Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The State of Things as I See it

Brick (2005)
Originally uploaded by ∆P
I don’t post much of my personal journey on this blog, I have another blog for that, but I’ve realized that some of my personal experience has to do with film so I can post a bit here.

I consider myself a part-time filmmaker – one that wants to become a full-time director. Last June I completed my first feature film, entirely self-financed and made using cinematic tricks & volunteer labor from the most talented group of people I have the fortune of knowing and having worked with. My film school education carried me up to that point, the point where I had the final cut in the can & celebrated with a bottle of wine that I had completed an 85 minute film. END was no longer just words on a page, it was images, edits, sound design, color timing and fantastic performances.

Ever since then my film has been a learning experience for me. While I knew the independent film market had been rapidly changing for years, experiencing that first hand is a totally different matter.

If you’ve watched the Independent Spirit Awards in the past few years you’ve probably come to realize that you recognize most of the audience. There was a time however, when most people, even most geeks, didn’t know what the Spirit Awards were. I remember when my brother met Kevin Smith & congratulated him on his Spirit Award and Smith was shocked someone knew he won it. Now, the awards are televised and considered one of the many events of the awards season. I feel that this is indicative of the change in independent film itself.

To be an indy film used to mean that you had no stars, you as a filmmaker were a completely blank slate to the filmmaking community and very few people had ever heard of you or your film. In most cases an audience member reading about your film that getting into Telluride or Sundance had a better chance of getting hit by a car than ever being able to see your film in their local theatre. This doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.

Just as the indy music scene became the indy music genre, independent film seems to have become less of a movement created by the impenetrable walls of the Hollywood system and more about the kinds of stories you tell regardless of how recognizable the names involved with the films are, or the amount of money you spent to tell it.

In my opinion this is both a blessing and a curse. The fact that daring movies can be made in a subset of the system, by voices that are different is an amazing thing. Without this we could not have directors like Jason Reitman, Rian Johnson, or Richard Kelly. It means that films like The Hurt Locker, Donnie Darko, Brick, Frozen River and Wendy & Lucy make it to a screen near you or DVD instead of only the archives of film festivals.

Yet, this influx of an indy genre instead of films also means filmmakers like me have a tougher time getting noticed. I’ve written a lot on this subject before, so I am not going to rant again, but I spent most of the past decade idolizing directors like Kevin Smith, Bryan Singer, Robert Rodriguez & Christopher Nolan – they are all directors that got their notice on the festival circuit using films that had little in terms of budget and no one that was recognizable. While there are always exceptions to the rule, I’m not sure this is possible any more.

If you are a festival programmer who has to choose between two films – a big indy and a micro indy what would you choose? Let’s say Film A had a budget of $2 million, was shot on film, and managed to get Ed Harris, Virginia Madsen, or even Christian Bale to star, and Film B had a budget of $500 grand (if they are lucky), shot on video or Super 16, and cast 6 actors that you kind of recognize because they’ve done background work for the past ten 10 years – which film would you choose to get attendees to buy tickets?

I’m really not complaining; I’m just trying to state the facts. What was already a tight, tough market, has become tougher and part of that is our own fault. With the advent of affordable filmmaking technology it’s no longer as grand a feat to pump out and cut together a story, and once big stars started jumping on the band wagon and brought the films out of obscurity it’s become the norm to have known names behind and in your work – so indy film has fallen into the old Hollywood trap – it is once again about connections and who you know to get your movie made and seen.

I still love independent film, and my desire to become a working director has not faded. However, what my filmmaking experience thus far has taught me is that on my second time out I will need to up my game. Perhaps the second time around I can attract the financing or names I need to get my film seen – and I’m going to hope that someday someone is writing a blog that includes my name as a person whose first films inspired them too.

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