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in Filmmaking
on May 16, 2009

Ted Hope, who in the past has assembled lists of reasons to feel good about independent film, has posted the sobering opposite: a comprehensive list of “38 American Independent Film Problems/Concerns.” They include:

Lack of access — outside of NYC & LA — to films when they are at their highest media awareness (encourages bootlegging, limits appeal by reducing timeliness).

Distrib’s abandonment (and lack of development) of community-building marketing approaches for specialized releases (which reduces appeal for a group activity i.e. the theatrical experience).

Emphasis on upfront compensation for star talent creates budgets that can’t reasonably recoup investment.

HP&W fringe levels at too high a level to allow low-bud production to benefit from know how and talent of union labor.

Credit crunch has reduced ability to use debt financing for film investment.

Lack of media literacy/education programs that help audience to recognize they need to begin to chose what they see vs. just impulse buy.

No new business model for internet exploitation at a level that can justify reasonable film budgets.

Indie filmmakers mimic Hollywood’s obsession with regurgitating past success models, by regurgitating past festival hits’ story-lines or navel gazing. Cinema is 100 years old but we still tell the same stories in the same ways. Audiences get bored, move on, play video games.

The ego-driven approach to filmmaking vs. one of true collaboration generally yields lower quality of films and greater dissatisfaction amongst all participants.

America has no co-production treaties (other than Puerto Rico’s Letters Of Understanding) that allow filmmakers to access foreign soft money subsidies.

Inability for filmmakers to influence iTunes editors to promote their work.

Read the complete list at the link.

After perusing this, I was amazed that Ted was able to enumerate all of these reasons in one piece. It’s certainly a thorough enough list, encapsulating issues of artistic quality, marketplace saturation, production financing difficulties, and marketing and audience building challenges. Because everyone from Joe Swanberg to Peter Rice could probably find points on this list to call their own, it made me think again about how multi-headed our indie film hyrdra is. Depending on who you talk to, what we call “independent film” can encompass a giant group of makers including those only interested in artisanal, DIY models; those looking to enter the system via those models and “graduate” to bigger-budgeted, studio-based production; filmmakers interested in traditional narratives made within traditional production structures but without a controlling studio; filmmakers whose production methods are as experimental as their storylines; social issue filmmakers whose main goal is not a career in the film business but the addressing of a specific cause or issue; members of the “indie industry” who are primarily interested in developing sustainable business models around the production of specialty film/arthouse content; film futurists interested in the next formal and distribution iterations of non-mainstream content and its distribution; and many more both beyond and in between. At various points in its history the term “independent film” has been elastic enough to either partially or entirely throw its arms around all of these people. But has that been the product of true kinship or simply the fact that rising tides lift all boats? In other words, in the “up” years of the indie film economy, enough people were getting a little bit of action, and the difficult questions of which models to endorse going forward and which to let die did not have to be made. Now due to collapsing revenue and business models, they do. Independent film is, after all, content, and while having specific challenges of its own it also shares many of the troubles that all content, from scripted one-hour dramas to daily newspapers, is currently facing. So, one question I had after reading Ted’s list is whether the loosely defined, loosely configured movement known as indie film will organize itself around the answers to these problems, or whether makers will decouple from the definitional tent of independent film and address them using entirely different paradigms.

I don’t know, perhaps this is an obscure or semantic discussion… in any case, go read Ted’ piece as well as its lively comments thread. And check out Hope along with producer Peter Guber, author Reed Martin (The Reel Truth) and filmmaker Marina Zenovitch discussing some of these issues on the Fox Business Report.

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