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in Filmmaking
on Jul 8, 2008

I’m blogging from Paris where, the other night, I had dinner with two Palme d’Or-winning French producer friends. “What did you think of the Mark Gill article?” one wanted to know. Yes, Gill’s speech is dinner conversation across the Atlantic. In fact, the producer had printed it out and circulated it among her staff.

I’ve commented before on the Gill piece, which I mostly agree with. Now we’re seeing a second wave of responses to the article, and one must-read for indies is by writer/director John August, who blogs about the release of his Sundance film The Nines and relates it to the speech. (Hat tip: Karina at Spout.) There’s a lot of great stuff in it, including his recap of the tough realities involved in premiering a film at Sundance; a cool new coinage (‘indiefreude”); and a market recap of the other films that sold at Sundance this year. He also talks a lot about the film’s release — what went right and what went wrong — and that discussion leads him to this conclusion:

My advice? You should make an indie film to make a film. Period. Artistic and commercial success don’t correlate well, and at the moment, only the former is remotely within your control.

If I had to do it all over again, I would have made the same movie but completely rethought how it went out into the world. I would have challenged a lot of the standard operating procedures, which seem to be part of an indie world that no longer exists. The Nines would have likely made just as little at the box office, but could have made a bigger impact on a bigger audience. Ultimately, I think that’s how you need to measure the success of an indie film’s release: how many people saw it.

Read the piece but also read through the long talk back thread that includes these very thoughtful comments from director Bill Condon:

As one of your movie’s filmmaker fans, I completely agree with what I take to be your main point, that filmmakers and distributors should stop being so wary of day-and-date theatrical/DVD/pay-per-view releases. At the same time…as someone who saw “The Nines” in its bullshit theatrical run at the Nuart…the excitement of shared discovery was palpable, and I’d hate to give that up, either as an audience member or as a filmmaker. I’m holding out hope for a third way — limited initial theatrical release in a few major cities (providing national press relatively cheaply)…followed almost immediately by a pay-per-view/online rental release…leading (here’s the third part) to a wider theatrical rollout, a combination of regional art houses, calendar theatres, universities and festivals. I know this seems counterintuitive, but who says theatres and festivals have to go first? The argument’s always been that people won’t go out to experience something they can get at home. But, in a culture where it’s almost impossible for a small film to be noticed, isn’t it possible that a few thousand early fans can take the place of a media buy? Maybe the communal theatrical experience should become something a movie earns…an end, not the depressing means (to-the-DVD-dustbin) it is now.

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