Independent filmmakers are a bunch of rebels. We like to write stories that inspire us and film our movies our way. We like to keep our costs low and visions pure. However, even though many indie filmmakers are incredibly skilled and proficient creatively, we must remember one important side of filmmaking that often goes overlooked: the entrepreneurial side. Independent film producer Ted Hope shows us how to adapt to an ever-changing industry that requires great creativity as well as business savvy.
Just how important is entrepreneurship in indie film? Well, when Ted Hope became the executive director of the San Francisco Film Society last September he started the A2E: Artist to Entrepreneur direct distribution labs aimed to "provide filmmakers with the necessary entrepreneurial skills and best practices needed to have a sustainable creative life."
In a recent blog post Hope says:
Focus on developing Entrepreneurial Skills as well as the creative. The corporate distributors don’t need your work to the extent that they will ever value it as much as you will. If you want your work to last, engage, and be profitable, it is up to you to be prepared to use it to ignite all opportunities. Armed with a good story and good storytelling skills, you should be able to profit if you know how to take responsibility for your creation.
So -- how do we do that? How do we develop these skills and where do we start? Hold your horses. According to Hope, it's important to first decipher what the current culture of film is trying to tell us first that we may (or may not) change and reestablish our "creative and entrepreneurial practice(s)." Hope pinpoints 19 trends in film culture, but I found a couple especially interesting.
Firstly -- abundance and accessibility. With the cost of production getting lower and lower it's clear that more and more filmmakers are turning out to make their films. Not only that, but the accessibility of these films through the virtually endless avenues of self-distribution, like VODs, iTunes, YouTube, and Vimeo (just to name a few) is steadily rising as well. Hope says,
Content accessibility is no longer an inverted pyramid ending at a blocked spigot, but an open flow of rapidly moving particles with little to grab hold to. The abundance of content is matched by a complete accessibility to it, anytime, anywhere, on any device. The options are endless. There are no barriers to distribution, only to awareness and engagement.
We are inundated by filmmakers' creations -- features, shorts, documentaries, music videos, and even though so many of them are beautiful, engaging, and original, we just simply don't have the time. As Hope points out, as our free time slowly diminishes so does our spontaneity. We plan to watch films. We plan to go to the theater. This is a shame, since many of the films I love were "found" by spontaneously choosing to watch them (I randomly watched the Japanese horror flick Hausu, or House at the Bijou -- loved it.)
However, there are ways to find your niche, as Hope generously explains in his post. One way I found important, and the second trend in film culture I'd like to touch on is authenticity.
People crave the authentic. In the age of both mechanical and digital reproduction, we tend to increasingly value that which can not be recreated. In an overt consumerist environment, we also start to cherish that which does not need to be sold.
Knowing a couple of trends, and hopefully reading the lists on Hope's blog, we can make pretty informed decisions on how to deal with a need for authenticity in a society that is saturated with films.
Looking first at Hope's thought on authenticity. What exactly does that entail? Since Hope doesn't elaborate, let your imagination run wild. Yes, be real. Yes, be genuine. But, go further than that -- be original. Create something that hasn't been and can't be recreated. Perhaps this means diversifying your film into a transmediatic project, offering your audience experiences that are unique and particular to them. Perhaps authenticity is the fuel that will help propel your project to the top of the heap to be displayed on the monitors of your audience. (Maybe I'm being a little romantic.)
Even if authenticity is the fuel, you're still going to need a vessel, and finding a suitable one will take some doing. If you're working on a film right now and you're stressing and working yourself to the bone to the point where you rue the day you ever decided to pick up a camera, guess what -- it gets so much worse.
The great challenge is no longer how to get your film made or funded, but how to get people to watch it. All the tools and connections have improved. Information is accessible. You need to allocate time and resources to engage people with your work. There is nothing harder in the filmmaking eco-system than this.
Hard to swallow? I know. That went down like a peanut butter milkshake sans milk for me, too, but don't fret. We are a community after all, and the best advice we can glean from Hope, in my opinion, is this: link up and support each other.
You are not discovering gold or creating a patentable process. Determining best practices to have a sustainable & rewarding creative life is a group endeavor. We can build it better together, but if we hide our failures and the powerful information we collect, we will not advance. Gather & share data. Embrace transparency and an “Open Source” attitude to all you do. This is a collective process to lift all of us up.
There's something about people working together for each other's good that is just so -- good. It's good! We're brought up being told that this industry will chew us up and spit us out, but that doesn't have to be the reality.
Filmmakers have caught on and have started making their films free to view online and found creative ways to make their work accessible and useable to others. One example being the folks at Riot Cinema Collective making the raw footage of their film The Cosmonaut available for download to allow viewers to re-edit the footage as they pleased.
People don't have to be commodities. Not everything has to have a price tag on it. At least that's my hope (pun absolutely intended.) What would happen if the independent film community shared its knowledge and wisdom and failures and know-how freely and with whomever wanted it? What if the egos were gone, and filmmakers were more inclined to take risks without fear of being deemed an amateur and losing all credibility? According to Hope, our rate of success would increase.
To increase your rate of success, fail twice as much. Experiment. We have to get over our cult of success and speak more about the ongoing process instead of the rare result.
This is especially important advice coming from someone who has produced so many offbeat experimental films like 21 Grams, Happiness, Lovely and Amazing, American Splendor, and In the Bedroom. It's apparent that Hope believes in taking risks, and doing so is easier when you have a community backing you up.
Check out Hope's blog posts about the current film culture and sustaining a creative life for the complete lists of things you can do to become a more entrepreneurial filmmaker. The tips he shares are truly invaluable.
What do you think? What do you think about the changing climate in the film industry? What are some steps you've taken to become a more entrepreneurial filmmaker?