“Go make movies.” That was my Editor’s Letter signoff here in the earliest days of this publication. And, over the ensuing 30 years, many of you did! I won’t give Filmmaker anything more than a small amount of credit for the independent production boom in the years following our 1992 launch, but we have certainly been out there issue by issue, web page by web page, encouraging new independent filmmakers.
We’ve also tried in these pages to deliver doses of reality along with our encouragement. We’ve run articles on the vicissitudes of financing, the high cost of delivery, difficult sales environments and the need for filmmakers to consider DIY methods of distribution. This issue’s “The Numbers Don’t Lie,” by filmmakers and distribution consultants Naomi McDougall Jones and Liz Manashil is one of those articles, and I’m sure it will stir up conversation. The authors polled more than 100 filmmakers, who shared data around their budgets and distribution revenues, and came to some surprising conclusions about which budget levels are most likely to break even and which aren’t. Many necessary qualifications are included in the article, which focuses on what the authors call “free-range films,” made entirely outside of the independent industry. (They contrast these films with “golden elevator films,” which find industry supporters and even financing and distribution at an earlier stage.) It’s intended to be a reality check, and for those who haven’t recently gotten a glimpse at a revenue statement, it is. Their article—no spoiler here—ends with a laudable call to think about a better system, a more sustainable way of making and distributing independent films. Such a goal is one that my colleagues and I talk about a lot—conversations that echo across this publication’s three decades. How to square independent production’s seeming supply/demand imbalance, to make sure that new models also promote innovation and outsider voices, to align maker and distributor’s goals without descending into cautious mediocrity? The challenge is there, and Manashil and McDougall Jones’s article, revealing as it does real-world outcomes, is one step forward in this dialogue.
On the cover is, I suppose, a golden elevator film, A.V. Rockwell’s panoramic, politically astute Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner A Thousand and One. In her interview with Rockwell, Till director Chinonye Chukwu encourages the debuting writer-director to open up about the formative influences that made her a filmmaker. And it’s spring, so that means it’s time for our annual “Focus on Locations” section, with Matt Mulcahey looking at virtual production stages and me taking the temperature of the country’s film tax incentives. And, finally, as many of you know from reading our website as well as my weekly newsletter, Noah Cowan—a curator, festival head, critic and good friend—died in January of brain cancer. Noah was a contributing editor and our chief festival correspondent throughout the ’90s, and as a remembrance, we’re reprinting an especially sharp and still resonant 1999 article about how the winter festival season works synergistically with the definition of “American independent.”
See you next issue.