Covering Cinema From All Across The African Diaspora

It's Hard Out There For An Indie Filmmaker...

Reading articles like this can be really disheartening for artists working in the film industry. This is an aspect of the process that I loathe - the creation and distribution of profit.

Yes, it's a business like any other, so money has to be made, and shareholders have to be kept happy. It's still rather unfortunate that the art of film has long been overshadowed by the business of film. Every project is essentially commercial product, and seemingly not much more.

Can we sell it? If the answer is yes, regardless of the content and its influence on its target audience, and thus on society as a whole, it will be produced and mass-distributed!

With the unexpected news by Time Warner Inc earlier on today that
it's shutting down its foreign and independent subsidiaries (Picturehouse and Warner Independent Pictures) for economic reasons, coupled with the article below, the prognosis for indie filmmakers looks rather bleak, unfortunately.

It's always been difficult for indies. But whatever surges in interest we've enjoyed over the past 20 years, are officially dimming.

Industry consolidation continues, as the studios gobble up every smaller promising media company (and soon, each other), creating massive conglomerates with arms in every facet of media - TV, print, film, music, Internet, etc - forcing an unhealthy kind of dependence on them by all, making it increasingly difficult for any independent thinker to enjoy even the thinnest trimmings of success! And as we all know, when things gets tough for whitey, you can guarantee that they'll be even tougher for the rest of us!

But yet, somehow, for some reason(s), many of us continue on, despite the challenges we face, and will continue to face... sigh...

The Hollywood Reporter - a roundtable discussion on indie deal-making:

How vibrant is the independent film scene? How much does it depend on the major film festivals? How useful are the markets that accompany them? On the eve of the Festival de Cannes and its attendant market, The Hollywood Reporter's Stephen Galloway discussed those matters with five experts: (clockwise from top left) Newsweek film critic David Ansen; Kirk D'Amico, president and CEO of Myriad Pictures, a production and sales company; Cassian Elwes, co-head of William Morris Independent; Mark Gill, CEO of finance and production company the Film Department; and Avi Lerner, co-chairman and CEO of Nu Image/Millennium Films.

Read it all HERE.



  1. UK Black Chick aka Wendy said...

    Hmm... Yep, on the one hand, very disheartening. On the other, however, I guess we need to review the word 'independent' when talking about filmmaking. It's almost laughable, for instance, to say that Time Warner is shutting down its independent subsidiaries... Um, how, exactly, were they independent if they were subsidiaries of one of the biggest media companies in the world?

    You have self published authors who manage to make a living, you have independent artists ekeing out a living and sometimes finding lucrative sponsorship/patronage, why is film so different? Why are so many filmmakers hell bent on either entering the Hollywood system or trying to beat them at their own game?

    Hollywood has made cultural heathens of wider society and it's time small independent filmmakers stopped paying too much heed to what they, or even the more commercially successful and larger independents, have to say about what is saleable and what isn't.

    Nobody really knows the market. They know that predictable, formulaic stuff is likely to get bums on seats in multiplexes, but even these are hit and miss. If the movie business people knew the market, the likes of Little Miss Sunshine and Juno wouldn't be surprise hits - neither film appeals to me, but there was obviously an audience for both these films beyond what Hollywood imagined. And these are films that had a buzz surrounding them, so imagine what other smaller, less globally hyped movies are out there to be discovered?

    I stopped listening to the video accompanying the article when they mentioned the lack of money reducing the types of movies that shouldn't have been made in the first place. Granted, there are a lot of not so great films out there, but it hasn't escaped my notice that many, if not most, of them are Hollywood flops. It's not the major studios, or these guys sitting around the table discussing the demise of independent film that dictate if there's an audience for a film. Once filmmakers stop believing that they need huge bugets, special effects, crane shots and the like and concentrate on telling a story that people can actually relate to on a visceral, emotional and/or intellectual level, then they'll find their audience or, quite possibly, their audience will find them.

    After your recent trip to Mt Holyoke and requests for you film from festivals, you are proof of this.

    Small, intimate screenings may not build a Mansion on the Hollywood Hills, but if you make a film worth seeing, then it'll create its own buzz, build it's own momentum and gradually make a name for you, even if in small circles.

    This article is the inverse of Hollywood hype - either way, don't belive it!

  2. Qadree said...

    I agree with Wendy for the most part.

    The mainstream film industry has been using the same formula for a long time. The key demographic that the formula caters to (white males in their twenties) is no longer the dominant force that it used to be. Women have taken the lead in that category, just ask Tyler Perry. There are many other changes in society that the major studios have yet to respond to and these are areas of opportunity for independents.

    Much of what they are saying about the business just confirms what is already known. If your going to sell a film outside of your home country and you want a significant amount of people to see it, you'll need a theatrical release. I've been exploring the possibilities of getting around this using internet marketing, but the prospects don't look good. In that article they don't talk about the fact that only certain kinds of films do well internationally and that's a very important factor if you want to go that route, but the average independent doesn't need international distribution to make a profit. The budget's that many independent filmmakers claim for their films are inflated because they don't want to get short changed by distributors and they don't want their film to be considered cheap.

    When they start talking about the numbers that they need for a film to be successful they are mostly addressing issues of scale. If you spend $150 million making a film, you will need to spend $50 million on marketing just to get within hollering distance of break even for above the line costs, and if you don't have international support you can forget about making a serious profit.

    It's pretty much the same as it ever was, pleasure seeking is what it boils down to at the end of the day. If you're not providing that pleasure on some level as a filmmaker you will end up with a very small audience. Motion pictures as art was an afterthought, motion pictures were invented purely to make money and the industry leaders had ulterior motives when they began pushing it as an art. Things are a little different now, but some things never change.

  3. The Obenson Report said...

    I love your optimism guys. Really! But I think any indie filmmaker (especially those of us who are truly independent) has to be a little concerned after hearing news like this. It certainly doesn't mean that it's all over and we should simply give up and give in. However, when the "moneybags" are struggling, those of us at the bottom of the pyramid can expect to feel some of the effects of any moves they make to compensate - the domino effect, I suppose. It should be expected actually.

    It's an expensive business. Writing and publishing a book isn't quite the same thing as producing and distributing a film. The cost and manpower necessary (no matter how small the production), dwarfs the production and publication of any novel. And to make a profit, or even break even, one needs to reach as wide an audience as possible; and when one is lacking in resources, that can be quite a challenge, no matter how creative you are.

    I realize it's all relative. The studio guys are talking about million dollar pictures, while people like myself are making do with much less. But it doesn't make the process any different or any less challenging. And having been through the entire process twice in recent years, I know how hard it already is for smaller pictures to find audiences. It's not impossible, but it's extremely difficult, unless you manage a little luck... or had the backing of some larger entity. And if the big guys are feeling some strain, you can guarantee that some of that will eventually be passed down to us. If there's a decline in output, due to a decline in overall financing, as studio independents become even more selective in their projects, we could experience immediate peripheral effects - equipment rental costs could go up to make up for the drop in output, affecting even the little guy who needs to rent lights for his/her film shoot, DVD printing costs could also shoot up, theatres (even the microcinemas) could become even more selective in the films they choose to screen at their venues, opting for more commercial fare, in order to sustain profits, and so on.

    It takes more than making a film worth seeing, I think. What does that mean anyway, since it's all relative? Who decides what's worth seeing? I can name many a film that I thought was worth seeing that failed to generate much interest with audiences. Granted some of the reason could be with how the films were marketed, but sometimes even what seemed like clever marketing schemes didn't bare much fruit. And when you're an independent, you have fewer chances to make an impact.

    No one really knows the market, as Wendy stated. We do however know that certain formulas work and will probably always work. When most segments of the industry are working to kowtow to the studio system, it makes it even more of a battle. And most are kowtowing, unfortunately - not only the filmmakers as Wendy stated, but also the festivals (big and small), the theatres (big and small), and even Internet spaces! Realistically, is any of that going to change? Probably not anytime soon! No one will want to alienate their largest client. And thus filmmakers will continue to do the same… either join them, or find a way to copy what they’re doing but on a smaller scale… and the cycle continues…

    I suppose an answer to all this, as both of you alluded to is to find alternate methods to get our films to audiences. As Qadree said, the internet seems like our best shot to date, although I don't know if anyone has found a consistent formula that works consistently.

    Bottom-line - it's always going to be harder for us at the bottom, no matter the climate. I already know my place within the industry and have accepted that, and I don't expect anything to change anytime soon. It's tough, but, from where I’m standing, it looks like it’s going to get tougher, especially when the stakes are higher (for me anyway).

  4. Qadree said...

    The level of difficulty, whether things are going to get tougher, etc., are not things I worry over. Once my mind is made up, it's more about how I'm going to get things done. I've worked on a ton of independent films and there are a couple of common flaws I see in many of them.

    First and foremost is low quality. High hopes and low quality seem to be inseparable for many independent filmmakers. I'm not talking about anything that would require large sums of money. I'm talking about continuity, shot composition, editing, and knowing how to direct.

    Second is marketability.
    It doesn't matter how good you think the story is, if people aren't interested when you talk about it, if they aren't wanting to see it right then and there you should wait until you've got something that interests people.

    This has nothing to do with whether or not the film is good and has playability or legs, it's all about the reality of not having the money to push a complex film that is hard to market. For playability alone to become a factor you have to get the film in front of the right people (very expensive) and in sufficient numbers (even more expensive) to let word of mouth kick in. This takes time and all the while you're going to have to keep spending money pushing you're film hoping that that word of mouth will kick in before you go broke.

    A highly marketable film is the key because the word of mouth starts before anyone has ever seen the film. If it has the playability in addition to the marketability you will be able to get some sleep and hopefully pay your bills before anyone has uttered a word about those films that have low marketability.

    The third thing is not having a marketing strategy. If the film is truly low-budget (or no budget), I wouldn't try to put the film out unless I had money or resources set aside to market it. Put that film on the shelf until then. I can't count how many times I've helped people shoot films and their only strategy is to submit it to festivals en masse after they complete it, and they don't even know the criteria for the top tier festivals.

    Your film "Beautiful Things" has what I would consider to be low marketability. Unless someone is a film lover, they will probably wait for someone else to suggest it to them before they see it. You would have to spend some serious money to get the momentum going.

    Not being large and cumbersome like a major studio is to your advantage. You can take advantage of situations and markets that they are totally out of their reach.

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