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Jon Reiss, author of Think Outside the Box Office
In last week’s post, I suggested 5 ways that audiences can connect with filmmakers. Here are my second 5 suggestions for how audiences can engage with and help support independent film, as we work our way through the current distribution crisis.
6. Go To Live Film Events.
Some enterprising filmmakers and exhibitors are taking back the theatrical experience. Instead of slavishly following the studio model of opening a film on Friday and hoping for an extended run, there is a move afoot to create one or two night film events. Some filmmakers are even touring like bands—developing a relationship with their audiences on a grassroots level. Go out and meet these folks. Explore alternative venues such as museums, galleries, and community centers. New York City is home to one of the most vibrant of these alternative spaces, Rooftop Films. If you know of an alternative venue in your city, let me know. I am creating a distribution tools website for filmmakers, which will have a listing of all such venues.
One of the missions of the indie focused startup Open Indie is to create a screening network that you the audience can tap into for movies not served by the studios. Filmmaker Arin Crumley, who was one of the masterminds behind Four Eyed Monsters, has partnered with Kieran Masterson to spearhead this concept to democratize distribution in the US, creating new bridges between filmmakers and audiences.
7. Host a Screening.
Turn your home, local parking lot, or art gallery into a theater. This is especially good for communities that don’t have a local theater anymore. With a DVD player and large screen TV or projector anyone can be a theater and create community around film these days. This is the ultimate in grassroots film engagement. Open Indie serves this function as well—as does IndieScreenings, who are part of the wonderful team who brought you the ground breaking The Age of Stupid. Indie Screenings is based in the UK but are making a global push. Anyone can contact Indie Screenings (and soon Open Indie) to set up a screening for one of the films that they represent. Until these networks really get established, you should be able to contact any filmmaker to set up a screening directly. Any savvy filmmaker will have a way on their website for you to arrange a screening. If they don’t, you can email them through their contact page. More screening networks will be emerging over the next few years as audiences and filmmaker alike seek to create relationships not mediated by the studios.
8. Start Using VOD on your Cable Box.
VOD is becoming one of the reliable ways that filmmakers can monetize their films and also create a “national” release while they are screening in select cities. I know for many people VOD takes getting used to. Try it once or twice. You’ll be surprised at the convenience. Unfortunately, most of the cable networks make it difficult for you to find most independent films. Explore a little.
9. Support Viewing Films in Ways that Monetize Content.
Bono wrote quite eloquently in a recent New York Times editorial, “A decade’s worth of music file-sharing and swiping has made clear that the people it hurts are the creators—in this case, the young, fledgling songwriters who can’t live off ticket and T-shirt sales like the least sympathetic among us—and the people this reverse Robin Hooding benefits are rich service providers, whose swollen profits perfectly mirror the lost receipts of the music business.” This equally applies to film.
It is ironic that one of the inspirations for the “information needs to be free” philosophy on the web is to create a free flow of information, which is essential in a democracy. At the same time, it has created a culture of consumers who don’t feel that they have to pay for any content that can be transmitted digitally, such as music and film. If consumers do not feel that they have to pay for content, then content providers won’t be able to earn money from their products, and many will have to stop making content so that they can support themselves and their families. We need to find a sustainable model for filmmakers (and all content creators, from journalists to musicians). The irony is that this belief in “free” could actually hamper a free discourse, by forcing indie filmmakers to close up shop.
I know that this is a controversial sentiment. There are some success stories of filmmakers and musicians who have been successful giving their content away for free and still getting people to pay for it or to buy another product from them. This is a very nuanced issue that I have not done justice to in these short paragraphs. I will be writing more on this in the future.
However, as long as content creators must rely on the market to sustain them, I feel that they should be able to decide if and when they want to give their creations away for free and in what manner.
Filmmakers are trying a variety of new methods to reach out to audiences to create a sustainable future. They—we—are so appreciative when you, the audience, reach back.
It shouldn’t be the content creators at all arguing this point. It should be us, the audience, as believers in unique visions and as hopeful citizens of an enlightened world.
Read last week's column here.
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