Thursday, February 28, 2008

New Media Now

Last week I attended a panel discussion sponsored by the IFP New York on alternative distribution models for independent movies.

Just to be clear, I'm defining "independent" as "produced outside of a corporate infrastructure and without corporate investment" and "movies" as "moving pictures, not specifically on celluloid."

With the exception of indiepix founder Bob Alexander (full disclosure: indiepix is distributing the feature I made called Every Dog's Day), it seemed as though everyone was more or less still looking at independent movies according to the Industry status quo, where they're generally regarded as a junior-varsity farm system for Hollywood or expensively marketed and unlikely-to-recoup art-house 'cache' vehicles for stars.

This status quo is unsustainable. From a business perspective, does it make sense to invest the time, effort and capital involved in making a movie just so one or two people can maybe come out of it with an agent? Uh, no... And while I do appreciate that working popular actors want to make work they care about outside Hollywood, it's been proven again and again that name-recognition does not equal profitability any more than a classical three-act structure with redemptive characters does.

On that particular panel, Bob seemed to be the only person who understood, or cared, that the explosion in the production of independent media, fueled by accessible technology and a growing skilled work-force, requires the expansion and nurturing of markets for that media and had put together a smart business model that was fair to filmmakers. (With props to indie gogo for forward thinking)

It's basic free-market economics. In order for the market to function optimally, goods have to be able to get to the marketplace.

Until the costs of theatrical distribution are effectively reduced (no, I don't want to see 35 mm burn out into oblivion, either. Or two-inch tape, for that matter), those markets are small-format.

From my point of view, that means that the product (yes, I am an artist who refers to his work as 'product') needs to be catered to those markets -- it needs to work visually on a small screen and be made with minimal capital investment.

To my mind, an analogy can be drawn between today's independent movies and the pulp novels of the previous mid-century and the penny-dreadfuls and dime novels of the century before. The kind of cheap mass-market media that gave us Charles Dickens, Dashiell Hammett and Philip K. Dick among others.

That said, it remains to be seen if a living can be made at it, let alone if it can recoup. But that's the nature of the market.

The big question is: where are those markets and how do we get to them? And do they have eight or fifteen bucks to drop on a movie every so often? (Netflix, God bless 'em, is great for movie-lovers, but there ain't much of a profit margin for individual movie-makers.)

The audience is the future of independent media. And I'm convinced they're out there. As to whether or not they have eight or fifteen bucks to drop, we'll have to see how deep this recession bites.

Or is every creative professional doomed to be forever beholden to behemoths like Publicis (which envisions thirty-second spots tailor-made for every possible demographic in every platform) or News Corp (full disclosure: I too have suckled Rupert Murdoch's golden teat, having built sets for Fox News) in a future where eight people are employed to sell every one person a tube of toothpaste?

Don't get me wrong. I like big Hollywood movies and art-house flicks. If movies didn't cost twelve bucks a pop I'd be at a theater four nights a week (then again, with the same movie on six out of twelve screens at the average multiplex, what would I see?). And I don't have a problem with big corporations paying for media as advertising or through sponsorship, but I do have a problem with that being the only option for creative professionals to make a living.

copyright, © 2008 Andy Biscontini