"We believe if we can convince enough aspiring filmmakers to give up on their dreams, the industry will become solvent again, returning to a thriving and viable state." Yes, you read that correctly. Actor/Director Kentucker Audley (who runs the NoBudge website and makes no budget indies himself) wants you to give up filmmaking and stop flooding the market with your mediocre films. Before you get out your torches and pitchforks (Audley is not being serious), let's take a look at what's actually going on in the independent filmmaking industry. Despite the satirical brashness of Audley's request, there are legitimate economic concerns stemming from the influx of indie films into the market. Here's a brief breakdown:
For the past 30 or 40 years, independent filmmaking has sustained a viable business model, at least for the most part. Far fewer independent films were being made, and there were far fewer methods of distribution. As a result, great independent films could make their way through festivals, get picked up by distributors, and make significant theater runs, thus turning profits for all parties involved. Not to mention that independent film-hungry audiences had very few ways to view indies other than their local theaters. Essentially, films could effectively cut through the noise in decades past, and make their way to audiences through traditional means.
Cut to the year 2014. The DSLR and Crowdfunding revolutions have created an atmosphere where independent filmmaking has been democratized to the point where it's available to anyone and everyone. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing (we'll talk more about that later), but it definitely creates a veritable plethora of economic problems for the industry in its current state.
Several articles from major publications have surfaced over the past few months, which point out an array of problems that stem from the influx of independent films into an already-saturated market. Here's Manohla Dargis in an article from the New York Times.
There are, bluntly, too many lackluster, forgettable and just plain bad movies pouring into theaters, distracting the entertainment media and, more important, overwhelming the audience. Dumping “product” into theaters week after week damages an already fragile cinematic ecosystem.
The problem here stems from the fact that many of the independent films that are picked up for distribution are guaranteed a limited theater run (mostly for the press that it generates), despite the fact that they're primarily slated for on-demand distribution through the likes of Amazon, Netflix, etc. Because so many of these indies are guaranteed a theater run, they inherently drown out many of the films that would otherwise shine through with that distribution model.
In another article over at Salon, Beanie Barnes argues that these trends of overproduction and distribution actually make for a sad state of affairs for anybody looking to be employed by the indie film industry, especially considering the declining state of wages and labor practices in the industry:
All industries have to adapt to stay relevant and viable, and film is no exception. That is especially true in the U.S. where, unlike some other countries, the government doesn’t fund production as a cultural initiative. And if the challenges in the industry are not addressed, everyone in it stands to lose.
There is a very hard line between market competition and market saturation. With saturation, demand grows only if the population grows. Indie film seems to have hit that saturation point. And if the only way to help the industry grow is to increase the population (in this case, the audience), then the industry has to get serious about looking at how to increase demand.
Kentucker to the Rescue?
This brings us back around to Kentucker Audley and his petition to put an end to mediocre independent films. Here's the petition, in full:
Our goal is 5,000 signatures. We believe if we can convince enough aspiring filmmakers to give up on their dreams, the industry will become solvent again, returning to a thriving and viable state. Film critics and film audiences will no longer be overwhelmed by the glut of mediocre indie productions, while the truly inspired and talented filmmakers will easily be discovered and embraced, able to receive the wide acclaim & financial gain they deserve. Distributors, theater owners, tastemakers, as well as audiences and critics, will delight in having far fewer films to choose from.
Note: if you're an indie filmmaker with commercial promise, please continue making films. (Don't sign) This list is made for the mediocre filmmakers who would otherwise be clogging up the indie arteries with undercooked, half-assed or nobudge productions. This includes anything small scale, anything personal, of course all mumblecore, and most other work with developing visions. (In other words, if you don't already have your artistry perfected, please sign up.)
I, Kentucker Audley, will be the first to sign up & look forward to you joining me in this quest to find another passion.
We hit 5,000 signatures and the industry is saved!
Thank you former indie filmmakers!
Please spread to all your talentless filmmaking friends.
Despite the overly satirical tone of the petition itself (which is somewhat reminiscent of Swift's A Modest Proposal), it's almost impossible to deny that the film industry needs far fewer films in order to remain viable with its current business model. However, that brings up another important question: should we be striving to keep the independent filmmaking business model of yesteryear alive through sacrificing our passions for the greater good, or should we strive to change the business model to accommodate the influx of indie films into the ever-changing modern distribution landscape?
A New Way Forward
In terms of the two options presented above, it's no stretch of the imagination to say that most of the filmmakers I know, including myself, are greatly in favor of the second option, especially considering that we all start out as mediocre filmmakers.
How the overall indie business model needs to change in order to accommodate the needs of filmmakers, distributors, and audiences alike is a discussion for another day. However, it's clear that something needs to change in order for independent filmmaking to become a viable industry once again.
What do you guys think about the state of the independent film industry after the DSLR and crowdfunding revolutions? Does this well-aimed piece of satire from Kentucker Audley do anything to shed light on the issue? What can be done to put the industry back on track? Let us know down in the comments!
- Stop Making Indie Films - Change.org
- America's Next Wal-Mart: The Indie Film Industry - Salon
- As Indies Explode, An Appeal for Sanity - New York Times