Saturday, February 02, 2008

The digital Divide

Okay I'm a realist at heart. I wasn't that way earlier in my career, but I am now, and I think you have to be in this business if you ever want to do some serious work, and make some money at it. I read an interview with John Sayles the filmmaker. His film Honeydripper is out now, and he and his long time creative producer & partner Maggie Renzi are promoting it. Now I find Sayles to be an extraordinary filmmaker & writer, and I admire how he gets his films done. Honeydripper is his 16th film he's done, and the Sayles doesn't seem to be slowing down. In the article Sayles and Renzi discuss the difficulty of getting a film financed in today’s market. Both Honeydripper and Silver City were self-financed for a little over $5 million. I don't know where you come from, but $5 million is a lot of cash, and yet it still isn't enough. Factor in advertising & marketing expenses and your costs go up. Renzi mentions that it is easier for filmmakers now to finance their films in Europe then here in the United States, and Sayles may just do that in the future.

If a filmmaker like Sayles is struggling what chance does a guy from Philly have? But that's if you think of filmmaking as it was. It isn't like that anymore. The story you tell still has to be smart, and worth hearing, but the delivery of it is different. How do you do it? How do you reach enough people to generate interest in either sales of your own DVD or downloads? That's the million-dollar question everyone is asking including the studios. Yes even the studios are craving your dollar, and they want to know how they can get more of it. But what the studios can't do and what you can do is instantly react to market forces. You can be quicker, and faster.

I myself need to step back and stop and think. This may be the year I dissolve my company. It's not an end to my filmmaking aspirations, but a new beginning of something different. Getting back to my grass roots in a way. Forming companies and getting endeavors started isn't that hard to do in today’s world. What is different is the way business is done. Hype is everything, but if the product doesn't live up to the hype then it's doomed to stumble and die.

The question is what can I do and provide that the studios can't and don't? That's your edge. That's where you'll succeed. If a studio becomes interested in you then maybe you'll get a sale out of it, and then maybe you'll be coming from a stronger bargaining position then if you were needing their help. It's been always the filmmaker who seemed to be needing the studios and thereby weakening his or her bargaining posture. Why not flip that? I think it's possible, but again you have to have a product that is strong enough to survive on its own.

The digital arena is all well and good, but filmmakers needs to factor in their own expenses in marketing & selling of their film. The Internet provides a certain freedom in that, but there are costs involved. Keeping your overhead low, and putting every dollar into the look and promotion of your film should be your only concern. So I'm sitting here thinking of all the different ways one can be a better filmmaker/storyteller. The market has changed drastically, yet it isn't as different as you might think. People still crave entertainment, and they'll spend money on good stories that deliver. You need to be loud enough and bold enough to give them what they want. The most important thing for you to remember as a filmmaker is that you need to be smarter then everyone else, and recognize your market. If you have a horror film to sell then know where the horror fans are. If you have a comedy look at trends, and successful films of the past, and see what the public likes. Know your market, and keep expenses low. If it's just you then it shouldn't be too hard to keep the bottom line low while having a kick ass looking film.

Be inspired by others, and talk to each other. Ideas don't live in a vacum. Ideas thrive on discussion, and can only get better. Learn to know when your idea or ideas have reached their zenith, and start running with them before someone else beats you. Another thing to remember is that your idea may probably not be as original as you think. The one who runs with their idea fastest and best is the successful one.


Jane said...

Good post, Karl. The film industry is evolving. Everyone is searching for new ways to find and build an audience, and to get their film in front of that audience. There's an exciting festival opportunity you may want to check out, the From Here to Awesome discovery and distribution festival.

Jerome said...

Great post. I know this was last year, but just saw/read it now from the Honeydripper website. Hope you've gotten or are getting your movie out there... there is always a market, as you know.