Note from Nick: We’ll be running content from our friends over at the International Academy of Film and Television in Los Angeles on CHUD, hopefully sharing some new voices and opinions and eventually creating a conduit from the Sewer there and back again. If you’re in Los Angeles and pondering films school, find them at IAFT.net.
DIY Digital Distribution
by IAFT staffer Pete Wassell
Gone are the days of the giant studio. The system is broken, it’s bloated, it’s watered down. Gone are the days of theatrical distribution for small films. The internet–that’s the frontier. The digital realm! On Demand, immediate satisfaction, instant connection, that’s what drives the market these days.
Or so they say…
The truth is the large studios still rake in 94-96% of all revenue from box office sales. The bigs are the gatekeepers, and distribution is a mess right now. No one really knows where the market is headed. The digital revolution is taking place, but we’re in the midst of its infancy. That doesn’t mean the studios will always have the power, or that we don’t need them. It’s good they do what they do: navigate the waters of the distribution, marketing, and sale of films ranging from 100-million-dollar blockbusters to 30-thousand-dollar festival darlings. The people who work at the studios may have business-oriented minds, but they also love movies, and isn’t it good to have someone business-oriented helping the young artist navigate the maze that is the entertainment industry?
With that said, who can forecast what the industry will look like 10 years from now? Many predict the digital revolution will come to fruition and content will be streamed live to your TV, computer, or Smartphone right when you need it, but what does that mean for small films?
I just finished reading an article by Jon Reiss on his website jonreiss.com. The title is, “Indy Film is Dying…Unless it isn’t. Why Independent Filmmakers Shouldn’t Throw in the Towel and Why Indy Audiences Still Exist.” Long title, but well written. The article is mainly about the implosion of the independent film distribution market, citing the trouble at Sidney Kimmell, Think Film, Paramount Vantage, Picturehouse, and New Line. He speaks at length about the explosion of content in the digital age, and how it is hard to find a gem nowadays in the flood of garbage product.
In some ways I agree with that assessment, but in many ways I don’t. He mentions “small” indy films that were big hits and helped float the industry. Movies like Pan’s Labyrinth and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, which cost $16 million and $14 million respectively. Take it from me, I just wrapped my first micro budget indy feature that was shot for under $150,000. 16 million does not sound indy to me. Were they independently produced? Yes. Did they have small budgets? Yes. However, they were directed by two well-known directors, Guillermo del Toro and Julian Schnabel. And the budgets were $16 million and $14 million!! Stop telling me that independent film is for guys like del Toro making $16 million movies. Independent film is Evan Glodell making Bellflower for $50,000. It’s Joe Swanberg making films for $100,000, or Shane Carruth making Primer for $6,000.
What no one seems to understand is that there are artists working today who are changing the game entirely, making small, passionate, heady, visually stunning films on a dime. The market may be flooded, but the good stuff always floats to the top. It’s on the fringes that independent filmmaking will renew itself. Do-It-Yourself distribution isn’t new, but it’s never been so open and so available. Young filmmakers have the opportunity to put their films in countless numbers of festivals. You can put your film on Netflix, Amazon VOD, iTunes, Indieflix, Hulu. You can print DVDs for cheaper than ever before. You can put your $20,000 dollar passion film out there, and people will respond.
I compare it to the beer industry. In the late 1970s there were 117 breweries in America, many of them making one type of beer. That is, until Jimmy Carter signed a law making it legal to brew beer in your home. What followed has been a renaissance like no other. America is currently home to 1,989 breweries, making different styles of beer the breadth of which is an article in itself. What happened? Brewing became available, the supplies you needed were easily purchased and fans of different types of beers taught themselves how to brew, and brew they did. Introducing old styles back into the American palette, inventing new American styles and turning the beer industry on its head.
That is what independent film is doing right now. The digital age has dropped production budgets and opened up the channels by which people experience film. There is certainly an influx of new content, and much of it is not good, but a whole lot of it is. Not every craft brewery in the country makes good beer, but a bunch do, and they all have their beers on shelves and in homes, and out on the market, and so can you with your film.
Go out, raise yourself $30,000 from friends, family, investors, whoever! And make the film you want to make. I can tell you from experience, it’s hard work, probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but the time is now. We are on the crest of a wave, one that is changing shape constantly, but we also have the power to shape it.
We are the ones who will write the history of the digital revolution.
Get out there, start creating.
Here are some links to great articles that will help inspire you, and get you started:
Film DIY: http://www.filmdiy.com/for-filmmakers