Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Evolution of 'Indie Film" : From Limited Entertainment to Manufactured Product

Mike Curtis recently posted a rant on the ProVideo Coalition website regarding the death of Indie film. As I promised, I'm going to pull out some bits and pieces from his post and try and address the issues he has with the topic.

"As somebody mentioned in an email to me about this, moviemaking digital tools came along to help reduce (some) costs of moviemaking, but other digital tools came along that stripped away the marketability of those films even faster (bootleg downloads, too much content, competition for time from internet/cable/DVDs/games/etc.) and the math isn’t working out favorably right now.

Supporting evidence below:

update - a lot of the commenters (and about 60+ comments so far) are saying indie film has ALWAYS been tough and risky. I AM NOT DISAGREEING. I am saying it has become ESPECIALLY brutal in the last couple of years, the non-viability is ramping up, making the proposition even worse. Also, personally, I’m defining indie as non-studio fare, probably self-financed or independently financed, and seeking distribution by any means profitable. What are YOUR experiences with distro? Chime away in the comments! I’ve posted and rebutted extensively in the comments as well, more stuff in there. End update."

Little history/sociology here:

The independent film business has transitioned from a business that looked to distribution as the holy grail (In order to make money you had to get distributed somehow) to marketing and brand awareness as the holy of holies. From "getting it seen" to "getting it seen by the right audience."

The fact is there are many free tools for you to now distribute your film in myriad ways and means. One only has to look at the "Marketing & Distribution" area in my sidebar and you can see the opportunities there.

In regards to piracy, we have anecdotal evidence that downloading isn't harming the industry the way people think it has. It's simply culling the herd in a more efficient manner than critics' reviews or press. Piracy - in order for it to be eliminated - is going to have to be rethought from the ground up. The same way that indie film financing has to be rethought.

So here's some (re)thoughts:

1. Quit thinking of a theatrical release as necessary for the success of an indie film. Sure it could be used as a special event sort of one-time affair, but the numbers show that any theatrical release these days, unless extremely lucky and targeted, LOSES money for the producer and the studio and is simply a marketing campaign for the DVD and other media where the real money is to be found.

2. Find your audience first, then make the movie. Any entrepreneur will tell you that the best businesses are the ones that fill their niche really well. The problem with indie film is producers/filmmakers very rarely figure out who they are playing to and why. They are a product that no one feels the need to want.

3. Quit thinking like the studios. Seriously. You are better, and more efficient than that. You don't need a film print. You don't need newspaper advertising. You don't even need to pay for publicity. You just need to connect with your audience and deliver them the entertainment they want, the way they want it. Above, Mike talks about his friend whose film was pirated on GoogleVideo. I sent that filmmaker an email and hope to hear from him about his experience because deep down in the back of my dark pulp marketing mind, I think there were ways he could have used the pirates the way they used his film.

4. Perhaps if we started to think of entertainment along the lines of a magazine publishing model instead of a production-distribution model, then maybe we would be better off.

More on all that later.

1st in this series.

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