Are you Mister Jones?

In 1965 Bob Dylan released Ballad of the Thin Man, which contains this memorable three line chorus,

“Because something is happening here.

But you don’t know what it is.

Do you, Mister Jones?”

These lines were referenced in an excellent post by Brian Newman entitled Disruption: Indie Filmmakers.  Everyone should read it.

Brian points out that most indie filmmakers are missing the boat when it comes to the massive media disruption that is the Internet. He states:

“While the old school indies (even, and importantly, the young ones) have embraced new technologies such as cheaper cameras and new methods of editing, they’ve been slower to embrace the real change from digital - the direct connection to their audience.

Time and again, I see it - filmmaker makes interesting short. They don’t have a good website for themselves, have no presence on YouTube and valiantly spend more cash on festival entry fees than you can imagine. If they are lucky, the get into some festivals, but a year later, they still haven’t bothered to put it online.”

He contrasts this approach with those “indies” who produce web series, post on YouTube and create a direct connection with an audience. As a result these indies are able to raise money from their fans and fund their next project.

These new indies disrupt the current indies and bypass the old media methods of finding an audience like; attending film festivals, getting a sales agent and hoping that “Harvey” will deem their movie worthy of distribution.

There is one crucial difference between the old “indie” approach and the new “indie” approach. 


The new indies Brian highlights do not ask anyone for permission.  To borrow a well known phrase, they just do it.

The old indies must ask for permission at every turn.

On a distributed network (i.e. the Internet) no creator has to ask for permission to publish. The traditional gatekeepers do not exist.  As a result, with a lot of hard work and use of multiple tools and platforms (most of which are free), the new indies can go about the business of finding and connecting with an audience.

So every indie has to ask themselves: Do I want to spend my life asking for permission?  Do I take the attitude that Brian illustrates?

“The “old school” indies will shake their heads and talk about how they make art and that you can’t compare the two - an indie film in a theater is different than some 4 minute video. They won’t know where to begin in building that kind of audience, or that kind of career.”

In other words, they have to ask this question.

Am I Mister Jones?

About Chris Dorr

I consult with companies on digital media strategy and business development. Clients include Samsung, MTV Networks, Tribeca Film Festival, Shaw Media and Canadian Film Center. I created the Future of Film blog for Tribeca. I have worked in the movie business for Disney Studios, Universal Pictures, Scott Free and in the digital media business for Intertainer, Sony and Nokia. Contact me at [email protected] or follow me at @chrisdorr
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