The challenge presented to each indie filmmaker is the same.
How do I get my work discovered?
Typically, an indie film travels to success with the aid of a small group of usual suspects. The 2012 version of that trip is laid out in Anne Thompson’s, $11 Billion Year: From Sundance to the Oscars, an Inside Look at the Changing Hollywood System.
Thompson covers the circus that is the film festival circuit, where distributors show their new films and filmmakers woo festival audiences, critics and distributors with their latest projects. It is an insider game that moves from Sundance to Cannes to the Academy Awards.
Harvey Weinstein knows this game better than most. He understands how to appeal to festival insiders at Cannes and woo the members of the Motion Picture Academy. He knows that his success depends on his ability to shape the value of a movie by appealing to elites and through these elites find the masses.
He serves as the filmmaker’s promoter, singing the film’s praises to all the right people. Then he pushes the film into the marketplace positioned for box office success.
Mr. Weinstein and others like him extract a large amount of rent for their efforts. If the film succeeds–the distributor succeeds financially, but not necessarily the filmmaker. In some rare cases money trickles back to the filmmaker, but as they say, “don’t hold your breath”.
This is the classic middleman model within a classic insider industry.
Today, outside the confines of the traditional film industry a new model is emerging. It is based on the premise that one does not “promote a film”. Instead, one “builds an audience”.
It relies more on building a bond with an audience than bonding with film festival insiders or prominent film critics. Here there are no classic middlemen and no insiders.
These platforms are free or charge a nominal fee. Money flows back to the filmmaker without the extravagant extraction of rent.
Austin Kleon identifies the attitude and approach that shapes this new model in his book, Show Your Work! : 10 Ways To Share Your Creativity And Get Discovered
“If you want fans, you have to be a fan first. If you want to be accepted by a community, you have to first be a good citizen of that community. If you’re only pointing to your own stuff online, you’re doing it wrong. You have to be a connector. The writer Blake Butler calls this being an open node. If you want to get, you have to give. If you want to be noticed, your have to notice. Shut up and listen once in a while. Be thoughtful. Be considerate. Don’t turn into human spam. Be an open node.”
A node exists on a distributed computer network where all nodes can connect directly with each other or route through other nodes to connect with an additional node. There is no central node through which all must pass. This is the essential design of the Internet.
When human beings use this network, everyone can connect with everyone else. The mass media world does not operate on this network. In that world of insiders, gatekeepers and middlemen one must seek permission to connect. Rent is extracted at every possible turn.
An open node world not only rides on this new network, it also creates new norms and new opportunities for human interaction. As Kleon indicates in his book, these norms and opportunities are still being defined and explored.
If Harvey Weinstein is the poster child for the indie world of traditional gatekeepers and extractors of rent, Amanda Palmer is the poster child for the world where artists of all types work at “building an audience”. Though she is a musician, indie filmmakers could do well to follow her example.
If you spend time following her on twitter, receive her emails or read her blog posts, you will see that she practices everything that Kleon preaches. She deals directly with her audience and she points to others, (musicians and visual artists alike). She listens to her audience and responds to them. She even connects members of her audience to each other.
One could argue that Amanda Palmer and Harvey Weinstein are very much alike. Each is larger than life, always ready to project him/herself upon the world like any classic promoter.
Yet Palmer follows the norms and expectations of an open Internet model and functions as an open node. Weinstein follows the norms of a mass media architecture where the views of insiders matter and shape what the audience is allowed to see.
One exists in world of transparency, the other in a world of constant spin and PR. One “builds an audience” while the other “promotes”.
Palmer speaks to anyone who wants to listen and listens to anyone who wants to speak to her. Weinstein speaks to an inner circle. Listening, not so much.
They are creatures of the world they choose to inhabit.
Weinstein’s world is very familiar and well defined. Palmer’s world is new and its outlines are just beginning to emerge—it is changing every day—but it principles are not hard to grasp. Austin Kleon lays them out for us and Amanda Palmer practices them for anyone to see.
It is often said that the indie film world is in a state of crisis. People insist that there are too many movies and too little money. They argue that the audience for independent film is disappearing.
All these explanations look in the wrong direction.
Filmmakers are too enamored with a world that is defined by a middleman, insider culture. With every film, they hope to be among the lucky few that are discovered, are welcomed inside, get promoted and somehow–get saved.
It is not their fault. This is the world into which they were born.
They don’t see that something new is being born.
A world in which their work can be discovered.
Filmmakers need to see that they can create this new world. Not alone but in concert with each other. Each can be an open node.
Indie film has only one real Harvey Weinstein. And that is OK.
But to solve its crisis it needs 100 Amanda Palmers.