Sometimes I wonder if filmmaking is a rich kid’s business. This worries me because I am pretty sure the rich don’t always tell the best stories (they have good stories, they just won’t tell them). Art is often created by the uncomfortable, the angry and the hungry, as artists talk about what no one else will. Films cost a lot to make, and those with the money and the connections to raise money have a huge advantage. But then I look around at the sheer number of films being made and know that a lot of these are created not by the rich, but by every day people who come hell or high water are going to be heard. A lot of these people may not have money, but what they do have is essential to good art: authentic voices, passion and innovation.
Independent movies are a gag reflex to the formulaic drivel we are forced fed by the mainstream entertainment industry. This instinctual reaction our body has to something it shouldn’t swallow, however, has produced an incredible number of independent films: 3,812 features were submitted to Sundance last year. That is amazing, fantastic, and depressing. Depressing because only 118 of those were screened at Sundance and only about 40 of these got any kind of distribution. Few will remember the 3,772 movies that didn’t get sold or distributed, some of which were very, very good.
There are too many films, not enough theaters and no viable distribution for most of this inspiring effort. In the U.S., about 500 movies get released each year, and studio movies play on 95% of the 39,233 screens. Hollywood essentially produces three different categories of films: the Big Budget Blockbuster, which we all know all too well; the Art House, which is produced by Hollywood conglomerate indie studios like Miramax or SearchLight; and the Genre Specialty films coming from true indie studios and producers who make the majority of films being submitted to festivals each year.
Yet, Hollywood has begun to reduce the amount of Art house and Specialty films in favor of producing more commercial Big Budget films because they are, in their minds anyway, safer commercial fare.
But who wants safe? If I wanted safe I would go lock myself up in the bedroom, which I do quite often to escape my teenage sons, actually. We want thought provoking, we love new talent, we seek authentic voices, and we demand better. And independent films are often better – why do you think they increased the Academy Award nominations to 10 pictures – indie flicks were driving out the studio pics.
TheFilmSchool’s mission is to “elevate the art of cinematic storytelling”, and we are all about nurturing filmmakers to make better stories. But those stories have to be told and in the film world that means they have to be seen, which means all of us have to do something the studios are not very good at, but artists are – we have to innovate.
This year the movie industry made $30 billion (1/3 in the U.S.) from box-office revenue. But the total movie industry revenue was $87 billion. Where did the other $57 billion come from? From sources that the studios at one time claimed would put them out of business: Pay-per view TV, cable and satellite channels, video rentals, DVD sales, online subscriptions and digital downloads. Why was the movie industry consistently wrong? And why do they continue to fight new technology? Because they don’t know how to innovate.
But artists do. That’s what artists are particularly good at. We have to come up with new platforms for our films, new ways to market, and new ways to distribute. We need a distribution revolution! We need to get braver; we need to not only dream but to execute; filmmakers must create new waters, and lead the public to the well; and audiences need to get loud – very, very loud. With proper distribution, indie movies do make money and in the process, get seen, build artists’ careers, and shape our culture by delivering authenticity and quality. Until we create better and new distribution methods, indie movies will be all dressed up with no place to go, no matter how rich the filmmaker.
- John Jacobsen