Thursday, January 3, 2013

Film is Dead

It's almost impossible to get a distribution deal for an independently produced film anymore. These days, filmmakers are giving their films away to the public by posting them to torrent sites or putting them up on YouTube - just to get people to watch them. It's not even about getting into a mid level festival anymore which is nearly impossible, it's merely about just getting people to watch your film.

There are slews of bottom end festivals that you can get your film into, which not only gets your film seen by dozens of people, allows you to schmooze with other unknown filmmakers, and allows for the coveted laurel leaves to display on your website but the sad truth is, any distribution deal to be had through acquisition people attending those lesser festivals will generally not result in an advance, nor any real profit sharing potential.

I was party to a feature length film production where we secured a "distribution deal" that specified that once the distributor recouped their "marketing costs," (which were grossly inflated without a doubt) we would start sharing in profit from sales, rentals, etc.

Of course, that never happened.

These days, not only are there shady film "distributors" who are more than happy to try and wring a few bucks from your film while giving you a big donut hole in return (actually, deliverables are generally on you, so less than zero).

The dozens of low end "distributors" who handle no budget films do manage to get them into the rental realm and even into certain retail outlets for sale (until they get pulled for lack of interest from consumers), but the danger there is you are opening yourself up to the rage of hundreds of critics who will take the time to rip you and your film apart on any number of the online forums, especially IMDb, where the danger is - you end up on the Bottom 100.

There are also plenty of shady film festivals that similarly take advantage of filmmakers. And each festival you submit to generally means 35-50 bucks out of your pocket for the submission fee.

I once submitted a feature film to the New Mexico International Film Festival (now defunct of course) and found out they only accepted about 7 feature films, two of which were made by a buddy and working associate of the douchebag running the festival. Seems fair, right? Accept hundreds of submissions at 50 bucks a pop and only program 7 films, 2 of which were made by a guy you have a working relationship with?

I was DP on a feature film that managed to get into the Queens International Film Festival (now defunct of course) which as it turns out - was also a scam.

At the lower end of festivals, this is what filmmakers have to deal with. Withoutabox does not screen any festivals for the poor schmucks getting their email alerts every day about which of the 10 million festivals have a call for entries coming up. Why should they? The more festivals they can hawk to filmmakers, the more money they make. Plus, it's festival submission (not inclusion) that guarantees your film gets listed on the internet movie database (IMDb) which somehow legitimizes your film and seems to have become the booby prize for filmmakers everywhere who don't get into festivals of note.

There's even a "festival" that will charge you for an award!!! Want "Best New Director?" It's yours - for a fee. And, there's a "distributor" that offers "international distribution" for 2500 bucks (the last I checked - it's probably more now).

And when Sundance, the holy grail of film festivals, gets over 10,000 films submitted each year, you can expect that any of the top 10 domestic festivals are getting nearly as many submitted and those kinds of numbers do not make for good odds of ever having a film accepted, I'd say.

Kevin Smith said recently that if he produced Clerks today, it'd never get into a film festival and that, my friends means - it's over, because the odds are better that you'll get struck by lightning.

("Get you coffee?!?! I'm a director, man.")

So now the struggle has become to just get people to watch your film. That's what it's come down to. If you're OK with getting into a low end festival, and there's nothing wrong with that, and hanging out with a small number of folks who like independent films and with other filmmakers - there are an infinity amount of these festivals.

But it appears the recent explosion of cheap high quality cameras has resulted in an explosion of filmmakers which has resulted in an explosion of film festivals which more often than not are money making schemes which exploit the lofty aspirations of filmmakers who want to find an audience for their film. And desperate filmmakers are further exploited by bottom feeding "distributors" who offer that coveted film distribution, sometimes for a fee, and sometimes for the promise of actual distribution which generally means they make some DVD's and put your trailer on their website.

And so NOW, we've essentially come (back?) to - filmmaking for the sake of filmmaking, and that sounds kind of comforting and liberating in a way I suppose.

©2013 Chris Santucci