sujewa films nyc

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The indie box office issue

To many engaged in filmmaking & distribution in America, how much money a movie makes is a very, very important issue, and is in fact deeply connected to their survival, jobs, self-esteem, how much love they get, and many other essential things.

However, there does seem to be something incredibly vulgar (and i am not the first person to express this) about the obsession that the mainstream media has about how much a movie makes, $s wise - at the box office. This obsession has also creeped into indie film media.

In the "we are mostly just making entertainment products for making cash" areas of the entertainment industry; such as porn, video games, and most Hollywood or mainstream European movies or even Bollywood movies for that matter - all perfectly useful things to many people by the way - there is no issue re: movies making money; movies must make money, a lot of it, end of conversation.

Even in the independent film world, making money is important. The indie film scene as we know it in America did not come into existence until Stranger Than Paradise made over a million dollars - a very significant amount for a weird, arty, no-star, black and white project by a new director. And had this possibility of making a lot of money did not exist, investors and artists would not have rushed into the independent filmmaking field to make it the vibrant and active industry that it has become.

However, in the digitally enabled & self-distribution fueled real indie world, it may be possible to get away with not using box office figures as justification for existence, as indicators of success or failure.

Paradoxically, not worrying too much about the box office, and not even talking about it to people who do not need to know about how much money a film makes or loses (you'd have to tell your businesses partners - including cast & crew who might own a share of the profits - if any, and the government at tax time, and i think that's about it for the essential people) might allow an independent filmmaker to make more interesting movies that ends up making more money than the movies that are designed from the beginning to try to make a certain amount of money.
Trying to imitate what made money last week is a sure way to make me bored. But new combinations, weird new takes on familiar or unfamiliar things, would make me want to check a movie out. So, thinking outside the box office might make for better indie movies, perhaps"more attractive to more people" indie movies - which results in more ticket or DVD sales.

Even if that does happen, at least we'll end up with a lot more of interesting movies, I think.

So, for real indies, at least for my movies - features, not losing money is what is important, or eventually making money from several titles even if some titles do not perform well is what's important, money wise. And beyond that, even if money is lost on a title or two, it being made pretty much how I want it made, hopefully resulting in a very interesting movie at least, is a positive end result - something that might be useful to other people also (future audience members, other filmmakers, etc.).

As the practices of self-distribution and digital production have been embraced and have become very useful tools for independent filmmakers, perhaps embracing the avoidance of box office charts might also be useful to us. At least I will be doing it. I was never too comfortable with the value of a movie being reduced down to a set of quick numbers, and, the money involved in my movies is so little at the moment (compared to Hollywood or indiewood movies), this is something that I can easily do right now. And I think I'll stick with this practice picture after picture - even if budgets & revenue get bigger; no official reporting of 1) how much or how little $s a movie of mine takes to make, and 2) how much money the movie makes back through distribution. This will force people to look for other criteria by which to judge the success or failure of my movies; perhaps criteria that has to do with how the movies makes the audience feel or criteria related to aesthetic values or creative content in the movies; and that would be cool by me. To tell you the truth, I think just getting an indie movie done & sharing it with appreciative people is the ultimate success. And after that - wider distribution, making money from the movie, getting reviews/publicity, etc. is just extra goodies, the gravy, the cherries on top.

We don't really judge the success of fire fighters or bakers or monks or presidents or grave diggers by how much money they make or lose from one of their work projects. And, independent film being art and entertainment, either a quality of life thing or escapism toy or essential survival tool, how much money a movie makes or loses or the knowledge of such facts probably have very little use to the end user. If anything, not having the vast, supergigantic profit and financial success pressure that Hollywood lives under will probably be better for the creative and just overall regular/private lives of indie filmmakers.

Not having to worry about how one of my movies might do at the box office charts is making me feel better already. It also makes me want to make more movies; movies that may or many not make a lot of money at the box office, but would be very interesting & or useful for some or many to experience.

- Sujewa

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