The situation right now

The following is very much based on an entry in US indie film producer, Ted Hope’s blog: Truly Free Film.

 Ted was dealing specifically with the American context, which does have many similarities with that in the UK, but I’ve attempted to make it more UK specific.

Here’s my version of his ‘first the bad news’ beginning.

  • US arthouse admissions are down 66%. I’ve never found details for arthouse admissions in the UK, but I would not be surprised if the impact of both ‘indiewood’, centralised programming, and the decline in decent film journalism had not had a significant impact here.
  • Ted estimates that now only 4% of independent US features get traditional distribution. In the UK the chances are considerably less.
  • Even if a film obtains a UK distributor or sales agent acquisition offer, it will not include an advance.
  • Private investment has ‘withered on the vine’.
  • International sales prices have dropped by 40% and presales have all but dried up.
  • Recession hits non-profit making arts organisations and festivals particularly hard, they are one of the first places where cuts fall. 

This isn’t the result of a ‘Hollywood’ conspiracies. If  there’s a decline in the number of indie film oriented magazines and critics, then it’s hard to get exposure for indie films. If you’re an exhibitor, why should you take a chance on a film with no ‘A’ or ‘B’ list stars, little or no media coverage and no marketing budget? If you’re a distributor, why should you acquire, let alone pay an advance for, a film which is unlikely to make you any money?

   And if you’re an audience member who’s a fan of indie films and who doesn’t live in London, the easiest way you can see them is to download them from the internet – and if the bootleggers seem to care more for you than the ‘industry’ you’ll have few qualms about downloading for free.

   That’s the current state of ‘the old model’ –  it’s going nowhere other than off the edge of a cliff.

 The good news though is, there’s maybe an alternative.

 The social media which enable peer to peer dialogue exist. Word of mouth is far more important and far less ephemeral. You cannot afford to ignore these technologies; you have to develop a fan base, to enter into a dialogue with your audience. We have to start thinking and acting more like fringe theatre companies and bands.

   But we need more than just facebook or twitter, we need a more precise knowledge of our audiences, where they are and how to reach them. In America many theatrical screenings of ‘Four-Eyed Monsters’ have been the result of fans campaigning for their local independent cinema to put the film on – or maybe it would be better to call such people ‘friends’?

   When it comes to such as music, theatre, or fine art, it’s the writers, performers, musicians and artists who’ve been the innovators – whether in form, promotion, marketing, design, experimentation, or event organisation. As filmmakers we have to do the same.

   Once we saw film festivals as how we’d try to sell our films to sales agents and distributors. But that’s changed. Now they can play an important part in publicising your film, your website, your social networks, of building your fan base  – and communicating that it’s available on DVD.

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