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Monday, May 25, 2009

Yet another post about the state of indie film (this one is an optimistic one, & about the real indie/D.I.Y./individual artist w/ a day job level)

Like that old quote about it being impossible to organize a revolution with anarchists (or something like that :), most indie filmmakers (myself included) do not listen to advice (or they hear it, but believe that they are the exception to the rule & thus it does not apply to them), but here are some observations that may be of use if you are trying to make & distribute low budget movies outside of any kind of structure remotely resembling the film industry:

1 - It's the best of times for real indie/way off-Hollywood filmmakers & it's possibly the worst of times for filmmakers who dream of getting selected to a top festival & selling their movies to a distribution company & jump starting their Holly/indiewood career. Let's take a look at what's good about the current moment for real indie/D.I.Y. (do-it-yourself) filmmakers:

- relatively inexpensive, high quality image & sound capture technologies

- relatively inexpensive access to a marketing & sales space through the web

2 - A LOT is beyond your control as a filmmaker who wants to distribute your own work or collaborate with distributors but want to retain ownership of your own work. Such as building & maintaining a filmmaking community (takes a lot of time, and a lot of people have to be enthusiastic about it), state of film journalism, film festival programming decisions & also the future of the film festival industry. However, SOME VERY IMPORTANT THINGS are within your control: such as creating awesomely creative, unique, can't buy from Hollywood type movies (or the room for the existence of such movies is here, even though I have not seen very many of those movies come into being yet) - in order to create those you will need to come up with a new way to talk about/show/tell stories about old subjects, or will have to start focusing on new/relatively under-explored subjects. Not a difficult thing for artists to do in other mediums (literature, painting, music, etc.), so probably not too difficult for us to do with film.

3 - Best to not depend on your movies being able to pay ALL or even ANY of your bills anytime soon. Operate with that in mind, and when & if that situation does change & you make a very decent amount of money from your movies, it will be a pleasant surprise. So, find a day job or several that you can stand, that will give you free time to make & distribute your movies. Also, since each film is a unique product, there probably aren't any sales/money makings solutions that will work for all or even most films. A real indie film that will end up making a lot of money will probably get to that point after its maker/distributor has experimented with different ways of promoting & selling the movie & discovered the unique combination applicable to that movie only.

4 - Internet communities for filmmakers are probably overrated. Sure, we can learn about other filmmakers & various screening & other development opportunities through the web, but, ultimately, movies are made in the real/outside of the web world (generally) & screened in that same real world. Even though it is possible to watch movies over the web, that's a whole other & new industry that probably will not replace the joy & excitement of watching movies with other people in the real world. So, at some point you will have to make some filmmaking friends in the real world & if not many such people live in your town, you might have to move.

5 - There are multiple dangers in being or trying to be both a film critic/reviewer & a filmmaker. At some point, if you want to go the the "next level" (whatever that next level may be for you at your current point of career development) on either profession, it will probably be easier to choose whichever one you like best (either criticism/reviewing or filmmaking) & work on that goal. Filmmakers work for a broader audience (generally), critics/reviewers work for a very narrow audience (mostly other critics/reviewers & also for film historians & educators) and ultimately film criticism is not necessary for film production & distribution. Criticism is a completely separate line of work, related only in a very minor way to filmmaking. Also, critics (professional film watchers) are looking for different things from movies than regular, paying (with money or time) audience members. As a filmmaker you are probably better off being outside of the critical mind & community & more in touch with filmmaker & audience needs.

6 - All of the following things now can be done by one person, one item at a time:

- writing a screenplay

- fundraising (in this case it's using $s from day job, & donations, & small loans/"investments" from friends)

- casting

- directing rehearsals

- shooting the film & sound recording (may be better if there was help for these items, but not impossible to do well by oneself -with a lot of practice)

- lighting

- directing actors

- editing

- setting up screenings

- creating DVDs

- setting up websites & blogs to promote the film

- managing a screening

- selling DVDs over the web

- shipping DVDs out to customers

That's pretty much, in broad strokes, all the steps required for creating, showing & selling for home use an indie film. On top of those you can look at other web distribution options such as Internet VOD (video on demand). And beyond that all the usual distribution avenues - television, working with theatrical distributors, etc.

7 - So, we are at the point in time when filmmaking can be practiced by one artist with some assistance from just a few others. Just like writing, music making, painting, etc. That kind of production & being is not Hollywood, nor is it Indiewood, it is its own new thing. And, in the near future, it may have its own star & superstar practitioners. So, all in all, this is a very good moment for people who are interested in making movies (even if it is a bad moment for people who want to break into Hollywood through indie filmmaking).

What about the new indie film scene? Well, that's always happening. There is always a bunch of people making real indie movies & keeping in touch/helping each other out & writing about it, checking out each others movies, etc. If you look over the past two months worth of posts on this or most other blogs & sites that cover real indie film, you'll probably see over a dozen links, per site, to various real indie film scenes - small & large. That overall scene will expand as more & more people make real indie movies & let others know about it & connect with other filmmakers & audience members. Scenes/communities happen when filmmakers stay in touch with other filmmakers. Filmmakers happen when people make movies. So, at the core of filmmaking communities is the decision to make movies & keep in touch with others who do the same kind of work - both are items that most people can now do if they decide to organize their lives in such a way as to make those activities possible - thanks to new filmmaking technology & the web.

And you could also go check out what's playing at venues such as Anthology - they've been showing new & old real indie films for a long, long time. Also at a lot of the smaller indie film festivals. Also check out postings re: D.I.Y. screenings - at the sites of filmmakers or at blogs like this where such events are mentioned from time to time. All those spaces & events are places where real indie communities & meetings happen.

So, the bottom line on the state of indie film: it's the best time to make real indie films, it is probably as challenging as ever to break into Hollywood by making indie films, there are both web & outside-of-web/real world spaces for watching real indie films & also being a part of the indie film scene.

So, ultimately, for an indie filmmaker, this sounds like a pretty good place in time/good point in history of indie film.

- Sujewa

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