Kevin Kelly's articulation of survival on the long tail was one of the essential readings this year for anyone trying to figure out a new paradigm for Indie and Truly Free Filmmaking. It may be old hat out in blogland, but it is a concept that still hasn't been discussed enough among indie filmmakers. It promotes the notion that:
A creator, such as an artist, musician, photographer, craftsperson, performer, animator, designer, videomaker, or author - in other words, anyone producing works of art - needs to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living.
The key challenge is that you have to maintain direct contact with your 1,000 True Fans. They are giving you their support directly. Maybe they come to your house concerts, or they are buying your DVDs from your website, or they order your prints from Pictopia. As much as possible you retain the full amount of their support. You also benefit from the direct feedback and love.
The technologies of connection and small-time manufacturing make this circle possible. Blogs and RSS feeds trickle out news, and upcoming appearances or new works. Web sites host galleries of your past work, archives of biographical information, and catalogs of paraphernalia. Diskmakers, Blurb, rapid prototyping shops, Myspace, Facebook, and the entire digital domain all conspire to make duplication and dissemination in small quantities fast, cheap and easy. You don't need a million fans to justify producing something new. A mere one thousand is sufficient.
... This small circle of diehard fans, which can provide you with a living, is surrounded by concentric circles of Lesser Fans.
I have frequently feared that it is the dream of stardom and wealth that fuels both the indie production cycle and film school enrollment lists. Maybe that is because the possibility of survival and being a true artist seemed so impossible. But that does not have to be so, if you invest some time and energy in building your own support system.
Young artists starting out in this digitally mediated world have another path other than stardom, a path made possible by the very technology that creates the long tail. Instead of trying to reach the narrow and unlikely peaks of platinum hits, bestseller blockbusters, and celebrity status, they can aim for direct connection with 1,000 True Fans. It's a much saner destination to hope for. You make a living instead of a fortune. You are surrounded not by fad and fashionable infatuation, but by True Fans. And you are much more likely to actually arrive there.