Wow, with a title like that, it seems I could write forever, as I’ve done before in this space. But I don’t intend to give an overview of what’s been developing over the past months and years on this subject, but rather chime in on some recent conversations that have been going on among filmmakers. Indiewire Editor Eugene Hernandez does an excellent job of summarizing this conversation in his recent piece, “Breaking Upwards.” Breaking Even?
where he witnessed much of the anxiety currently going on in Indiedom regarding filmmakers having to become their own marketers and even their own distributors. I witnessed this same conversation happening in the comments section of a post on the Auteurs website, have seen it presented all over FB and Twitter, and I imagine if I had more time to read, would catch it elsewhere.
The friction, as Eugene has described it, is between filmmakers (artists) having to become businessmen. The friction between art and commerce is ages old, but now, just at the moment that filmmakers can finally take the business into their own hands, they are balking. The line of thought goes: We’re not business people or hucksters—we’re artists. We either don’t have the expertise, the time or the will to sell our own products. Folks like Jon Reiss have been advocating for this and fortunately, in Jon’s case, have been providing a road map for how to do it, (his excellent bookThink Outside The Box Office
), and have provided continuous encouragement and guidance along the way in a series of online and in-person speeches on the subject. I chime in with these few points:
- I agree with people like Jon, Eugene, distribution strategist Peter Broderick and others that you need to be thinking this way. As Peter has said for the last several years, the time to think about audiences is that moment in the shower when you dream up the idea for your film. And as Jon has said, the marketing and distribution of your film should be given at least as much time and resources as the making of your film was given. So if you’re resistant, you need to get over it, or at the very least, recruit someone who is not. This is not optional anymore—it’s mandatory. And in an exceedingly crowded marketplace of indie films (I’m talking about the ones that your friends are making, not the studios), if you’re not doing this, your voice will be overshadowed by all the folks who are doing it, whether those films are worthy or not. How many Facebook Fan invites did you get last week from filmmakers and their films?
- This doesn’t have to be the end of the world for filmmaker/artists. If you’re a storyteller, this is your opportunity to tell more than one story. There’s the story in your film, (the script that merged into a film), and then there are the countless stories you get to tell in support of that story. This is the way to look at all these new opportunities. As filmmaker Hunter Weeks put it at the confab aptly titled The Conversation that Eugene was reporting on, “you should be creating stories around your story.” As a filmmaker who is putting together his own ambitious marketing and distribution plan with my current film Pig, I can tell you that the creative opportunities are endless and the process has been exceedingly rewarding from a creative standpoint, (and hopefully at some point from an economic perspective). Yes, it’s hard work and the road is long, and there are many parts of it where I do not have the expertise or desire, (I am not a Webmaster, damn it!), but if you’re a creative person, you are no longer limited by your film’s confining 90 minute length and 3-act structure to express yourself creatively. If you don’t understand this, you need to read Jon’s book, visit Lance Weiler’s wonderful Workbook Project site (and go to his events), and start following some of the many trailblazing films that are utilizing all these new techniques.
- Eugene makes an excellent point in his story that I have been saying for years. In fact, it is the basis for my No Budget Film School: if you don’t spend much on your film, you can get your money back using these new roads, techniques and tools, allowing you to sustain yourself as a filmmaker, practice and develop your craft, perhaps break out into a larger, studio career, or if you’re someone like Joe Swanberg, build a strong personal brand. Think what you will of Joe’s films, but the fact that he made them has made him who he is and is the reason why Eugene and I are talking about him. If you’re sitting at home devising a way to get that multi-million dollar film off the ground and criticizing the whole Mumblecore or micro-budget movement as not “professional,” then you are really missing the point and will perhaps remain in anonymity forever, as the money to make your “real” film may never come. Filmmakers make films. I’m reminded of a quote in one of Joe Carnahan’s hilarious promos for his no-budget film Blood Guts Bullets & Octane, “If you don’t want to take chances, try alternative fundraising techniques, hey I’ll see you at Starbucks. We can sit around and drink mochas and talk about the film you’re never gonna make.”
The bottom line is this is not a time for filmmakers to fret. We’ve never been given the keys to the kingdom so much so as now. We live in a time when the tools of production, post production and now distribution and syndication are completely accessible. If all you want to do is tell stories, this is truly the Golden Age.
PS: I was recently interviewed about the subject of filmmaker sustainability on an internet radio show called Film Courage, hosted by tireless indie filmmakers and supporters David Branin and Karen Worden. If you want to listen to a whole bunch of empowering interviews on these subjects, subscribe to their weekly show on iTunes or visit them on the web: