Our feature Life Tracker just moved into post production and I found myself in a couple conversations during production that prompted my writing this blog entry.
Depending on who you talk to, the economic recession we find ourselves in has had wildly different effects on the world of independent filmmaking. Everyone agrees that there is less money to go around, but some people will say there has never been a better time for independent cinema. On one side you have newer technology everyday allowing high-powered equipment into the hands of indie filmmakers that would have cost 10 to 100 times more 10 to 20 years ago. On the other hand while studios lean harder and harder on tent-pole franchise/prequels/sequels, there are more and more people with access to equipment who call themselves “filmmakers” but don’t know how to tell a story. This makes it harder for the viewer (let alone a distributer) to weed through the muck before they find anything worthwhile.
Does the economy makes it harder for an indie filmmaker?
Well, I’m hardly the person to answer that question. I haven’t been making movies for that long and I’m only just now getting into the world of financing and producing movies that aim for theatrical release, so I’ve never known what it was like to make movies in any other climate. . . but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a strong opinion on the topic. I personally believe the movies that were hurt are those in the middle. Movies in the 10 to 30 million dollar range. I feel like all we have now are huge budget, comic book movies or sequels, or the tiny budget movies shot for nothing.
People don’t give their money to film productions just because they love movies, this is a business. If I was investing in a movie and my goal was to get my money back, plus a return, then I only see two options: huge movies with built in audiences that are easily going to at least make their money back in the opening weekend, or the movie that cost 50 thousand bucks to make and has the ability to make 20 times the investment in even the smallest of theatrical releases. Making movies is already a risky investment so why would you take the risk on a movie that costs 20 million and hopes to bring in 25 million, when you can invest 500 thousand and all you need the movie to earn is a million to double your money? It’s obviously more complicated than that, but you get my point.
Do I think it’s a good time for Indie filmmakers? Yes. Is the indie market flooded? Also a yes. Which in a way argues that it’s harder for indie filmmakers to get their movies seen. Unfortunately I just don’t thing it’s that cut and dry. You have to adapt to the situation that presents itself. If there’s no money because of a recession then you have to decide what project best fits you while at the same time using the resources you have available. Lots of people argue that the reason Film Noir started was because of a lack of money. A lot less money for movie production because it was all being diverted to the war effort in some way or another. To be honest I don’t really even think about the economy. Most movies take so long to bring to reality that the economic situation is totally different from the time you decide to start a project to the time it hits audiences.
It’s not money or the size of the budgets that separate the indies from the studios. It’s access. I know it’s a huge cliché to say “it’s who you know” but it’s true, and the sooner you stop thinking about it as a cliché the sooner you can get to the real business of making movies. Access to people equals access to money. In this business people’s names quite literally have a monetary value to them. I made a short comedy about the crash of the economy called “Money, Please!” I submitted to a production company and they loved the script. They wanted meetings. They wanted to start right away. Once production got started I had to borrow $12,000 from my boss at my day job to get it done. The production company that “loved” the script did really love the script, but it wasn’t them that got the movie made, which is what I thought I needed. It wasn’t me either. It was my access to $12,000, which I had to pay back doing construction jobs. If I didn’t have the access to capital, it wouldn’t have mattered how much anyone liked my script, it simply wouldn’t have gotten done.
It is true that the access wouldn’t have mattered if the script was bad to begin with. Unless you’re born into money, talent is how you build “Access.” I’m in casting for a feature called VIRAL and we’re using an A-List casting director, JC Cantu at Rising Phoenix Casting. I sent in the script and once again the script was loved, but he wouldn’t have taken my business if I didn’t have access to the money to pay their “A-list” fee… Again my company had to borrow the cash, which we’re still not finished paying back. But because I have an A-List casting director I now have a little more access. With that attachment, I was able to get David A Armstrong (SAW franchise) to agree to be our director of photography, and Jenny Hinkey (500 Days of Summer) to be our production manager. Now I still don’t have funding for that movie, but I certainly have more access because I drop their names… once again, access I wouldn’t have if I didn’t have the ability to borrow money to pay our casting director, not to mention the services of our awesome attorney Bianca Goodloe. If I didn’t have that money, I wouldn’t have access, and I’ll never have a movie.
Why isn’t the movie made? Because I need MORE access! The next step is to get known actors in the lead roles and build the cast around them. Near impossible to do when I don’t have money to pay them or a start date yet, but that’s the catch 22. I need the actors to get enough access to get the money, but I need the money to get enough access to get the actors. Now notice, I haven’t talked about the story or the characters or the genre or anything! Because it’s only the access that matters. Now we wait.
But we don’t do nothing while we wait! My company just finished principle photography on a totally different movie. I wrote LIFE TRACKER and my main goal (besides writing a good script) was a much much smaller budget. Small enough that I thought I’d be able to get enough investors on my own. This script is not Film Noir, but it may have been born for the same reason, lack of funds. We have a huge concept that is able to be done for little money. So that’s what I’m spending my time on, finishing LIFE TRACKER.
Maybe when Life Tracker is finished and premiering at a film festival I will get more access that I can use to get Viral made. And the circle of life continues.
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