This is a rally cry, not just for independent film fans and filmmakers, but also for all creators, artists and their fans. For all who admire, love and are inspired by the human’s ability to express oneself. I’m asking you all to take a moment to read this, form your own opinion, and if interested, join us in creating and fighting for, a cultural revolution. (actually it will take more than a moment so grab a comfortable seat, some tea, some coffee or a beer. This is a big post but I promise, this time I’m going to explain EVERYTHING.)
First, we must encourage and support each other to step away from the old ways of media consumption: an unbalanced relationship where we are given a limited amount of options that are pre-approved by major studios and corporations to protect and promote their interests and whose solitary goal is to generate the largest margin of profit possible.
What if we all, in 2010 bravely took a step towards a future where we the people, dictate what is worthy of being made, a future where we take a stand to liberate and promote creativity, true freedom of expression, experimentation and accelerate the proliferation of ideas. A step towards creating an explosion of uncompromised, ambitious, brave, original work that asks questions (large and small), challenges our ideas, entertains us, challenges authority and educates and enriches our culture as a whole.
I know this sounds ideal but I’m guessing many of you might doubt that it is truly possible. Let me assure you, everything I’m going to say is absolutely 100% possible and all it will take is a little help, a different perspective and literally, the push of a few buttons.
In my last post I talked about some of the problems filmmakers face (which you can read about here but now I want to dig in a little more and clearly point out ALL of the options (that are worth mentioning) we as independent filmmakers have today.
THE PROBLEM WITH FREE
Believe me, I’m a supporter of downloading, streaming, pirating movies etc. If it’s a studio film or even a so called “independent film” made for a few million dollars, I’m not against viewing it without paying. I don’t feel bad because even if I bought the DVD, I know that my money isn’t really going to the artist but to a sea of middlemen. But now it’s getting to a point where many filmmakers are choosing to self distribute. Filmmakers are cutting out all the middle men and giving their films (and even their rights to their films) away on the internet for free in hopes of their film getting spread all over the net and in hopes of earning some money.
Now although films like Ink, Sita Sings the Blues and Steal This Film are making a decent amount of money by giving their films away for free (and by asking for fan support), it’s still not a model to help them sustain. I talked to Jamie King, the Director of Steal This Film 1 and Steal This Film 2. He said that both films cost him roughly around $45,000 to make (without anyone getting paid), they were seen for free online an estimated 5 million times on various pirate sites and platforms, and by asking fans to support them by donating at the end of the film, both films have received a total of roughly $42,000. A FILMMAKER WHOSE FILMS HAVE BEEN SEEN AN ESTIMATED 5 MILLION TIMES STILL ISN’T ABLE TO BREAK EVEN. Yet perhaps the most depressing news out of all of this is that this is THE BEST model for indie filmmakers out there today.
THE PROBLEM WITH HULU, VOD AND NETFLIX
Jenny Abel, the director of Abel Raises Cain has her film on a variety of well known platforms. How much does a filmmaker get per view on Hulu after all the middlemen get their cut? 1 or 2 pennies! If that isn’t bad enough Jenny says that she actually makes even more money off of HULU than she does with her VOD sales (even though for fans it costs $2.99).
How much do filmmakers get if Netflix wants to use your film? Jenny told me that Netlix bought 180 of her DVD’s and after the middle man got their cut for brokering the deal (70/30 split) her grand total was $1,260. Netflix continues to get paid month after month, Jenny will never get money from Netflix again.
THE PROBLEM WITH FILM FESTIVALS
First, I must say that I’m not attacking the people behind film festivals. I understand and truly appreciate most of their genuine efforts to support and expose independent filmmakers. What I am attacking is the Film Festival as a platform for filmmakers because no matter how good a festival’s intentions might be, it is an old inefficient model that no longer works.
Major Film Festivals are now very similar to Major studios and by that I mean that these giant festivals cost a lot of money to run, and to recoup their expenses they need films with the largest target audience in order to make money and sustain. Again, this makes sense financially for them but for the last 10 years or so the major festivals have pretty much closed their doors on probably close to 95% of the independent voices out there over more marketable, low budget studio “indies”.
We need a new perspective and realize that every film festival depends on us for their content and their ability to make money, yet we are the ones that have to pay for the possibility of being accepted and if we are fortunate enough to be selected, chances are we won’t see a dime for our work. Yet without our content or our submissions, every film festival in the world would crumble overnight. There is no festival screen in the world that could get your film seen by more people than the internet. We have all the content they need and a means of exposing our work to a larger audience then they ever could.
The only perks major film festivals give us now (for those lucky enough to get in) are credibility, networking, a good spotlight and a chance for fans to find you. But do you need Sundance to network, get credibility and fans? Films like Ink and Sita Sings the Blues are perfect examples of films that gained huge followings and credibility, and they didn’t need a Sundance seal of approval to get them. Now I’m not saying festivals are worthless and I understand that they can really help a few of us, but I feel it’s important for all of us filmmakers to realize that we don’t NEED them. Film Festivals are the ones that actually DEPEND ON US, and once we fully understand and realize how powerful we truly are, then we can start to fight for a future that is best for us and our fans.
If a major studio wants theatres to switch to digital projectors, (or THX sound or whatever it is they want) do you know how they get that done? Leverage. Studios threaten to take their content elsewhere and the theatres cave in to their demands. Why? Because the theatres don’t really have a choice; the studios have all the content and the theatres are worthless without it.
Why aren’t we all joining forces and applying the same leverage to film festivals to help us get a fair share to help us sustain? Many of us can’t even break even yet we are paying them for the potential to make money off of our content? To be honest I don’t think we even need to flex our muscle, but it’s crucial for us to understand that together WE DO HAVE LEVERAGE, and if we need to, it is a tool that is available to us. So why don’t we need to start applying our leverage? Because to be honest the model is so broken that I don’t even see the point in participating in it even more. Why don’t we just create new models that work better for us and our fans?
THE BEAUTY OF KICKSTARTER.COM
Kickstarter is arguably the best resource out there today to help filmmakers. It’s not a platform to get your film seen, it’s a platform to help your film get made/finished. It’s a site that relies on fans to help support projects and artist they believe in. So far, two other New Breed Directors and myself have had projects on Kickstarter and all were successful. Mike Ambs’ film, For Thousands of Miles raised 8% more than his goal for a total of $8,945. My film, Kids Go Free to Fun Fun Time raised 21% more than our goal for a total of $6,042. And just recently Gregory Bane’s documentary, Driven raised 9% more than his goal for a whopping total of $27,210!
This unbelievable resource is allowing filmmakers to continue doing what they do and it proves one thing: that even in the worse recession in decades, fans are willing to support the arts if there is a platform that is easy to use, they get something in return and that their donations are going directly to support the artists they believe in.
Filmmakers and film fans from all over the world, a new option is born.
(previously known as The New Independents. Shout out to Merrinell for tweeting this beautiful new name which she graciously let us adopt)
Now even though Fandependent Films is a platform created for truly independent filmmakers, I’m pretty sure other independent artists from other mediums (music, comics etc.) could and should pull from this model and adapt it to their own troubled art forms. I’m a filmmaker so I have thought long and hard to think of all the tools filmmakers need. I have no idea the specific problems facing musicians, painters, comic book writers etc. But if independent artists and fans from every medium pull together, then we could start taking steps to dramatically change the way people are informed, entertained, connect, consume and perhaps most importantly: the ability to create change at a speed that was never before possible.
But I must be clear, none of this will be possible without support from our fans.
WHAT IS FANDEPENDENT (FILMS)?
: relying on fan support to enable continuous creation independent from larger controlling units. ex: fandependent film, fandependent music etc.
Fandependent Films is an entirely new name for an entirely new film culture.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
For film fans we’re making it easier than ever to find, view and support truly independent films and filmmakers. Fans are able to see trailers and the first ten minutes of every film for free to help them decide if they want to support the filmmakers on Fandependent Films. Once a fan joins they set up a profile, enter their credit card info and then are able to watch every film on the site.
By choosing to watch a film on our site you are supporting and encouraging a filmmakers voice to continue to speaking. You are supporting the voices that questions the things around us, the voices that educate us, the voices that fight for change. You are supporting the voices that make us laugh, make us cry, entertain us and inspire us. And to support a voice like this, all that we ask is that you give the artist…a quarter.
A quarter a view is not a lot for a film fan but for a filmmaker, who spent years of their life working on the film and has no means of affording to make another, a quarter a view could change everything. By choosing to give an artist one quarter, not only are you supporting artists and a movement for better films, you are also supporting an entirely new culture.
Now the minimum to support these Fandependent Films is a quarter but at the end of the film, if you really like it, you can change your level of support by selecting one of these options.
Option 1) $0.50
Option 2) $1.00
Option 3) $2.00
Option 4) Any donation amount over $2.00 (grandma gave me $20.00!) OR The fan also has the option to buy the DVD, poster, soundtrack, download etc. simply by clicking on the merchandise that they’re interested in.
By choosing to support artists directly when given a low affordable option over FREE, you are participating in Fandependent Culture.
Of course it might be hard for some people to rationalize paying a quarter for something they could get for free (online after you find it and take the time to download it) but this option is cheaper than any video store, cable channels, Netflix (unless you watch over 45 movies a month) AND that money is going directly to the filmmaker! If you’re still not convinced let’s take a step back and try to fully grasp what life would be like if a small fraction of us chose to support Fandependent filmmakers and their films.
A NEW CULTURAL PIPELINE
In 2008 the U.S. census bureau estimated that 75% of the population in the United States fell into the White category. Black people made up an estimated 12.4% of the population. Hispanic or Latino made up 14.9% and Asians 4%. (see why these percentages add up to over 100% click here)
Now if you were going to invest $60,000,000 into a movie, which race are you going to appeal to? Which race has the best potential to earn profit? Are you going to cast an actress for the lead that, although extremely talented, is not universally considered attractive? The decisions the studios make are not rooted in evil, they are based solely off of the likelihood of earning profit.
It’s no wonder that when filmmakers like Tyler Perry and shows like Sex and the City are put out into the world that they draw an intense and loyal fan base. Of course the main reason is because the content is good but another large reason is because this is content made for the seriously under represented minorities of The United States (I’m considering women also as a under represented minority in film even though they are the majority of the population in the U.S.)
These under represented minorities had never had the same advantage to tell their stories simply because they don’t appeal to the widest possible theatrical, TV, commercial and cable audience. What would it be like if we were able to hear all those voices that never got heard on a global scale. The old models made it impossible for a romance about a black homosexual woman in her 40’s to be funded. And if the filmmakers somehow managed to raise the funds independently, it was extremely unlikely for the film to get distributed, find its audience and become profitable enough for the filmmaker to make another film. Our audience is no longer the majority of those in our home country, our audience is now the entire world. By allowing these voices to be heard, by supporting these voices to speak out, we as a culture would have a better chance of being educated, understanding and connecting with one another.
By donating $.25 directly to the filmmaker, we could give voices to those who have none.
Does it feel like 90% of the movies out there a dumbed down? Why are these films so unimaginative and predictable? With the thousands of screenwriters in Hollywood you’re telling me not one came up with an original idea. Again, I’m sure there are lots of original scripts out there but again, if a studio had to invest $70,000,000 into a movie, what target age are you going to go for to have the greatest chance of making your money back and turn a profit? Since teenagers tend to go to the movies more than any other age group, are you going to take a risk on a script that is rated R, somewhat experimental and asks highly charged controversial questions through metaphors that could go way over a teenagers head and possibly upset sponsors and prevent the film from securing cable and TV distribution?
By donating $.50 directly to the filmmaker, we could free artists from censorship.
Like Documentaries? How about a documentary made by a woman in Thailand who secretly shot footage to expose a group who traffics children into the sex trade? Imagine if filmmaker got at least $.25 per view (times potentially millions of views) and she used half of her earnings to sustain her Non Profit Organization to help fight and spread the word about sex slavery? What if we saw films made by the people of Baghdad and heard their point of view? What if a new bill was going through Washington that many people were unaware of? What if fans had an easy way to support artists they trust to help keep us informed about what is happening around the world around us, instead of relying on corporately owned news networks? What if half of the money An Inconvenient Truth made went directly to helping fight against global warming instead of the pockets of the studios?
By donating $1 directly to the filmmaker, we could educate and take part in significant change.
All it takes is a mental flip of a switch, for all of us, to choose to invest a small amount of our hard earned dollars into this new Fandependent Culture.
HOW TO FIND FILMS IN A SEA OF CONTENT?
Trust me, no matter what type of films you want to make or see, Fandependent Films will make it easy for filmmakers and fans to find one another. Fandependent Films is going to have a variety of options to sort through content but one of the most exciting features is for filmmakers to be able to form posses.
I heard somewhere that Stanley Kubrick was a huge fan of David Lynch’s film Eraserhead. Quentin Tarantino has collaborated on a few films with Robert Rodriguez (From Dusk till Dawn). Terrence Malick (Days of Heaven) helped produce David Gordon Green’s third feature Undertow. Stephen Spielberg was a big supporter of filmmaker Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Forest Gump). Now chances are, if you like Kubrick you’ll probably like Lych. If you like Speilberg you’ll probably like Zemeckis. If you like Malick, you’ll probably like David Gordon Green…
Filmmakers are attracted to like-minded filmmakers. Of course none of these filmmakers are identical, they each have their own individual style yet share a similar sensibility. So what we’re doing is asking 8 like-minded filmmakers to join forces and form a Fandependent Film Posse. The Posse then creates their own unique identity and although they are a single group, each filmmaker remains completely independent.
If a fan of one filmmaker sees they are a part of a posse, there is a good chance that if the fan checks out the other films in that group that the fan would enjoy the other posse member’s films as well. This ability to form posses not only encourages filmmakers to seek out and support like-minded content, it helps form friendships with other filmmakers instead of fostering competition and helps increase awareness, discoverability, marketability and each filmmaker’s fan base.
THE 2011 LAMBS ON FIRE (made-up posse name) SHOWCASE
So if we don’t submit to film festivals how else could we get exposure, credibility, the ability to see our films on the big screen and get paid enough to sustain ourselves, all wrapped into one? After this explanation I encourage anyone out there to tell me how this method isn’t greatly superior to the current film festivals in every way.
Okay, so let’s just imagine that Spike Jonze (Where the Wild Things Are), Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation), Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and 5 other filmmakers form a posse. If you don’t like them just imagine any like minded filmmakers/friends who share a deep respect for each others work and by forming a posse under one name, they are increasing their exposure 8 fold.
p.s. (I realize that these directors could not be a part of Fandependent Films unless they made a film outside of the studio system but using their names makes this example easier)
Okay, now this posse starts off with only 8 members maximum but every year, each posse is allowed to include up to 8 new filmmakers into their group. And just by doing that, an Annual Fandependent Posse Showcase is born. This showcase would allow new filmmakers to be embraced by established filmmakers, (credibility in a supportive Fandependent community) get a premier on one weekend (exclusive event) where they are instantly exposed to a loyal fan base that enjoys like minded content (gaining fans/exposure) and is curated by filmmakers they respect (awesome!). The films can be seen in theatres (official theatrical premier) anywhere in the world (ability to capitalize on buzz on a global scale) and sell DVD’s (through die hard posse fans who get a cut for selling merchandise) and make money off the screening (Fandependent Filmmakers negotiate fair cuts with theatres).
For film festivals you have to pay money (that you don’t have) for the remote possibility of getting accepted into a festival (credibility/exposure) packed with other films that compete for prizes (fostering competition) and advertised to the widest possible audience (worse chance of connecting to your fan base) in a specific location (even less of a chance to connect with your fan base) and are unable to sell DVD’s (because you can’t make it that far out or because it isn’t allowed) or get a cut of the screenings (because there might not even be enough demand for your film to fill up any seats or because they simply don’t want to).
Starting to see how this could work? Lets take curation out of the hands of film festivals and give it to the filmmakers! Whose recommendation would you value more Wes Anderson’s (or any other filmmaker you love) or Sundance’s?
But you’re using big name directors, not true independents. It wouldn’t work for REAL indie filmmakers.
Then lets try an example with REAL indie filmmakers. Now even though our films all seem pretty different and might not make an effective posse because of our varied tastes, for the sake of argument lets just imagine if 8 of The New Breed directors (real indie filmmakers) got together and made our own Fandependent Film Posse.
If Zak Forsman, Zeke Zelker, Todd Sklar, Jenny Abel, Gary King, Ry-Russo Young, Mike Ambs and myself formed a posse: together we would have combined total of roughly 5,500 fans (according to facebook). Let’s take off 4,500 for those who might not spread the word or are possibly double or triple counted. We’re down to 1,000 fans willing spreading the news to their friends to get them to check out our screening series. With that many fans and supporters I imagine we could get a pretty good turnout in at least 2 or 3 cities in the U.S. in our first year! (yet I have a feeling we could actually pull off at least double or triple that but lets think small) The longer our Fandependent Posse stays and grows together and the more filmmakers that join our group the more our fan base would grow year after year. By the time you’ve completed your second feature (let’s say two years later) your posse would now be 16 filmmakers stronger and your fan base could have possibly tripled itself.
But how would I be able to see one of these screening series in Action Grove? (or any other random suburb or town)
I’ve talked briefly with Arin Crumley about how Openindie and Fandependent Films could potentially work together. Nothing is set in stone but this is one way how I could envision our two platforms working together.
Once a Fandependent Posse announces the premier date, people can request to watch the posse’s new films/filmmakers in their area through Openindie. If there is enough demand for a posse showcase in your area you could attend the event at your local movie theatre where part of the ticket revenue goes directly to the filmmakers. If there isn’t enough demand for this screening series to play in a theatre near you, and if you have a small but passionate group of fans in your area, then you could host your own screening at a bar or any other type of venue also through Openindie. Or, if you’re the only one in your town who really wants to see the films, you can watch the films online the same day as their release on Fandependent Films.
If you don’t have any fans then your film goes nowhere but if your film does have fans, there is nowhere your film can’t go.
THE MONEY TRAIL
Still not able to sell your friends on giving filmmakers a quarter per view? What if I said to you the fan: that if you join Fandependent Films I could also get you an online magazine with loads of lengthy in depth articles, interviews and behind the scenes videos that focus exclusively on the filmmakers in each or your favorite posses, absolutely free? For filmmakers: what if I told you that you no longer had to worry about tweeting, updating your facebook page, spending hours on the internet looking for potential fans and people to review/blog about your films? What if there was one place for media producers to apply to work for your specific posse? Fandependent Films has got you covered.
By putting your hard earned dollar into the hands of filmmakers you aren’t just supporting a filmmaker, you’re supporting a brand new Fandependent Film Industry.
As I said in the last post, this new position, the media producer, is absolutely critical but what if your posse hired a media producing team for a small percentage of your posse’s total profits? A creative team that not only likes your work but is dedicated to coming up with clever ways to expose your specific posse to the world. A team that does real interviews (not 5 minute blurbs on Leno), helps gather more fans, spreads news on upcoming screenings, promotes events provides fans with behind the scenes videos and content to help promote upcoming projects. This media would be available to the fan of that posse at no extra cost because they are already paying for it by supporting independent film and specifically this posse. Once money is in the hands of artists as opposed to greedy corporations a dynamic shift of power could take effect.
OUT WITH THE OLD
The model that exists today for a lot of indie filmmakers is to raise money through investors. This is done typically by raising a lot of money from a few wealthy individuals. Since these investors have put so much of their hard earned dollars they own 50% of the film (rightly so). When the film goes out into the world if the film makes any money it goes something like this. The investors receive 80% (90% sometimes 100%) of the profits until the investors are paid in full, plus 15%. After the investors have been paid back for their generous support, plus an additional 15%, the profits are then split: 50% to the investors, 50% to the production company.
But f we are able to raise the budgets for our films through fan donations and merchandise then 100% of that profit goes directly to the filmmakers. So what do filmmakers do with all that dough? This is the financial model we’re trying with our feature film. Since we are a low budget film we can’t afford to pay the crew. We can feed them and pay them a bit but we can’t give them enough to really support themselves. What we can do however is use that 50% of the potential profits (that would have gone to the investors) and give it to the cast and crew. For each key crew position that decides to volunteer their services for free, we offer them a percentage of the film. If the film ends up making money the DP of my film (the super talented Kuba Zelazek) would earn 5% of the films profits forever. So 50% is going directly to the cast and crew for making it all possible and the other 50% is going directly into helping fund our next film. Now there is one other interesting thing that this does: for most films, cast and crew either work for free or are just paid for their services but if everyone gets a small percentage of the films total profits, then everyone also has even more motivation and incentive to make the best film possible. This incentive could help elevate the film in a real way if everyone on board had a personal stake in the films success. What if every film you worked on brought in a new revenue stream FOREVER.
Films are a collaborative art form. One that requires actors and actresses, musicians, costume designers, make-up people, camera and lighting people… you know the drill. A huge percentage of creative people pour a lot of sweat into these films and by supporting Fandependent culture, you would be supporting all of them.
By donating a dollar per view you could be helping communities of artists create and sustain.
With filmmakers, film fans and Fandependent Films: together we can make this a reality.
FULL DISCLOSURE (How much does this cost?)
We don’t take any of your money unless your film is making money. Now to make all of this work, our platform also needs to be able to sustain itself so, like your films, we aren’t giving away our services for free but we are practicing what we preach and are allowing the filmmakers to choose what percentage of their revenue our services are worth after streaming costs.
Option 1) 5% (recommended for all starting filmmakers)
Option 2) 10% (recommended for filmmakers who really love us)
Option 3) 15% (recommended for filmmakers who are living out their dreams)
The percentage you choose to give back to Fandependent films will help us grow and expand on many of the other ideas that I feel will continue to help our platform grow in the future. The ideas laid out here are just a fraction of what we’re working on. Our goal is to form a new community where artists, filmmakers and fans support one another, a community where there is no competition, a community where we all benefit from each others success. If you need help, we will do our best to do so and if we need help to push and fund new ideas forward, we’re giving the filmmakers the ability to change how much they support us, depending on how passionately they feel about the idea. Wouldn’t it be great if politics were like this?
Actions always speak louder than words and this is a big idea that may seem difficult to some. Yet day after day I see a growing trend of people choosing to not always make the cheapest and easiest decisions but the decisions to support a cause bigger than themselves. People are choosing to buy more fuel efficient vehicles, people are choosing to shop locally, people are choosing to buy more expensive energy reducing light bulbs and organic foods. People are choosing to support the ideas they believe in. So, now I ask all of you to consider choosing to support artists from around the globe to help our culture grow in a radical new way. Alone, artists are capable of moving mountains but if we all join forces and get enough support from our fans, I truly believe that together, we can reshape the stars.
If you believe in this idea and would like to be a part of Fandependent Films, please join us in taking our first steps into a brand new film culture.
Next Up: The Dream Team
p.s. I apologize for not e-mailing many of the filmmakers from all over the world that have contacted me since the last post. I now realize how archaic e-mail is so if you want to get in contact in the future please get a hold of us on Facebook or Twitter. I can’t wait to hear from you and please help spread the word!