Independent Films, And The Challenges Facing Filmmakers Today


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What Is An Independent Film?

An independent film, independent movie, indie movie is a feature film or short film that is produced outside the major film studio system, besides being produced and distributed by independent entertainment companies.

  •  They make most of the productions in Hollywood, a multi-million dollar business; and anyone who produces a film outside this exclusive factory has to call itself  “independent” to be distinguished from the suit; however, as long as a film is screened in commercial theaters, or aired on pay or network TV, “independent” is a relative term.

Distinctive Features Unique To independent Filmmakers And Indie Films

  1. Being unknown: No one has seen your work. Why do they want to give you the time of day when they can be entertained instead by a known quantity? How do you even tell people about your movie, if it’s ranked low in online movie listings because of poor sales?
  2. No big names: Similarly, indie filmmakers rarely can rope in known actors. Such actors come with their own following, which indie filmmakers don’t have access to.
  3. Lack of quality: Indie filmmakers can’t reach the same level of production value you see from the big studios. It’s likely that your trailer just doesn’t look as impressive.
  4. The reputation of indie/student films: So many filmmakers don’t care about the story, acting, audio, camera noise, or even focus, etc., etc., or they have a lot to learn. They give the ones trying to make something great a terrible reputation. It could be just a lack of experience. They’ll get there, but meanwhile, it scares the audience away from other indie filmmakers.
  5. The elevator pitch: Many indie filmmakers really can’t describe their movie quickly and persuasively when given the opportunity. I’m guilty of this and trying to get better. You’d think after I’ve spent months upon months planning every detail of film production, I’d be able to quickly articulate “Why should you watch my movie?” Nope.
  6. Budget: Big studios have not only a marketing budget but a budget for connected producers who know how to find great marketers. Indie filmmakers have to rely on free social media efforts and what they can afford.
  7. Lack of experience: Indie filmmakers don’t know what the audience wants, because they lack the experience in showing their work to the audience. They have to learn, and they can’t lean on the collective experience of a big studio. Indie filmmakers also don’t have as much experience with the whole business side of filmmaking. It’s hard enough to learn how to make a decent movie.
  8. Following their passion: Big studios are much more inclined to play it safe, going with film concepts they are reasonably sure will earn a profit. Indie filmmakers are more likely to follow their passion, making films they want to see, rather than what their audience wants to see.
  9. Controversial/taboo subject: Along the same lines, many films push boundaries. An interesting title, like my latest film in production, Toddler Tartare, is a double-edged sword. While it attracts the interest of many who are fans of dark comedy and horror, several people have loosened their collars and laughed nervously in response. This includes a grant administrator (I won the grant), a location manager (I secured the location), and an actress (who is in the film). Each of them I had to convince about the sincerity of my vision and my commitment to producing a quality film rather than a cheap laugh.
  10. Competition in film festivals: Even if your film is wonderful, ten out of ten film festivals may reject your film. You are much more likely to get into smaller film festivals, but you’ll often get 20–30 people at most to see your film. Those ten film festivals likely cost a few hundred dollars to submit to. Almost always, you won’t get any feedback along with the rejections about what was wrong with your film.
  11. Frequency of productions: Big studios can afford to make films more frequently. An indie filmmaker can plan and shoot a couple of quality 10-minute shorts a year, or a feature every couple of years. It’s likely you’ve never heard of “Sneaky Ghost Films”, but if I could churn out a magnificent film every month, maybe you would have.
  12. Creative Control: In Hollywood, everybody has a specific role to accomplish, and there is a budget for that, but in the independent filmmaking industry is common to have limited resources. A low budget makes people assume multiple roles in order for a film to be produced at the lowest cost possible, as one director known as Benjamin Dickinson said: The biggest challenge that I had making the film was just that I was wearing too many hats. This de-emphasizes specialization means individuals are less likely to develop the specialized skills that Hollywood and large film agencies demand. Ultimately, it is a hit or a miss, depending on the director’s ability to wear multiple hats.
  13. Inadequate Money and Financing: Most independent producers will agree that the most difficult task is raising money to pay for production. Raising money is the key to any independent film, regardless of the position, experience, and past credits of the people involved. To choose the method that will fit better with the production is important to consider factors such as the type and subject of the film and the experience behind the cast and crew involved in the project. It is common to use crowdfunding platforms to raise money or to secure increasingly elusive government grants for short films. In fact, “the most beneficial situation for the filmmaker would be to receive 100% of the film costs from an equity sale for substantially less than 100% of the income” in a range of 25-50% according to “The Independent Filmmaker’s Law and Business Guide: Financing, Shooting, and Distributing Independent and Digital Films”. Even though filmmaking should be commercially viable with no public funding, it is important to remember that people or organizations invest in the films to make profits out of them; therefore, film budgets need to stand the scrutiny of investors seeking cost-effective production, and a reasonable rate of return.

Challenges facing filmmakers, and the effective strategic approach to take for success.

1. The digital revolution has flooded the marketplace

Statistic: Cheaper digital production methods have helped create more product than buyers.

Approach: Make certain your movie is genre-specific. Genre is the only way that a film buyer and the marketing manager of a distribution company can quickly visualize the movie poster, trailer, and marketing campaign. Never forget that distributors buy genre, not drama.

2. Online distribution is becoming commonplace

Statistic: By research, On Valentine’s Day 2005 the co-founders of YouTube.com registered the name at www.whois.com. YouTube revolutionized film distribution and has changed the way consumers watch movies and television. The impact of illegal online distribution has also had the same impact on the film industry as it has the music industry.

Approach: Develop a hybrid distribution strategy that encompasses traditional cinema/DVD/television releases with online distribution.

3. Hollywood is bankrupt of ideas

Nowadays it is more frequent to see developments and remakes of stories we loved instead of new stories to enjoy.  It seems like the industry has reached a point of fatigue in which lack of ideas is the common denominator, resulting in low expectations among audiences; it is mandatory for independent film studios to focus their efforts on unique storytelling, these new ideas will stand out more than they have in the past.

Statistic: The gaming industry has influenced storytelling techniques and filmmaking techniques. These new storytelling techniques dominate.

Approach: Successful filmmakers are most likely artists who consider themselves visual storytellers using moving images to tell their stories. Incorporation of gaming techniques both in terms of storytelling and visualization will make movies stronger.

And what of apps? Where a new video game can now cost $20m to develop and market, you can build an app for next to nothing.

4. Cinema distribution is still healthy, but it is different somehow

Statistic: Not only has image and sound capture been dramatized by advances in digital technology like DSLR, but cinema distribution has been affected too. Britain’s screens are now fully digitized. A digital screen does not need expensive 35mm film prints. Films can be emailed to a cinema screen’s hard drive and films can be scheduled easily with a click of a mouse. Cinema exhibition has also benefited from 3D technology. Like it or not, screens will be demanding 3D products. In America, it is estimated that there will be an astonishing 25 million homes equipped with 3D TV screens by 2018.

Television networks are struggling to find enough HD content for their HD channels, let alone their new 3D channels like Britain’s Sky 3D.

Add to the mix online platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime and you have an entirely new distribution outlet.

Approach: Successful filmmakers will learn how to communicate with television and cinema owners to deliver salable content in the format which will deliver maximum revenue.

5. You can’t fund them like you used to

Statistic: The Euro economic malaise has translated into public sector budget cuts, dampening the political appetite for using public money to fund films.

Approach: Filmmaking should be commercially viable with no public funding, and film budgets need to stand the scrutiny of investors seeking cost-effective production, and a reasonable rate of return.

6. Producers struggle to get development funding

Statistic: Development funding is hard to get. Yet without proper development, movies will continue to suffer from weak storylines.

Approach: Until the script is fully developed, a movie should not be made.

7. Film producers need not be involved with social media

Statistic: Social media is here to stay and a strong social media strategy is something that is becoming an essential part of a film’s package.

‘Mystical Activity’ may have cost a mere $15,000 to make. What Supreme bought was not the film, but the social media strategy that the filmmaker Orin Pelli developed around his film.

Approach: The film industry will embrace any filmmaker, writer, director, or producer who has a strong and defined social media strategy.

Conclusion

The independent film industry is full of challenges as summarized in this article. Film studios normally face issues raising money to pay for the production, making unique genre-specific movies using digital technology, incorporating gaming techniques in terms of storytelling and visualization to make movies stronger, assuming multiple roles in a film to reduce costs as much as possible, understanding the audience they are trying to reach, and distributing the final product through different channels. Although these are challenges that can be recognized easily, the solutions seem to be far away whether for the companies themselves or those public sector agencies which support the industry. Unfortunately, the structure and economics of independent film productions are not well suited to build sustainable companies which leads to several serious challenges that threaten to limit filmmakers’ creativity and push the industry even further into the shadows. It is important that the industry focuses on finding solutions to these pressing issues. As viewers, we just enjoy the final product without understanding all the challenges that filmmakers faced behind the scenes. We need to internalize that making a brilliant movie goes above working hard and having luck; it needs love, passion, commitment, and tons of patience, especially if we are talking about independent films.

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