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in Filmmaking
on Jan 6, 2009

Here’s the last of our ’08 wrap-ups, this time from contributor Mike Plante, whose interview with Wayne Coyne about the Flaming Lips Christmas on Mars is up now on the main page.

Independent film distribution was having trouble before the economy began crashing around your house and new car. But I’m not talking about early 2008, when the likes of Warner Independent Pictures, Picturehouse and New Line went away — I am talking about the last 50 years. When the independent distribution arms of the major studios went out of business, I felt bad about the opportunities for smaller-budget studio films, as well as for all the people who lost their jobs. But the idea that this meant that independent filmmaking was doomed never crossed my mind for one second.

If your definition of independent filmmaking means a budget between 1 and 10 million dollars, we can all point to many films that are creative, smart and entertaining but still never received distribution by anyone big or small. If your definition singles out more grassroots and homemade filmmaking — which can still cost hundreds of thousands of dollars — then you’ve got at least five incredible, widely loved films that never saw the light of day outside a festival for every OLD JOY that did. And if you prefer to venture down into the avant gutter and independent film means something artistic, with no-budget, that doesn’t fit into preconceived genre, yet is amazing to watch and feel, then theatrical distribution was never in the realm of possibility anyway.

Yes, things are not getting better. That sucks. The internet offers incredible opportunity — but here come the salesmen and not everyone in Kansas wants to see your weird film, anyway. Welles and Cassavetes had all these problems decades ago. Morris Engel and Ruth Orkin made THE LITTLE FUGITIVE in 1953 for 30 grand, played 5,000 theaters, and still couldn’t find funding for their next film. Brakhage and Ken Jacobs and hundreds of others kept their teaching gigs while making new work. When did you finally see Barbara Loden’s WANDA in a theater? Or THE EXILES? Last year, 30 years after they were made.

But there ARE distributors and sales agents and film festivals that are doing great work, and there are lots of cool kids in Kansas eating up truly independent films. Just like the last 100 years, if you are a filmmaker, it’s hard to make a film and then have people see it — but you will make your film no matter what.

(P.S. where is the NEA bailout? Or the WPA paying people to make art?) — Mike Plante

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