Friday, October 16, 2009

Where's that confounded audience part 2!!!

This is a follow up to my post on finding your (confounded) audience. So, I suggest you read this first before delving into this. I made reference to the fact that I'd always been suspicious of the whole DIY model because invariably every success story I was aware of had a huge leg up from traditional media sources... that is until I heard about the success of INK. Now, I will amend that a bit because there have been some successful DIY cases before INK such as Lance Weiler's The Last Broadcast, which was made and distributed entirely in the digital realm and supposedly has grossed 4 million. As well as Four Eyed Monsters by Arin Crumley and Susan Buice which made use of video podcasts and sophisticated online marketing techniques to drive their film to financial success. You can get details on how they did it here

Now, the reason I can relate to INK, is because it follows a more traditional model. (I was also a huge fan of Alex Holdridge's In Search of A Midnight Kiss, which I thought was a much better film than all those mentioned thus far. However, because it was released by IFC Films and got an Ex Lax release it didn't catch fire like some of these other films did.) Crumley and Buice were essentially able to build and cultivate an audience thru their video pod casts in 2005. Weiler now refers to himself as a "story architect" and was and is able to incorporate audience interaction in his work, much like the 4 Eyed crew did w/ the podcasts. At one point one of the fans who'd shown up at a screening of 4 Eyed literally said, "it doesn't matter how the film is because I'm so invested in these two from the podcasts." The film literally takes a back seat to the shill!!! This is somewhat troublesome to me, but on the other hand, what's the alternative?

I suppose we need to go backwards a few decades. In the early to mid 80's when the whole video revolution really started to take off, there was such a demand for product that some amateurish producers were making a nice living off their back yard epics. As the story goes if you had a slasher flick, tits and tires, and/or combo of all the above that was of even a modicum of quality you were able to put a down payment on a house! By the time I got into the film game in the mid 90's the market had matured quite a bit, but some SOV (shot on video) films were still doing well. But, primarily it was all about the Indie lottery sweepstakes: make a scrappy Indie, get into a quality festival, sell said film to distributor, get an agent, start writing scripts and making films for the big boys... You know the films and filmmakers: El Mariachi, Clerks, Slacker, Laws of Gravity, Following, etc. etc. Despite what any filmmaker would tell you about the "indie lifestyle" and the passion etc. the fact is everyone was shooting for this goal. And in accordance, there was an explosion of films and filmmakers wanting to get in on the action. And in response to that you had a plethora of film festivals sprouting up all over the country to accommodate all these budding filmmakers.

By the time we get to this current decade, and all that hedge fund money sloshing around wall street starting to fund Indiewood, and all the XL1 and Panasonic dvx 100's flying off the shelves, and the wanna be Coppola's, and all the film festivals you get the pretty clear picture there's a major glut of product. A MAJOR GLUT OF FILMS AND FILMMAKERS! Of course, a lot of quality films have made it through the festival/indie distributor pipeline, but more and more quality films were getting shut out of the party. Or, even worse, if you had a quality film that got into a top notch festival, because of the glut of films, the distrib's can afford to make paltry offers. Filmmakers were and are being forced to take the bend over deal. My friend Jonas Ball's (he played Mark Chapman, Andrew Piddington directed) film The Killing of John Lennon being a prime example. The film was made for about 1 million, took several years to shoot, 10x better than the Jared Leto crapfest Chapter 27, but got a weak deal from IFC Films, lousy one week in LA and NYC, on to ppv, vod, dvd, etc. etc. Doubtful the filmmakers will see a dime! And it's a very common story. In my own case, my film The Real Casino has gone similar travails in the distribution game. After airing on IFC/Bravo, PBS, and a bunch of festivals I signed a couple different deals. One w/ a really lousy rinky dink outfit called Sub Rosa Studios or SRS Cinema. They specialize in cheesy horror titles and although they did a great job w/ the DVD cover art, have yet to see a dime in close to 10 years. The other deal w/ a company called Hypnotic /Wellspring media which was an online division of Universal and turned out very nicely as they sold the film consistently to overseas outlets. Then they sold their library to Shorts International which has been a complete fiasco. I did get a small advance when they re-upped my deal a year and half ago, but I'm still waiting to go on itunes after 18 months and have yet to get a sales report! Not an unusual story.

This leads us back to importance and power of DIY distribution, which just a decade ago felt like a desperation move that signaled your film just wasn't good enough to be picked up by the big boys! Now, it's become almost a necessity. And my main beef w/ the whole DIY is it invariably involves a whole lot of gimmickry that starts to subsume the film itself. Many times it involves the idea of interactivity and approaching the medium as a video game of sorts. Bring the audience in to enhance their experience. If you don't like the scene where Tommy D (Joe Pesci) in GoodFellas get whacked, change it! How 'bout when Charles Foster Kane won't back down to Boss Jim Gettys, just click another option see how it changes the film. I think you get the drift. The fact is all this stuff starts to take us away from the main objective of the Indie filmmaker: to make quality films that you can't just go see at your local multiplex. Of course, we have to find new and innovative ways to connect w/ our audience, but first we have to create something worth seeing!

Having said all this I intend on adding some new scenes to my doc Warriors of the Discotheque: The Starck Club Documentary. First I'm going to put the scenes on and let my audience vote for which ones they want. Gotta get w/ the times. Of course I still plan to put in the scenes I think are best.

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