There are many new buzzwords around these days, like social media, crowd funding, digital distribution. Some of them have been around for a while, but some new ones are coming almost every week. What do these words and phenomenon mean to me as a filmmaker? Even more how can they be useful to me?
I am a so-called independent filmmaker. I even have my own company. You would think then I could do whatever I want right? The way I have learnt to see the film industry at least in Norway I am nothing that remotely resembles independent. Not yet.
Let’s say I have got my ingenious film idea that I want to realize. I am willing to do anything to see that great idea only I have thought of on the silver screen. I don’t care what anybody else is saying. I am an independent filmmaker. I am just going to go out and do it! Or maybe it wasn’t so simple. Firstly I depend on public funding. Me, and my fellow film producers in Norway, benefit from one of the strongest support systems for film. Great! You would think that makes us truly independent and able to live off of our work. My theory is that we are tempted to consciously or unconsciously adapt our projects to the support system. The system is created to support films that will have a difficult time on the large, global, hostile marketplace. Instead of really figuring out how we can be successful in the market and try our luck out there, it’s much easier to make something narrow and Norwegian that will be embraced by the support system. Does it sound like independent to you?
Then when I have successfully financed my film with public funding I depend on a sales agent, which in turn depends on a large number of distributors in charge of the marketing of my film in distant corners of the world. There is of course nothing wrong with any of them. They are good at a lot of things. Let’s just agree that I at least give up influence over my own work. I don’t have any control of the efforts made to get the target audience for my film up from the comfortable sofa, out in the dark and dangerous night to go see my film the first three nights it is on the program. I will of course end up in situations where I need other people’s skills in some way or another. There are a lot of people that are a lot better than me to a lot of different tasks. But one thing is for certain. Nobody has more energy and love for my own project than me. Nobody wants more than me to see it succeed, except maybe my mother. Traditionally the filmmaker has done the largest investment of time, resources, blood, sweat and tears, but is the last one to the party, when revenue if any is, supposed to be distributed.
There are many signs that this is about to change. There are a lot of ways we can take advantage of the digitalization, the Internet and the ways we now can communicate through social media.
Now, when I get my ingenious film idea or somebody comes to me with an idea that I like, I can try it out on the audience directly. I can get a lot of answers about if and how the idea appeals to the target audience even before I decide to make the film at all. If it turns out it is only me, and perhaps my mother who likes the idea, maybe I shouldn’t go through all the trouble of making the movie?
When I decide to make the film, I can help fund the film by engaging the audience. Crowdfunding is the buzzword. There are good examples that turning to the audience itself can raise a large amount of money. We live in a time where everything is copied. At the same time, more than ever people want to contribute to something larger than themselves and be a part of a movement. If I succeed in creating a model that invites to participation, I might succeed in creating a hard-core fanbase that will follow the project through thick and thin and both fund the production and eventually buy the movieticket and tell their friends. Useful links to examples are www.ironsky.net and www.iamithefilm.com. To do this I have to share, sample and show what the project is about and how great it is going to be, and let people contribute. After all we are in the dream selling business, the sexy business that many people find magically attractive and want in some way to be a part of. The answer is not any longer to protect your precious idea and tell nobody until 3 weeks before the night of the premiere. If I am really good I’ll have hundreds of thousands of fans that are just impatiently waiting for the movie on the night of the premiere all over the world.
Of course there are always nuances. The project doesn’t have to be either financed totally by the audience or not at all. You can still apply for public funding and look for sponsors or private equity for your film. The model is ever changing and looks different from project to project. There are other advantages of always including one element of engaging of the audience. If you succeed in communicating with them, you know they will be there on the night of the premiere. The different phases of the project development is getting blurred. It is more about creating awareness and marketing of your project in all phases of the development. Traditionally, you would develop your idea, write the script, get funding, shoot the film, maybe create some behind the scene material, release a trailer, market the movie and hopefully sell some tickets at premiere night. Together with the audience, the sequence of tasks is different. The different elements of production are more happening at the same time. You develop your idea, write the script and creating your social media campaign at the same time.
Then comes the time, when my movie is supposed to be launched in theatres. Instead of protecting the film within a strict regime about what to release and not release, I would rather show my fans a lot of clips from the film and show them how great it is going to be. Instead of trying to protect the project from piracy I will rather rely on the truly exclusive moments that can’t be copied. The experience of having a good time, dinner and a movie with your friends, for instance. The experience to watch a movie in theatres where you yourself has contributed a prop in the key scene or 100 $, or the experience of watching the movie while a band is playing the soundtrack live. The possibilities to create a unique event are endless. I also live in a country where all the cinemas are about to be digitalized. The only thing standing between me and having my film on the silver screen is merely a software, affordable and workable for my more techy colleague. When I am in dialogue with my fans as well, this opens up for a way for me to distribute my film myself. It can also easily become available for the fans on the website they have become familiar with, the website of my film with www.dynamoplayer.com.
We are about to transition into a time were it becomes clear that we most of all depend on our fans. We might choose to collaborate with sales agents and distributors. My project’s success still depends most of all on my ability to communicate with my fans. That will also give me a stronger position towards the intermediaries I choose to work with.
I have discussed this transition with representatives from different funding bodies. Some of them apparently have as an inherent property to be conservative. Transition? Let’s not talk about it. New mechanisms don’t work until they are proven and confirmed. It is a big difference between the attitudes, “there is no good Norwegian example of crowd funding, ergo, crowd funding does not work” and “there is no good Norwegian example of crowd funding, so let’s contribute to make the good example happen”. Some public film institutions choose the latter attitude. I am so lucky to belong to a region that has chosen to stimulate the transition instead of ignoring it. Transition is not done alone.
Thanks to Filmkraft! By supporting our pilot project of producing with the audience you hopefully help create sustainable, fan-dependent filmmakers, depending on our fans, finally independent of our mothers. They can worry a lot less about us and just enjoy the movie with the rest of our fans….
Returning inspired from an EPI workshop featuring Thomas Mai, Stacey Parks, Wendy Bernfeld and other great speakers.