My Bumpy Road Through “Hollywood” — Is the INDIE FILM BIZ dead or not?

Did the Pythons have the indie film biz in mind when creating their masterpiece, Monty Python and the Holy Grail? Aside from the buffoonery of this so-called business, what else could have inspired the great scene, “I’m not dead”?

It says a great deal about the flux of the indie film biz that yesterday, on the Film Courage online radio program, iconic indie filmmaker John Sayles said the indie film world is dead, that the only plausible filmmaking opportunities these days are for budgets under $100,000 or over $1 million (and nobody can earn a living as an “independent filmmaker” with films under $100,000.00).

While today, in an editorial by FILM NEWS BRIEFS, “And, Again, The Death of Indie Film Is Exaggerated,” is saying, well, the opposite.

I like that the death of the industry is open to debate. Yes, it sounds like a bit from MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL, but that’s great.

I like FNB’s position that indie films are getting made and “sold,” and this belies the presumed death throes of the industry.

But the industry cannibalizes its workers, and that seems to be much closer to death than vibrant life, in my opinion. All it would take is one quick blow by The Dead Collector, and it’s over.

For instance, I respect Ted Hope and follow him on Twitter, Facebook, his blog TrulyFreeFilm, and we’ve met in person. His openness has given many of us a glimpse of the entire saga of SUPER, a film that FNB’s editorial specifically refers to because it was the first sale to come from this week’s Toronto International Film Festival.

We saw the amount of effort it took to get the film to the point it could be offered to an audience—effort EVERY film always requires (my position: “Making a movie is merely overcoming the impossible.”)

The difference that seems to stand out now for the indie film biz, in this prolonged economic collapse, is survival for its people and its support industries. It seems to be tougher these days—maybe more than other elements of our shattered economy.

For instance, SUPER was sold to small indie distributor IFC Films, and God bless everyone at SUPER for that achievement!

However, these days, “selling to IFC” is not likely to mean anybody has gone out and bought a yacht. Or even paid their rent. Ted himself has touched on this issue in his blog post, The Hard Truth: Filmmaking Is Not A Job.

It seems to me that the malaise of the indie film biz these days means that distribution opportunities are matters of wandering into the unknown.

“Unknown” except for one thing: we know there’s no longer any money in most of the channels. The theatrical channel for an indie film? Less likely than ever before to approach a profit of any kind. The DVD channel for indie film? Much more likely now than ever before to generate incredibly disappointing sales. The VOD channel for independent films? Hah. Consumers don’t even know how to spell it yet. The streaming channel for indies? Sure, put it on Netflix and kiss your assets goodbye. The DIY ‘sell it off your own website’ channel? That book is yet to be written, and unless the FCC enforces Net Neutrality, filmmakers will soon be crippled in their DIY efforts online. The only thing we can be sure of: the Bit Torrent channel will result in thousands of downloads, and with friends like THAT, who needs enemies? Note: I am opposed to crippling the Internet in order to thwart piracy. The Internet is too important to democracy to be crippled or restricted for profit protection.

Yes, movies are getting made. But it’s as a new nearly-philanthropic passion-driven (or, much too often, delusional) effort that does not consider ROI to be the ultimate factor for a green-light.

It appears to me that indie films are now made by exploiting the infrastructures of the MPAA studios and the consumer electronics marketplace. There does not appear to be much of an independent film infrastructure anymore. Many of our distributors and support companies have folded, many of our industry’s people are working elsewhere—or nowhere.

I don’t know many workers, above- or below-the-line, who survive solely by working on indie films, even though the movies are being made. I suspect the same for equipment and services; most companies that remain rely on big-budget studio movies that allow them to “play” in the indie world occasionally.

When products are made with no sustainable infrastructure, with no sustainable income for workers, and with no solid investor class (I chatted on the FOX lot last week with an Equity Investor who said she’d rather keep her $1 million in a bank at 4% than even think about investing in an indie film), that smells a lot more like a hobby than an industry.

So, maybe the indie film biz ain’t dead yet. The priest is on his way, but who knows?

Personally, I think we are seeing the beginning of a revival. I call it INDIE FILM BIZ 2.0 and believe we will find answers for re-introducing value, investment, and payback as a reward for good work. Someday.

MICHAEL R. BARNARD | IMDb | LinkedIn | Resume

4 thoughts on “My Bumpy Road Through “Hollywood” — Is the INDIE FILM BIZ dead or not?

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Is the INDIE FILM BIZ dead or not? « Michael R Barnard's Thoughts & Discussions --

  2. Filmmakers must learn to comprehend that what they’re making isn’t special–it’s just indie, and there’s no ‘place’ for mere indie films on the market. So YES, indie film is dead. Filmmakers keep making shit they THINK is special but it isn’t. Very few filmmakers are taking chances with story and structure and engagement and delivery to create something so compelling and different people actually WANT to go to the theatre AND watch it online AND own the DVD, so YES indie film is dead. Filmmakers continue to beat down the same trodden path toward mediocrity without considering the futility of their destination.

    DIE indie film DIE!
    I don’t make indies anyway–I make outies.


  3. Got to agree with Miles on this.

    Indie Film used to stand for something special. The best indie films were obviously made by very talented, driven individuals. And those same type of individuals, (if they get biz, and web savvy) will still survive. But most won’t.

    Indie film today just means “EVERYBODY” that has a camera!



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