Indie Filmmaking in the Internet Age
It's All About the Talent
It's pretty much cliché now that the world of film-making is in the midst of profound changes. Film schools are pouring out legions of new filmmakers armed with low cost technology that would have made their forefathers in the movie industry green with envy. But a whole slew of them aren't even bothering to pound on the gates of the big Hollywood studios anymore. And why should they?
A new generation of inexpensive, high end digital film equipment has fallen into the hands of young filmmakers, dramatically reducing the costs of producing quality films. No longer are independent filmmakers limited to making schlocky B-movies. With the advent of non-linear editing software that runs on relatively ordinary home computers, post-production editing, sound and special effects work can be done for a mere fraction of what it costs a large Hollywood studio to do the same work and with comparable results. With the advent of the Internet, an independent producer/director has at hand, powerful communication tools, not only for assembling talent and finding venture capital, but also for distributing his or her finished product.
High-tech independent filmmakers have shown with breakout hits like “The Blair Witch Project” that they can produce quality work on a shoestring. As a result, talented Indie filmmakers with a good story have a far better chance at raising enough money to shoot their films. Less time fund-raising means more time producing quality films. Because the costs of an indie film can be so low, breaking even on a good film isn't as hard as it is for a studio production with a 150 million dollar budget. If an indie film takes off, the potential profits are astronomical- catnip to venture capitalists.
Legendary indie filmmaker, Ed Wood, was likely one of the most determined producer/directors ever to hit Hollywood. He squeezed money out of everyone from meat-packers to churches. He once got a Baptist Church to fund one of his films by agreeing to baptize the entire film crew, actors and all. If Old Ed were making movies today, at least they would look better. In ways that's a disadvantage. In the old days you could blame the grainy film and schlocky special effects on the low budget. Today, you really don't have an excuse with 21st century high quality digital filmmaking tools.
Technology's Impact on Funding:
Today, even with new, more accessible digital technology that keeps costs down while keeping quality up, indie filmmakers still resort to traditional fund-raising strategies including:
· Draining their own bank accounts
· Hitting up family and friends and raising production costs a hundred bucks at a time
· Applying for arts grants
· Wooing the wealthy
· Trying to get into a studio to pitch their projects
As more traditional sources of funding have steadily dried up, indie filmmakers have taken advantage of new social media and Internet technologies to help them scrape together funding.
Crowd-funding, a new idea, born on the Internet and promoted by websites like Biracy, IndieGoGo, Investedin, Kickstarter, Rockethub and Massify, draws funding from a film's potential audience. If you've got an idea for a film about space pirates and you can find enough people who like space pirate films to donate $10 a piece to see it made, then you've got your picture made or at least started. Crowd-funding draws on the power of social media to put together large numbers of small investors.
Some other funding schemes offer investors a piece of any profits the film makes. Some ask for flat out donations to a film the donor just wants to see made. Some offer gifts for donations like National Public Television does in their pledge drives. Others presell DVDs of the complete movies. While raising enough cash to fund a whole film this way may be difficult, some filmmakers have successfully used crowd-funding as equity to attract more traditional investors.
Hundreds of new cable channels are looking for original programming. Filmmakers can publish their movies directly to DVD & Blue Ray through outlets like Amazon and other online sellers. Traditional movie markets are expanding rapidly and niche markets for digital films have sprung up like dandelions providing independents more roads to potential film-making success than ever before.
The New Defining Factor: Talent
Fund-raising aside, as the cost of making films drops and the quality that is possible with the new digital technology increases, independent filmmakers with good stories to digitize are no longer hampered by poor quality film-making tools in bringing their visions to the screen. A theater quality film can now be shot with inexpensive equipment and edited on a home computer. More and more in the future, the defining factor in the quality of independent films will not be the budget of the film, but the talent of the director, actors and crew.
I kind of like that trend.