What Can Indie Film Learn From Etsy? Let's Make A Pledge

Etsy ran at a profit for the first time last year, and the NYTimes recently ran an article examining how well they've managed their growth while still creating a community dedicated to having their buying habits reflect their values.  With 7 million users, revenues possibly as high as $50 million, Etsy certainly has a lot to teach other non-corporate creators.

Etsy looks at Ebay for lessons and the big takeaway appears to be to keep the focus on community and not to get hung up on increasing profits.  It has always felt to me that the major difference between Art Film or Indie Film and Hollywood's product is the community experience.  It was the community part of the infrastructure that the industry allowed to rust as they adopted the Hollywood practice of pursuing profit margins first and foremost.  It is the community aspect that we need most to focus on if we want a sustainable creative community in this country, IMHO.

Like Etsy's efforts to create an intimate relationship between buyers and sellers, if we want a Truly Free Film culture to flourish, we need to increase the intimacy between audiences and creators.  We need to erase those lines so it is a truly united community.  Etsy works to do this through daily emails:

Etsy is working to ensure that as the site gets bigger, it still feels more like a treasure trove of goodies than a chaotic sidewalk sale. The company sends out daily “Etsy Finds” e-mails that are usually put together by a staff member or a popular merchant. These display a handful of items arranged around a central theme or color scheme.

When I say that being a filmmaker requires being a curator, I am speaking of the responsibility of filmmakers to get others' good work seen and appreciated.  You say you made a film in the last two years?  Well how many movies did you also actively encourage your friends, family, fans, & followers to watch? And how did you do that?  What if you made a pledge to this year write up at least two passionate pleas to watch a new truly independent film this year.  And what if you wrote in such a way that actually put in both a cultural and personal context so it might really resonate with readers.  And what if we found a way to get that out to the community?  If I got fifty pledges from filmmakers to actually do that, I will make sure we got a good platform (starting here) to launch it further.

Update:  12/28 648PM EST: It was just pointed out to me that Brian Newman ran a nice post back in November on Etsy's doc profiles on their various artists.  It's great work and Brian was right on with his post.

Display Your Value: You Are Different From Them

I was reading on Estsy an article by Stacey Brooke that gives  recommendations to their community on how to help buyers recognize what they are getting when they purchase a hand-made item, and I couldn't help but feel that a lot of it is readily applicable to the world of Truly Free Film. We are talking about hand-crafted personal work, not assembly line market-driven product. Truly Free Film is "a different thing entirely" from Hollywood.  Brooke sums it up well:

Your products aren’t the blue arugula created on an assembly line by workers paid far too little and shipped across the country to big box warehouses who take all the money and credit for your blood and sweat. You make things and sell things you put your soul into. You need to impart that message to your buyers. You need to show them — it’s a whole different thing.

What she discusses is also so true about truly free film.  Brooke & Etsy suggests to their sellers to document their process and post videos.  In the film world, this is our "behind the scenes" video.  Generally filmmakers just call this "additional content".  Yet, as pointed on Etsy, these videos help audiences and buyers recognize why a work is distinct.

They encourage their community to "bolster their descriptions" about what they are selling, to explain the process in detail.  With a complex work like a feature film or cross-media project, this is not simple by any means.  Yet the more we understand what an artist set out to accomplish, what they discovered, what their influences were, how things shifted over time -- the more we are allowed into the creative process -- the more we will feel intimate with the artist(s).  The move we feel intimate with the artist(s), the more we are likely to promote  and curate their work.

I personally love it when film gets personal.  It's one thing to do it with the content, but for me, being of the mind that cinema is really everything that surrounds a particular feature, it's something a whole lot more, when the personal is illuminated in the process.  I love the post that Matthew Porterfield did about his film PUTTY HILL because it felt truly heartfelt for me.  It was intimate.  That is another thing that all these Kickstarter campaigns do for me: they keep it intimate.  I see their success and failure measured