In the shifting sands of independent marketing and distribution, NoBudge Films (as the title would suggest) "releases and compiles true indie films" through a non-exclusive, hand-picked catalogue of features, shorts and trailers curated by filmmaker and actor Kentucker Audley. Building on his humble beginnings as a Tumblr blog, Audley is releasing a new version of the site on August 5th, and with it opens the doors for more voices to be heard. Read on for our interview with Audley as he discusses the approach to his platform, his thoughts on truly independent cinema and what to do when people say your film is "not a movie."
"There really isn’t a well-known conception of indie-filmmaking that has caught up with the way that people actually make indie films now."
NFS: Why did you start NoBudge?
Kentucker: It was started in February 2011. It was founded on two separate things that came together, initially it was a film that I had released online, my film called Open Five in 2010, we released it online and got some attention for it and I was surprised that there was some critical response for doing it that way, forgoing theaters and VOD completely. So that was encouraging. Secondly, I saw some films in 2011 that were really inspiring and exciting that were lost -- no festivals were playing them. They were languishing in obscurity and I wanted to do what I could to help.
The main film was Wishful, Sinful by filmmaker Brad Bores and a Memphis filmmaker named Ben Siler who had been making shorts for years, who didn't have the understanding of how to get yourself out there. And I think they should be given a platform to be released into the world in a serious way, and not just "here's my YouTube link" -- which is exciting, but lacked some kind of cohesive context of what your film is.
People thought of YouTube links as YouTube videos -- they didn't think of them as cinema. So, the initial idea was to create a context for a film to be released directly online. It's completely non-exclusive, it can be available anywhere else. It doesn't even have to be free, even if it's already available. I will post any pay-per-view films as well. There's no rights taken -- if you charge for the film everything goes to you. It's just another place to put your film.
NFS: Let's talk about the new site. What new features are you bringing to your viewers?
Kentucker: The main thing I'm doing with the new site is letting other voices into it. I'm talking with writers and I'm opening up the door for other writers to contribute and add their point of view. The shortcoming of the site from the beginning has been that it's been all me -- there's only one taste on the site and it's my taste. I'd like it to be more of a wide-ranging discussion on true independent films in general, not just one person's taste.
I feel some responsibility, since the site is called NoBudge, to be more comprehensive about the amount of films that we cover. I put out a call for writers to pitch me on anything to see what people are interested in covering.
I don't think the submissions will change, I'll still be choosing all the films in the near future, but I'm opening up the door for filmmakers to write columns about their experiences, essays, general news, perspective on what's going on in true indie films. Pointing to Kickstarter campaigns, VOD availabilities, web series, etc.
In the past NoBudge has been strictly about posting films. Now I just wanna start posting things related to films, with emphasis on the human element of what it's like to make a movie, and also just trying to build up specific filmmakers that I'm interested in so people get an idea of filmmaker personalities. So, if we post a film, then we might make another post about reviewing the film, an interview with the filmmaker, and over time you'll get a sense of which filmmakers are most exciting to us. So we'll start providing a more comprehensive view.
NFS: There's a lot of room for innovation and creativity in marketing, which is something that filmmakers probably don't want to think about. Do you think filmmakers need to think about that now?
Kentucker: It's their prerogative if they want to or not. There are certain types of filmmakers that naturally have that entrepreneurial business side of things in them, and they can stomach those tasks, and there are some filmmakers who can't.
I think NoBudge, at this point, has been catered for the people who don't have that ability. I'm trying to provide for them in some tiny way. The films I'm choosing to champion are sometimes filmmakers who aren't salesmen and who don't have a very commercially viable film.
There's alway talk about hitting up niche markets -- that's always the number one piece of advice marketers bring to you. But, what if you didn't use that as a starting point? So then whatever the impetus your film had, it could just be that, and it wasn't coming from the point of view of "this can sell."
Video is no longer available: vimeo.com/37336497
NFS: Alienation or disconnection is what interests me a lot in cinema, and in general people don't want to see that kind of stuff. It seems like somewhat of a paradox; your site is to showcase films that might have built-in alienating effects. How do you deal with that?
Kentucker: I'm keeping this as a hobby. I'm running this on my free time. The only money that's being generated is through submissions and that's to keep up the site. I'm not making any money and that's a safe place for me to maintain a focus on the types of films that I originally was trying to spotlight, which are films that don't have an audience -- that don't have commercial viability.
So, as long as I keep it a hobby then I don't have to think about view counts and traffic and catering to anybody. And like you said, I like alienating movies, movies that put you at odds with the experience of watching them. That's the foundation of NoBudge. These movies are free because they have no other option.
NFS: You've built this up as a Tumblr blog -- what is your viewership like? What are the benefits for filmmakers who are featured on your site?
Kentucker: The site is nothing fancy. It's still a blog-type format, but it gives some flexibility on how to cover different films. It's really small -- we have 4,000 unique viewers a month. So it's a personal, small following, but I feel like there does seem to be a real community of filmmakers involved and I consistently hear of filmmakers connecting through having films on the site. It's meaningful for filmmakers to have their films on the site, from what I've been told. And it's been growing gradually.
NFS: I'm excited about your site because I found some films on there that I know would have trouble finding a home elsewhere. I remember when I showed a friend Joe Swanberg's Kissing on the Mouth, he went on a tirade about how it's not a 'real movie.' Why do people so readily want to marginalize independent film as unworthy? Do you think that will change?
Kentucker: I have a lot of thoughts on that. I've experienced it for years and still experience it -- that sort of spite that people have toward watching a movie that they don't classify as enough of a movie.
I think there's a lot of reasons, but some of it has to do with self-hate. People don't have enough trust in themselves to see themselves in a close-to-real way, so they want the distance so they don't feel uncomfortable. That was the whole thing about Mumblecore movies -- they were too close to home, too real, and people are uncomfortable watching something that didn't feel like a movie.
But also, for movies with tiny production values, people just aren't used to watching that. They don't even understand what it's like to be irritated by the sound being shitty. The technical stuff is so much better now, but in 2005 with Kissing on The Mouth, nobody had seen a movie made for $1,000. Your whole life you've been watching movies that were made for millions of dollars and now you're watching a movie made by this random person in Chicago. Nobody had any kind of experience with that kind of thing.
There really isn't a well-known conception of indie-filmmaking that has caught up with the way that people actually make indie films now. I think what we think of as indie is still stuck in the 90s. Slacker and Clerks were our only reference points for personal no budget cinema, and those had been deemed classics for so long that it didn't matter what you thought of it, it was a classic. If you saw Clerks and hadn't heard anything about it, you'd think it's kind shittily done, but since it got to a certain saturation point then it was deemed a classic. But if it doesn't get to that point then people are like, "Okay, why am I wasting my time?"
A lot of the reason I started NoBudge as well was to regain the context for that kind of film. If Kissing on the Mouth was released free online, people would have thought of it differently.
I noticed that people stopped hating my films so much when they were free. Anytime anybody saw my movie on Netflix they would say terrible things, but since I put them up for free people stopped saying that. And I think it's because they understand that it's a home-made movie and it's given away for free, so you don't have to go out of your way to hate it.
For the longest time I had a blog called "Not a Movie" which was referencing the fact that anytime people would see a movie of mine, they would say it's not enough of a movie. I wanted to start taking ownership of that fact and see what happened.
NFS: I think it's great to see support for these films. It gives confidence to the filmmakers go out and do it again.
Kentucker: That's also a part of what I'm trying to do, to allow for the site to build and for it to be a supportive environment. When I first started making films and sending them out to Bujalski and Swanberg and sharing work, both of them were very supportive.
That was very encouraging and I think that's vital for young filmmakers to have; to know where to go to be supported and to be welcomed. I think there's a real sense that there are people who are the gatekeepers of taste, and there's not enough support given to young filmmakers.
There aren't enough people who are curating or programming festivals who are reaching out personally to filmmakers and saying, "Maybe this isn't the right place for your film, but thanks for sharing and let's stay in touch," instead of just giving a formal rejection.
I've never received any kind of personal contact from Sundance or SXSW regarding a rejection that I've had. The attitude I'm taking for NoBudge is that I want to be very inclusive and very supportive.
Even if their film doesn't fit in with the taste of the site I still want to try to make contact with them and keep a dialogue and be very personal with it. So, that's the ethos I'm working with, which I didn't find with festivals or distributors when I was coming up.
NFS: Is the line between film festival and online curation becoming blurred a bit? Have you thought about becoming a film festival? Do you think websites like yours could replace conventional festivals?
Kentucker: It changes every day. My relationship to festivals is something that I don't have a handle on. I don't know where online movies are going. At this point I'm playing it safe and encouraging people to play festivals and after they play the circuit to then look at an online release.
I still think theatrical viewing is ideal and should be the first thing that everybody tries to do. But when you start going backwards financially, spending a lot of money trying to get to festivals when you don't have that money, then online is the next best thing. Each film is different though, they have different money issues and accessibility issues. Some films are perfect to go straight online and don't need to worry about festivals.
I don't have a very competitive streak in me. There are times that I want to point out the failures of film festivals, and point out of the fact that most festivals are behind in their thinking, but they are doing their best within their apparatus. Film festivals are big organizations and it's difficult to incorporate new thinking very quickly. And I'm not trying to supplant film festivals in any way. I think there's room for both. I'd like to think that all independent filmmakers are on the same team.
I think there's something to be said about building an audience before you have the luxury to be screening in a theater, in the same way an indie-rock band wouldn't expect to play a beautiful concert hall when they first start out.
I have no problem if that's what I'm building up towards. If my first seven films are only available through the internet or TV and that leads to, five years from now, being able to play in theaters across the country, then that's a trajectory that makes sense to me. It doesn't really affect me that I can't immediately jump to perfect theatrical presentation.
NFS: There's no perfect filmography, you just gotta grind it out.
Kentucker: A lot of film students have this mythology of what it means to be a film director or an auteur, to have control over every last frame of your movie or the aesthetic of it. And I think what gets lost in that is how long is takes to achieve that and how simplified that mythology is.
For instance, Stanley Kubrick's first films aren't the ones people study and call masterful. I mean it's all considered canon masterful, but I don't think there's enough room to classify experimentation and figuring things out.
I think we're really quick to judge when something doesn't meet our standards. We're very quick to dismiss and demean a film for not being perfect -- not giving a filmmaker enough room.
I think it's a real miracle that I or Lena Dunham or Joe Swanberg or anybody didn't just give up for all the shit we took. Joe and Lena were so beat down in those early days -- there was no critical acceptance. There was nobody out there saying these people weren't just exhibitionists or egotists. They had to endure years of that before anybody gave them any credit.
NFS: What is your vision for NoBudge in 5 years?
Kentucker: I'm keeping it organic. I don't have a 5 year plan, but the next thing that I wanna focus on is producing films under the name of NoBudge -- to raise money to finance and produce a film that would be a NoBudge film, or a series of these films or web series.
Not necessarily only release them on the site, but see where else they can find a home, too. I can certainly imagine branching out and becoming a bigger entity and producing bigger films. Or maybe it'll just stay exactly as it is now.
. . .
In a sea of content, we need guiding forces to help us wade through it, and NoBudge represents a very specific and under-heard voice in the world of cinema, putting audiences (bit by bit) in touch with new ideas for what a film is or can be.
What do you think? Have you explored any of the content on NoBudge? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Link: NoBudge Films