Reflections on Indy Filmmaking and the State of the U.S.

First of all, thank you for following and reading this. None of this could be possible without the audience. The process of making a film and then learning about distribution was an exciting, yet humbling experience. I’m really thankful for the process and how it has gone. Last fall at this time, I was finishing up a nationwide tour by driving 5 to 12 hours almost each day, traveling from screening to screening. It was a really exhausting process, but one that also allowed me an experience that reflected the general mood of the U.S. I was able to interact with audiences across the U.S. and heard what they were thinking and feeling. I wish that I had been able to tape footage of the Q&A from these screenings. It was really interesting. Across the country, people expressed similar questions, frustrations, as well as things that they take pride in. (Yes, it is important to remember the positive things, along with the things and concepts that people can have more critical thoughts on.)

There was definitely more optimism as the elections approached, yet there was a consistent mistrust of corporate power. It was very interesting that people from all different sections of the economy attended and commented on the film. People who had worked abroad both in the media and governmental organizations such as U.S. Aid also attended and commented on the shift that has taken place from the 1960’s to the current time. Interestingly, the 1960’s while often looked upon as being a time of various types of ‘liberation’ (for example, women’s liberation, sex, drugs and rock n’roll) politically, the 1960s were the opposite, as other developed countries created policy for their People; in the sense of healthcare of the whole population, social security for the whole population, while in the U.S., the population became segmented and compartmentalized as the various types of insurance companies lined up to capitalize on the American people. Thus, the United States has emerged as having very, very different social policy from the rest of the developed first-world nations. All the while, the U.S. continuing to lead the world in various types of technology – such as the development of the internet. (Although now the U.S. is starting to lag behind, but seriously, MS and the mac operating systems are the two most widely used in the world. Yet the world community within open source developments and applications are running closely behind, bring linux with it.) This leads us to the topic of internet and independent filmmaking.

The internet has helped tremendously within the process of independent distribution of films. It is sometimes bewildering because a person – the independent, actually can do it, but has to quickly learn to wear many different hats. After shooting the film, I sharp tuned my editing skills with the guidance of editors that were kind enough to share their expertise. It is a humbling process, but it had to be done. I then learned about marketing and distribution. Because I had quit my job to finish the film, in looking at the model of entering film festivals for a small documentary, it seemed that it would be more efficient to organize my own screenings. As opposed to traveling to various festivals, and and having to spend a lot of money in travel, hotel, food, when funds were really scarce, I decided to create a screening tour and screenings geographically a day apart. I then started cold calling theaters and other venues to line up screenings one after another. (It may seem like it was easy as you read this, but it definitely was not. Along with calling organizers sometimes up to 15 times, then finding the local media, then calling the arts editor for the newspaper and/or radio show, get them to accept a press kit with the film, then to try to get them to watch it, all the while still trying to get the organizer to lock in a screening… It was work.) Make no mistake, I really like film festivals, and have had great experiences at some of them because they allow a convergence of filmmakers, audience and art to take place. Film festivals, however, vary in how much they integrate the community, so some festivals will have packed screenings, while others will have a few people. They are usually over a few days, and could be scattered across the country, so it’s really expensive for filmmakers to travel to a film festival in NY, then one in California a couple of weeks later. Most films that are screening through film festivals have a website, but they can be a lot more than just an internet billboard for a film.

The internet helped because it was nice reference to tell people to check out if they wanted more information. Often people went to the site as I talked to them on the phone. The website also has various materials and downloads like screening guides for people who wanted to have screening parties. It also is a way for people to buy the film. Having a website also allows people to find my contact information and oddly enough, I have even received handwritten letters from people who had seen the film. Last week a library contacted me to see if it was okay to screen the film. (It’s really nice when people are respectful of copyright. And yes, it okay to screen it.) I created a facebook group as I was touring. It’s small, but it also helps to get the word out. (I’ve tried to update the site, but my personal site consistently says that the account is temporarily unavailable. Hmmmm.) I’m thankful for the internet, and to the many people who also helped to get the word out. It’s also somewhat odd that in pushing the film, more people find out about the film, and this gives it greater desireability. One film festival that rejected the film, called a year later to see if they could distribute it online. It’s odd, but true.

The process of distribution has already changed, and is continuing to shift. I recently talked to Aaron, of the popular online series: Chad Vader, Day Shift Manager. They have over 30 million views online. I felt really sort of traditional next to them. They have an interesting approach in that they sell merchandising and have created a huge audience online. (They also shoot in 16mm and live in and work with students from a college.) Their short films are really entertaining. Check them out.

I think the next documentary project I’d like to do will be online based – because of the interactive element that the internet is heading into. I would love to be able to integrate for audience participation and intereaction in a place where others can see and hear what the audience is thinking. Sure, there could be a DVD if there is still demand for it, but I think the bulk of the project could be online, involving a storyline, and a conglomeration of our photos and videos, as well as user generated content, that as a whole will contribute to the story. I’d also like to integrate a wiki to share information, as well as be an archive for future generations. With current hindsight, I realize this my website of Considering Democracy is static, the blog being the only interactive element. That may change later. Who knows?

Thanks for reading.

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