why won’t [the internet] make indie film profitable?
When writing my response to a Filmmaker Magazine post by Anthony Kaufman titled Why Won’t Kickstarter and Twitter Save Indie Film?, I kept finding myself deleting areas of discussion that separated “saving” from profitability in indie film, to the point where I wanted to write a follow up post:
The word “save”, to me, is nonspecific, yet it always seems to suggest profitability to indie filmmakers - as if profits were the only area of indie filmmaking that ever needed saving in the last 30 years. In a response to a sharply-written comment from Mynette Louie, I made the point that,
Asking the question of “will” these tools save indie film is a bit late, they have saved indie film - they have given thousands [and thousands] of storytellers a real chance at sharing their films when only 6 years ago it would have been nearly statistically-impossible.
And the above point is the most important to me when I see the word “save” in context of independent filmmaking; the ability for a storyteller to create and then share that creative work with people immediately. The weight that I give to sharing might come from thinking of myself as a storyteller more than a filmmaker, and my interest in the internet above that of the cinema. This doesn’t mean I have no interest in film, and that I would pass up an opportunity to share a film in a theater, but these are secondary interest to my love of stories and my love of the internet. The internet is a far more powerful tool for entertainment, change, intimacy and engagement than the cinema has ever been or could ever be.
Having said that, the internet’s role in profitability is not limited in funding as much as it’s often over-shadowed by filmmakers not creating within their means. As an example, if a filmmaker raises $30,000 for production and post expenses, but then spends $27,594 over 9 days of filming with a crew of 24 people - claiming that the internet [Kickstarter, Twitter, Facebook…] isn’t the savior of indie film because they’ve run out of funds, well, it’s not exactly addressing the real issue. And to be fair, I am learning these mistakes the hard way as well, I have gone through budgets quicker then expected and found myself cornered financially.
Kaufman mentions several filmmakers in his piece - Scott Kirsner, Lance Weiler, Ted Hope, Peter Broderick, Jon Reiss - most of them with roots in traditional film who have recently been strong advocates for social media. While I do follow most of the filmmakers mentioned above, I have a tendency to listen more closely to people who have been working online in shorter formats.
When bridging the space between traditional film and the internet, I feel that shorter format creators and indie filmmakers are both working toward the same connecting point, but people working in shorter formats are building their half of the bridge at a much faster pace than feature filmmakers who are experimenting online have been able to keep. I think storytellers working to create within the boundaries of 5-30 minutes are in a position to more quickly learn lessons / adapt to financial limitations / build a workflow that produces *more* with less / etc.
Steve Woolf often talks about the differences between, ”People who view themselves as filmmakers” vs “people who view themselves as creators” and how each group views “web video” differently, especially when it comes to, what he refers to as, “independent sustainability”.
Taking a look at the average production budget (APB) for film in the last 60 years - in the 1940s the APB was $400,000, by the 1960s it reached $2 million, $13 million by the 80s, and over $50 million since 2000, with some recent blockbusters costing as much as $190 million - it’s difficult to track exact numbers for truly independent film, but it’s safe to say that indie film’s APB has also increased, albeit not as sharply. But “independent sustainability” is key if, as storytellers, we want to create a system that won’t simply crash and burn before it’s been given a chance to really expand and set new examples, this means structuring stories and budgets within what we are capable of funding online.
As storytellers we are only going to move forward if we learn to build more with less, learn to not simply juggle multiple roles but understand how to efficiently mesh them together. There is no one business plan online, that is both a benefit and a downside to the internet; budget within your means and decide on how you are going to distribute and sell that creative work. Your budget / distribution plan could be broken into any number of different creative approaches, as long as you always create within your means.
If Shane Carruth was able to write, direct, produce, score, and edit Primer in 2004, an entire year before YouTube was even launched, on a budget of $7,000 - then the only limitations filmmakers face are self-impossed limitations.
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