Response To Responses To All The Bad Things In Indie Film

It's nice to get people talking and thinking.  Even better when you get them acting.  My post this morning has been doing a bit of it all.  Thanks for spreading.  And joining in. I like this thread that started by Lindy Boustedt on Facebook.  I like their ideas and energy and want to help.

I like Ann Rutledge's response to it too, and look forward to taking her up on her offer to help solve the capital problem.

I got this email from Sheri Candler and am responding with the color text below.  Sheri's numbering are hers, and don't apply directly to my points.

Ted,

I am writing this to you when I really should be working on other things. Some of those other things I get paid to do, and some I do because I hope in the future it will lead to getting paid or getting paid more money. This is kind of the way I see “opportunity,” it is something you make or something you grab, not something you are waiting to be given. We all have to work for our opportunities, but they don't exist equally for everyone.  I have benefited greatly by being white, male, middle class, english-speaking, and having had a good education.  I was also fortunate to arrive in New York when I did.  True, we can't wait; we must act.  But it will never improve unless we accept that we also have to work towards justice and equal access.

Whatever “success” I have had in the last 3 years since I started really forging into this space, it is only the result of work I have taken upon myself to do. No one gave me opportunity to start. I started with a blank sheet of paper and an internet connection. I suspect that is the case with anyone in this space who has real commitment to stick around. There is no “job” here, the job is what you make it.  I almost agree with this.  I know the story as very true -- but there also COULD be many jobs here, and I am confident there will be once we recognize the value of the add.

I read your post today on the Really Bad Things in the Indie Film Biz and it isn’t the first time you have raised these concerns in some way. I was at the exclusive meeting during IFP Week where you complained about the lack of the investor class (I would not characterize it as "complaining" and actually the focus that day was the inability for filmmakers to earn a living and how that SHOULD be everyone's concern who wants both a thriving business and culture) and I was dismayed that those in attendance mainly seemed to represent the old guard of people who are interested in figuring out how they can keep doing what they are doing, even praise it, rather than constructively sit down and think way outside of their comfort zones that have sustained them over the last 15-20 years (for some). They are, as most people are, not concerned about leading a true change for other people. They are concerned mostly for what  is happening only for themselves and their companies. It is understandable of course. This is why more of them do not exist in the non profit space. They don’t really want to change, they certainly don’t want to lead it! You are a different breed and I commend you for that, even when your posts are tinged with wanting to keep doing what you were doing (I love telling stories, getting them made, and impacting the world -- and I think it is my greatest talent, but also that I could improve things for everyone if I shifted my focus to infrastructure).. You can’t anymore, you can only do something different. (I could, I think.  I would need to lower my overhead substantially and not live in NYC or SF -- and still have access to a creative community and capital.  It's what I am still planning for the next chapter.)

I will take on most of your points with my thoughts. You can throw this away if you want. Or not read it because it is rather lengthy. (I am choosing to print them!)

1)Earning a living simply by making movies is not reality now. More revenue streams will be needed. Teaching, blogging and selling advertising space on that blog, creating more products around your visual work, partnering with organizations to distribute that work and partnering as an affiliate for other businesses will be your way forward. It will be a hell of a lot more work. So? That is a path that is available to some.  It is not for all.  I think people can earn a living solely by creating media, whether they distribute it directly or license it to larger corporate powers, but it is still a shift from a single product produced again and again to one where we engage in a much wider conversation and via a wider variety of form.

2)People break ranks on accepting sub par (or not what they envisioned) distribution offers every day. You just don’t hear about these projects because they aren’t being feted at awards ceremonies (which incidentally costs tons more money to politic/curry favor) or pulled up as glamorous examples by the media who only want to show the illusion of massive success. Those who break ranks trade that in for modest success that grows from spending very conservatively and locking in on an audience that isn’t mainstream, in fact so far from mainstream that if you aren’t part of that audience, you wouldn’t know the work. This isn’t a bad thing, it just isn’t glamorous. The time involved in building just that audience is so much that most in this space wouldn’t touch it, but once built it can flourish far longer than these “massive success” stories.  I am really excited by this model. It is essentially what I meant by Truly Free Film.  We are not dependent on the mass market anymore.  We can get hyper-specific.  The missing piece however is community.  Building a Facebook page or a Twitter feed is not community.  We need to build community around specific themes and genres.  HOWEVER: the point I was trying to make is that 10% of negative cost is not worth turning over your film to another for an extended term.  You can use that film to build an audience/community that is yours and not surrender it to 3rd parties.  At 10% what should be being offered is a partnership at the very least.

3)I am not sure art films are dead, they just aren’t mainstream and they will take far more effort to actually connect with an audience personally than most artists/sales agents/distributors are willing to do.  Very true.  But we can all work together to build a community, can't we?  My whole post is a plea to abandon the everyone for themselves mode that infects the indie world and culture in general.  We can build it better TOGETHER.

4)Which is it? Reviews don’t mean much or we should have reviewers covering releases other than theatrical? I can’t understand your point. Mass media reviewers make it easier to reach the mass, but individual people reviews actually make people want to see the films. For myself, I must hear good things about a film from many different sources and it still needs to be on a platform that I can access immediately, usually that is online and not films in a theater. It's not one vs. the other.  Both are true and more.  The point here is that we all lack trusted sources for discoveries now.   Going to an individual we are close to for a recommendation is a complicated process that doesn't promise the response one wants. Different platforms have different attributes and deliver different experiences, too.  We have yet to design a recommendation engine that truly works for this connected world of media abundance; we are stuck in an old world model.

5)Women directors need to get up and do it for themselves. Women in general have had to do this for everything we’ve ever received and, while I find it admirable that you raise this issue, it needs to come from within our own ranks. I feel like most women directors do not champion other women. Indeed, look at how many other female producers/directs even both to write a blog as you do to examine this issue. They are too focused on trying to steer their own careers.  We need to stop focusing on pleasing outside entities, do more to make our own opportunities and push ourselves to work with other women. Same for minorities. I respectfully disagree.  It is all our issue.  Rape is not a women's issue.  Same Sex Marriage is not a gay issue.  Racism is not an issue for non-whites.  The price of education in America is not a youth or class issue.  These are all issues for us all.  They destroy society and we all suffer for it.

6)I can’t speak from a position of authority on tax credits, but the articles I did recently read raise legitimate concerns on the usefulness of such programs on a state level. Filmmakers of course look myopically at how those incentives help their own productions, but should that come at the expense of spending state workers’ pension funds? Those are people too you know and maybe they don’t want their retirement money spent to help the film industry make bazillions while leaving their state with few of the promised jobs, and most of those just temporary work. It is not an understatement to say that the film industry is ego centric, arrogant enough to only see the benefit for themselves with little concern over where that money comes from. I found those articles insightful and worth investigating what tax incentives REALLY do for industry, every industry not just the film industry. I agree we all need better understanding of this.  It is a complicated issue.  Yet as a producer I know that particularly these days we need to make our decisions based on cost.  I also know that  the money I spend for my production is a small fraction of the money my productions cause to get spend.  And I know that the film industry will always travel to where the best deal is.  Granted, we don't want a race to the bottom and it is not easy to determine the best method, but I do know that attracting regular and consistent motion picture work to a region will bring in predictable revenue beyond what comes from the production.

7)If we are agreed that people are going to the cinema less and less, then why are filmmakers still being encouraged to keep making cinematic films? The organization you work for seems to insist on this by even holding a festival, every film school or lab program persists teaching filmmaking this way. The VPF will be moot when few cinemas even exist anymore. More work will be needed to break away from this mold. It will ultimately be done when the data more than overwhelmingly supports that the cinematic viewing of film is dead.  I am not one to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  I love the cinema experience.  I don't think it will ever leave us.  But it could lose it's pop status and fall into an elite pastime like other cultural strands.  Further, festivals (most of them) are community events that the community supports.  Not every festival is a market or industry event.  I look forward bringing the SFFS to fully embrace the broadest definition of cinema regardless of form, delivery, subject, style, presentation or any other aspect.

8)I agree that harvesting data will be our best shot at survival and The Film Collaborative has been tracking as much data as we can legally get to look at the real winners (apart from the seemingly winning) films from last year’s Sundance. Sundance is our barometer because it is still widely accepted as the premiere place to find indie talent. It has not been easy to gather this data and we have so much of it that it isn’t even easy to figure out how to present it in a coherent way. Why do we do this? No one paid us to do it? We do it because we do want survival for as many as possible and that can’t happen if we don’t pull together and share. The effort will ultimately be worth it even if the data doesn’t support long held beliefs.  Here, here!  More power to you and the Film Collaborative.  How do we all work together????

9)I don’t view the digital transition period as a disaster. It is only disasterous for those who can’t change. Many will perish in this space (as they always do whenever evolution happens), but many more will rise up to take their place.  It is simply change, not disaster.  I think you are confusing my points here -- or did I make confusing points?  My point #14 was about preservation of digital media.

10) I firmly believe the investor class will be in microfinancing, not investment funds. It will come from crowdfunding basically. I personally have trouble believing that the motivations that come from arts donors we have previously found to support crowdfunding will be compatible with the mindset of an investor intent on a financial return, but we’ll see. Perhaps they will mix nicely just as people donate to the arts AND have personal stock investments. We should have more conferences for those who are interested in learning more about micro investment instead of only focusing on big money investment. The key though is emotional connection to those investors which we haven’t seen before in the investment sector.  I can’t think of any investment company mindset that started from really knowing what their investors deeply care about and steering projects their way. It has always been the money and that’s all. I think people in this space want to show their support and care with their money, not just make some more. I think it will be more diversified than just 

crowd financing.    I think there are always those with large capital that want to do both good and well.  I hope that the threat that art film is under will mobilize some of that capital.  Organizations like SFFS are supported heavily by folks with high net worth, yet they too want film culture to be accessible for all.  We will have more diversified film culture when we all work to make sure that both creators and their supporters benefit directly from the work they create.  We need more money to flow in both directions, instead of just into the buckets that established themselves decades ago.

 

Is this a long enough comment for you? Thank you!

Sheri

Let me know if you know of any other responses I should link to.