Is there something in our wiring that makes us respond more to problems than to the positive aspects about our situation? I started the year out with a list over 52 Reasons To Be Hopeful. Last week I posted a shorter list, a virtual brain dump, on the problems I felt we all faced on the American Indie side of the film industry.
HOPE FOR THE FUTURE: WHY INDIE FILM CULTURE WILL SURVIVE
1.It is so easy to blog that everyone could have their own page in a matter of minutes. I thought about having a blog for several months before I made the leap and then I was up and on it a matter of minutes.
2. The more people are exposed to quality films (and culture in general) the more their tastes gravitate towards quality films. I would love to see an actual study on this, but I was told it by one of the Netflix honchos in that their members gravitate to the "auteurs" the longer they've been a member.
3. Committed Leaders To A Open Source Film Culture have emerged. I have been incredibly inspired by all the work that those I have labeled as Truly Free Film Heroes have done. Even more so I am moved by their incredible generosity in their sharing of all they have learned.
4. The Tools To Take Personal Control are available, numerous, and fun. There are more than I can list (but the TFF Tools List is a pretty good start).
5. Giving it away for free is good business. Anderson's essay is required reading. Look at Google who gives away 90% (est.) of what they create (the search engine) and drives a good advertising business in the process. For years The Greatful Dead were one of the top grossing concert acts, driven in a good part by their willingness to allow their fans to "bootleg" their concerts and "distribute" them themselves. The question is what do you give away and what do you use to produce revenue.
6. Film Festivals are evolving. Local film fests have already identified the core film lovers in every region. For decades these festivals have been content to live in a single period each year, overloading their audiences with too many choices come festival time. Now festivals are giving theatrical bookings as awards (help us build a list of these). Some are moving to a seasonal subscription model. Some are even paying significant screening fees. And then there are the cash awards (those are still around somewhere, aren't they?).
7. Internet Streaming is being used by filmmakers to build A WORLD of Word Of Mouth. Slamdance has announced that they will stream films right after the festival. For years we have know that word of mouth is the primary way that a specialized film succeeds. But it is costly, but now that has changed.
8. 2008 is the strongest year for under $1M EVER. I have seen almost 20 films this year by filmmakers who clearly will develop a great body of work. Only a few were at Sundance. They keep on coming. They may still be hard to find, but the films are out there and at a quality and quantity as never before. Check out Hammer To Nail's list of top 13 films of the year and get watching.
9. Plenty of DVD manufacture & Fullfillment places (see sidebar).
10. Plenty of places to place your content online for eyeballs to find (anyone want to generate a comprehensive list to share?).
11. Things like Netflix and Blockbuster.com make it possible for anyone with a mailing address to see any movie he or she wants. A lot of viewers who haven't had access to theaters or even video stores that stock smaller films can now get them if they know about them. (thanks Semi!)
12. The Major Media Corporations retreat from the “Indie” film business. This will open up distribution possibilities for entities not required to produce high profit margins or only handle films that have huge “crossover” potential and necessitate large marketing budgets.
13. A new turn-key apparatus is evolving for filmmakers who want to “Do it with others” in that they can hire bookers, publicists, marketers – all schooled in the DIY manner of working. Instead of hoping for a Prince Charming to arrive and distribute their film, TFFilmakers are seeking out the best and the brightest collaborators to bring their film to the audiences.
14. We have seen a perfect distribution model and its success: the Obama social network was nothing short of a thing of beauty. Its methods should be an inspiration for all truly free filmmakers. People had a reason to visit the site, to supply information, to reach out and connect to others. They were supplied the tools and a mission. Now go out and find someone to vote for the culture you want.
15. The DIY/Do It With Others model is now recognized as a real alternative to traditional make-it-and-pray-that-others-will-pay-to-distribute-it-for-you. Filmmakers are planning for it as a possibility from the start of production. This preparation becomes the key to success.
16.Filmmakers are recognizing the need to define a platform far earlier. Be they producers like Bill Horberg or Jane Kosek , directors like Raymond DeFelitta and Jon Reiss ,or writers like John August and Dennis Cooper, creative filmmakers are taking upon themselves to find and unite their audiences at an earlier stage in the process. Okay, maybe it isn’t so Machavellian; maybe they just want to talk to people. Either way, it is going to lead to more people seeing better films.
17. A curatorial culture is starting to emerge. Creative communities need filters. Every year I have as many “want to see” films on my list as I do “best of”. It’s not that there is too much as some like to claim, but it’s that there is still too little discussion on what is best and why. We started Hammer To Nail for this reason, but we are not alone. Although they tread in much different waters, popular email blasts/broadcasts like Daily Candy and Very Short List, these sites work as much as filters as they do identifiers. Social Networks most popular features are members “favorites” in their profiles. We are all being trained as curators, but are only now starting to share it publicly.
18.A feature film is no longer defined as a singular linear narrative told in under two hours. Filmmakers are recognizing the need to extend the filmic world beyond the traditional confines. Whether this is in Judd Apatow’s YouTube shorts for KNOCKED UP or in Wes Anderson’s prologue short for THE DARJEELING EXPRESS, the beginning of new models have emerged helping filmmakers continue the conversation forward with their audiences.
19.New models for production are being utilized. The most widely noted in this regard is “crowdsourced” work. Massify has recently brought together the horror film Perkins 14. This year brought us Matt Hanson’s and A Swarm Of Angels open sourced / free culture start-up THE UNFOLD; the trailer is mysterious and I am looking forward to the feature. These massive collaborative works are the ultimate union between audience and creator.
20. Grassroots has come to distribution. The Living Room Theater model advanced by Robert Greenwald’s Brave New Theaters empowers audience members and filmmakers alike bringing them together and invested in each others success. Filmmakers give the audience more power and control, and audiences recognize that they have to fight to preserve the culture they want.
21. The independent art house theaters are organizing. Sundance is hosting the first Art House Convergence this year prior to the festival, helping to build the knowledge base of these theaters and enhance their collaboration. This platform will be key to preserving the theaterical experience for films outside the domain of the major media corporations.
22. Financiers are collaborating with each other. Groups like Impact Partners that provide regular deal flow, vetting, and producerial oversight for investors with common interests lowers the threshold number for investors interested in entering the film business. IndieVest is another model based on subscription, deal flow, and perqs. The high amount of capital needed to enter the film business has limited its participants. The film business has its own vernacular, and mysterious business practices. It is an industry of relationships. Collaborative ventures like this help to solve many of these threshold issues.
23. The US Government, at the city, state, and federal levels, recognize the positive economic impact of film production and has created a highly competitive market for tax subsidies and credits. The vast amount of experimentation in this field has allowed for it to grow forever more efficient. Although these benefits are designed to attract the highest amount of spend, and are thus most beneficial to Hollywood style models, the steady employment these credits have helped to deliver, develop a crew and talent base more able to also take risks on projects of more limited means. The “soft” money they provide a project is often key to getting the green light.
24. A greater acceptance of a variety of windows in terms of release platforms is emerging. Filmmakers were once the greatest roadblock to a pre-theatrical release DVD. Filmmakers are experimenting with everything from free streaming to the filmic equivalent to a roadshow tour. It is only through such endeavors that we will find a new model that works.
25. Industry leaders have said publicly that they will share the meta-data that a VOD release generates with the filmmakers. Although license fees have dropped considerably, filmmakers have new options on what to ask for in return. I spoke on a panel with two notable industry leaders who said they would put it in their contracts that filmmakers can receive and share the data the VOD screenings of their films generate. This information will become important the more filmmakers seek to maintain direct communication with their audiences.
26, Collaboration among filmmakers is recognized as being a necessity among filmmakers. Todd Sklar’s tour of films with their filmmakers brought vital work and their creators to places that generally went lacking. The teamwork approach benefited everyone. One can easily imagine that this model, like the collaborative finance model, will extend to production too, and not just in the aforementioned crowdsourced way, but in ways that will make individual personal films stronger too.
27. The Independent community has demonstrated that it is quick to action and embraces both tolerance and strength. Over five years ago, the indie film community joined forces to defeat the Hollywood Studios’ and the MPAA’s Screener Ban, but despite a lot of activist attitude they have not joined forces in a significant way.
The indie film community was very vocal about their opposition to California’s Proposition 8 referendum, but never in a unified way. Similarly, many major figures within the community defended the LA Indep. Film Festival’s head’s, Rich Radon, right of political expression when it was revealed he had donated funds in support of Prop 8, refusing to engage in blacklist tactics. In the end, the obvious conflict of an organization that defines itself by tolerance, being then led by someone supportive of a discriminatory act, albeit on what is called religious grounds, seemingly led that individual to resign. There was no true organized effort by the film community itself either to defeat Prop 8 or to remove Radon, but one suspects the outcome of each will bring more unified action in the months to come.
The community’s embrace of a new issue will be a test of their abilities to act in a unified way.
28. The embrace of the “1000 True Fans” model: filmmakers are recognizing that they need to engage in regular communication -- via a regular output of varied material – with their core audience. Not only is necessary because it speaks of a model of how filmmakers can earn a living , but it also offers a manner of working that will allow filmmakers, and artists in general, greater variation in the type and form of work they do. The dialogue with the audience will also keep filmmakers more attuned to what their audience responds to and why, all the while, strengthening the bonds between artists and their community.
29. Rational consolidation and expansion is taking place in the blogosphere. Entities need to have funding if they are going to truly cover this space (man, what I could do with a few bucks...). Indiewire, the premiere indie film news site, was acquired Snag Films, the leading documentary film streaming aggregator. GreenCine, one of the leading sites for art film appreciation, had its lead blogger go over to IFC – greatly strengthening that site. Movie City News got another great editor. As these core film appreciation sites improve, we all benefit. Audiences need to know where to go to find the type of films they love and this bit of consolidation could help.
30. Some of the major specialized distributors recognize the need to build film education and appreciation into their job description. Focus Features “Film In Focus” website, in partnership with Faber & Faber, demonstrates this impulse beautifully. Independent, Specialized, Art, Foreign, and Truly Free Film all need an audience who acts out of choice not impulse. They need to remain review driven despite the loss of so many critics nationwide. They need to be able to recognize what qualities make a film better or unique. They need to recognize what makes a film art. They need reading that helps their love of cinema grow.
31. The need for digital preservation of indie films and their history is slowly being recognized. Granted this is a little hard to document, but I have had a handful of conversations this year with organizations contemplating both the preservation of specific films and of filmmakers’ archives. In this digital age, preservation is all the more difficult due to the lack of physical copies. Additionally the technology changes, and what was stored on form of drive is not compatible with another. Blogs are born daily and evolve so quickly, we are left wondering how to chart their progress.
32. Communities are renovating their historic town center theaters and turning them into community centers, with capabilities of film and/or digital projection. The great old movie theaters are the shrines to the first century of cinema, and a truly wonderful way to see a film.. Organizations like the League Of Historic American Theaters and the Theatre Historical Society Of America which are dedicated to the restoration and operation of these palaces. Often situated on the old main streets of many American cities, the restoration can often be the cornerstone for the revitalization of the old downtowns. But apart from being great for the local municipalities, for filmmakers these palaces are the antithesis of small screen viewing experience that most seem to think has become the defining indie experience – they are places of worship.
33. Theater owners and managers recognize the need to make the community vested in their success. I have heard of theaters giving back Monday nights to different community groups to program and in doing so building loyal audiences. Michael Moore’s Traverse City theater has 25 cent admissions for childrens’ matinees and Wednesday classics – investing in the youth and education of their community. New and best practices are developing and the theater community is sharing it’s knowledge.
34. Theater chains recognize the need to give the audience something more than they can get at home and have started to develop upscale theaters that cater to a more sophisticated taste. Village Roadshow’s Gold Class theaters offer top projection, sound, and seating, along with valet parking, wait staff and a good wine list. It’s important to make theater going a unique experience that can not be topped and it’s exciting to see what state of the art will be come.
35. Film schools are waking up to the need to educate students on how to survive – it is not enough to know how to direct or produce, graduates must have real world skills too. Jon Reiss is developing a specific curriculum on this, and I have heard from others who are looking to do the same.
36. Filmmakers are recognizing that film festivals are more of a launch platform than a marketplace. More films have trailers available prior to Sundance than ever before. Some wise filmmakers even come to their festival premieres armed with DVDs to sell. Will this be happening at Sundance? Are there any filmmakers reading this who plan to? Let us know.
37. Cultural institutions are stepping into to fill the void left by mainstream media’s abandonment of the art film space. MOMA in NYC now schedules films for regular runs. If we want to see art, why not go to a museum? We need shrines to see beautiful projection and I hope there are many other institutions picking us MOMA’s lead. It could become an actual circuit.
38. The fight to restore integrity of the producer credit continues. The PGA continues to lead the charge here and looks poised to step it up. The recognition of the need to a specific financier credit is becoming part of the conversation – namely that the Executive Producer credit should not be used for line producers but preserved for those who help finance. There is so little dignity left in the role of producer, one hopes that the rest of the industry recognizes how they are all vested in restoring integrity to the credit. Granted there are times when more than three individuals truly are producers on a project, but twelve? Wouldn’t it be a great world if even the distributors committed to stopping over-inflated credits? If an organization like the PGA actually went after the individuals and companies who push for such false credits? Real producers are always in a vulnerable position when looking for cast and financing and a soft position will not get this done. Why does a distributor or sales agent seek such credits anyway?
39. Producers are being recognized for doing more than just sourcing or providing the financing and administrative structure to a production. A good producer makes a better film and not just by making it run smoothly. Sundance – who has been recognizing producers’ contributions for years -- just held its first Creative Producing Initiative. There still remains a lack of clarity in the public’s mind as to what a producer does, but when leading organizations like Sundance take the effort not only to clarify that producing is a creative act, but also help producers to build their creative skills, change will come. This clarity and the restoration of the integrity of the producer credit won’t just restore producers own recognition of self-worth, but will lead to stronger films.
40. Senior film organizations, like the IFP, Film Independent, and IFTVA/AFM are working together, along with advocacy organizations like Public Knowledge to try to maintain key policies crucial to indie’s survival like Net Neutrality and Media Consolidation. If everyone with common interests learned to work together…. Wow.
41. There appears to be real growth beyond navel gazing in terms of subject matter among the new filmmakers. Filmmakers aren’t just interested in whether the boy gets the girl or the boy gets the boy. We seem to be moving beyond strict interpersonal relations in terms of content and looking at a much bigger picture. Chris Smith’s THE POOL, Sean Baker’s PRINCE OF BROADWAY and TAKEOUT, Lance Hammer’s BALAST, and Lee Isaac Chung’s MUNYURANGABO to name a few, point to a much more exciting universe of content to come.
42. New technology makes it all a whole lot better. Whether it is new digital cameras or formats, digital projection, or editing systems, it just keeps getting better, faster, lighter, cheaper. Reduced footprints, sharper images, and quicker turnaround: who amongs us does not believe all these things lead to better films?
43. Both the creative and business sides of the film industry are embracing the streaming of features. Both Hulu and Snag are looked at as success stories, although the short form and clips remain most popular with audiences. The key to specialized films’ success has always been creating word of mouth. Regional screenings and publicity has always been an expensive undertaking, prohibiting niche film from truly undertaking such a campaign. Streaming makes it all possible. A limited streaming campaign could do wonders for building an audience’s desire to see a particular film. When directors like Michael Moore and Wayne Wang climb aboard the streaming bandwagon (as both did this year), one can only hope legions will follow.
44. Green awareness: slowly the entire industry is waking up to the fact that there is no away to throw to. Last year less than half of the distributors distributed their award screeners in cardboard packaging. This year all the major ones did. Granted you still have to police sets to make sure bottles are being recycled, and offices to make sure that paper is – but it is much improved from before. I still haven’t been asked to put a carbon offset into a budget, but I am confident that day will come. Green carpets became the vogue over red this year. At the very least, the industry seems to be embarrassed by their waste. Maybe the days of excessive consumption are numbered…
45. The career/financial sustainability of producers is at least now recognized as an issue somewhere in the world. In the U.S. we have watched virtually every studio cut virtually every producer-based overhead deal. On one hand it seems that the US film industry has forgotten what a producer does, but across the ocean, there is a ray of hope. It has been enacted as law that the UK tax credit must be counted as the producer’s equity, thus increasing the back end a producer would have on any given project. Once local municipalities in the US start providing prolific producers with office space then we will know we are on the right foot! The longevity of producers is the cornerstone of fostering a film community’s growth.
46. Filmmakers are recognizing the benefits of limiting the time spent between films. When the American Indie scene kicked into gear in the late 80’s, the directors were quite prolific. Up until recently, the new generations of filmmakers seemed to take five more years in between projects. The directors’ pursuit of larger budgets necessitated this to some degree, but also limited their ability to build a loyal following worldwide. Whether it is the Mumblecore crowd of Swanberg or The Duplass Brothers, or the world vision practitioners like Sean Baker and Ramin Bahrini , this new generation is aiming more for growth in their work than growth in their budgets. The audience will benefit as these directors mature.
47. Actors are truly embracing indie film and seem to be doing it because they love it. We know they don’t do it for the money or just because the schedule is short and shooting quick, but when you know they are getting offered bigger paydays and chances for true stardom and yet they still keep on doing indie movies, you have to accept they do it because it is the kind of cinema they adore. Michelle Williams , Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei, Peter Skaarsgard, Maggie Gylnehal. Quality actors delivering quality work time and time again.
48. The Jacob Burns Center in Westchester has raised over $20M for a Media Literacy Center and it looks like an incredible addition to our culture and a wonderful model for others to follow. Imagine if every community had something like this! Check out the press release at: .
49. Power continues to decentralize. Time and time again it is proven that a good idea can triumph and change will follow it. Frank Leonard’s brain child, The Black List, the annual report that lists executives favorite scripts, has been instrumental in getting unique (dare we say “quirky”) projects appreciated, bought, and even made. Sundance was once the be all and end all of festivals. Virtual festivals like From Here To Awesome give everyone a chance at being seen now.
50.We are getting new film movements faster and faster. 2007 was the year of Mumblecore. 2008 was the year the neo naturalists broke (Wendy & Lucy, Chop Shop, Ballast, etc.). The speed of which common aesthetics form speak of better communication. Multiple filmmakers working in the same vein can only lift the conversation higher and raise the bar for technique. Work will progress faster and the audience will again benefit.
51. Life Sustaining tools slowly are proliferating. The Freelancers Union Health Care program offers a good option for indie filmmakers looking to have basic health care coverage, Creative Capital alum Esther Robinson’s brainchild Home Loans ___ , offers artist financial planning services and consultation on home buying. As we live in a nation without real government support for the arts, creators have to assume they will be partially financing their work themselves -- developing the wherewithal to plan for the future and not put oneself at significant financial risk is part and parcel to being able to choose what stories you will tell.
52. The great beacon of hope I find in the film horizon is the often TFF-cited Lance Weiler and his gang of collaborators at The Workbook Project and From Here To Awesome. The open source generosity and advocacy stemming from their platforms provide a plethora of information and point to the real possibility that artists everywhere can not only create the work they want but have the ability to find, access, and join with audiences everywhere. They show that power is not in the hands of the establishment but in the community. Lance and his team having taken a host of good ideas and put them into action -- and it appears to be just the tip of an iceberg that we can expect to come from them. The revolution is being podcasted; it’s time you got the URL tattooed onto your soul.