promote their films well an opportunity to have them seen by the largest audience possible.
19. Indie filmmakers vote with their dollar. They might not go see the biggest Hollywood spectacles that are being released in theaters because why be part of a system that is exclusionary of them? This isn’t to say that independent filmmakers are cinematic idiots. There are other avenues of film education than just the theaters. This was proven back in the 1980’s with the so-called “video store film schools” that contemporary filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino took advantage of when he was just starting out. Indie filmmakers have no shortage of knowledge of film history. They learned the art of horror from Hitchcock, the dutch camera angle from Raimi, the cowboy from Peckinpah, and the prat fall from Chaplin. They demonstrate their film knowledge in every production, and it’s doubtful that TRANSFORMERS 2 is going to show them anything that is useful to their particular low-budget film.
20. Filmmakers are recognizing that you don’t have to just be located in NYC or LA in order to create a career for themselves. Filmmakers like Jessica King and Julie Keck (collectively known as King Is A Fink) are based out of Chicago and are creating shorts that are gaining popularity on the net and at various film festivals. Directors Francis Abbey and John Wayne Bosley are making movies in Maryland and Maine. Dan Eckman made MYSTERY TEAM in New Hampshire. The team behind “Ink” hail from Colorado and have been extremely successful in getting their film in from of audiences. All of these people are seeing film in the global climate and not allowing their living situations to hinder their burgeoning careers.
21. The love of film in general has led to the proliferation of film websites dedicated to bringing news, reviews, opinions, social interactions, contests, and industry coverage. Some of the larger sites get millions of views a day, and while not all of them cater to independent film, there are some filmmakers that have been able to take advantage of these sites to further their mass appeal. If you were to talk to many of the people who run these sites, and ask them to speak about some of their favorite movies, you will find that many of them have a healthy respect for indie film, even if it is not the most commercially viable thing for them to feature on their sites. Indie filmmakers are partly responsible for these sites being in existence, and have them as a resource.
22. Filmmakers are taking advantage of new media opportunities such as the mobile phone market. The iPhone, and open source Android platforms are new venues for filmmakers to post their movies, or create content surrounding their films. Film pioneer Lance Weiler is already taking advantage of this, and many other filmmakers are following suit by creating apps that showcase their movies.
23. Independent filmmakers in positions of authority like Lloyd Kaufman are working at the head of the IFTA and are in congress fighting for things like net-neutrality and against media concentration on behalf of the film community. While Hollywood is content to own and distribute everything in a vacuum of it’s own creation, independent filmmakers are working to change policy and create a fair distribution environment for their moviemaking brothers and sisters.
24. Creativity is not just restricted to the independent film community. Indie musicians and filmmakers collaborate constantly to mutually benefit their respective careers. The same goes for artists (look at the painting done for the short “Snow Bunny”, or the new film “Exit Through the Gift Shop”). The arts have always been a close knit community of creative people looking to express ideas, feelings, and agendas, and independent film has been an outlet for countless artists of all designations to showcase their work.
25. Tools like Twitter have allowed filmmakers, actors, actresses, producers, etc. to connect over long distances with other people in the industry. It can connect professionals with amateurs, celebrities with young up-and-comers, and business-minded folks to those that are driven purely by art. This kind of collaboration has given independent filmmakers an edge that Hollywood just simply doesn’t have. Indie film has an endless supply of boosters, critics, and mentors as well as talent to get involved in their productions. Hollywood is stuck with Ryan Reynolds as their one goto guy.
26. The low cost of entry has allowed people who would just dabble in independent filmmaking the opportunity to actually go out and make a film, edit it together, and get it seen with little to no red tape in between. It has allowed actresses like Amber Benson (DRONES) and Marion Kerr (GOLDEN EARRINGS) to go out and make their own films, expanding both their careers and their talents. The advent of digital filmmaking also allows indie filmmakers the latitude to experiment without having to suffer severe financial consequences, and fosters creativity.
27. Indie filmmakers are a lot more approachable to the general public than their Hollywood counterparts. They can be seen walking the streets of film festivals, are engaging with their fans online, and are generally in much more control of their image and marketing which allows for greater transparency of their work. Audiences clamor for this and appreciate the “realness” of these people and the work they create.
28. Filmmakers have taken the art of filmmaking and placed it in their own hands. What used to be the domain of the privileged few has now been democratized. Anyone can make a film now. They can use camera phones, consumer camcorders, and other video capture devices along with their home computers to make anything and share it with their friends. While the financial distribution model for selling films maybe have a few bugs in it to work out, it has never been easier to share content.
29. Independent film succeeds because of the passion and attitudes of the people who create it. They are not part of the Hollywood homogeneous machine that spits out remakes and produces tripe from unoriginal screenplays. Indie film has always been where audiences go to experience movies that make them think and feel. They are personal experiences. This is in direct correlation to the people who produce these films. Without the passion and heart that these movies show, the audiences wouldn’t be seeing them at all.
30. Indie films have had a very noticeable effect on the mainstream Hollywood industry, especially in the last 20-30 years. The porn industry (many of them considered to be indie filmmakers themselves) almost single-handedly won the format wars for both the VHS and Blu-Ray technologies. Movies like THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY have changed the ways that the studios promote their films online. All of these started, and will continue due to independent film influence.
31. Indie film has helped to launch the careers of some of today’s more notable directors. Prolific people such as Quentin Tarantino, James Gunn, Eli Roth, Steven Soderburgh, and Kevin Smith all got their starts by making indie films. While their success has afforded them the luxury of going on to bigger (but not necessarily better) productions, we will still remember their important contributions. Movies like RESERVOIR DOGS, CLERKS, CABIN FEVER, and SEX, LIES, AND VIDEOTAPE have all had, and continue to have an impact on the perception of indie film culture and parts of which have even entered our daily vernacular.
32. The fascination of the general public for filmmaking has led to numerous blogs, web series, and other free information to be found on the net for indie filmmakers to take advantage of. This information is spread around the community. When there is a new firmware update for a DSLR, or a new filter or camera trick filmmakers are quick to share their findings with the rest of the community. This is something that the film industry does not foster. They are exclusionary while indie filmmakers are keen to share their experiences with other directors, as well as their audiences.
33. Indie film gives everyone a shot at greatness. Even if you’re a first time director, producer, cinematographer, or screenwriter you have the unique opportunity to succeed (or fail) to get your work out there. There aren’t many jobs out there that will hire you just because you have a dream and want to see it realized. Indie film provides a platform for novices to cut their teeth.
34. Film in general has always been something that has brought people together. Independent film is no different with the exception that you can “discover” a good indie film. Sometimes it’s a little gem hiding in your local video rental store, or something a friend just says you have to see. But these cult hits are generally indie, and generally have a lot more staying power (like EVIL DEAD for instance) than a typical Hollywood release.
35. Being an indie filmmaker means having control over the end result of your film. Where a Hollywood film will have ten writers, several producers and co-producers, an executive producer thrown in for good measure, and a ratings board that determines what is right or wrong for an audience, independent filmmakers generally have the final say over their own movies. Occasionally they will be prodded to make a sacrifice on their film if it finds distribution, but aside from that the artistic vision is pure.
36. Filmmakers can choose whether or not to focus on creative or commercial aspects of their careers. You can either make art or make a product (or both). You can be an artist or an entrepreneur (or both), and be respected just as much for either decision. Where Hollywood sees only the bottom line, indie film sees beyond the box office.
37. Independent film will continue to succeed because indies have always been the true innovators. When one door was closed to an indie, they have always paved the way for others to work around the barriers and obstacles that the institutions and conglomerates have placed in front of them. When Edison consolidated all of the theaters, indie filmmakers went door to door with their films, and made other arrangements to get their movies seen.
This list is not meant to give filmmakers a pass, or somehow tell them that they can sit on their festival laurels. In fact there has not been a more pressing time in the last twenty years of indie history for filmmakers to get out there and hustle for their art, and for their careers. The truth is that there are many roads left unpaved, and it is going to be up to the indie community to pave them. The current generation of respected filmmakers won’t be around forever, and you are the new auteurs. You have to understand both the art and business of making films if you have any intention of being in the film INDUSTRY. We all have a long way to go, and we’ll get there, but we all have to take the first step into that larger world.