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The Editor's Blog

Contemplations and digressions from Filmmaker's Editor-in-Chief by Scott Macaulay

Can Independent Film Be an Addiction?

in Columns
on Dec 12, 2012

Addiction. It’s a bad thing, right? Except that a lot of businesses are based around it.

I’m not just talking about the illegal business of selling narcotics, but about other things. Junk food is certainly an addiction, but so are things like video games. In our Fall, 2011 issue, Game Engine columnist Heather Chaplin wrote that understanding addiction — the system of challenges, rewards and dopamaine delivery — is key to any successful game designer. She quoted Dr. Bennett Fody, fellow and deputy director of The Institute of Science and Ethics at Oxford University, who said, “The design of video games is the design of addiction.”

In his weekly 5×5 podcast The Critical Path, mobile analyst Horace Dediu described the business of cable TV drama as one of addiction. He said that the pricing power premium cable channels can exert over cable operators stems from their ability to create addictive content — shows that a segment of the viewing audience can’t live without.

So, here’s a question for all of us trying to make the business of independent film a sustainable one: how do we make independent film an addiction?

When confronted with this thought, my immediate answer to myself is, independent film is an addiction! The problem is, we’re addicted to making it, not that other people are addicted to watching it.

But what if we stole a page from video game designers or the cliffhangers of cable drama? What would we have to do to make independent film an ingrained activity? An addiction? Theaters have loyalty cards inducing repeat behavior. There are attempts at gamification (even though it deals with mainstream film and TV, GetGlue is an example) or grafting onto filmgoing a social layer in which your rewards and reinforcement comes from enhanced status and sharing with friends (the new app, Flicklist).

But what about the films themselves? Can a filmmaker become addictive? How often would he or she have to make films, or communicate with fans?

Quentin Tarantino is not the most prolific filmmaker, but I’d argue that his films, with their particular mixture of violence and humor, contain an addictive element. When I think about Django Unchained, not only am I pretty confident about what I’m going to get (Tarantino has never made a bad film), I’m confident of the experience I’m going to have. This is not to say that I’m not expecting a level of originality in the work, but that a certain visceral, pulse-raising feeling seems baked into the Tarantino DNA. A pulse-raising feeling is, of course, the metier of the Hollywood blockbuster, but independent filmmakers like Tarantino are able to create their jolts with lower budgets and more original, elegant craftsmanship.

But we’re all not Tarantino. What would we have to do to make our films, or our independent film business, addictive?

(Still photo from Requiem for a Dream.)

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