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in Filmmaking
on Sep 17, 2008

As the IFP’s Independent Film Week rolls along, there has been quite a lot of discussion around the streets of Chelsea of new paradigms, the role of the independent filmmaker, and creative strategies to reach audiences. I’ve been wearing my producer hat this week, taking meetings at the IFP’s No Borders program. I’ll write a bit more about this experience when it’s all over, but suffice to say for now that it’s been an excellent couple of days filled with energetic and surprising meetings that stand in stark contrast to the torrent of bad news coming from Wall Street and the MSM. This morning I received the below letter from Ted Hope — it’s one of the emails he sends out to his personal list in which he discusses independent film and related new media. Ted ties a lot of stuff together here, knitting observations about the ground-level activism of independent filmmakers, broadband adoption in the U.S., the current election season and the macro-collapse of the global finance industry, which is in the process of being creatively destroyed as we speak. Thanks to Ted for allowing me to reprint this here. — Scott Macaulay

It’s INDEPENDENT FILM WEEK here in NYC. Although I haven’t participated in many events, the activity and others efforts are benefiting me and everyone else greatly. The intense focus on and embrace of the coming reality is completely inspiring.

Instead of the negative view towards a changing paradigm, people are recognizing that the benefits of being part of a audience driven (the crass like to say “consumer”) model and the abandonment of the gatekeeper/limited supply past. Somehow I find it ironic that this recognition of the change from a top down to a bottom up (or push vs. pull) film industry structure is occurring simultaneously with an economic collapse and hopeful presidential power shift. The current financial crisis in America has been compared to the collapse of the Berlin Wall, in that unregulated capitalism is literally bankrupt, like authoritarian states with communist run economies previously collapsed. The film industry paradigm shift is not of the same seismic shift, but it is the biggest change we’ve had in our little corner.

On Monday night, I had the good fortune to be invited to a dinner put together by Lance Weiler and Arin Crumley & Susan Buice. These filmmakers have not only embraced the new world but have been inspiringly innovative in their efforts to reach, build, and motivate audiences. The dinner was a spin off of their DIY Days. I have been making films for twenty years now and the business model has never truly worked for the films I make and want to make. Yet, this was the first time that ANYONE has pulled together a brainstorming session on what to do about that, and for that alone these folks are elevated to True Indie Film Heroes on my chart. More on this dinner later (they filmed/recorded it), but check out everything you can about what these filmmakers are doing (if you haven’t already) and you can watch the future arrive.

Peter Broderick, who has been preaching the DIY Distro gospel longer than anyone I know (and thus is also on TIFH chart), has written a great two part article on the benefits of living in the real world aka the new world for IndieWire. It’s REQUIRED READING.

Part One.
Part Two.

The hysteria of the last six months in Indieville is built partially on our collective relunctance/slugishness to abandon an old model which has long been recognized as being inapplicable to most filmmakers work, but also out of the slow drip of the inevitable. For fifteen years we have all heard of the dawning of the new era when we will have instant crystal clear downloads of everything under the sun on every screen everywhere anytime. And we are waiting and waiting and waiting. And still waiting. The reality is the core audience could give a hoot about that future. They like the here and now just fine (and granted most are old and grey and bald like me — or two out of three). Reality check: the glorius future is still a long way away still.

Have you wondered why though? Who’s keeping you pleasure at arm’s length? Did you know that in the last three years the US had dropped from 3rd to 16th in terms of internet penetration among countries. I just got back from Asia. South Korea has 80% Broadband penetration! Imagine what that could do for all of us.

We can’t drag our feet any longer. We are on the precipice. Truly. For the first time in our cultural history, we have the opportunity to truly have the culture we want — whatever it is, in it’s multi-headed truly glorious diversity. Once all filmmakers had to consider mass audiences. Now, if you reach them, you can create for niches, even niches that once never existed. It’s hard to even fathom what this means. But it’s also on the verge of being taken away from us. Truly. The phone companies, cable companies, the Hollywood Studios, and the MPAA have banded together to take away the first utility to promote democracy (and innovation, participation, and free speech). On Monday I got to speak up about The Key Issue In The Entire HIstory Of Independent Film at IFP’s IFW Filmmaking 2.0 panel: NET NEUTRALITY. The theater was 33% full at best (ugh), and only six people in the audience said they knew what “Net Neutrality” meant (UGH!) It’s nothing to be embarassed about, but it is something to take action about. I am going to be writing more about it on my blog INFO WANTS TO BE FREE (one of my many, mind you… please check them all out), but you can get super clear info on it now from both SaveTheInternet.com and PublicKnowledge.org. On the panel with me was Art Brodsky from the latter entity, and I was completely impressed with him. Follow that blog, that man, that issue. We need to get active on this.

I should point out that the presidential candidates have incredibly different views on this subject. If you want to endorse the candidate that supports Net Neutrality — and thus by extension truly supports true independent film — click and give here. And if you are in NYC next Monday, you know where you should be (or will when you click there).

On another note, a film I produced, TOWELHEAD, is in the theaters now. I truly think this is an incredible film. It does what I love most about film: it helps us deeply understand people and situations that we would never otherwise have the opportunity to do so. And it does it with grace, artistry, and humor. Go, take some friends, and if each and everyone of you do not feel it was a warranted investment of your time and money, I will personally refund your money (on proof of purchase of course!). And feel free to forward this email to your friends — I will do the same for them.

Finally, if you are in LA, and care what I have to say, please come to Film Independent’s Filmmaker Forum. I am the Keynote Speaker there on Saturday September 27. I am saving up some stuff to discuss there. Come join. — Ted Hope

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