Keeping With The Current
Bringing Independence To The People
Published: Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01
No place is better for an independent director or writer to be recognized than a film festival.
Every year, it seems some new trailblazer rises from the back theaters of South By Southwest or Tribeca to emerge as a poster child for the future of filmmaking.
In the past few decades this trend of using festivals as career launching pads has really become apparent. Take, say, Darren Aronofsky, who landed on the map at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival when his feature debut Pi won him the Directing Award. Or indie giant Wes Anderson, who got his first film Bottle Rocket made into a feature after it gained critical buzz at the Dallas Film Festival in 1996. This ritual of mining talent from these gatherings is still alive today.
While these festivals have undoubtedly launched the careers of several prominent modern filmmakers and have been a great landscape for the leaders of the industry to access quality films, the whole process of having film attendees decide which films should be distributed to the public seems pretty limiting to the art. It’s not really the public that decides what independent features should fill the theaters or what promising director should gain exposure—it’s essentially a small group of individuals that are hired to choose for the people.
Let me give you an example of what I’m getting at. Take, for instance, Korean singer Psy’s insanely catchy single “Gangnam Style,” a song that exploded out of obscurity to become a YouTube craze (side note: if you’re not familiar with the tune, take a moment to set this paper down to sprint to the nearest computer). The single escalated in popularity almost exclusively though word-of-mouth and public social media outlets. It was only after this public uproar that the U.S. music industry saw Psy as a good investment and Justin Bieber’s talent manager hastily signed him to Schoolboy Records.
On the other hand, would we have ever seen The Artist, the independent silent hit and winner of last year’s Oscar for Best Picture, if the Weinstein Company had not decided to distribute it in the U.S.? Unless you’re a dedicated independent film patron, the answer is most likely not.
There are several reasons I can point to that account for this disconnect between independent filmmakers and the general public in the modern age. First, look at channels in which films are distributed. For the film industry, there is really no outlet like YouTube or Soundcloud—a place for normal folk to access and “freely” share their best finds with friends. Modern indie films go through a strict line of approval: they must be approved by a production studio (the company that makes the movie), then they must be approved by a distribution studio (the company that puts the movie in theaters), then it must be approved by film critics before word of mouth gets big enough to draw in us common folk.
Another glaring reason is simply the massive costs that go into making a film. Unlike a quality song, which can be made in a basement by a talented teenager with a computer and GarageBand, a quality feature film is a massive collaborative effort where many people must be paid and many things must be bought. So, unless you’re making movies just for the sake of making movies and are not trying to turn it into a living, you cannot simply post your finished product on a website. The indie filmmaker is not like the indie musician, who in this day and age basically gives his product away for free with the hopes of listeners buying concert tickets in the future.
Undoubtedly there are film studios out there that look more toward the quality of a potential production rather than box office implications, so I am in no way discouraging future filmmakers of tomorrow to boycott the festival circuit. But, in the modern age of technology, I think there is a need for a re-evaluation of the process in which independent films are brought to the public.
After all, it would be a travesty if the “Gangnam Style” of indie movies slipped through the cracks of Hollywood.