The New Film Industry: Can It Happen?

The new industry has arrived for music. And things are changing for books - authors can now take control, self publish and distribute their work. But what about film?

I recently took part in a working session with creatives from various disciplines (organised by the fabulous @Creatrix_me). Our focus was to examine the possibility of cross-discipline collaboration, and what support creatives might need to make productive connections to other artists. Inevitably our conversation found its way round to the changes happening in our respective industries - including the opportunities that the shift has brought to us all.

With two film makers around the table, I was very interested to get their thoughts on how the film industry was changing, and what they needed to make their careers happen. Film has always seemed like an exception to artists taking control - the number of people involved, budgets, and distribution models are giant barriers to independence. But are these barriers perception, or are there real mountains to climb? Talking through these challenges we realised the similarities to the old music industry:

The production challenge: films involve more people
Music production has changed so much over the past decade that it now seems ludicrous to even consider hiring a studio, session musicians or even producers. Yet this still happens, depending on the project and the ambition of the artist. Making a film may require many personnel - it just depends on the vision. There is no shortage of actors, cinematographers, editors or animators. So if your vision for the film requires expertise outside of your skillset at the moment, it makes sense to broaden the team. This doesnt seem like a barrier at all to me - it seems like a fantastic opportunity for everyone involved to create something amazing and make the art happen.

The budget challenge: more people equals more cost
Just like there will always be big budget albums, there will be big budget films. Budget does not equal success - and this blog about low budget success should inspire any artist. Yes it costs money to make a film - in the same way that it requires capital to find any business idea. As with musicians, the key to making it happen is to understand the budget required - rather than use it as an excuse to either continue the old way of studio finding - or of creating a barrier to making the film in the first place. Money is a perceived barrier - if you don't know how much you need, you won't enable the possibility of acquiring it.

Its really inspiring to see great filmmakers getting over this perception. Raphael Neal, the director of MaJiKer's videos, is currently producing his first major film, Fever. He's crowd funding it through the site Kiss Kiss Bank Bank, and after only a few weeks already has a large proportion of his target budget. Its rare after creating a plan and a budget for a project that you don't acquire money to fund it - as artists we generally achieve our goals once we put our minds to them.

The distribution challenge: films need to be sold to different markets to get cinema release
Here I see direct comparison to the music industry. In the old industry we had to prove an audience would buy albums en masse in each market in order to get an international distribution deal. The distributor then made the decision - they sold units based on what they felt your potential was. Artists and labels were at the whim of distribution. With digital distribution, the long tail rules. Anyone can get shelf space internationally - giving an audience the chance to discover your work as your community grows. The same opportunity is becoming reality for film - not only via free view platforms like YouTube, but inevitably with digital distributors like iTunes and Netflix. Self distribution must be around the corner.

The ego challenge: great films should be on the big screen
Going to the cinema is amazing. But film doesnt have to be consumed that way to be enjoyed, in the same way that having a hit on the radio does not equal success for an artist or ultimate pleasure for a listener. I imagine seeing your film on the big screen must be an ultimate thrill for the creator - however, that satisfaction is ego based. There are only so many cinemas with limited hours to screen work, but with digital projection becoming a reality, gone is the requirement for studios to ship film to every cinema. What will stop individual cinemas from selecting from a huge run of films and programming a diverse range relevant to their audiences? There are also unlimited opportunities for an audience to enjoy film online on any personal device of their choosing. If the intention of your art is to share it with an international community, then film now has more chance for success than ever before.

It's your intention for your work that drives you. In the end of you use any of the challenges here to stop you for shipping - or starting in the first place - then its not the industry that's blocking you.

Image from Flickr by Judy


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