Friday, June 18, 2010

Some thoughts on the new DIY of Independent Film

I’ve been thinking a lot about the state of the independent film industry lately. As a filmmaker how can I not. It feels like there is a reboot going on; a reset. Obviously, technologically leaps have been made over just the last five years alone and virtually everybody can produce a video, a film or other kind of content (I think you can actually shoot AND EDIT on an iPhone now). This lead to an oversaturated and overcrowded market. The consequences are obvious and the global economic crisis only worsened the situation.

It seems to me the workflow and the production of let’s say a narrative short or feature film hasn’t changed much in principle. What has changed though is the fact that independent films (films produced outside of the Hollywood studio system, let’s say films with a specific artistic vision and thematic purpose) do not have a place in the market as it exists. Not that the independent film market has ever been a goldmine but even Indies closer to “conventional” Hollywood fare with some A-List talent and a certain market-appeal seem to struggle to find their buyer.

I know filmmakers and artists have a problem with just mentioning their film, their project, their baby in the same breath as this scary, strange, evil thing called “market”. Don’t get me wrong, as an independent filmmaker with a purpose I’m the last one to promote production of market-oriented material. But I want to embrace the market – I’ll call it audience. Besides the fact that this opens up numerous opportunities I don’t think I have a choice. I would be irresponsible and naïve (and I am blessed with enough naïvete) to think I’ll find a distributor who will pay me off and take care of everything. Even if I do, with ridiculous and insulting deals from distributors who might not even make the necessary effort to appropriately promote the film, chances of recouping investment are slim. 

Under these conditions I don’t want to entrust a distributor (who works within the existing troubled system without much flexibility) with my precious piece I will have lived with for years. Besides, to get in touch directly with my audience and people who support the work I do, to interact and even collaborate is an exciting prospect. Although there are a couple of hands full of examples of successful DIY/DIWO distributed films/art/content, in the coming years we’ll see how these new tools of Internet outreach, promotion and distribution work for the broader independent film community. What I know is this though:

Fact 1: there is an audience for more challenging, progressive films. Worldwide. 
Fact 2: The system as it is, largely does not work for these films. 
Fact 3: We (the independent film community) have to find sustainable ways (and there are ways) to keep making the films we want to make and want to be seen. 
Fact 4: We’ll have to put more effort into getting it to our audience.

How can you even make a film without thinking about your viewers. Every filmmaker has different reasons for making a film, but I think every serious artist or craftsman/woman has something to say and wants it to be heard. My films do not exist without the people who see it, experience it and reflect on it. It is produced to be consumed by someone and maybe my work is even able to leave someone with such a lasting, profound impression, it might just spill out into the wide-open world. And that is essentially why I do the work I do.

I want to specifically thank Jon Reiss, my former professor at CalArts for inspiring lectures on new distribution models and I recommend his book Think Outside the Box Office illustrating the Internet as the marketplace for a new generation of filmmakers. Also check out this blog I really dig - Light a Fire! by Mark Lipsky - for some more provocative thoughts on the current state of independent/art film.


  1. Totally agree with you Moritz...but atleast US has the art house theaters and art house audiences. In this part of the world or may be in other countries the only outlet are the main stream theaters:(

  2. Wow Manjeet, I didn't see this until now. But I changed my notification settings so from now on I will. But yeah I can't speak for India for example, and it can be very different in different countries. European as opposed to the American audiences tend to be more perceptive to specialty fare, whereas it seems to me Europe is slower in catching on with new technologies or methods like DIY. So one has to adapt. However, at least the infrastructure for outreach through social media is given in let's say every significant market. Hope all is well my friend. More soon.