Our Indie Infrastructure Limits The Menu Of Our Content Consumption

Not only are you what you eat, you are what is on the menu.  It’s not just what sells that people buy, it is what is sold.  The March Hare Syndrome indicates people don’t demand the truly tasty until it is delivered to them.  Market forces are not the be-all or end-all – a little intervention can be a game-changer.

If you want movies to be able to change the world, sometimes you have to change the world first.  In pivoting the film infrastructure from a mass-market focus to that which can serve niche audiences, we have to observe who it is that is setting the menu.  Not much of a surprise there really, it is once again the Old White Guys (and yes, I am one).

Film will – thankfully -- always be a passion industry.  People work on what they like.  Yes, money and profit drive behavior more than people or promise, but taste is still a deep influencer.  When a major demographic is the predominate decision-maker on what is brought to market, we get a limited diet.  The curators for the end-users are only provided a limited set of ingredients to cook with.  Who green lights?  Who chooses what to offer to foreign buyers?  Who represents the film to US buyers?

Sure, there are many exceptions, but for the most part, it is the Old White Men at every step of the chain that drive the decision making on what gets made and sold.  We need to actively recruit a far more diversified decision making team if we want to be able to stop trying to sell our work to everybody and instead try to bring it to the special somebody that will respond most positively.

When a fraction of the population cares about film, and a fraction of that cares about specialized films, AND we have a surplus of content competing for the forever more limited attention of the film-loving community, the emphasis should shift from reaching everyone to hyper-targeting the right people.  The beauty of this shift will be a more diversified stream of work will be able to find success in the marketplace, even if it may not have mass impact.   Yet, before this change will come, we have to first change who sets the menu.

Okay, I don’t have hard data on this, and there are many, many exceptions, but I feel it to be generally true: women like different films from men, and people from different backgrounds like different things too.  Race, class, orientation, creed, and gender influence our taste.  Granted, great art unites us all, and all art crosses boundaries in a way that even a passport can not provide.  Yet, if we want to diversify our offerings, we have to diversify who makes the decisions and who encourages others to make decisions.

I’d find it really interesting to look at the catalogues of the sales companies that are owned and operated by women vs those that are done so by men.  It is often said that urban (i.e. African-American & ethnic) films don’t travel, yet race does not seem to be any issue in music.  Why is that?  There are certainly a wide number of executives of color in the music world, but still very few in the film world.  I was taught to love sushi by a chef who patiently worked to expand my palate.   If the same people set the menu tomorrow as the ones from yesterday, our tastes won’t change.

To shift our industry from mass market to niche, we have to change who sells and who buys.  Yes, we have to provide opportunity to artists of diverse backgrounds, and we have to make sure they have the proper support, but change is not always obvious either.  Opportunity is never the same as outcome.  Influence, and even revolution, can be subtle.

Capital that wants to facilitate necessary evolution would be wise to look closer at the keepers of supply and demand.