Friday, November 7, 2008

Indie Film: The Great Dedication

“Is it worth it for me to do this anymore?” That was the questions I was asked a few days ago by a colleague, and a question that I eventually asked myself.

What she was referring to was her economical situation. Over the past several months, there have been more and more outlets for Indie Film Makers to showcase their work thru a variety of media, and mostly the Internet.

I firmly believe that the Internet is the most valuable tool in almost any endeavor today, be it Film, News, Business or Medicine. YouTube has revolutionized media, Google Videos has redefined how people access News Sources, and although Film has remained a constant, its politics have not.

The Film Community itself benefits most from the Internet, there are wonderful sites such as Indieoma, and KCRW, as well as blogs, such as Ted Hope’s Truly Free Film, Scott Macaulay’s Filmmaker Magazine Blog, and Mikel Wisler’s Cin-Posium. Each of these sites is an invaluable resource for news, cinematic analysis, and the discussion of ideas. Sites like YouTube, iFilm and AtomFilm are great showcases for shorts.

So why ask “if its worth it?” The question itself has a fundamental root that varies from person to person; “what are you seeking?”

An Indie Film Maker is making a film for one of two reasons; A) Creative and Artistic Expression resulting in wonderful discussion, and, if done well, merit; or B) Creative and Artistic Expression resulting in fiscal yield.

If you’re a Film Maker who is a choice B, then Indie Film is the hardest route to take and you’ll probably find yourself asking “Is it worth it for me to do this anymore?”. Each of the previously mentioned websites and blogs are nothing but supportive of Indie Film, but looking over their contents closely, it all points to a potentially disturbing trend; the end of Indie Features.

While shorts will always be around (they’re an essential resume tool as well as the ultimate creative outlet for anyone with a camera) Indie Features will most likely be trailing off. Both Ted Hope and Scott Macaulay have been championing Indie Features for years as well as offering invaluable insight into the Community, some of their recent entries have all mentioned potentially new ways to distribute a film, and most of them are not as profitable as some Film Makers would need them to be.

While I won’t spend too much time on the details of these new distribution avenues (Ted and Scott are much more articulate that I in their posts and certainly more interesting in their explanations) they are indeed very promising when it comes to attaining an audience. Things come into existence when they’re needed, so why the need?

Over the past two years the number of Indie Features made each year has almost tripled. There’s plenty of supply, but the amount of demand is never exactly written in stone. Recently, Paramount announced that it was closing its Indie Division, Paramount Vantage. The company has been harshly criticized for doing so by the Film Community at large. Several of the PV’s films were up for an Oscar Nomination this year, such as There Will Be Blood and No Country For Old Men (Winner of Best Picture). As to why they’re closing it, there are many thoughts on the issues, including the questionable reasons the company itself has publically stated, but one fundamental opinion that most people have is that the top brass simply has no idea what they’re doing and wish to target more formulaic and financially safer films.

The reason the number of films being made has grown is because the technology to make them has been accessible to just about anyone who wants it, but some argue that it devalues Cinema. To quote a line from The Incredibles, “I’ll give my technology to everyone, and when everyone is Super, no one will be.” Or , to a lesser extent, the Andy Warhol argument of how making multiple copies of a piece of artwork takes away from its “essence.”

But does an increasing number of Films made each year really devalue Cinema? I don’t believe that it does, although the concerns and arguments made by those who do are valid and do hold water. These new methods of distribution are mainly intended for the amateur and “lesser known” Film Makers, for films that may gain festival entrance but not attain the big distribution that they want, and for films that do not go to festivals at all.

While my colleague does understand this point, she feels that she is being strong-armed out of her goals by the larger studios and distributors. The films that she makes are of moderately considerable budget size (SAG Modified Lows or Lows) and have one or two recognizable actors in their cast. She has not had much luck with distribution lately, and as almost any Film Maker who has had their film successfully distributed can tell you, there are an almost infinite number of factors involved with attaining distribution, and later on, the right method and medium of distribution. The simple fact on whether or not the film is good or bad also has a lot to do with it, too, but that’s another topic to be discussed at a later time.

When making a Film with money from a private investor, or any investor for that matter, one should make sure that the budget is realistic and that you can get what you want for what you have. You can’t make a 5 million dollar film with no recognizable actors attached and a decent story with nothing unique and expect to attain distribution that will yield a 5 million dollar ROI plus whatever interest on the investment there was. I wish it were so, I really do, but you have to be pragmatic about Indie Film. I’d like to think that for 5 million dollars a film could attract some recognizable names looking for a payday. That would, of course, increase the films production value. Although you may or may not like it, sometimes that’s just how it works.

If you’ve done your homework and researched the market as well as the media, you’ll be able to find a successful, similar project made in a similar way and can build your model off of that.

One Indie Film my colleague often mentions is The Puffy Chair, (one of my favorites). Made for 15k and sold for 150k to Red Envelope. The film enjoyed wonderful reviews and accolades from several festivals, which naturally peeked interest in it and eventually attained the Duplass Brothers a distribution deal. But in order to understand how that happened, you have to understand how the film was made; there were no recognizable actors, an almost non-existent crew, and (most importantly) a very good story.

Short films will, unfortunately, probably never have the amount of merit in the mainstream as features do, which is a shame because we can all think of at least one or two movies that we know were atrocious and don’t understand how anyone could greenlight that piece of *#$t. And if you’re like me, you can’t really watch a full feature film comfortably from your computer, (though on that note, there are these nice little things called S-Video Cables that will solve the problem, look into them) or if you’re like David Lynch, you can’t watch a Film comfortably from your phone device, or, as he so eloquently put it in 2008, in (ironically) a YouTube video, “You can’t watch a *@#$%^&! Feature film on your *@#$%^&! phone, are you *@#$%^&! serious?!” Yes, I do believe watching a full feature film on your phone kind of ruins the experience, but I can certainly tolerate a 5 to 15 minute short.

Personally, I think its wonderful that new film makers have access to such things as YouTube and phone clips, it puts their work out there, gets it seen by an audience. And most of the people who make those kinds of films know exactly what they’re making and aren’t expecting the world as a result.

The simple fact of the matter is that making a successful Indie Film takes a great deal of dedication, passion and commitment from the Film Makers, as well as an understanding of the community (and, sometimes, the politics of the industry). It’s even harder to attain distribution. Its not easy to make a career out of this industry, it’ll wear you down, test you, break you and rebuild you. You’ll receive both positive and negative criticism that you must learn not to take personally. You must learn that delicate balance of loving what you do, but being critical of your work, and, most importantly, you must never, ever, ever, give up, because if you do give up, then it wasn’t worth all the effort in the first place, was it?

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