How To Save Indie Film: Seek out working class youth

Today's guest blogger is Caitlin McCarthy.

Throughout history, the arts were primarily reserved for the upper class. Only recently (the last century or so) has the working class been able to pursue the arts – and that’s because education has become more available to the masses. Thanks to the Internet, emerging artists can live just about anywhere and submit their work in real-time to interested parties. You don’t have to live in LA or NYC anymore (although you still have to travel there sometimes for meetings).

The film community needs to create labs and grants that are specifically designed for under-represented people (race and gender), as well as labs and grants that are awarded on merit, not famous last names/relatives, graduation from the “right” film schools, etc. Note by “film community,” I mean studios, film festivals, and film institutes. Some places have already joined this bandwagon, but many more need to get on board with it. The labs and grants can be funded through sponsorships, donations, or a portion of festival/institute application fees.

Once these labs and grants have been created, the film community has to publicize the hell out of them. They can’t just rely on newspapers, Variety, or the Hollywood Reporter. Use Twitter, Facebook, IMDb, E! News, PEOPLE Magazine, Gawker, -- websites and publications the average person reads.

Announce the lab and grant opportunities through ListServs that service the faculty and administration of public schools and state colleges and universities – not just the private institutions. Add the lab and grant listings to PEN America’s Grants and Awards online database. Utilize non-profit organizations like Dave Eggers’ 826 National, Richard Hugo House in Seattle, Grub Street Writers in Boston, etc., to reach teens and writers in cities on top of LA and NYC (where many opportunities already exist).

Many low and middle class children across the US feel they can’t pursue the arts because it’s an “unsafe” business. They choose “realistic” jobs instead, usually because of prodding from their parent(s). Filmmakers need to give back and become mentors to children and teens in these communities, so the kids realize that they, too, can work in film – not just as actors or writers, but on a crew or in other ways.

It seems to me that filmmaking is a mostly closed business right now, filled with “secret handshakes” that folks from the outside don’t understand. The industry can’t remain incestuous, where the children of movie stars and movie execs get all the breaks and the “no name” people get none. Movies need voices from the outside, from all socio-economic levels, to remain exciting.

As for how to screen films to disadvantaged youth, I am shocked that the film industry hasn’t thought of this one: Show new films for a discounted rate at public schools across the US. Make Friday night the designated “Movie Night.” Every school already has an auditorium or gym with a big screen. Many schools use “Movie Night” as Student Council fundraisers – only they show old films for a fee, not new ones. Studios could debut films to the prized demographic this way, and give a percentage of the take to the schools’ Student Councils – thereby making everyone happy.

Certain DVDs could also be sold to schools and libraries if there’s an educational tie-in. These films could have websites with special lesson plans for teachers (available for a fee). Trust me, teachers love to show movies that relate to their course material (English, Math, History, Science, Health, Art, Vocational Education, etc.). Students are so visual these days that the Department of Education encourages the use of media and technology in the classroom.

In a nutshell, don’t expect working class youth in the US to seek you out, as they don’t know where to go. Seek them out, in the places they already frequent. This will require work on the part of filmmakers, but the artistic and financial return will be worth it.

Caitlin McCarthy
Caitlin McCarthy is an inner-city public high school teacher by day and award-winning screenwriter by night in Worcester, Massachusetts.