Thursday, March 6, 2008

New Media Now part 2

At the risk of overstaying my time on the soapbox (more fiction coming soon, I promise), I'm going to expand a bit on my previous post regarding the current state of independent movies. Bear with me through a brief diagnosis of a problem in the current system before I get to the rainbow...

Currently, film festivals have become the de facto conduit by which most independently produced movies reach the audience. While festivals are terrific opportunities to present curated rosters of new or rare work, they've proven to be completely insufficient as a means of distribution.

The volume of quality work produced far exceeds available spots in festivals, creating a severe bottleneck and gumming up the works.

Quality is, of course, subject to taste. Specifically, the tastes of festival programmers, and many in the Industry believe that a curatorial component is critical to distribution.

This is a flawed notion.

While individual exhibitors will naturally want to choose product based on their audience, too often the curatorial process has the effect of choking off new voices and modes of storytelling and encouraging homogeneity in the marketplace.

The danger is that large sectors of a potential audience become alienated. For example, does anyone who isn't a post-collegiate twentysomething care about Mumblecore? (Sorry. No knock on the filmmaking or the filmmakers, but I live in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and if I wanted to watch a bunch of tragically semi-articulate hipsters puzzle over a doorknob I'd look out the window.)

By allowing only works that they like, or that adhere to a trend or 'movement,' exposure to the market, festival programmers have, unfortunately, come to represent the same obstacle to the circulation of feature-length movies that the old-line corporate studios and broadcast networks have.

As I said last time, in order for markets to function optimally, goods need to be able to get to the marketplace.

The stated fear seems to be that lowest-common-denominator business realities could squeeze out serious or challenging works. (What's worse? A bunch of Jackass wannabes or a bunch of Juno wannabes? Depends on who you ask. And those audiences aren't necessarily mutually exclusive.)

But if media-makers are able to find their audience and an apparatus exists to reach them, odds are that more good and interesting work will be made as more talented people are able to work.

I guess I believe that independent movies should be made for more people than just festival programmers.

Another danger of the festival system as it exists is the dead-end effect. Say a movie plays at a festival and three hundred people in the audience love it and put the word out to their social circles. Where can they see it? The next festival it plays, wherever that may be?

And be honest, have you ever watched a movie because it won the jury prize at the Bumblefork International Film Festival?

(I was a little hard on Netflix last time. They pushed the Puffy Chair pretty hard and it did well for those guys.)

Alright. Enough complaining. Time for some constructive thinking...

One model that I find interesting is the regional theatrical distribution of independently produced movies in the 1950's, where small local companies would take on the regional promotion and distribution of independents, mostly genre pictures, booking screens, hanging posters, wrangling local press and generally working to get asses in the seats.

Irvin S. Yeaworth, Jr. was in the regional distribution business, and with funds raised from pre-sales to other regional distributors financed what I think was the first indie blockbuster -- 1958's The Blob.

Granted, the model doesn't translate exactly because, at the moment, the primary markets for independents are small-format. Emerging Pictures seems to have a toe in the water with this model, but it's not yet enough.

I mentioned in my last post that I believe in indiepix's model for small-format distribution. (Shameless plug: Don't forget to pick up your copy of Every Dog's Day today!)

All this said, I'm honestly excited by the number of genuinely talented people making movies these days, and encouraged by the increasing number of them whose works are being made available by various means, and I urge everyone who happens to read this to get out there and explore what's going on.

copyright, © 2008 Andy Biscontini