The Denial at the Heart of Indie Film

It is almost a cliché it is so true.

The Internet changes every part of the media world.

No media creator or company escapes from this reality. 

There are two groups of people within this world.

Those who deny the change and those who acknowledge it.  (Sort of like the climate.)

Yes, it is that simple and that stark.

In the indie film world, the deniers are winning.

I just had a great conversation with Scott Macaulay on his recent blog post on copyright.

We both brought up Indie Game The Movie.  This film is the model for anyone who wishes to use the Internet to finance, market and distribute an indie movie. 

Any independent filmmaker can adopt the model.  

Sadly, few are doing so.

Scott refers to the movie’s producers:

“We ran a story in last year’s Winter issue detailing how they did what they did and in my Editor’s letter I encouraged people to do the same… A year later, I decided to write an article extolling all the people who were following their approach… and, crickets. I started early, reached out to people, contacted Sundance to see who the big self-distributing DIYers at the festival were. And came up with hardly anyone.”

The editor of the largest indie film magazine in the United States offers to profile any movie heading to Sundance that directly reaches out to its audience and not one filmmaker bites.  All Scott got back was silence.

When Scott wrote about this,

“Most didn’t want to go on the record with saying that they just didn’t feel they wanted to do that work.”

Not go on record?  Did they feel a sense of shame for not wanting to do “that work”?

Pioneers are unusual in any field.  Yet when pioneers are demonstrably successful fast followers appear.

These followers adopt the new model and use it. Some even innovate and broaden the model.  This creates a virtuous cycle of innovation that lifts everyone.

While there are a few pioneers, there seem to be no fast followers in the indie film world. 

No cycle of innovation exists.

Instead, most indie filmmakers are trapped by a denial that stunts the growth of their films, their careers and the indie film community itself.

Indie film needs a cycle of innovation.

Where to begin?

As with climate change, stop the denial.

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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  • SCandler

    I’m glad to hear it is uncool to admit that one doesn’t want to do the work of self financed distribution. That means filmmakers are starting to feel embarrassed by the fact that they made a film with no regard for its market potential, no plan for the resources it would take to see it reach the market and too self involved to learn the skills and use the tools that are freely available to EVERYONE to be the gross participant in their own films.

    What we are really seeing is the death of the ability to create and abandon. The death of being able to blame it all on the system instead of taking on responsibility from the start. Many filmmakers like to say they are creating work for “everyone” with very little analysis as to how a film for a wide audience (no film is for everyone) is developed (names, connections, big companies owing a stake), created and distributed. The internet holds a ton of information on that. If you have a smartphone, access is right in your own pocket. Analysis will yield an ugly truth most do not want to confront. Over 12,000 films submitted just to Sundance this year. 121 selected, only about 50 have distribution in some form. What are your film’s odds among the 12,000 still looking? Not including the thousands of others made in years past and being made just this year.

    What a paradox to say you don’t want to make a film that pleases the system, but refuse to take the responsibility of making sure it reaches an audience.

    • chrisdorr

      Thanks Sheri, a great comment, wold love to see how some filmmakers react to your words and mine.

  • Michael DiBiasio

    It’s a good question (where to begin?) but I think you (and Sheri) are absolutely right. It has to start with an end to denial. I’m still relatively young, in filmmaking terms, and have been teaching myself the ropes over the years — and I’m not sure I could have become a filmmaker in earlier times in the industry when there wasn’t cheap access to decent technology. Perhaps that’s why it doesn’t make much sense to me that, industry-wide, there seem to be vastly more filmmakers decrying change rather than accepting it and then turning to the challenge of what to do next.

    It’s a delicate balance, but we have to pay attention to the issues outlined above. For me, it’s a matter of making survival possible. In my opinion, after acceptance of these conditions on a general level — it starts with accepting what it’s going to take to get a film made and to keep making films.

    And, yes, a lot of the answer is very simple: work. Experimentation and adaptation. It can be done cheaply and then what works can be duplicated (or copied and adjusted to suit, as with your example of Indie Game).

    I have a lot more to say but I’m mostly working all this stuff out as I continue experimenting WHILE making more work. But, yes, basically — it doesn’t make sense that more people aren’t duplicating that work flow and outreach campaign.

    • chrisdorr

      Michael, thanks for your comment. You are right, it is about experimentation and adaptation-the quicker the better. There is also the element of sharing the knowledge gained-something the producers of Indie Game The Movie have done-which is why they are such a model-they expose what works and what doesn’t for others to borrow or improve. Imagine if every filmmaker did the same. Hard to imagine, unfortunately, but worth hoping for.

      • Michael DiBiasio

        Yes, exactly. We need that transparency if and when there’s success because it’s not going to come from higher up. That being said — a lot of this is stuff is easy to reverse-engineer by looking at the resulting success and tracing it back. Audiences are mostly built in public now, on the internet and as the internet feeds events in real life.

        Again…it’s just the work. Which I admit can be daunting if taken all at once but, broken down into steps and pursued by a dedicated TEAM — doable. And hugely rewarding. If you move forward with the right project. There still has to be a great script and skillful implementation. That part hasn’t changed but it can be easy to get distracted from it with all this admittedly extra work to do. But it is what it is and all of it is better than having to quit or dealing with the repercussions of denial.

        • chrisdorr

          I love the expression “Audiences are most built in public now”, so true. It is its own transparency.

  • SCandler

    by the by, look who has chosen to self distribute his release? Kevin Spacey. And we all know HE certainly doesn’t have to do that. He chose to take that responsibility, even when he could easily sign an agreement. “I knew I did not want to bring the film hat in hand to a film festival and try to make some midnight deal for less money than I made the movie for, and then watch it get distributed in a way that I didn’t think was going to get enough eyeballs. I obviously want to make my money back and I pride myself on being a pretty good businessman, but at the end of the day I didn’t make the movie for that reason. I think there is a wider and broader interest in a movie like this that the industry doesn’t place enough value in. So part of this to me is an experiment, the idea of having a direct relationship with an audience, with my fans, and with the consumer.”

    Bra-f’ing-vo Kevin Spacey!

    • chrisdorr

      Thanks for the update on the Kevin Spacey movie. Maybe it will inspire others.

  • Joel Valle

    Love this post because it taps into the psychological barriers that filmmakers have. “They did not wanted to go on record”, meaning that they felt some form of guilt, because they know deep inside they should be doing this. Rammit Sethi who was an intern for Seth Godin discusses in an article how to turn guilt into action by first acknowledging that it’s present.

    Myself I have started to build the habits of blogging, use google analytics and social media to build a community. At the same time I started to build my own business curriculum by reading the likes of Tim Ferris, Chase Jarvis, Seth Godin and learning from many start-up companies that apply lean principles to reduce waste processes and started to apply there principles into filmmaking. Let’s see what this yields, at least it’s a lot of fun.

    • chrisdorr

      Joel, Thanks for your comment and the link to the Rammit Sethi piece. Good luck!

  • truthHurtssir

    Its easy why hardly anyone is jumping on this bandwagon. Here’s why. “Indie Game” exploited a true online community with a loyal following. These game nerds are all over the internet and easy to spot, find, and engage. So if a filmmaker wants to go that route and engage with people who love indie games, or porn, or weed (all subjects of successful films, mainly documentaries that also did well by engaging their core audience online), then the world is their oyster.

    Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on which way you look at it), most indie filmmakers still want to tell HUMAN stories, mostly HUMAN dramas about everyday people or about personal experiences that mean more to them than documentaries about subjects popular with computer geeks that live online. There are very few core, rabid, potentially paying audience members that lurk online just waiting to watch character-driven stories of single mothers trying to kick their heroin addiction to regain custody of their kids. When that day comes, then your surprised reaction to why the internet is not being exploited to its full potential by more indie filmmakers will be warranted.

    • chrisdorr

      truthhurtssir, Thanks for your comment. Sorry you did not use your real name as a direct conversation would be better but that is your choice. I have seen this kind of response from other filmmakers.

      Is it easier for some filmmakers than others? Yes, there are some clearly defined communities that are not as hard to reach. I would not limit it to the “nerd” or “online nerd” culture you identify.

      For the record, Indie Game The Movie was about real people with real struggles. In my book that is “human” no matter how you define the term. I recommend you see it for yourself.

      There are different strategies to be used for the kind of fictional story you mention than for a doc that has a well defined community. The key is to expand your story and the story behind the film itself so people online can share it with each other as a way to develop a connection to the film, to the filmmaker and to each other through your film. It is also important for people to see you as a voice worth following on your journey with your current movie as well as your next movie. None of this is easy but it is possible. As you already know people want to experience human stories and part of your job is to get audiences into the humanity of your film. Not just make it and toss it into the ether.

  • MJNovoa

    While my heart is in cinema, my brain has had to go back to school and understand what possibilities exist for my films. A few years back I managed a Hollywood Video store in Pasadena, CA and I could see the writing on the wall. The distribution landscape was changing…Netflix was taking over and my store was losing customers left and right. I knew the internet was changing everything, but I really didn’t understand how and why the internet was changing the distribution model. At that time streaming was clunky, but I could tell that it was the new wave. It’s now 2014 and the possibilities for me to write, producer, direct, market and distribute are at my feet. I’ve been working really hard at developing a strategy that will take advantage of the “Indie Game” model and applying it to the LGBT market, where I’ve been most active. I immersed myself into the Internet Marketing program at Full Sail and am slowly applying my knowledge to my years of filmmaking experience. While I may be applying new techniques, the mindset of my colleagues is pretty abysmal. I constantly have to reach out to younger filmmakers, who understand this new approach to producing, marketing and distribution. Socially I’ve had to come out of my shell as well and search for people, and I have done this by creating a monthly mixer in LA reaching out to my alumni network and friends (Eventbrite: The Los Angeles Film School Alumni Association). I appreciate the point you make in your blog and it encourages me to know that there are many opportunities for those of us willing to make the changes necessary to directly sell our unique films to an eager audience. I love cinema and although the landscape has changed, I’m excited for the possibility to entertain people eager to watch my films (in the theater, at home or on their phones). I hope more filmmakers are encouraged by your words and insight. Thank you.

    • chrisdorr

      MJ, thanks for your kind words and great comments. And good luck with your efforts to connect your films with audiences.

  • fatherbradley

    “Where to begin’ indeed. How about informing us of something.