Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Ten Great Things about Indie Film

I do a fair bit of complaining about the state of things on this blog, so I thought I’d take a moment to post about some good things for once. Riffing off Ted Hope’s list(s) of bad things in the industry, in a friendly manner, here’s my top ten list for good things going on. Sure, there’s more than ten, but I didn’t want to come up with 38 (much less 75), so I thought ten was a nice round number.

  1. Ch-ch-changes: There’s been a lot of change at the top in the industry lately. We’ve seen big change at the New York Film Festival, MoMA, AFI, Full-Frame, LA Film Festival, Sundance and Indiewire to name just a few. That’s a great thing - new perspectives are needed and all of these organizations will probably be stronger for it in the long run. This is nothing against the people who left - in most cases, I know them and like them, but I like a little shake-out in the sector. It would be great to see a little more shake-out amongst the other “gate-keepers” in the industry, but hey, this is a start.
  2. Sharing: It’s much easier for filmmakers to communicate and collaborate on projects now. While not all of the data I’d like to see is available, it is much easier for me, and everyone else, to communicate with one another and see what’s working and what isn’t working. It’s much easier to share and promote info on one’s film, to crowd-source production, funding and even audience building. As more tools are built to facilitate collaboration and sharing, we’ll see even greater things built - and anything that makes us less truly alone as an indie is a good thing.
  3. Tools: Following on the sharing, we have some pretty cool new tools at our disposal - Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, Crowd-Controls, Open Indie, Top-Spin, Good Screenings, WireWax and Wreck-a-movie being just a few worthy of mention. There’s plenty more (even the big ones like Facebook and Twitter are helpful to indies), and new things being developed everyday. Not to mention the DSLR revolution and other production tech changes - all helping indies to make a better film, often more cheaply.
  4. The return of small: There’s always been a vibrant regional film festival scene, and while there has been a little shake-out, there’s also been a few smaller festivals rising up that promise good things - Indie Memphis, Flyway Film Fest and Camden to name just a few. Even the new Vimeo Festival (owned by a decidedly not small company) showed how well a “small” fest could work this year. Then we have the rise of indie film clubs and screening series, such as Cinema Speakeasy, Cinefist, the Pretentious Film Society, UnionDocs and similar efforts. I can’t even begin to name them all, and they make for a much more vibrant film culture. They’re also a great way for emerging filmmakers to build a support network, get exposure early on and develop a fan base - all good things.
  5. Doc-everything: The doc world is growing up, in so many ways. From an evolution in pitching markets (the GoodPitch) to new funding mechanisms (Gucci, Impact, Fledgling, etc) and old (Sundance, Participant, Ford) and outreach support (Film Sprout, Working Films) and even new festivals (DocNYC) taking stage while older ones (Sheffield, IDFA, HotDocs) continue to thrive, while new blogs (What not to Doc) enter to give great advice - the field is alright. Sure, it’s still tough to make a doc, and yes, there’s a bit too much focus on social issue docs, but this is arguably the healthiest part of the sector. Note: I am leaving off at least a hundred names that are part of this vibrant scene, and I’m not trying to hurt anyone’s feelings. This is a testament to the health of the sector.
  6. We’re figuring out distribution: For real. You can’t go to a festival anymore without some panel on distribution. There’s a plethora of experts to help you (Broderick and Reiss, amongst others); lots of alternative options to explore (Argot, Tuckman, Variance, Cinema Purgatorio); new avenues for VOD and digital (Gravitas, Brainstorm Media); a few web platforms trying new models (IndieFlix) and yes, even some of those supposed dinosaurs, traditional distributors, are figuring out how to make some things work (trust me, ask a few people like Magnolia, for example). We haven’t solved this puzzle yet, but we have more minds focused on it than ever before, and many more options to explore.
  7. We’re thinking beyond the film: Sure, you might not be hip to transmedia, or may even hate it, but more and more artists are realizing that they are often creating a project, of which a film is just one component. This helps with expanding the story, giving more avenues for audience engagement and opening up potential revenue streams. While not everyone will be a Lance Weiler or Jeff Gomez, all of us can benefit from trying some new storytelling methods.
  8. VoDo: I’ve explained it here before, but essentially VoDo is a simple way to support filmmakers on pirate networks. But piracy is a bad thing, you say. “Waah” says I. Keep bashing your head against the wall hoping it will go away. In the meantime, smarter people have thought up a way to turn a possible negative into a definite positive - we could use more of such creative thinking.
  9. Filmmaker Magazine: Scott Macaulay somehow keeps improving this magazine, in spite of the competition and in spite of his busy producing schedule. Without picking on anyone, ahem, Filmmaker Magazine is quite literally the only trade publication worth reading anymore as an indie (I am not counting little guys like HTN (etc) in this mix, they rock). While the website could use some modernization (the content is good though), the magazine overall continues to serve up a great mix of reviews, news, analysis, new faces and new ideas. Thank goodness for that, because very few others are looking good in this race (to the bottom for most).
  10. Variety is behind a paywall. Boy, I’ve never heard people gripe more than when Variety cut off their free access. But here’s the deal folks - the same 5,000 people or so (maybe more, just guessing) that paid for this in the past will pay for access now. Does it make their Tweets pointless? Yes. Did it open up even more room for their new rivals? Yes. Did it get thousands of indies to stop obsessing over sh-t that they don’t need to know about? Yes, and that’s a darn good thing.
So, tell me what you think of these ten things - are they good? What did I miss? 


Scott Macaulay said...

Brian, this is a great list even without #8. Thanks so much for the kind words -- they are very much appreciated.

Mark said...

Nice list Brian.

All of your items lead to one big thing: OPPORTUNITY OPPORTUNITY, OPPORTUNITY. There is so much room right now for innovation and experimentation. I think indies should be constantly digging and seeking right now, and applying a sort of tech start-up mentality to their art. Try new things. Look for new ideas in storytelling. Iterate.

It's very wild west right now and ripe for people to actually help define the next paradigm.

Jon Reiss said...

Great post Brian - and even as Scott said without the Kudos! Thanks so much it expands on what I told my grad film students at Cal Arts after I in passing mentioned "the collapse of the traditional independent film distribution system". They were curious about that - and I had to remind them - this a very exciting time to be a filmmaker.

film finance said...

Hey Mark, I like how you describe it as a tech start-up mentality. It hits the spot on describing the current environment. And as you said, changes can only bring opportunity, opportunity, opportunity.

- Jean Miro

AddovoltProductions said...

Brian, I've just discovered the SpringBoardMedia blog and I want to thank you for the time and thought that you put into your articles. The subjects affect directors like me completely and it's a huge relief to have your opinions and insight. Other commenters--Thanks to you guys too fot all the insight and for creating dialogues on these subjects. It's a complicated/transitional time for the arts and your straightforward discussions are GREATLY appreciated.

BNewmanSBoard said...

Agreed -this all equals opportunity. Addovolt - thanks for the kind words - it is complicated, but full of possibilities! Keep sending comments (even when you disagree).

Jill said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Saskia said...

Item #11: Brian Newman